Fern Resort is one of our favourite vacation spots. Is it as luxurious as a Carribbean all-inclusive or a Las Vegas casino resort? Well no, but the food is always great, the people are nice, there’s lots to do, and most of all it’s comfortable. We all know the place well enough and we feel safe enough there that we can give the kids more freedom than they’re used to, which makes them happy. It also means that Gail and I have some more freedom as well. We’ve been there every summer but one in the last ten years, and our week at Fern is something we all look forward to all year. We also went once during the winter, which was also a lot of fun.
This past weekend we tried something new – Fern in the fall. They had a special deal on for Halloween weekend where both kids were free, and they were also discounting the prices by 10% or so, and because we’ve been there so often in the past, we get an “alumni” discount as well, so it ended up being quite reasonable. They also had some special Halloween things happening, including a costume contest, so Gail got quite excited about that and spent part of a couple of weeks making costumes for the four of us.
The middle of summer is obviously their busiest time, and that’s when we generally go. When we were there in February a couple of years ago, we were amazed at how different it was when there were only about 70 guests instead of the usual 370 or so. This time, we arrived on Friday just in time for dinner and when we walked into the dining room, we were stunned by the number of tables set – maybe ten. We found out later that the actual count of guests for the weekend was 35. We asked how that compares to a normal Halloween weekend, and Mike the sports director said that they usually get around 100-120 people. He figures that the economic downturn is responsible for some of it, plus the fact that Halloween was on the Saturday night caused some people to stay home so they didn’t miss trick-or-treating. The lack of people made things much quieter than we’re used to at Fern. I think we might have been the only guests staying in the Main Inn – although that had its advantages too. We asked on arrival if one of the big suites was available and one was (I suspect that they both were), so they upgraded us. The fact that it was a suite was very nice, and while the balcony overlooking the pool would be great in the summer, we didn’t spend much time (read: zero) there this time. There were a few programs that ended up being cancelled because nobody showed up, so the sports director and youth director had more idle time than they are used to. It seemed that our family and one other family were involved in the programs, but I don’t know what the rest of the guests did all weekend. Other than bingo, the dance on Saturday night, and meals, we didn’t see them at all.
One of the neat ideas they had was a pumpkin carving contest – there was a pumpkin on our table when we arrived, and we had all day Saturday to carve it in whatever way we wanted. They awarded three prizes: most humorous, most creative, and scariest. We brought a bunch of templates and idea books and such, but we ended up just drawing a face freehand. We also forgot to bring all of our pumpkin carving equipment, so we had to borrow a steak knife and a couple of spoons from the kitchen. Gail had the idea of painting the pumpkin black so that the face would really glow when lit, so we brought some spray paint and after cutting out the face, we went outside and painted it on the grass (we’ll have to check next August to see if there’s still a black spot there). The small crowd worked to our advantage, as we won the scariest pumpkin award, which was announced at dinner on Saturday night. We were happy enough with bragging rights (though bragging rights among people you don’t know aren’t worth much), but the dining room manager came around and told us that our prize was a bottle of wine plus a chocolate monkey (an ice cream drink with chocolate and banana) for each of the kids. When we told them we didn’t drink wine, they brought us a cocktail each – a Caesar for me (thanks for introducing me to those Jeff!) and a Smirnoff Ice for Gail.
The most popular non-food-related event was bingo, which happened a couple of times on Saturday and once on Sunday. Gail won a $5 gift shop voucher at one game, and Nicky won twice – his prizes were vouchers for Fern t-shirts.
We began brainstorming costume ideas a month or two ago, and the boys kept returning to Harry Potter. I half-jokingly said that one kid could go as Harry and one as Ron, I could be Dumbledore and Gail could be McGonagall. Gail thought about it for a minute and decided that it wouldn’t be all that hard to make robes for us, so over the three weeks before Halloween, that’s what she did (though she lost a week of that with a nasty cold). Saturday night after dinner we all got dressed and went over to Fireside (the building next to the Main Inn), where they had set up a haunted house / trick-or-treating area. About half of the rooms on the second floor had ghouls, goblins, or witches in them, scaring kids (and me in one case) and handing out goodies. Some of the goodies were your standard mini chocolate bars and such, but there was also some stuff from the bakery – some really good iced shortbread cookies and a big cupcake. Obviously the kids ended up with far less candy than on a typical Halloween, but they didn’t seem disappointed. We were also fine with it, since we normally end up throwing out at least half of what they bring home because they forget about it by mid-November.
After the trick-or-treating, they had a costume party and dance over at Mary Lou’s, where Gail and I danced (I was very warm in the Dumbledore beard and hair, so I didn’t dance much – and had to pull the beard down off my face to drink my beer), Nicky danced a little, and Ryan stood off to the side – he kind of wanted to dance but was just not able to pluck up enough courage to actually do it. He never actually said any of this, but I know that’s how he felt because that’s exactly how I would have felt when I was ten. The time came to hand out the costume award and once again, they had prizes for different categories. This time it was most creative, scariest, and overall best costume. Most creative went to “Mother Nature”, a young girl who had stuck little paper butterflies and birds and (real) branches and leaves all over herself; a very clever costume. “Scariest” wasn’t that scary but was also creative – a boy of about twelve who made himself into RoboCop with lots of cardboard, duct tape, and flashing lights. The award for best overall costume went to a strikingly handsome man dressed as Professor Dumbledore. (sigh) No, there wasn’t another Dumbledore there, I am talking about myself. My prize was another Fern t-shirt voucher. I got the t-shirt (actually upgraded to a long-sleeved shirt) but Gail really deserves all the credit – she made my robes and hat (as well as the robes she wore), bought the hair, beard, and glasses, and even coloured my eyebrows – all I did was wear it. And as cool as my costume was, I think Gail as McGonagall was even better because she looked the part (though much younger) more than I did, and didn’t hide behind a fake beard.
So we were at Fern from Friday dinner until Sunday lunch and won three t-shirts, $5, and a round of drinks. And we had great food all weekend, and stayed in the nicest suite in the place, and played some games (throwing eggs at the archery targets was particularly fun), and for all that we paid about 25% less than the normal price and the kids were free. A great weekend all around.