We’ve just returned from a wonderful stay at Ontario’s historic all-inclusive family resort, only 1.5 hours away from the GTA! I would have got to write this review sooner, but, after LOTS of begging from the kids, we caved and surprise them with an extended stay from 2 nights to 3!
Andrew and I have been eye-balling this resort for a few years now. I have fond memories of Fern, when my Aunt spent many Summers with her son here and we’d come up to visit for the day. I understand the annual appeal of this place for a parent now. We love traveling with our gang, but let’s face the family travel music – all that 24/7 togetherness doesn’t always bring out the best in everyone and having options like kids clubs & adult time was a mighty marvelous lure.
We had lots of questions while on our getaway and I’m going to try to address them all here. If you’ve considered visiting Fern Resort, or are looking for a fantastic place to have a true getaway experience in Ontario’s north country set along the waters of beautiful Couchiching Lake that will meet every member of your family’s needs, here’s why you should just go ahead and make it happen:
Activities for All Ages
Our gang is 10, 8, 4, and 2.5 years old and there were so many activity options to suit each of their individual preferences – most of them included in the programming. Our oldest son (10-12 year old Program) loved the banana boat ride (usually a paid experience but included in the youth program), nerf gun wars and fishing experiences best.
Our 8-year-old’s (7-9 year old group) faves were the rock climbing wall, amazing race and waterside experiences (including kayaking & dockside fishing).
Our 4-year-old daughter and 2.5 year old son had a terrific experience in the resort’s Playvillage for kids 0-6 years. Electronic jeep rides, face painting, pony rides and jumping castle water play were a real highlight for them. Our littlest dude is still in diapers, and we came prepared with a diaper bag and all his care gear and there was no need. The Playvillage supplies all diapering essentials, including swimmers for water play!
Other activities the kids loved were henna and nail painting by the pool ($5 out of pocket for each service) and movie night watching “Ferdinand”!
While there was a slew of adult activities to choose from, Andrew and I really needed time to unwind. We did what felt like a bunch of mini daytime dates during our stay, which was so wonderful because this is a rarity with our crazy large family life.
We opted for a paid spa experience our first day. Andrew had a 1-hour massage, and I did a wellness combo of Reiki & Massage. I had never tried Reiki before (but love what it represents) and went in with no expectations. It was a pretty amazing experience and Tina was wonderful at administering it and taking time to explain the purpose, benefits and individual areas of my body she sensed blockage or openness.
Other things we enjoyed: a soak in the hot tub overlooking the lake, a paddle boat ride, chillaxing in the hammock haven, Yoga in the Garden by the lake (talk about Soul-itude), and walks down the resorts entryway and oak tree alley which reminded me so much of scenes from The Notebook film.
Our adults-only dinners while the kids attended kids programming were equally as wonderful! For adults that want action, there were PLENTY of options like ax throwing, volleyball, tennis and more.
The pools were an obvious hit with our whole gang – a large one with a waterslide and heated one with a diving board. Parents will love that there are 3-4 lifeguards on deck at all times and they don’t mess around with safety!
When we all reunited in the evenings, watching the incredible talent perform in the Water Ski Show from the beach shore and the comedy show in Bergwen’s Theatre was enjoyed by us all.
NOTE: Water sports (outside of youth programming and paddle boats/kayaks), sunset boat cruises and Spa services are not included in the price. Also, adults & kids’ programming are scheduled so they don’t conflict (awesome!).
2. Accommodations for Large Families
Finding suitable accommodations for our family size of 6 can be tricky. We were happy when the Manager confirmed he could accommodate us in one unit – A Bayshore cottage. I will be honest, it was simple and quaint and not anywhere near luxury level suite caliber, but remember you’re in cottage country and the character of the resort reflects the cottage-like charm of that.
There were 2 double beds, 2 twin beds and 1 single pull-out spread over two small bedrooms/living area in our cottage and no trouble for everyone having a place to crash. The bathroom was small but a non-issue and everything in good working condition. The room also came equipped with two TVs, a coffee machine & a decent size mini fridge. The balcony facing the lake was lovely, but it is shared with the guests next to you, so privacy may be an issue for some. Cleaning staff did a nice job, and always had the place ready by late afternoon.
We’d love to try the Evergreen Villas & 3 room units if we return – (both 3 bedrooms & multi-levels).
3. Food Variety
A big perk of this resort is the variety of food options that will satisfy even the fussiest foodies of your bunch (we know…we have one too!) There’s one main dining room at the resort and you’ll be assigned the same table for all meals for your entire stay. Breakfast is choice of a la carte or buffet, and we opted for buffet each morning because the kids were antsy to get to their activities and it made morning meals more manageable. It’s a simple, but satisfying American style offering, with scrambled eggs, toast, hashbrowns, pancakes, bacon, sausage and fruit, and there’s also a cereal and muffin bar.
For lunch, you have the option of dining at Heritage, or attending their BBQ lunch lakeside surrounding the gazebo (grab your tickets from your waitress at breakfast). I have no idea what they served indoors, but the outdoor BBQ is not to be missed – our gang’s favourite meal of the day, with choice of all your BBQ faves (hot dogs, veggie & ham burgers, turkey burgers), fries, onion rings, cheese & pepperoni pizza, salad bar and a BIG hit, the taco station!
