Our Family Vacation On a Houseboat…In Kentucky… Those words kept ringing in my head as made the long drive from Chicago to State Dock on Lake Cumberland, in Kentucky. These are the words that would either live in infamy of horrible vacation history or a cool memory that we would have forever.
It was a coin toss. WIFE and I wanted to take the many kids on a vacation, but not have to take a plane. As we began to research vacation ideas around the area, they all started to look the same: Water park, blah, cabin on a beach-doo dah, camping at a thingymabob. Not that any of those options were bad, we just wanted “different.”
Then in one of my many bits of late night anxiety/insomnia (kids, bullies at school, mean mommies of the bullies at school, our house, our future, why the internet is so slow, will Taylor Swift finally find happiness, am I eating the right food to prevent belly fat, are we feeding the dog the right food, do I have the best nose hair trimmer and on and on) I Googled “houseboat vacations” and Lake Cumberland, Kentucky popped up.
Here’s the brief description of the Lake Cumberland area. It’s a massive lake in southern Kentucky with hundreds of rivers that run off of it and tributaries that run off of that, surrounded by trees, and rock faces that transport you to a place of peace, quiet and nature. The water is warm, clean (you know for a lake) clear and welcoming.
People in the Kentucky and Ohio (lots of people from Ohio) area know Lake Cumberland as a place they bring their families and friends for generations of get-aways on all kinds of boats. We looked at it as a new adventure.
State Dock is a marina that has been on Lake Cumberland for almost 50 years, they were our first step in our houseboat adventure. They say they are “America’s best houseboat vacation,” which didn’t make sense…at first.
You can look at the pictures all you want, but the experience of pulling up to State Dock and viewing these massive floating boats is something that takes your breath away. I know it’s in the name, but these are literally boats that are also houses and everything you need to be comfortable and safe while you are on them.
We had a 64 foot long by 15 foot wide boat, and this was the small one! It was two stories tall, with a slide off the back, four bedrooms, full kitchens, two bathrooms, living room, grill, cabinets galore and plenty of deck space to ooooh and ahhhh at the passing nature and occasional flashing college girl.
A sign that says “Welcome to Paradise” welcomes you at State Dock, and it’s more than a marketing phrase it’s a glimpse into what’s in store.
Before we get to that, a few things for you “type A” city folks need to know.
- Check your “city” at the door. Things will get done for you, but in “country time.” This isn’t Starbucks, and there is no need to yell and push to get your latte. This is the South and things get done in due time. Which actually turns out to be pretty cool. When you pull up with your car full of stuff, there are teams of eager young college kids that will help you get your stuff into massive carriers and to your boat…eventually. They are not valet’s at the Four Seasons waiting eagerly to service you, but they are hard working, polite and eager to help you get going on the right foot. It just may take a few minutes. The kid that helped us, works at State Dock all day, then goes to second job welding at night and plays college baseball, wants to get his masters and then go to the armed services to serve his country. I never thought I would ever have this thought about any boy, but he could date my daughter. Good hard working kid.
Anyway, when we arrived I was all full of “let’s go adrenaline.” A few days later, after some time on the lake, I was walking the dog by the loading area and overheard a lady from Michigan yelling at her kids “come on we only have 15 minutes to get the car unpacked and moved to the boat!” I walked over, and said, “check out the ducks, and the view, take a deep breath and take it all in, the rest will get done, I promise.” After the mace wore off, it looked like she had chilled a bit.
- Don’t panic- These are massive boats and they can seem daunting at first, but the staff is there to help you figure everything out and keep you safe. Bob and Dane are the harbor masters, and while their staff is young, these two seasoned vets know how to get it dun’. Dane is straight out of “central casting” for “solid Southern Dude,” the kind of guy you would see in just about every Julia Roberts movie as she is running from her husband, sister, mother, boss who scorned her and then meets the steely eyed Southern guy,on her quest for freedom, he has squared jaw and passion for the South. He makes her feel safe, and only then she realizes that she is finally at peace in this new life and can wrap herself in his arms and a shawl and drink tea and finalllllly be happy.
