Following last year’s amazing trip to Sandy Island Family Camp in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, there was no doubt we would return. I wondered, though, whether it would live up to expectations, or not seem quite as shiny the second time. I needn’t have worried. Just a few hours into year two and it was clear it was just as good as we all remembered. Better, my kids said, because they already knew everyone and had friends.
This summer, we discovered a truly magical place. Following our positive experience at the Dude Ranch, I was searching for another all-inclusive place for our family that wasn’t the typical Caribbean beach resort. Something like the Dude Ranch, but without the horses. Not that we didn’t enjoy the riding, we were just looking for something different.
After some serious Googling, I stumbled on the concept of family camp. Like traditional summer camp for kids, but for the whole family. Turns out, there are a few of these scattered around the country. Most are actually traditional summer camps for kids, but with the last week or two of the summer reserved for families. This wouldn’t work for our family, as we start school in late August. A few of the camps I found, however, were exclusively family camps. They ranged from the fairly well-known Tyler Place in Vermont, which is really more of a resort, to the very rustic —– in —–, which is so rustic it lacks electricity and running water. I carefully scrutinized each camp. Some included all meals, some just a few. Some were in the mountains, others at the beach. Some focused on a specific sport or skill. Some were very expensive, others more affordable. Soon, one clear winner emerged for us: Sandy Island. Set on a private 50 acre island in the middle of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnepesauke, the camp has been in existence since 18—. Originally a men’s camp, it began welcoming families in 19—. What drew me to Sandy Island was that everything was included. All meals, all activities, all water sports, all entertainment. Everything. And, well, the idea of being boated out to an island with no cars, no televisions, no distractions for a week was just the icing on the cake. I was sold. My husband was sold. The kids were not sold. “It’s like the dude ranch, but without the horses!” I said. “You mean without the best part?” came the reply. I booked it anyway.
A few months before our vacation, I received an email from a fellow “camper” named Sara who wanted to welcome me. She offered some advice (bring your own fitted sheets, the camp’s don’t fit very well) and asked if I had any questions. I had a few, which she promptly answered. She seemed nice.
We arrived at the Sandy Island boat launch on our appointed Saturday morning. The boats take campers over every hour on the half hour, no reservations needed. We pulled into the parking lot around 10:30 and assumed we would take the 11:30. To our surprise, a woman rushed over, introduced herself as Sara (yes, the emailing Sara), and told us we were getting on the 10:30! Her son and some other people started unloading our car, carrying our luggage down to the separate luggage boat. I asked her how she knew it was us, and she let me know that we were the only new family this year, and she knew everyone else! I have to say, I was a little apprehensive about being the only new family. Everyone else would already know each other, and be friends.
We got on the boat and we were off. I snapped this photo of my kids on the ride over. Look how excited they look:
Twenty minutes later, the boat pulled up to the dock at Sandy Island. We were shown where to go for check in and then directed to our cabin, Wee Hoos.
We set out to explore the island. There is a central area with a sports field, basketball hoops, four square and bocce courts, etc. and lots of kids were already playing. My kids held back, not really knowing how to break in to these groups of kids who obviously knew each other. But a pretty amazing thing happened. Kids approached them and asked them to join in. Adults approached us and introduced themselves. We started to relax.
Turns out, most of these people have been coming to Sandy Island their whole lives. Seriously. One of our fellow campers, Alice, has been coming for 74 years! Our week (Week 6), is comprised of a few large extended family groups, interspersed with some families like ours who are relative “newbies” that are first-generation campers with only 10-15 years of Sandy Island under their belts. Many of these families are from New England, but a surprising number are from the DC area, and several from more far-flung locations who grew up in New England, subsequently moved away, but continue coming to Sandy Island each year.
We soon learned there is a predictable rhythm to Sandy Island. Breakfast is served from 7:30-9:00, lunch from 12:00-1:00, and dinner starts at 6:00. A bell that can be heard around the island signifies it is meal time. Monday through Thursday there are organized kids’ activities by age-group from 9:00-12:00. Friday morning is a triathalon, followed by a water carnival. Afternoons generally include an organized sporting event, such as a softball game, capture the flag, or soccer. Each evening, there is a different activity after dinner. There is movie night, bingo night, and talent show night. There are also the famous “Sandy Island dances” where everyone participates in lines dances choreographed to some hokey classics such as “Witch Doctor,” “Elvira,” and “the Hustle.” There are also tournaments for every taste, such as bocce, ping pong, and Scrabble. There is no pressure to participate in anything, yet most people do. The Little Red School house welcomes the littlest campers, so parents can relax on their own for a few hours each morning.
My husband and I spent our days mostly lying on the beach. We kayaked, tried paddle boarding, waterskied, and went tubing. We had meals with our kids, but otherwise rarely saw them. They had made friends, and spent the days doing old-fashioned kid activities. We had made friends, and spent our evenings getting to know new people. When the following Saturday rolled around, no one wanted to leave. The photo I snapped on the boat back tells a very different story then on the ride over. Sandy Island had won our hearts. “We’re coming back next year, right?” everyone wanted to know. Of course we are.