Are you at that midwinter point where you’re longing for a mini-break but you don’t want to drive very far? Do you like to skate but your skates are rusty, lost or older than your kids? The Westin Ottawa hotel may just have a great solution for you.
The hotel has just launched its SkateWESTIN program. Not surprisingly, it’s the first (and so far, the only) hotel in the chain with a skating program; after all, how many other hotels can boast of a primo location right beside the world’s largest skating rink?
A sweet deal on rental skates
So what’s the deal? Basically, if you’re staying at the Westin Ottawa, you can borrow a pair of brand-new Bauer hockey skates for $5.95 for the day. You need to reserve in advance with the concierge, and it’s first come, first served; once the 25 pairs of skates are gone, they’re gone. Oh, and it helps if you’re an early riser, as fittings take place in the hotel lobby between 7:30am and 9:30am each morning.
But wait—there’s more! If you’re not familiar with downtown Ottawa’s history, or if you’d just like some company while you find your ice legs, you can also sign up for a free guided 2K or 5K skate along the canal on Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday mornings, followed by hot chocolate beside the modern fireplace in the hotel’s lobby.
A couple of weekends ago, the Westin Ottawa invited a keen group of local bloggers and social media types, including me, to stay at the hotel and then give the brand-new program a test drive.
While I checked us in, my husband Paul checked out the comfy chairs in front of the aforementioned fireplace. He loves watching the world go by in hotel lobbies, and he gave this one two thumbs up for ambiance.
Workout gear on speed dial
In our room, I spotted a notice for the Westin’s New Balance gear lending service. This chain-wide perk is a huge help if you want to stay fit but you’re trying to travel light, and it also dovetails nicely with the RunWESTIN program of guided and self-guided runs downtown. Just call the Service Express number, give them your clothing and shoe sizes, and a few minutes later, someone arrives at your door with a t-shirt, capris, a sports bra, socks (those you can keep) and running shoes. A $5 charge is added to your bill.
I know some people aren’t keen on borrowing footwear, but it honestly doesn’t bother me (I must have spent too many nights in bowling alleys as a kid). These shoes—like the rest of the gear—were spotlessly clean. My only quibble was that the sports bra was the wrong size. I’m sure they’d have been happy to replace it, but I only noticed it just before putting it on to go to the fitness centre the next morning.
Everything’s better with pancetta
That night, we had dinner at the posh Shore Club, a steak-and-seafood place with a fun, somewhat loud vibe and very kind service. Since I’m the only one in my family who likes scallops, I indulged in a big plate of them with pancetta, which I pretty much inhaled.
Our ice-cold martinis were hits, too.
And did I mention the brownie with caramelized marshmallows for dessert? Yes, we split it. We’re not animals.
This place is by no means cheap, but it would be a fun special-occasion spot for dinner—or you could just go for drinks in the bar, which overlooks the canal.
Our guest room also had a great view of the canal, Parliament Hill and the revamped National Arts Centre, and I spotted a few late-night skaters out on the ice just before we called it a night.
I love the smell of eggs benny in the morning
The next morning, the media group fuelled up with a huge buffet breakfast in Daly’s, the hotel’s third-floor restaurant. The eggs benny were great, but my hands-down favourite was a pretty glass of yogurt, muesli and fruit.
It should have been difficult to chow down to this extent after the big dinner at the Shore Club the previous night, but it wasn’t. I rationalized my feasting by telling myself I was off to get some exercise.
After being fitted with our skates, we all trooped across Colonel By Drive to lace up our skates in one of those heated NCC changing huts. (As someone who began skating on the canal when you were lucky to find a frigid metal trailer to change in, I’m always delighted by these sleek little cabins.)
I’d been a bit dubious about renting skates—both because I often get sore ankles from untried boots and because I usually wear figure skates—but these fit very well. And because I usually stop by just turning my ankles inward—maybe that explains the whole sore ankles thing—the lack of toe picks wasn’t a problem.
Making like Clara Hughes (not)
And then we were off. Like typical bloggers, we immediately scattered in 47 directions, which kind of put the kibosh on the “guided” part of the tour. No worries; I wanted to take some photos without slowing anyone down.
Since this was my first skate of the year, I knew I wasn’t exactly going to be speed skater Clara Hughes on the ice. I did totter a bit but I was soon back in my usual decidedly average form. I made it all the way to the Pretoria Bridge and back without falling once, and enjoyed the views along the way. No matter how many times I skate the canal, I never get over the delight of rounding that last bend at Waverley Street and seeing the downtown skyline come into view.
Back in the lobby, we warmed up with rich cups of hot chocolate, compared photos and then meandered off to enjoy our last few hours in the hotel.
I grabbed my borrowed workout gear and headed to the fitness centre, which also overlooks the NAC. It is small but well equipped—unlike just about every hotel gym I’ve been to in the last year or so, they actually kept the dispenser of disinfectant wipes for the machines fully stocked. I did a bit of yoga and some time on the treadmill. If I’d been really energetic, I’d have taken a dip in the adjacent indoor saltwater pool…but a couch potato like me can only handle so much exercise in one day.
Disclosure: I stayed and ate at the Westin Ottawa, and participated in the Skate Westin program, as a guest of the hotel, which neither reviewed or approved this post.