No idea where I was going with that, but sufficed to say, these are professionals who can solve your problems. Even if you are out on the water, you can radio in for help and they are there. Everything from broken hot tub because the house boats have hot tubs! To an actual emergency, the team at State Dock, literally jumps into boats to find you and help you out. It’s comforting to know and added to the total relaxation thing.
- You should know something about boating. It’s not a “must” but basics are a good thing. These monster boats only go about 7, yes seven miles an hour. Which may seem slow, but it adds to the total package of moseying up and down the lake. That being said, as you approach a swimming hole and have to pull up to shore, 7 miles an hour and no idea what you are doing can seem like you are driving a cigarette boat at full blast. A little boat knowledge and practice and you can get it down.
- The swimming hole thing. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what exactly we were going to do on our boat for four days. Again, “check your city at the door.” It’s not like the Play Pen in Chicago, where there are hundreds of boats tied up in small space, though there are areas for that. The experience is what you make it. Having a son affected by autism, we were nervous about noise and over crowding, our fears were quickly put to rest. Lake Cumberland’s shoreline measures 1,255 miles and spreads over 65,530 acres. That’s a lot of space to completely disappear and make the experience your own.
- Wander– Yup, just go where you want and do what you do. There are maps and Google Maps to help you find quiet coves, massive water falls, islands in the middle of nowhere and cliffs to jump off of, you choose what you want. Once you see something that makes you happy, you slowly pull the front of your boat up to shore, tie her up and go to town.
It is truly that easy. This is where you play, eat, swim and sleep. Again, having the front of my boat on shore exposed to the world (yes the doors lock but I am from Chicago annnnd) being “open” like that gave me the heebie jeebies at first and I had trouble sleeping, but again, you have to let logic take over. You are docked on the side of a mountain on a lake surrounded by water, Freddie, Jason, & MS13, aren’t coming to get you. If they are you will hear them falling down a rock face long before they get to you.
Here’s a good fact to know. This lake is “man made,” they built a dam like 70000 years ago and it flooded a valley and now 10,000 years later it’s a lake, or something like that. Anyway, the point is, you are docking on the sides of tops of mountains, which means the water and drop offs are deep, very, very deep, 197 feet deep at it’s deepest part and about 50 feet deep right off the side of your boat.
The good news is you can slide, jump and swim off your boat pretty safely (always swim around to check for debris). The bad news is it’s super frickin’ deep! If you talk to me for more than 3 minutes, you will know I am an Ironman Triathlete, I love bacon and side boob is my favorite kind of “boob.” Point is, even with all of my swim training, I had a life vest on, we all did, including the dog (yes they allow pets). They provide life vests and we also brought our own, safe is mush better than sorry in water this deep.
City people be warned!!! People in the South are friendly. On day three while we were by one of the many water falls, the BOY met other boys and before we knew it, these boys were on our boat and before we knew it their parents were on the boat. I know it sounds awful, but I texted a friend in Louisville and said “ I think we are about to be robbed!” His response was “relax Yankee, this is the South, maybe, just maybe they’re being friendly.” Happy to report they were in fact friendly natives and we spent two days with our new friends.
We had the “little boat” as I mentioned before. State Dock has everything from what we had, to a massive 16 person beauty named Folds of Honor, a nod to the great charity. Folds of Honor comes complete with swim up hot tub bar, she is three stories tall with a twisty slide at the top, gourmet kitchen, 55 inch flat screen, four kind sized bed suites and a massive deck for late night fun, sun bathing or just chillin’
This is the interior of a houseboat! It’s more comfortable than our actual house!!
My worries about how we were going to pass time were soon quashed (I know great word, right). Between traveling from location to location, swimming and general goofing around, our days were filled with great times and a ton of memories.
When the kids needed a break, they could watch a movie on the DVD player, when mommy and I needed a break we took turns hanging out on the massive deck up top, or on the front or on the back. We ate together as a family, we cooked all of our meals(never happens at home), we played cards, fed ducks, jumped off cliffs, slid down slides, launched ourselves off the top of the boat and watched a family of turtles swim around the boat as the sunset.
Our adventure to Lake Cumberland and State Dock was a success and something we are planning on doing again and again. The crazy thing is that it is “the South” so you can head down there as late as Halloween and the air and water are still warm! If you’re looking for a vacation that will take your breath away at seven miles an hour, then this is something to add to the family vacation bucket list.