Family travel’s next hotspot? Hudson Valley’s Orange County

Asoka Elon

For years, New Yorkers seeking a quick family-friendly getaway have headed to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. Then Legoland, an amusement park that opened in 2021 in Goshen, began providing a strong regional pull for kids and parents. Now, Legoland is getting some friends — in the form of additional attractions that solidify Orange County’s draw as a family-friendly destination.

The county, located about an hour northwest from New York City, is home to a smattering of other tourist draws that appeal to families, including West Point Military Academy, Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark in Monticello, Woodbury Common outlet mall in the Town of Woodbury, and Bear Mountain State Park, among others.

But in 2021, it was the addition of Legoland New York, the first new major theme park to open in the northeast in 40 years, that helped strengthen southern Orange County’s positioning on the family tourism map.

Now, the county is gearing up for additional attractions and lodging options that could turn family day trips into weekend getaways. Later this year, the Port Jervis Transportation History Center will open, as well as a new dinosaur theme park, and a boutique hotel from the same folks behind City Winery in Montgomery.

“So much comes from the chicken and egg debate,” said Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership. “It used to always just be West Point and Woodbury Common, because those were two of our largest destinations. Little by little, people found Orange County to be this amazing place to come.”

According to a study by Tourism Economics, starting in 2017, Orange County saw an upwards trend year over year in traveler spending, which includes lodging and transportation. It reached a peak in 2019, when the county received just over $1 billion in tourism dollars, then dropped by nearly 50 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic. Now, tourism in the county is bouncing back. Orange County Director of Tourism & Film Amanda Dana says overnight stays were up 21 percent in 2021 compared to 2020.

“We are seeing a tremendous uptick in hotels and developments throughout Orange County,” said Halahan. Currently, 13 hotels are in various stages of development, at various pricepoints and all within a 30-mile radius of Legoland. “That’s because not everyone can afford $400 a night, but they want to go to Legoland and bring their family there … If an international company like Legoland has the confidence they can make it here after a multi-million-dollar investment, then others ride on those coattails.”

One of those new projects, currently in the planning stage, is the Milk Factory hotel in the Town of Montgomery, which will feature 30 rooms, a pool and spa, and will connect to a nearby rail trail. Michael Dorf, founder and CEO of City Winery, proposed the boutique hotel in the former Borden Condensed Milk Factory.

In addition to hotels, another dozen tourism and hospitality projects are among the 78 active projects in the county, which are in various phases, from planning to approval.

A 30-minute drive southwest Legoland is the Port Jervis Transportation History Center, which is opening on Memorial Day weekend with a three-day festival.

Also coming to southern Orange County is the 131-acre Dinosaur Country, a themed attraction featuring more than 60 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs. The $12 million project by Orange County Dinosaur Park, LLC recently shifted from Wallkill to Monroe. Developers say the new park will create more than 100 jobs. The state awarded Dinosaur County $1.7 million in economic development grants.

In addition to these new attractions, Orange County staples like Storm King Art Center, Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, the Castle Fun Center and the Pine Bush UFO & Paranormal Museum, which opened in 2021, have continued to draw new visitors.

“It depends on the type of family,” said Orange County Director of Tourism & Film Amanda Dana, on what attractions a family might visit. “You can go to a theme park or a dinosaur land and not only have fun but learn. That’s what makes families keep coming.”

New family-friendly tourism destinations in Orange County

The 150-acre Legoland New York theme park, located in the Orange County town of Goshen, is 60 miles away from New York City and the third Legoland park in North America.

The 150-acre Legoland New York theme park, located in the Orange County town of Goshen, is 60 miles away from New York City and the third Legoland park in North America.

LEGOLAND New York Resort

Legoland New York
The 150-acre theme park opens its 2022 season on April 8, and will debut a water playground, entertainment stages and the first annual July 4th fireworks celebration. These attractions and more join the park’s existing 50 rides and amusements, seven Lego-themed lands and 15,000 Lego models for exploration. The 250-room Legoland New York Resort will remain open through December.
1 Legoland Boulevard, Goshen NY, 10924; legoland.com/new-york

Seven historic passenger cars, including two Erie Lackawanan dining cars that ran through Port Jervis from the 1920s through the 1970s will be on display at the Port Jervis Transportation History Center this summer.

Seven historic passenger cars, including two Erie Lackawanan dining cars that ran through Port Jervis from the 1920s through the 1970s will be on display at the Port Jervis Transportation History Center this summer.

Dining Car Society

Port Jervis Transportation History Center

Port Jervis City Council first proposed creating a public history center in the historic city-owned railyard in 2020. In addition to 19th-century trains, other historic vehicles will be on display, including automobiles, bicycles and boats. The center will launch with a limited visitation schedule in 2022, and will be fully operational by early 2023.
86 Pike Street, Port Jervis, NY 12771; pjthc.org

The Castle Fun Center caters to older children and is located 2 miles from Goshen.

The Castle Fun Center caters to older children and is located 2 miles from Goshen.

The Castle Fun Center

The Castle Fun Center
Catered towards older children, Castle Fun amusement park, located two miles from Goshen, offers go karts, laser tag, axe throwing, a climbing wall, mini golf and more. It advertises itself as “the perfect way to round out your day after a visit to Legoland NY.” The 50,000 square-foot facility is open all year, with outdoor activities being seasonally operated.
109 Brookside Ave, Chester, NY 10918; thecastlefuncenter.com

Dinosaur Country
The themed attraction will feature over 60 life-size animatronic dinosaurs, six dino-themed playgrounds, a splash park, dig site, dino-carousel, and a T-Rexpress mini-train. No opening date has been set as of yet. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story referred to Woodbury Common outlet mall’s location as Goshen. The mall is located in the Town of Woodbury. We regret the error.

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https://www.timesunion.com/hudsonvalley/travel/article/Family-travel-s-next-hotspot-Orange-County-17029206.php

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