Story by Nicole Keck
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
HUNTSVILLE, ONTARIO — If the President of the United States looked you in the eye and sincerely asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” — how would you respond?
You have one moment, one chance. Would you ask for an autograph, a photo, a balanced budget and world peace perhaps? What about the sweaty towel hanging around his neck — would you ask for that? That’s exactly what one awe-struck employee of the Deerhurst Resort did when during the 2010 G8 Summit.
According to Nick McEntee, a 19-year veteran at Deerhurst and the resort’s ambassador, Barack Obama worked out in the resort’s fitness centre both days he was in the complex that usually hosts families and golf parties, save for this one eventful week when eight of the most powerful leaders in the world gathered for a historic conference.
It turns out that on the morning of his stay, Obama was apparently distracted as he exited the gym. Perhaps he was counting calories, hoping he had worked off the dessert he indulged in at the heads of state lounge the night before, or maybe he was thinking, “Boy, Prime Minister Harper sure knows how to throw a party. I wonder how much all of this cost?” Although no one we will ever know what was going through his mind at that moment, what everyone at Deerhust has now learned is Obama isn’t easy to push around. On his way back to his room in Deerhurst’s Building 51, the 6-foot-2 president accidentally ran into a small-of-stature employee, knocking her right to the ground. She rose, unhurt but shocked, finding herself staring up at the most powerful man in the world.
Obama, the story goes, apologized and asked what he could do for her, and McEntee said the woman did actually ask for the post-work out towel around his neck, which he graciously handed over, pausing in surprise before fulfilling the request for the laundry item. That employee has since left Deerhust for other endeavours but her story remains, along with countless more from the summit. (Ask McEntee about his exciting chance encounter with Obama, which was much to the chagrin of the US Secret Service, although the incident was nowhere near as outrageous as anything involving Colombian escorts.)
The G8 Summit was four years in the making and cost taxpayers $50 million, including a reported $8.2 million sent from the federal government to the resort. While the tab remains a source of controversy, Deerhurst has moved on. Here’s what guests will find on the property now.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
National Geographic named the Muskoka region one of the top 20 places in the world to visit in 2012, and that’s good news for Skyline Resorts and Hotels, which purchased Deerhurst and its 760 acres in March 2011 — nine months after the G8 Summit — for a reported $26 million. The hotel management company has set about creating a place where guests can try new outdoor experiences involving the gorgeous Muskoka setting. The tried and true activities are still there: two golf courses, Deerhurst Highlands and Deerhurst Lakeside; tons of water activities, such as tubing, water-skiing, and wake-boarding (lessons are available too); and longtime favourites such as boating, tennis, hiking, and mountain biking.
But if you’re craving a little more adrenaline, ask for details about paintball, Rock Buggy tours, Hummer tours, and BionX electric bike rentals. Also new this year is the Treetop Trekking experience. When it opens in July, guests ages 9-65 can explore the forest by way of ropes, bridges, zip-lines, climbing nets, and swings. It will include 100-plus games and obstacles that make up a series of aerial courses on elevated platforms — and to really ensure the full nature experience, it will be available rain or shine.
If Treetop Trekking in the rain isn’t your thing, try the indoor climbing wall that opened a couple of months ago. It caters to different skill levels so that even my four-year-old and six-year-old could take part. We discovered that conquering the wall isn’t only about physical strength, it’s also a mental exercise in strategy and planning. It’s hard to think quick on your feet while your fingers cramp up, slowly losing the battle with gravity. We had a blast, trying it for the first time as a family with the expertise and individual attention of our Deerhurst guide, Laura. She did an excellent job of instructing the kids and enforcing the safety rules while having fun with them. In doing so, she allowed me and my husband to relax, try it out ourselves and take lots of pictures.
