My family never “cottaged” when we were growing up. We didn’t really do anything nature-inspired either, except for that one time we did a road trip to Pukaskwa National Park so we could camp with my cousins from Winnipeg and meet halfway.
Although that would be my first and last time in a tent with my family, in high school I did a few camping trips with friends, which I only ever sort of enjoyed. I liked the social part but not the bugs or sleeping-on-the-ground part.
Fast-forward to my late-20s and Big B — my then-boyfriend — had friends with cottages. It was just really never for me. Perhaps it was because I didn’t grow up swimming in lakes that I loathe swimming in lakes. Perhaps it’s that I’ve always had an appetite for five-star accommodations and rustic cottage life and outhouses just didn’t fit me well. Perhaps it’s that I’m a newly self-diagnosed ambivert who never really understood the push-and-pull feelings I had cooped up in a cottage overrun with multiple couples (I really wanted to engage and have fun but when I needed alone time to recharge, there was nowhere to retreat).
Don’t get me wrong: I love nature. I find great beauty in the stillness of a lake or the call of a loon or the wind whispering through the trees.
But when I want to retire for the night, I’d prefer to look at that lake and listen to that loon from the comfort of my balcony with a glass of wine — in a real glass — before tucking into a nice, king-size bed. Preferably in a room I don’t share with my children.
So while I desperately want my kids to grow up surrounded by nature and to experience all the camping and cottaging that I didn’t, I’m finding ways to do it that fit my own needs as well.
Enter Deerhurst Resort, one of the oldest and most established resorts in the country. We had the opportunity to spend a couple of days there recently (thanks, Deerhurst!) and it’s definitely more my speed, offering lakeside accommodations that are much more hotel than cottage.
Deerhurst Resort is easy to get to from the Greater Toronto Area, and worked out to about a 2.5-hour drive for us. Totally reasonable getting to Muskoka on a long weekend.
And it feels pretty grand when you arrive, with a lovely fountain in the middle of the roundabout and a lare foyer that gives way to its historical roots.
The service was excellent through and through. From the front desk staff who were endlessly apologetic that our room wasn’t ready until 4 p.m. (um, check-in is at 4 p.m. so if you’re peeved that you can’t check in before check-in time, you should check yourself. Check.), to the cleaning staff who were incredibly attentive, to the kind servers in the restaurants — we had nothing but gracious, genuine service our entire stay.
Our room was really spacious and the master bed was quite comfortable; I loved that the kids were in another room, even if there was only a half-wall separating us. We backed onto forest and nothing else, so the privacy was incredible. Beyond that, the rooms need an upgrade, and Deerhurst knows it. They’re about to undergo massive renovations, so it’s not fair to make a lasting comment about the rooms at this stage. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to go back next summer after the renos are complete to see the difference.
Breakfast was included with our package, and if it comes with yours, too, there’s lots of variety and you could do worse than spending your morning in the sun-drenched dining room!
If you love to explore on foot, you’ll love Deerhurst’s footprint. It’s HUGE. There’s a gorgeous golf course, a beach with watersports, extensive hiking trails, three tennis courts, an indoor pool, three outdoor pools, stables and an indoor activity centre. There’s also a stage (with some pretty decent concerts lined up for 2016, like Jim Cuddy!) onsite, and we happened to be there the same weekend as the Candance competition, which Miss Q and I absolutely loved watching.
We really enjoyed borrowing tennis rackets and balls from the activity centre (for free), even though none of us is any good at tennis. It’s first-come, first-served for the loaners and to get on a court, so do this early in the day to avoid disappointment.
The most memorable part of our visit to Deerhurst Resort was the Kids ‘N Ponies experience over at the stables. It was $30 per kid, and I feared that it would end up a glorified pony ride a few times around a ring. But, no! It was a really well-run program that started with the kids meeting their ponies and learning the names of the tack (saddle, girth, bridal), then helping brush and tack up. After reviewing a few house rules, each child was invited to walk his or her pony to the riding ring and walk around, leading their ponies by the reins. After a couple of laps, the instructor helped each kid up into the saddle and the “ride” portion of the program began. There were drills that taught them how to walk on, halt and turn. There were games that reinforced some of their new skills. And there was even time at the end to try a few tricks (around the world, anyone?). All said and done, the program was somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour and WELL worth the $30 price of admission. The kids were still talking about it days later and even asked to horseback ride this summer. WIN!
Big B and I absolutely loved walking the halls to see the various art on all of the walls — most of it well out of reach financially (the one painting we both loved rang it at a cool $8,500). It’s like you’re in the middle of a gallery everywhere you turn. If it wasn’t illegal to take pictures of paintings and post them here, I would have them plastered in this post!
Although they’re not in the Deerhurst Resort complex, I have to give honourable mentions here to Belly Ice Cream and 3 Guys and a Stove — both worth temporarily leaving Deerhurst to enjoy. Belly’s ice cream is fresh and homemade (with milk from Creemore)! If the Basil With Lemon flavour is available the day you’re there, it’d be a crime not to have it. OMG, it’s so ridiculously good. Head to 3 Guys and a Stove for a patio lunch, and be sure to have the crab cakes. It’s worth mentioning that the kids’ chicken wrap was enormous and full of big chunks of chicken with lots of veggies — one of the highest-quality kids’ meals we’ve ever seen.
We went over the May long weekend and only the indoor pool was open. We knew this in advance, so it’s not like we didn’t expect to find the one indoor pool busy. But, boy!, was it busy. The hotel was full and so was the pool. Had we waited a month, the three outdoor pools would have been open, too, giving guests a chance to spread out a bit more.
I was surprised to find the indoor pool’s change rooms in the state we did; lockers were hanging off their hinges in many cases, and the whole place needs a major facelift. The change room, strangely, doesn’t connect directly to the pool’s entrance, so you walk back out and into a foyer-like hallway to access the pool. Hopefully this will be renovated, too.
The food is good but not as good as I was expecting. Having been to Horseshoe Resort, which is owned by the same management group, I thought it would be on par or even exceed it. Not so. It was fine, but for the prices, I’d be inclined to leave Deerhurst for lunch and dinner since there are so many restaurants in close proximity to the resort.
If your kids are little, you may find that you need to drive to various resort activities since it’s quite large. Getting to and from the beach was quite a hike for our kids’ little legs, and the stables were so much farther that we decided to drive. You have to cross a busy road to get to the hiking trails, too. All of this would be fine with older kids — better than fine, probably. I’m sure they’d enjoy being a good distance from their parents! But with littles, if you’d prefer to arrive and park the car for the duration of your visit, you’re better off going to Horseshoe Resort (where there are also a lot more kid-friendly activities offered).
It was still too cold to go lake swimming (and by that, I mean for Big B to take the kids lake swimming), so we didn’t really do the beach, and we would have loved to rent a boat but it wasn’t open for the season yet. This is no fault of Deerhurst’s, of course, but keep it in mind if you plan to go before the summer season is in full swing.
Almost everything is pay-to-play. This is fairly normal for many resorts, so it’s not taking away anything from Deerhurst’s rating below, but it has to be mentioned somewhere. Other than swimming, beaching and some watersports, and tennis equipment, you will pay for EVERYTHING. Petting zoo, pony rides, dance classes, boat rentals, all your food and more. So be sure you budget for those things unless you’re the type of family who’s happy to hike, play some tennis, kayak a bit, lounge by a beach or do the pools.
3.5/5 (renovated spaces will inevitably make a huge difference in this rating and this review will be updated following a post-reno visit)