Are you looking for a vacation spot where you can relax, sight-see, and play a little tennis while you’re there? If you are, this review might not be for you! I’m not saying you can’t find that at Saddlebrook Resort, but it certainly wasn’t what I wanted or what I found there.
I attended this camp for 6 days in December, 2014. I was actually at the resort for 7 full days, but took a planned rest day halfway through. I chose the camp based on it’s description and reviews on Tennis Resorts Online, and because it offered 5 hours of on-court tennis instruction 365 days per year with a maximum of 4:1 student:pro ratio.
I went to the resort with my parents and my, at the time, 2.5-year-old son. My husband was planning on meeting us there for the last few days to enjoy some golf but couldn’t afford the time away from work to come for the whole time. Unfortunately winter weather interfered with his travel plans so he didn’t end up making the trip.
Saddlebrook Resort is located in Wesley Chapel, Fl, which is about a 50 minute drive north from the Tampa Bay airport. We rented a car since we knew we’d want to have it during our stay, but the resort does offer some good options for easy airport transfers if you don’t want to drive.
Wesley Chapel is more of a suburb (it isn’t really a city, but is actually a part of the Tampa Bay Area metro), so we did sort of have the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. It did have a great grocery store very close to the resort, and a shopping mall within a 10 minute drive with restaurants and box-store shopping though.
In terms of sight-seeing, my parents took day trips to Tampa Bay, Clearwater and St. Petersburg with my son and enjoyed strolling around, dining, and visiting the beaches. I didn’t really leave the resort much other than to eat and shop a bit as I was there to play tennis!
We had a “3-bedroom suite” which was in fact a 2-bedroom suite with an adjoining standard room. This was plenty of space for three adults and a toddler.
The suite had a full kitchen but, as is typical with hotel kitchens, it was difficult to cook much beyond a basic meal (my mom and I enjoy cooking elaborate meals and we’re accustomed to our own kitchens with all the amenities (i.e. sharpened knives, high-speed blenders, lots of pots and pans).
The resort has a steakhouse, sports bar, and an indoor/outdoor cafe, plus a poolside bar that serves food too.
Our package included breakfast at the cafe, which featured a buffet that had all the regulars plus an egg/omelet bar and fresh-squeezed juices. I have a pretty specific diet (I don’t eat any dairy) but I found it really easy to eat well at this cafe, both for breakfast and lunch.
We went to the steakhouse once for dinner, which wasn’t too interesting but was fine. For dinners we did most of our dining either in our kitchen or off-site. There was a Mexican restaurant very close to the resort that we liked. The mall nearby had some larger chain restaurants but these weren’t really our thing (we tend to like smaller, local restaurants).
Overall we were happy enough with the dining options at Saddlebrook, mostly because we could cook our own food and the cafe had good breakfasts and lunches, but if you’re a foodie looking for exceptional dining experiences I wouldn’t say this is your place, unless perhaps you’re willing to make the drive into Tampa.
The resort has everything you’d expect such as a spa, pools, fitness centre, restaurants, golf courses, tennis courts, and pro-shops.
The more unique aspects are:
- tennis courts with all four grand-slam surfaces, golf and tennis training academies (pros who’ve trained there include Jim Courier, Martina Hingis, James Blake, Pete Sampras, Jack Sock and John Isner and guests are encouraged to head over to the Sports Village to watch elite athletes train and play)
- a prep school for dedicated high-school tennis players and golfers
- a Sports Performance program that elite athletes attend to work on their fitness
We went in mid-December, and cooler temperatures prohibited us from enjoying the outdoor pools very much, but we did have some warm days, and since we weren’t there to sit by the pool anyway we really didn’t care.
The weather was perfect for tennis as it was not too hot and not too cold. Also, this was an extremely quiet time at the resort. We felt like we had the place to ourselves. We were told it gets busy starting at Christmas and typically stays that way for the rest of the winter and spring.
Ok, now that the logistics are out of the way, I’ll move on to the really good stuff – the tennis!
