Ah, summer in the city… Hot, sticky, noisy, and maybe just a little bit stinky.
If you’re lucky, you have good friends with a cottage. If you’re even luckier, you have a family cottage. It seems a rural escape by a lake or river is the quintessential city slicker’s dream, but a cottage vacation every summer is simply not doable for most families.
Or is it?
Enter Great Blue Resorts, cottage vacation resorts where you can rent for a weekend or a week, or even own a cottage without all the maintenance, chores, and upkeep.
Earlier this summer, we had a glorious long weekend cottage vacation at Shamrock Bay Resort, a cottage vacation resort located just outside Gravenhurst, Ontario. It was a wonderful escape that the kids are still talking about, and I definitely join them in their desire to return!
Shamrock Bay Resort is typically a 90min. drive from where we are in Toronto. Because it was a long weekend, traffic was a little heavy so it took us closer to two hours to get there, which is still totally great. Thanks to our new favourite navigation app, Waze, we avoided most of the stop-and-go on the Northbound 400 highway, and since we stopped for burgers on the way, we arrived just after lunch. Typically, check out is 11am and check in is 3pm, but our cottage was ready for us when we arrived. We packed enough groceries to cover our dinner and the next morning’s breakfast, as well as a few snacks.
We were assigned Cottage #17, which was close to everything and had a lovely view of the marina. The cabin can probably sleep seven: Two in the Master, three in the bunks (a twin over a double) and two on the fold-out couch. It was more than enough room for our family of four, and you could probably squeeze a travel cot in the Master bedroom, or certainly in the living area if need be. Bed rails could also be added to the bottom bunk in the 2nd bedroom to keep younger kids from falling out. You bring your own towels and bed linens, but this cottage provided pillows.
The eat-in kitchen is fully-stocked, and I appreciated the addition of dish soap, sugar packets, and salt and pepper. Sometimes those little amenities aren’t included in a cottage rental, and are easily forgotten. That meant when we headed into town for additional groceries, we could just grab what we needed. The small town of Washago is just a seven minute drive away, and there’s a small grocery store as well as a few little restaurants, a burger shack, and an all-important LCBO! The main house/welcome centre at Shamrock Bay sells ice cream and milkshakes, as well as snacks and a few necessities like insect repellent, sunscreen, and stuff to make your campfire turn different colours!
Our cottage vacation weekend was very active, and we were able to take advantage of most of the included amenities that Shamrock Bay Resort offers. Free to sign out for an hour are canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and a basic paddle boat, and we splurged the $10 to sign out the fancier paddle boat. For a fee, you can also sign up for waterskiing or tubing, as well as rent jetskis, but we kept our water toy fun to non-motorized this time around. There are plenty of small and child-sized life jackets to use, but you may want to bring your own infant or toddler life jacket to ensure you always have one to use.
The pool is large and kept very clean. The kids had a blast playing in it with their new friends after we’d splashed at the beach for a bit. We paid $5 for each of them to have a turn in the pool/hamster ball thing. They both really enjoyed it.
The baby- and toddler-friendly beach is small, but the river water is clean and clear and my kids enjoyed challenging themselves to swim across and back. It’s deep enough to swim properly but remains shallow at the edge for babies and toddlers to enjoy a splash without parents having to hover. The boat traffic is a bit busy, but the watercrafts must travel slowly as to not create a wake, so there was always plenty of time to see oncoming boats and get out of the way. After initially finding it strange, my aloof city kids eventually got the hang of waving to everyone on passing boats, and stopped asking, “Do we know them?”
Also included in your stay is the Kids Klub, which offers supervised activities for children ages four and up. We opted not to use it, and it seemed most families just took advantage of having a few hours free here and there to get organized. The kids club staff (as all Great Blue Resorts staff we encountered) were super friendly and kind.
Cottage ownership is an option at Shamrock Bay and other Great Blue Resorts, but despite us being weekend renters we were not pressured (nor asked, frankly) to participate in any “information” sessions or even given a sales pitch. We were curious, naturally, since a cottage vacation is great fun for a family but the idea of actually buying a cottage is pretty much out of reach financially, and also seems like a lot of work!
Shamrock Bay prices are very affordable, and the annual maintenance fees cover pretty much everything; you just need to pay for your propane. Your fellow cottagers are typically not rowdy (there are noise curfews) and if you choose to rent out your place when you’re not using it, Great Blue Resorts does all of the work when it comes to renting including advertising, vetting the clientele, collecting security deposits, greeting guests, cleaning the cottage, and keeping a watchful eye on the properties. They do not permit anyone under the age of 25 or groups of people that wouldn’t be suitable. Most owners cover at least 50% of their annual resort management fees by renting out their cottage for a few weeks each year.
Amenities can differ amongst the Great Blue Resorts but overall the goal is to create a family friendly atmosphere at each location. Some properties do not have a multi-sports court or splash pads, but all have a pool, Kids Klub, playground, and a welcome centre with snack bar. On our Canada Day weekend, the resort held a huge fireworks show that was really impressive.
If you are a young family with a baby or toddler in tow, a cottage vacation weekend is a great way to get your “vacation legs” by offering a peaceful getaway that offers a change of scenery but a short(er) drive and full amenities take it easy on the parents. But if your kids are a bit older and need to be kept active, you have lots to do and a family-friendly environment to do it in.
To book a cottage vacation rental getaway, fill in your desired dates in the form on Great Blue Resorts‘ web site.
Many thanks to Great Blue Resorts for hosting my family and sponsoring this post. All opinions remain my own.