updated on: July 25, 2017
Ontario's Richest Waters
Antique boat shows, steamship tours, luxury boat rentals, and accommodations at the Residence Inn Marriot Muskoka Wharf may sound like the makings of a vacation reserved for the lucky few, but it's actually a convenient option for boaters of all stripes.
In the early days of the 20th century, industrial barons from the northeast United States would board passenger trains bound for Toronto. Reaching the city, their voyage would turn north towards the heart of Ontario. The place we refer to today as cottage country.
Arriving at their final destination, the passenger trains would slow to a halt on the pier in Gravenhurst, Ontario. The wealthy passengers would transfer to the steamships lining the dock and enjoy their trip across Muskoka Lake to their summer homes.
We arrived in town on a Friday to cover the ACBS Toronto's 37th Annual Vintage Boat Show. While there are plenty of places to stay in this tourist hotspot, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better base camp for your boating adventures than the Residence Inn by Marriott Gravenhurst Muskoka Wharf.
The location of the hotel is its best feature. Built on the same spot that used to be home to the famous Ditchburn boat factory, it occupies a parcel of land that's second to none in the area for visiting boaters.
Directly in front of the hotel is the town marina with boat launches, a fuel dock, and mooring space. Behind the hotel is the Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre. A museum full of rich history, an in-water collection of antique boats and a huge play space to keep the little ones entertained if the weather doesn't cooperate with your plans.
The hotel is branded as a Residence Inn by Marriott, meaning it's designed for extended stay guests, but during a tour with general manager Jon Massey, he explained why this hotel is a step above any other Residence Inn I've visited.
This particular property offers a timeshare component. Frequent visitors can purchase a package that allows for 35 nights of use thought the year. The suites are outfitted with this long-term visit in mind.
The one-room unit we enjoyed was outfitted with a full kitchen, including a fridge with ice-maker, sink, two-burner stovetop, and a full-size dishwasher. All the necessary utensils and dishware were stocked in the ample cabinet space.
There's a small dining table, a full-sized office desk, a sofa, recliner, and a gas fireplace with a flat-screen television mounted above. In the bedroom, we were treated to a comfortable king-sized bed, a second flat-screen, and a large ensuite bathroom.
From our balcony, another feature this hotel offers that's not a brand standard, we had a limited view. The few units on this end of the building face the bluff that protects the harbour. While not as spectacular as the view of the water from other suites, this one does offer a hint of solitude that can sometimes be difficult to find right in the heart of Muskoka Wharf.
There's a boardwalk that begins right next to the Discovery Center beside the hotel. It wraps around the entire length of the harbour, past the docks, shops, and restaurants, all the way to the steamships. It's a great way to explore the waterfront.
But to truly appreciate the beauty of this area, you need to be on a boat. We didn't bring one along on this trip, but fortunately for us, Muskoka Wharf is home to the largest boat rental operation in Canada. Muskoka Boat Rentals have everything from watercraft, to pontoon boats to bow riders. They can even set you up with a MasterCraft X46 wakeboard boat.
Muskoka Boat Rentals graciously provided us with a tour around the bay on one of their pontoon boats. We cruised through the harbour and got a great view of the boat show festivities. Then we turned towards and headed to the narrows that lead out into Lake Muskoka.