This is the first tennis camp I’ve ever attended so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I have been to some resorts that offer tennis clinics and I found Saddlebrook’s camp experience to be far superior. Not necessarily because the instructors themselves were more knowledgable or better teachers, but because the camp is perfect for adults who are serious about tennis, not just looking for a little bit of tennis while on vacation. While the campers were at varying skill levels, we all shared an intense desire to improve or else we wouldn’t be there, and the instructors were on board with this and were dedicated to helping us get better. We were treated like athletes and as long as we were willing to push ourselves the instructors would push us too.
The camp runs 365 days a year so you can sign up for whichever days you want to go and can do half-days as well, so it is very flexible if you’re working it into a family vacation and have other things you want to do. I chose to sign up for 3 days followed by a rest day and then another 3 days. When you sign up, you fill out a questionnaire that’s meant to gauge your experience level so that campers can be grouped appropriately.
The first 10 minutes each morning and afternoon were spent doing a dynamic warm-up which was important, although when I go back I plan to do a longer warm up before I show up since it really is a strenuous program (particularly if you’re visiting in the off-season as I was and not in your best shape!).
My favourite thing about this camp (as compared to some other clinics I’ve been to) is that if there weren’t four students at about the same level, then they would have smaller groups. They would even have one person working with an instructor for an entire session if that person wouldn’t fit in with the other students. So this person was getting a 2 or 3 hour private lesson for the price of a group clinic!
It’s no fun for anyone when someone in a group is way more or less experienced than the others so I really like that they commit to keeping groups well-matched, especially because it allows valuable live point play. My group sizes ranged from 2 to 4 players.
The instructors I had were very informal and instead of having a pre-set program they would look for areas that we needed to improve and come up with drills to focus on those things, or even ask us what we wanted to work on. I spent the first few days with one instructor and a husband/wife couple and we did a lot of drills on the varying shots with a ton of running – I felt like I was at tennis bootcamp and loved it!
For the last 2 days I was there I was grouped with 2 4.5 level guys, and our instructor was an aspiring Futures tournament level player. The four of us played a ton of singles and doubles live points with instruction in between, which was a perfect way to end the week.
Larry, who is one of the more experienced coaches, did video analysis for me, and complimented me on my dedication, open-mindedness and willingness to learn, which he said would help make me a great player. Nice to hear.
Because I live in Canada, by mid-December I’d been pretty much off the courts for almost 2 months. I also was working full time, and going from being a full-time desk-jockey to playing 5 hours of tennis in a day was really hard on my body. The instructors warned me I’d be feeling sore early in the week and they were right. By the end of the 3rd day I couldn’t move an inch without all of my muscles aching. So I was very happy with my decision to take a rest day mid-way through. I was feeling good again after the break so I was ready to enjoy the 2nd half of camp.
I think this soreness could have been at least partially avoided by being in really good shape going into the camp and by brining a foam roller, lacrosse ball and yoga mat along for some in-room self massage, active release and stretching. The spa offers a sport massage which was helpful, and there is a yoga studio in Wesley Chapel that I think I would make use of next time.
So to summarize, I highly recommend Saddlebrook resort for the adult tennis camp program. The resort is comfortable, relaxed, friendly and has everything you need to have a great week of tennis. The tennis program is geared towards people who love tennis enough to want to play 5 hours a day. The quality of instruction is top-notch and you can expect a great workout.
The accommodations are not as luxurious as it gets, but nice enough, and the suites make a week-long family stay much more comfortable than a standard hotel room would.
The only drawbacks for me are the location and the dining options. For me neither of these are deal breakers for going back since I was really there for tennis and not sightseeing/dining, and I was very satisfied with the overall experience. I’ve been to fancier resorts with better restaurants (i.e. Kiawah Island) but for a tennis addict like myself I’m not sure Saddlebrook can be beat.
I do hope to visit Saddlebrook again. My husband is looking forward to trying out the golf programs, and there are great children’s programs there too, so once my son is a little older it will be a great family vacation spot for us. Let me know if you have any questions about my experience at Saddlebrook, and I’d love to hear what others think of the resort as well. Are there other programs out there you’d recommend?