As strange as Lake Rosseau looked without speed boats plying its still-unfrozen surface, the JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka’s new geodesic dining domes looked stranger still.
This was not because private al fresco feasting seemed out of the ordinary. Nine months into the pandemic, it is practically de rigueur. Rather, it was because the dozens of physically distanced guests admiring the transparent “Ice Caves,” stylishly furnished for dining and lounging, weren’t allowed to dine or lounge in them.
Shortly before the Dec. 5 launch of the wintry culinary experience, health authorities banned guests from entering the igloo-shaped enclosures owing to COVID-19 regulations stating that any tent, roof or canopy covering an outdoor dining space must be open on at least two full sides. A week later, the ban was lifted when it was determined that these regulations do not apply to outdoor dining venues that are extensions of COVID-19-compliant indoor restaurants.
In other words, par for the course in 2020. With business and facility shutdowns, limits on social gatherings, interprovincial travel restrictions and government recommendations against non-essential journeys conspiring to make uncertainty the overarching theme of the coming holiday season, it should come as no surprise that just 10 per cent of Canadians are planning to leave their communities or home provinces, according to a recent Angus Reid Institute survey. (The usual number is reportedly around 50 per cent.)
Still, a number of hotels and resorts are bending over backward to welcome guests with an imaginative array of last-minute (and COVID-19-conscious) festive getaways this month. If having someone else do the work is at the top of your wish list, consider an option from the list below.
JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka, Ontario
Arranged around a communal fire pit on the Marriott’s expansive lakeview terrace, each heated Ice Cave seats up to four guests for two reservations a day. Dining in the two lounge domes, dubbed “Icicle” and “Crystal,” features a menu of wine-paired small plates of shrimp, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and other fare grilled by resort chefs over a pair of charcoal-fired cauldrons. The other domes, a.k.a. Frost and Snowflake, take more of a family-style approach to meals, with bourguignonne and cheese fondues added to the menu. Ice Cave dining must be booked and prepaid at least 24 hours in advance, and can be packaged with spa treatments and wintry activities such as fat biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Auberge Saint-Antoine, Quebec City
This upscale boutique hotel in Old Quebec is favouring glass over plastic with festive dinners and brunches served in the privacy of a heated greenhouse. This unique culinary experience can be packaged with seasonal diversions ranging from Christmas photo shoots and in-room visits with Santa to lavish afternoon teas and private guided tours of Old Quebec City.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Alberta
As difficult as it is to single out one Canadian Fairmont property for holiday cheer – all 19 of them tend to go big at this time of year – this historic resort’s Festival of Christmas puts it over the top. Modified programming this year includes digital scavenger hunts, cookie and gingerbread decorating and the creation of ice cream cone Christmas trees and doughnut snowmen. From a pandemic perspective, it certainly helps that JPL is packaging its heritage log cabins, the largest of which has eight bedrooms, with curated barbecue and dining packages overseen by personal chefs.
Drake Devonshire, Wellington, Ont.
Seinfeld fans will appreciate the “Festivus Feasts” being served by this urban outpost in Prince Edward County. On Dec. 24 and 25, the inn’s stylish dining room will tweak traditional festive fare by serving up caramelized onion potato gratin, buttered leek and apricot stuffing with wild rice, sourdough Brussels sprouts, and yes, roast turkey. New Year’s Eve celebrations will feature three-course dinners and a live-streamed concert straight out of the 416.
Manoir Hovey, North Hatley, Que.
Room-service connoisseurs will be in their element at this upscale Relais & Châteaux property on the shores of Lac Massawippi in the Eastern Townships. With restaurants closed because of COVID-19 restrictions as of mid-December, guests can have fare ranging from homemade granola with Hovey Honey and local blueberry jam to an eight-course holiday tasting menu delivered to any of the seven stand-alone cottages. Public spaces remain open, allowing guests to partake in complimentary eggnog tastings, with the Manoir’s expansive grounds playing host to horse-drawn carriage rides and other festive diversions.
Algonquin Resort, St. Andrews by-the-Sea, N.B.
The recent bursting of the Atlantic provinces travel bubble need not prevent Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers from embarking on festive (and quarantine-free) getaways to this lavishly decorated Tudor-style resort in the picturesque village of St. Andrews. Shuttered since Nov. 20, the Algonquin is reopening especially for the winter holidays, with its upscale accommodations and stress-busting spa available from Dec. 17 to Jan. 3. Seasonal prix-fixe dinners, meanwhile, are being served on Dec. 24, 25 and 31.
Oak Bay Beach Hotel, Victoria
With the B.C. government continuing to discourage travel outside of home communities, this boutique oceanside resort has rolled out special staycation rates that enable locals to soak in oceanside hot pools, join in family events, such as Breakfast in Santa’s Workshop and holiday movie nights, and partake of private dining experiences.
Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge, Alta.
We could all use a laugh right about now, so a tip of the hat must go to the Lethbridge Lodging Association’s “Spotlight Rooms” promotional campaign. Of the five interactive pop-up studios being hosted by hotels across the city, the “Put 2020 in the Dumpster” space in the Sandman Signature Lethbridge Lodge sounds like just the spot to ring in 2021. Designed for holiday photo-shoots, the themed studios also include “Rub a Dub Dub in the Tub,” “Under the Sea,” “I’m Dreaming of a Beach Vacation” and “That 70′s Room.” All are free to explore for anyone staying at the Sandman or the Best Western Plus Service Inn & Suites, Wingate by Wyndham Lethbridge, Holiday Inn Lethbridge and Holiday Inn Express Lethbridge SE.
The writer was a guest of JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka. It did not approve or review this article.
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