They also had a dessert station for ice cream sundaes, jumbo freezies, and plated desserts like butter tarts & brownies…SO YUM!
Dinner options were fantastic and totally family-friendly as well. You can all dine as a family at 6:30 – 8 p.m., or have the kids attend an earlier kids buffet at 5:45 p.m. and then let them enjoy nighttime age-appropriate programming while you enjoy a quiet meal with your partner. Andrew and I appreciated this option so much and had an enjoyable, uninterrupted 4-course meal. The kids’ buffet had chicken fingers, spaghetti & meatballs, fresh veggies and fries. The kids’ dessert bar was a hit, with pudding, jello, cookies, fruit, parfaits and more!
The variety of food at dinner was quite impressive. They rotate their menus weekly and since we stayed during a changeover, got to experience some great options. Some notable tries from their adult a la carte menu – the Lobster Bisque soup, the Asian Broccoli salad (with a spicy kick!), the Spinach-Raspberry salad with goat cheese, the Grilled Lemon Chicken and Tandoori Chicken entrees, the prime rib selection, and the Chicken parm. The portions are VERY generous – Andrew was pretty happy about that. It’s not a true vacation unless you let yourself indulge in some dessert, and the blueberry cheesecake, peanut butter pie and tartufo options were delish!
BONUS: the resort makes every effort to accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions (lots of vegan, gluten-free and allergy aware options!).
4. The Staff
The resort is family-owned and run by the Downing Family (since 1895) and you’ll get that feeling of being cared for as if you were a part of it. From the ease of check-in at Front Desk (Leigh is so wonderful and knows most returning guests by name), the loveliness of Tina & Gina at the Spa, the caring Playvillage Staff who put our minds at ease when we checked in our little ones (and had our toddler who is mommy’s little Koala clinger sleeping in their arms by day’s end), the waitresses who helped us carry our food at the BBQ , and the friendly recreation staff that made our big guys feel like they made big kid pals in their age-appropriate group activities, we really appreciated the personal touch and feeling truly welcome.
The policy at the resort, we learned, is always put the guests’ needs first, and we experienced it first hand (like when the ice cream bar attendant dropped what she was doing to snap a few family photos of us on our last day!). The Manager, Scott, made our booking quick and seamless, and also made some magic happen so we could extend our stay. You will see him present and mingling with guests all day long at the resort, and is available in a timely fashion when necessary.
- Although the Bayshore Cottages were the furthest away from the Main Inn (but really less than a 4-minute walk by foot) we REALLY loved the location and that the trampoline park & mini putt were literally right outside our doorstep for our early risers to get their willies out first thing in the morning.
- Check out their “What to Pack” list before you go. This is where I discovered we’d need to bring the little ones’ life jackets and wise to bring a few of our own towels
- Bring a lanyard to carry your room keys (which are the vintage style, authentic cottage variety we almost lost more than a few times!)
- if you enjoy your accommodations & time of stay, you can pre-book your getaway for next summer to secure your room & week preference. There are MANY returning “Fern Alumni” to the resort – a testament to how much this place is enjoyed by families & multigenerational guests.
- Alcohol is NOT included in your cost, so pop into the liquor store in Orillia before you head into the resort to pick up your liquid of choice (if that’s your thing).
Room For Improvement
While our overall experience was a fantastic one, there are a few questions that came up from our readers during our stay and I want to address them honestly:
- What some may find this resort lacking in 5-star luxuries, is probably going to be overridden by your overall family experience. The resort maintains a cottage-like feel but admittedly IS in obvious need of aesthetic updating (paint on building exteriors, wallpaper changes, etc.), but the grounds are well-maintained and the gardens are lovely. The resort is best described as having rustic, historic charm.
- the service in the main dining room was a bit slow for our adults-only a la carte meals. We did have to get up and ask for a wine menu at the start, but once our 4-course meal options were selected, they arrived pretty steadily. My dessert the 2nd night never came, and we had to head back to get the kids, so we just left.
- the Bayshore cottages are the furthest away from the main in & amenities, so a kitchenette would have been great
- the cost is pricey – no denying that. Had we paid out of pocket for this experience, we would have shelled out $2K+ for 2 nights. They do have a bit of savings with their mid-end of Summer special program where 1-2 kids under 12 yrs can stay FREE, but I know the expense may deter some inquiring families.
- Here’s what to think about before you dismiss this experience solely on cost: factor in what you’d pay to rent a cottage for a weekend in peak Summer season (plus groceries & the time you’ll spend cooking/cleaning/entertaining your family), what you’d pay to have the kids attend camp and what you might pay for entertainment expenses like amusement & water parks and you’ll find that the all-inclusivity factor of this place can substantiate most of the cost. Also, having uninterrupted time to enjoy your spouse/partner coupled with the peace of mind knowing your kids are having a blast doing their own thing and your little ones are being cared for and entertained well is kind of priceless in our books.
Overall, we had a really enjoyable experience at Fern Resort, and the kids have not stopped talking about it since we got home. Andrew and I especially liked not having to cook, clean for 3 days, and getting some time to recharge our parent fuel tanks was so needed.
If there is anything we haven’t addressed here, please do ask in the comments below and I’d be more than happy to answer!