Remember Toronto’s mighty ice storm and power outage two Christmas’ ago? I do. As though it was yesterday. The first night, we cooked on the gas stove and slept by the gas fireplace, eating and playing MindTrap by candlelight. An idyllic family memory, yes, but the carbon monoxide nearly killed us.

The next morning, we decamped to The InterContinental on Bloor St. Queuing up behind fellow climate refugees, we got the last room in the house. All around, hotel staff, like shepherds in a holy manger, sprung into action, doling out hot chocolate and apologizing in advance for any lapse in service.

intercontinental-toronto-yorkville-ontario-holiday-magic1-topAlthough the lobby was decked out in enough tinsel and holly to make Santa blush, the hotel was operating on a skeleton staff. Before the storm hit, they had expected to be only 30% full. The holidays, the manager explained, were always the quietest time of the year.

We’ve been fans of The Xmas Staycation ever since. While grand hotels are at peak attractiveness during the holidays, ‘tis the off-season for perks like complimentary breakfasts, valet parking, Wifi and room upgrades.

Unlike the conventional staycation, which encourages exploring your own city, our family’s version involves lying low and making the most of the hotel itself.DSC_0554-1Majestic, old school hotels like Toronto’s Ritz Carleton embrace the season with Nutcracker-themed teas and ‘spa-liday’ beauty and pampering treatments. This year, the hotel’s pastry team spent over 500 hours creating a life-sized gingerbread house, iced and decorated to perfection, with a candy bar inside for guests to enjoy. The Ritz’s sister property in Montreal, I am told, leaves a stocking filled with goodies on every door Christmas morning.

Decadent holiday-themed facials and high teas aside, it’s the Christmas-y vibe and random family moments I cherish most.

IMG_3659Like the December 23rd my husband and I had dinner with our children in the virtually empty (since renovated) bar of the Soho Metropolitan. To a soundtrack of holiday jazz, the waiters vied to replenish the kids’ bowls of warm truffle popcorn in exchange for their art-on-cocktail-napkins. The Christmas morning of the ice storm, we lingered over coffee in the Inter-Continental’s glass atrium. It was like having breakfast in a snow globe. The wintery afternoon spent poolside in the atrium of the hotel’s Front Street property: like swimming in a snow globe.

Despite lower-than-usual occupancy rates, hotels put their back into the holidays like nobody else. If you can find some downtime between last minute shopping, primping for social functions, prepping for family gatherings, and getting organized for back to work and school, taking a holiday from the holidays delivers all the Christmas without the rush.

Katherine Gougeon ( is editorial director of  The Co.