With kids in mind, you should also consider getting a Splash Pass. The one-time fee ($20 per person) covers the entire length of your stay and includes Deerhurst’s Splash Zone (a really cool inflatable water park on the lake), plus canoes, single, double and triple kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, wind surfing and life jackets. The Splash Zone will feature some fun activities for Canada Day, one of them being “Cake in the Lake,” and yes, it’s just what it sounds like. You want a piece of the giant cake? It will be set up out in the lake — go get it!
Deerhurst still offers Kids ‘n Ponies and Kids ‘n Critters at nearby stables (reachable by free shuttle transfer). More than just a typical pony ride, the stables now offer more of an experience, including an introduction to horses that teaches kids how to brush their ponies, put on the blanket and saddle, lead them to the ring themselves (don’t let them stop and graze!) and learn some basic riding skills. Afterward, at the barn, kids can meet the farm’s other residents like the sheep, rams, goats, pigs, chickens, puppies and kittens, and even have a chance to feed them.
Kids (and their “big kid” parents) will also want to check out the new on-site arcade, Stargazers, which opens in July and allows players the chance to win tickets that they can trade in for prizes. Construction is almost complete, and rumour has it there will be plenty of space-themed light features like twinkling stars and a facsimile of the Northern Lights moving overhead.
RESTING AND REFUELLING
Deerhurst offers a wide range of room sizes and prices, anywhere from a modest room with one queen bed ($159 per night) to a three-bedroom condo ($389 per night). We stayed in a two-bedroom condo overlooking one of the golf courses and the lake and it was the perfect size for our family. I liked that it had a kitchen with full-size appliances, along with a washer and dryer and fireplace. Our two boys liked that they had their own bedroom with separate beds and their own jetted tub. If that’s not in your budget, there are plenty of packages and specials; one of them should match your needs. Whatever you choose, sitting on the balcony early in the morning, watching the greens keeper silently work his magic, is a great way to start the day (who knew the smell of coffee and pine trees go so well together?).
There are three restaurant options on the property, as well as a lobby bar and a poolside grill. (See more details and dining plans here.) We ate breakfast at Eclipse, which has beautiful views and a great buffet, and also serves dinner. Just as important as our meal at Eclipse was the wonderful way in which our server, Marga, treated our children. By the time we left, Marga felt like family, and it’s those little things that make a good vacation great.
Steamers is a steakhouse with nice views and white tablecloths, but the stuffiness ends there. It would be a lovely place for a romantic meal, but we felt comfortable taking our kids there too, and the staff made the children feel very welcome. Dinner entrees range from $19-$39 and feature a mashed potato of the day — yummo! If you go, ask Jose about his “fly on the wall” experience while serving the heads of state, he’ll keep you laughing!
Some of the employees have been at the resort long enough to remember the three years that Shania Twain performed in Deerhurst’s live production before she made it big. It was a different show in the early 1990s, but those types of stories are fun to hear, and if you visit the resort, I suggest asking the staff about them.
OUT AND ABOUT
If you would like to leave the resort to explore, Huntsville has a quaint downtown with a large variety of shops and a nice main street to walk.
Of course, Algonquin Provincial Park is also nearby, just 35 minutes from Deerhurst, a day pass is $16 per vehicle.
MORE ABOURT DEERHURST RESORT
Location: 1235 Deerhurst Drive, Huntsville, ON (see map below)
Contact: Reservations 1-800-461-4393 (toll-free); website: www.deerhurstresort.com
Lakeside Golf Course: $60, discounts for twilight, sunset and junior players (ages 13-16)
Highlands Golf Course: $120, same discounts offered as above
Splash Pass: $20 per person
Rock Wall: $10 pp for 30 minutes
Hummer Tours: Adults $59/hour, Kids $35/hour
Rock Buggy Tours: $35+
EZ Cat Electric Boat Rentals: $69/hour
BionX Electric Bikes: $25+
Mountain Bikes: Adults $15/hour, Kids $10/hour
Kids ‘n Ponies: $25/30 minutes
Kids ‘n Critters: $20/30 minutes
Trail Rides (ages 10 and up): $65/hour
Carriage Rides (couple): $75/couple, $100/family
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