Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Keep Your Pup Safe at the Cottage This Summer With These Tips!

Dogs are part of the family and time away at the cottage isn’t the same without them! 
There are some things to consider when bringing your furry loved ones along on your travels up North.  
Here are some tips to keep your dog safe!

When Travelling:

  • Some pups are prone to car sickness; a small meal before leaving can help to alleviate symptoms
  • Make sure to keep the temperature at a comfortable level and stop for frequent water and toilet breaks
  • Keep your pet secured in the back of the vehicle, ideally with a seat-belt or in a crate

                                                           At the Cottage:

  • Just as it is important to know the location of the nearest hospital for (human) emergencies, it is important to have contact information for the nearest veterinarian. Don’t rely on Google! Signal in cottage country can be spotty
  • Put a temporary tag on your dog with the address of the cottage where you’re staying
  • Medicate your dog to prevent heart worm, fleas, and ticks, etc.
  • Inspect your pup’s coat for ticks daily, especially if they’ve been in the bush
  • Keep your pets nearby and away from other wildlife and possible animal traps
  • If going on a hike in the woods, consider a bear bell so your dog doesn’t surprise any bears -it could prevent an attack
  • Take collars off when going for a swim - it can easily become entangled and cause drowning

On the Water:

  • Let your dog have a chance to get comfortable with the boat before taking it out on the water
  • Invest in a life jacket, even if you think your dog is a strong swimmer. It gives you something to grab onto to pull your pup out of the water - you don’t want to grab their collar

Happy travels!

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

How to Start a Fire in a Fireplace

There's nothing quite like the coziness and warmth from a crackling fire when it's freezing cold outside.  It is certainly a vital part to an enjoyable winter getaway! However, many of us have not learned how to start a fire efficiently as gas and electric fireplaces are increasing in popularity. You put some wood in the fireplace, light a match, and sit back and just watch it burn, right? Not so much. If you don’t know what you’re doing it can be a frustrating experience instead of a relaxing one. Cold weather can make it especially difficult so there are a couple of additional things to consider when starting fires in winter.

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First, some things to keep in mind:

  • If the fireplace has a damper, open it completely before beginning
  • Clean out any ashes from previous fires - leave an inch or so for insulation if it's especially cold out
  • Fire feeds off of air, so leave space around logs
  • Use dry, seasoned wood
  • Good kindling includes sticks and logs that have been split very small 
  • Good tinder includes twigs, pieces of bark, pine cones and paper (not glossy)
  • If starting with a very cold fireplace, the flue may need to be primed - roll up some newspaper, light the end and hold it near the open damper for a couple of minute

     Most people start a fire by laying down tinder, followed by kindling, and then finally layering logs on top.  Though this is the most popular method, it isn’t the best (by far)!
Here are a couple of methods that burn cleaner, produce less ash and soot, ensure a better air supply, require less tending to and make the firewood last longer, all while producing more heat! Give both of them a try and see which one suits you.

Image result for wood burning fire upside down
  1. Lay two or three large logs down parallel to each other with a good distance between them 
  2. Lay about four or five smaller logs on top of the larger logs, again leaving space between them 
  3. Add another layer of even smaller logs (~ 6)
  4. Finally, add a layer of tinder and then a layer of kindling
  5. Light the tinder and enjoy a long lasting crackling fire as the embers drop down and feed the layers below!


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  1. Lay two logs parallel to each other about six inches apart,
  2. Lay two logs on top and perpendicular to the first two
  3. Add another layer or two of smaller logs if room allows
  4. Heap kindling and tinder in the middle and light!

When your first load of wood has turned into charcoal, add more wood and enjoy!

(Remember to never leave a fire unattended, have a fire extinguisher handy, and communicate with children about the dangers of fire)

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Winter Adventures in Muskoka

Winter is coming!  We have had our first days of snow here in Southwestern Ontario.  Some of you may be grumbling about that, but winter is such an exciting and fun time up north!  Cottage country has so much to offer no matter the season.  Winter is a perfect time to getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life - to unwind in a cozy cottage and enjoy some relaxation fire side. Or if staying active is more your thing, there are tons of adventures to be had!
Some favourite winter activities in the area to experience are:

Skating the Arrowhead Ice Skating Trail
This 1.3 km skating trail located in Arrowhead Provincial Park is one of the most popular attractions.  It winds through a beautiful forest providing a magical experience - and it’s only minutes away from Downtown Huntsville!

  • The season is subject to weather conditions but typically begins the first week of January
  • Opens at 11 am daily, 7 days a week
  • Skate rentals are available for $10
  • Saturdays can be extremely busy - try to plan your visit for Sundays or, ideally, midweek
  • Admission is $20 per vehicle Saturday, Sunday and Holidays, $17 per vehicle Monday to Friday

Dog sledding at North Ridge Ranch 
A team of 60 Alaskan Huskies are waiting to take you on an unforgettable sledding adventure through the forests of Muskoka! 

