My visit to Crystal Springs Resort almost didn’t happen for the second year in a row. Last fall, I had planned to make the easy 3 1/2 hour trip from Syracuse, NY to Northern New Jersey to check out the two spas, the numerous dining options and the majestic Grand Cascades Lodge. But the trip wasn’t meant to happen at that time, as luck would have it, and I planned to reschedule it for a future date. So it was serendipitous when my former co-worker and friend Patrick sent me a save-the-date notice for his wedding just a few months after the original trip was cancelled. The venue? None other than Crystal Springs Country Club at Grand Cascades Lodge.
For several days in the week leading up to the big event, it seemed that Superstorm Sandy had other ideas for New Jersey. Much of the area suffered unprecedented power outages and devastating damage and destruction. But the resort was spared from damage and electricity, along with full operations, was restored quickly. The wedding – and my trip – would go on!
The vibe: Grand Cascades Lodge is four-star Adirondack-style resort that bills itself as ultra-luxurious. While there were certainly some luxurious aspects and experiences at this property, ultra-luxurious might be a bit overstated by the usual luxury standards. Read on for the specifics.
To be fair, the resort had become a haven for displaced New Jersey residents who lost power in their home after Superstorm Sandy swept through the area earlier in the week. There were lots of kids and families enjoying the many fine public spaces, the tropical biosphere pool area and the outdoor putting course. The resort went out of their way to accommodate these guests – extending check-out times, offering early check-ins when rooms were available and providing additional dining venues to feed the added crowds. On both nights of my visit, wedding guests boogied late into each evening lending a formal and festive atmosphere to the resort.
The room: My spacious one-bedroom Spring Brook Vista suite (Room 417) delivered supremely on the stunning views of the surrounding mountains, still lit up with the last showing of vibrant fall foliage. With a compact full kitchen, elegant dining table, large living room with balcony and oversized bathroom with soaking tub and separate shower, the space felt more like apartment-style living than an ordinary hotel suite. It was perfect for a bit of pre-wedding entertaining with friends. In the separate bedroom, the Tempur-Pedic mattress was the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in and a welcome surprise from traditional pillow top matresses found in most hotels.
Room for improvement in my guest room: Worn out mattress on the pull out sofa.
The food: Our dinner at Crystal Tavern was a high point of our visit to Crystal Springs. The meal left an impression that won’t soon be forgotten. The handsome upscale pub-style dining venue offered inventive cocktails, unique appetizers, hearty entrees and splurge-worthy desserts with presentation that blew us away course after course. What we sampled:
Pear sparkler – A creative cocktail creation of pear infused vodka and sparkling wine garnished with fresh pear. Understated and yet so delicious.
Autumn greens – A seasonal bounty of mixed lettuces, butternut squash, goat cheese and pumpkin seed oil artfully arranged.
Paccheri pasta – A unique entree of robust pasta with roasted chestnuts, pumpkin, sage, grated asiago cheese and charred cauliflower was fall captured in a dish.
Pear and dried cherry strudel – a winning combination of mild pear and tangy dried cherries wrapped in a flaky golden brown pastry and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Both dense and light in the same bite.
The spa: The beauty of the spa scene at Crystal Springs Resort is the offering of two distinctly differing spas: Elements Spa at Minerals Hotel (a five-minute drive or shuttle ride from Grand Cascades Lodge) and Reflections Spa at Grand Cascades Lodge.
What we loved at Elements Spa at Minerals Hotel: Fruit infused water, hot tea, granola and spa attendants dressed in chic black uniforms decked out in a bit of rhinestone bling. The complimentary post-treatment foot soak ritual with rose petals and iced water in a champagne glass provides a point of distinction.
Room for improvement at Elements Spa: Noisy beaded curtains and spa attendants who chatted among themselves worked at a frantic pace that spoiled the tranquility and peaceful spa setting. But the spa desk is where a great deal of noise and disruption really emanated from. There were no hushed voices, no soothing tones, no proper offer of an escort to the locker room at a leisurely pace, but rather a question: “Do you know your way back?”. The small relaxation area is in full earshot of the post-treatment soaking area and it’s not a quiet space.
What we loved at Reflections Spa: After a rocky start the previous day at Elements Spa, I’d written Crystal Springs Resort off as a “No Spa Zone”. But Reflections Spa redeemed themselves and my therapist Jillian totally rocked my Art of Reflections Massage. I mean, rocked it! She was outstanding at zeroing in on my trouble spots, offering post-massage suggestions and providing a genuine healing atmosphere from greeting to parting. It was the perfect treatment in every way: perfect draping, perfect pressure and perfect unhurried transitions.
But just when I think it can’t get any better, I’m ushered to a post-treatment ritual that is worthy of the price of admission alone and one I could easily come back to time after time. Every decadent indulgence is on offer from an enthusiastic spa attendant: My champagne is garnished with a chocolate truffle. A U-shaped formation of posh throne-like chairs surrounds a trough-style water feature. I dipped my feet into a basin filled with sea salt for a self exfoliation. When you’re ready, the attendant rotates your chair 180 degrees until you are facing the wall and another basin filled with warm water awaits you for soaking your feet. When (If) you can finally drag yourself away from the royal treatment, there are more gourmet truffles and miniature cream pastries to be devoured in the waiting area. A wellness spa this isn’t, but rather a treat for all the senses.
Undecided at Reflections Spa: The colorful decor is red and black with sparkling crystal light fixtures, neutral cream and gold colored upholstered seating and snakeskin bordered mirrors. It’s undoubtedly the most unique spa setting I’ve encountered, albeit a bit garish and not entirely pleasing to all tastes.
Room for improvement at Reflections Spa: Lack of a separate waiting areas for men and women. Frayed robes.
The wedding: I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of weddings, so these words are never uttered lightly: It was the best wedding I’ve ever been to! The bride and groom were utterly smashing in their host and hostess roles: classy yet fun, warm and welcoming and offering a never ending stream of heartfelt appreciation for their guests.
The cocktail hour was abundant and festive, the dinner service was even and accomplished and the served courses were artfully composed. The food can only be described as outrageously good. My buttery and moist salmon entree was perfectly cooked and my table mates raved about their filet mignon. The wine and cocktails never stopped flowing (OK, so maybe this had SOMETHING to do with my rave reviews) until the brilliant band/DJ combination played and sang the last tune. Crystal Springs Country Club was a simply sensational venue for a wedding to be remembered for a long time.
What I didn’t make time for: At it’s core, Crystal Springs Resort is a golf resort/golf community. Seven championship golf courses are located within a five mile radius of the resort, with several courses located right on the premises. I’m not much of a golfer, but these courses appeared both interesting and challenging.
If you go:
Crystal Springs Resort,
Sussex County, NJ