  • The Ranch offers Half Day tours (20 km) or 1 Hour tours (10 km). 
  • Suitable for children as long as they are accompanied by an adult (and can tolerate sitting in a sled for the entire duration of the tour)
  • Tours begin with a thorough lesson so that you are comfortable with your abilities to mush your own team
  • Prices start at $125 per person with discounts for children

Downhill Skiing at Hidden Valley
Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area is located in the heart of Muskoka. This hidden gem offers 14 groomed trails, three quad chairlifts, one handle tow, night skiing and a terrain park. 

  • Lift rates start at $36 for kids over the age of 6 and $50 for adults
  • Kids 5 and under are only $12 when accompanying a paying adult

Craft Brewery Tours
Some of the best craft beers in Canada are brewed in Muskoka!  Head out to the local breweries for a guided tour and tastings!

  • Visit cottagecountrybeertrail.ca for helpful information as breweries have different hours for tours, with some requiring advanced booking
  • Consider a trip with BrewTours.ca.  They do the entire tour experience, including driving, from Toronto to cottage country!

I hope I've given you some ideas to make the winter more fun and bearable! I don't know about you, but these are all on my bucket list for sure. Bring on winter! Hope you all stay safe and warm :)

Serenity Vacation Rentals

Friday, 23 February 2018

Top 5 goals for my cottage stay 2018!

With the rain we have been having lately, all of our snow has melted and we can see the grass underneath.  I can't help but think of summer during this time.   Even though things are wet and cool outside, with little to no snow, I am thinking about what I would like to do during my cottage stay this summer.

Owning a cottage is great but going away on vacation to your own cottage can become more of a work stay than a relaxation stay.   I have set a few goals for my stay at Mallard Beach this summer hopefully forcing myself to stop work and enjoy some time with my family.

1) Quest for the ultimate Burger!   I know I have mentioned this in a previous entry.  I still feel like there might be a fantastic spot that only the locals know about.   I hope to sample a few different spots to try and find the best burger in the Parry Sound / Muskoka area.   I have a few spots on my radar.   Kate's Kart is known for their burgers.  I feel as though this will be the one to beat.   I am sooo looking forward to this very important research!   :)

If anybody has recommendations - please let me know!   I'm looking anywhere in the Muskoka or Parry Sound area!

2) Another item on my to-do list, is to check out White Squall Paddling Centre   They rent out kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards.   They also offer day trips and tours.    Sounds like it would be a lot of fun!   This would be a great escape for the family out in nature.   Hopefully I can get the whole family on board for this one!

3) I've had a few of our guests recommend the Sawdust City Brewery Tour - The Sawdust Brewery is located in Gravenhurst, Ontario.   I've never been there myself, but I look forward to giving it a try.  They have six core brands of craft beers but they also have seasonal offerings.   I'm not much of a beer drinker but I'm always willing to give new things a try!

4) Killbear Provincial Park I hear it is amazing!   There is a beautiful six kilometre trail for hiking or biking and beautiful sandy beaches.  Again I have never been there - so this will be a fun new experience for the family!

5) Eat at one of the Rocky Crest Golf Resort restaurants.  The "Windows Restaurant" and "On the Bistro" look amazing.  I have heard a lot of good things but again, I haven't had a chance to eat there myself.  I try to make a point to try new restaurants but because these two restaurants are only open during the summer months, I seem to keep missing them.   Again - please leave a comment if you have dined at either restaurant.   I look forward to hearing all about it!

Fingers crossed I get all five of these goals checked off during my 2018 summer cottage stay.   I have our family getaway week booked already for 2019 at Hammond Haven!   A year and a half away and I'm already getting excited!

Dean Curtis
Serenity Vacation Rentals

Friday, 24 November 2017

Serenity Vacation Rentals gives back!

Over the last six months, we have run a pilot project collecting donations from our guests for the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, and our guests did not disappoint!   We collected an assortment of discarded towels, bed linens, old dog and cat crates, old stuffed toys, and other much needed items!   Many of our guests also made a point to visit Aspen Valley Sanctuary and leave cash donations.    We appreciate each and every one of our guests who took the time to bring items for Aspen Valley when travelling to enjoy their vacation at one of the Serenity Vacation Rentals properties.  

For those of you not familiar with Aspen Valley, they are a 460 acre wildlife sanctuary of natural habitat located in Muskoka.  Their primary mandate is to rehabilitate animals so that they can eventually be returned to their natural habitat.  They also provide education to the community about co-existing with wildlife and humane solutions for wildlife-related issues. The size of Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary makes them one of the most unique and important wildlife rehabilitation centres in Ontario.

Thank you to the following Serenity Vacation Rentals owners for participating in the program;  
·         Birch Grove
·         Copper Cove
·         Curtis Cottage
·         Deep Woods Haven
·         Lee Valley
·         Mallard Beach
·         Muskoka Pines
·         Wraight Escape

I wanted to give a special thanks to the M. Wu family who were guests of Lee Valley, and left a cash donation of $50 for the sanctuary.  I also want to thank the owners of Muskoka Pines for their cash donation of $30.  Serenity Vacation Rentals matched the cash donations and a total of $160 was given along with the donated items.

Lastly I want to thank everyone at Aspen Valley for all of their very important work!   You are greatly appreciated!   I am hopeful six months from now we can more than double the requested items and cash donations!

You can see a YouTube video of a private tour we did of Aspen Valley in 2015 here.

Dean Curtis

Serenity Vacation Rentals

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The 5 best things about a winter stay at the cottage.

Winter can be an amazing time of year to stay at the cottage!   Here are 5 of the best things about a winter stay at the cottage!

  1. Reading a book by the fireplace.   There is nothing better than sitting by a warm fire while avoiding the cold outside.  Imagine holding your hot chocolate while your socked feet are held close to the wood burning fire.   You can smell the wood burning while you quietly read your favorite book.   The quiet and peacefulness that comes with winter stays at the cottage are just what the sole needs after a stressful work schedule.
  2. Winter fun activities!   Try your hand at building a snowman with the kids or go tobogganing at a nearby hill.  Rent snowmobiles for the day and hit the trails with good friends.   Rent ski’s or snowshoes and try some of the local trails.  Or if the ice is thick enough, how about some lake ice hockey or ice fishing!
  3. Trying new recipes.   Now is your chance to try that soup recipe or perhaps you’ve been
    excited to make a new stew or chili.  Winter time at the cottage is perfect for home cooking with family and friends, and your chance to try some winter favourites.
  4. Watching a movie with a warm blanket.   Whether your pick is a late night horror movie, or a daytime seasonal Christmas special that brings a joyful tear to your eye, with the dark nights getting longer, it is the perfect chance to catch up on your favourite movies or tv shows after a day of winter activities with your family.
  5. Connecting with friends – What better way to beat the winter blues than to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and reconnect with friends or family at the cottage.   Getting tired of the same driveway shoveling, work, and winter traffic in the city?   Get out of the city and into the country for some rest and relaxation as well as the peace and quiet that comes with winter stays at the cottage.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Charge me a security deposit….PLEASE!!

If you have rented a cottage vacation rental in the past, you have probably been asked to pay a security deposit.   I have seen these deposits range anywhere between $150, to $2,000 depending on the value of the cottage, the length of your stay, the number of people in your group, pets, etc.  This deposit is kept by the owner until the end of your stay, at which time it is returned to you provided there are no damages to the property or contents, outside of normal wear and tear.

There has been a movement lately from the cottage owner community, to forego taking security deposits.   Only 2 percent of the time is there a need for a cottage owner to draw funds from a security deposit anyway.   For cottage owners, there is a lot of work involved in collecting and returning deposits, and there are very few times when a deposit is even used to cover any damages.   Of those few times, the amounts are fairly small and usually are for damages that the guests fully admit to causing and are willing to pay.   For the cottage owner, it is easier for the accounting on their end if they don’t have to worry about collecting and returning the deposit.  It is not that the owners are willing to give up that added protection.  There are two different ways that cottage owners can still ensure the same protection against damage, without having to directly charge the guests a refundable security deposit.

  1. Guests are all charged a small additional fee hidden in the rental charge.  Instead of that cottage costing you $1,000 per stay, it is now going to cost you $1,025.   There is no additional security deposit to be paid up front and there is nothing that will be returned after your stay.   You are simply paying $1,025 to rent the cottage with no security deposit.   Nice right?....  The owner then takes these numerous extra $25 payments and funds a private damages fund.   This fund is then used to cover any damages up to a certain amount.   (There would still be wording in the contract that they could seek compensation for larger ticket items), but for smaller damages they would draw from this private fund.

  2. The second model is to force guests to purchase a separate insurance.   This is basically the same as the point above, however it is a more formalized cottage guest insurance, usually managed and run by a third party.   Again, this is an additional cost to you the guest, which would have you paying more to rent the cottage overall.

So what does this mean to you the cottage rental guest?   If you are the type of guest who loves to come to the cottage and plan to take care of the cottage like it was your own, it means you are paying an extra fee for damages that someone else will cause in the future!   Instead of paying $1,000 for a rental charge plus $400 which is returned to you in full after your stay, you are now paying $1,025 or $1,050 for a loss of $50.  

In the first scenario above, let’s consider a cottage that rents 50 times in a year and charges a hidden $50 per rental to cover damages.    The damages fund now has a total of $2,500 for the year.    What happens if the owner doesn’t have that much in damages over the year?  You guessed it – the owner gets to pocket that money

So if I’m a guest for your rental cottage I say charge me the deposit!   I know I will take care of the place and I don’t want to pay more than I need to, paying for someone else’s damages!

What do you think?  Would you rather pay a slightly higher rental charge?   Or less in rental fee but with an additional security deposit which is refunded to you after your stay?   I’d love to hear comments and thoughts from those of you who have rented cottages!

Dean Curtis

Serenity Vacation Rentals