New Year's Eve at Pheasant Run

New Year's Eve. What is it about that day/night, actually that is so special and so important? Is it the haunting melody of the song "Auld Lang Syne" by Scottish poet Robert Burns? It is played on every New Year's Eve, yet no one seems to know more than the first line or two, although everyone seems to enjoy singing at least the chorus as it is played at midnight.

According to history, the words suggested by poet Burns translate literally to English as old long since, but can best be translated as times gone by. Is it the chance to say goodbye to a year in which the memories are ones that would be better left in the past.. or look forward to the prospects of a better year? Is it an opportunity to raise a toast to those who have passed on and remember the love and friendship they brought to the world? Or is it just another chance to celebrate? Perhaps it is a bit of all of the above in varying amounts.

Pheasant Run in St Charles

The real key to New Year's Eve is always the celebration, no matter what the reason. I remember back to when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My parents would stay at home with us and we would all gather 'round a fire in the fireplace and watch television until very late. My mom would save up and buy steak and lobster for the occasion. We would all eat together at about 11:00 and then sing the Auld Lang Syne chorus with the television as we fired some poppers, blew horns and threw streamers at midnight.

I have always celebrated New Year's Eve, sometimes in "style" and sometimes not, but I have almost always enjoyed the celebration and the passing of one year into the next. And one of the things that I have always tried to do is to make every New Year's Eve different but very special in terms of the way in which I celebrated it. This year my wife and I decided to book a room and a special package at Pheasant Run Resort in St Charles. Appropriately, the package was called the St. Charles Elegance Package; it turned out to be a great choice.

Lilly's at Pheasant Run in St Charles

We checked in at about 3:00 in the afternoon and could already feel the excitement in the air. People were scurrying every which way and omnipresent resort employees were busy making final preparations. At check-in, we received wrist bands identifying our package choice and a special voucher that we presented to another Resort employee and in turn received our "instructions" for the evening. We then were treated to our first of several glasses of complementary champagne for the evening, which by the way was a very good name brand - not the very inexpensive stuff that one might have expected. The evening was starting off very well.

Our room was on the 4th floor of the recently refurbished 16-story tower, and there were plenty of amenities. After dropping off our bags, we decided to check out how the rest of the resort was preparing for the evening. By the way, in addition to our overnight accommodations, our package included a sumptuous five-course dinner with entertainment by the Pete Fleming Orchestra, access to 3 party areas (Pete Fleming Orchestra in St. Charles Ballroom, DJ in Garden Atrium, and Wind Gypsy's in Lilly's Lounge), an open bar, champagne toast, party favors, balloon drop, midnight snack buffet and Sunday morning brunch in the St. Charles Ballroom. Whew! After determining that all of the above-mentioned areas were "cocked, locked and ready to rock", we enjoyed a short swim in the indoor-outdoor pool, then returned to our room for some rest, prior to showers and dressing for the evening's festivities.

Balloons ready for midnight in the Atrium

The St. Charles Ballroom was decked out to the max with white-clothed tables, silverware, wine and water glasses, candles and centerpieces. There were also hats, horns, streamers and leis for everyone; there was a huge net full of balloons neatly hung from the ceiling just waiting for the midnight drop. A rough estimate placed the number of evening's diners at 400-500, and parties were seated at the tables set for eight. It was especially nice to see that the vast majority of the evening's participants had opted for a fairly formal style, although a few were "dressed down" just a bit.

The evening commenced with tasty hors d'oeuvres, followed by rich and delicious Lobster Bisque, Asiago Crusted Roma Tomato Salad and a tangy Passion Fruit Sorbet to cleanse the palate prior to the main course: An incredible trio of Fillet Mignon, Stuffed Mediterranean Chicken and Cumin Crusted Lamb Chop, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables; Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were offered with dinner. There was also a trio for dessert: a small piece of Tiramisu, a Chocolate-covered Strawberry and a small pastry filled with tart Kiwi Fruit. After almost three hours of non-stop grazing, we were stuffed and could hardly move away from the table without assistance - what an amazing meal!

Dessert deliacacies

Although there was a DJ spinning tunes in the Atrium, it seemed as if the majority of folks - including us - preferred the live music in the Ballroom after dinner. The music choices were mostly lively ones from the 80's and 90's and we danced our legs off with only infrequent breaks for cooling down and trips to the open bars. We also checked the live music in Lilly's Lounge and the Atrium music just to see the difference in venues. With the stroke of midnight close at hand, it was clear that everything - and everybody - had just about reached a fever pitch, many of the revelers having made overly-abundant stops for libations.

Prior to the 10-second countdown that seems to now be a world-wide phenomenon, champagne was provided to everyone and we all counted down, assisting the last few seconds (at least in the central time zone) of 2005 to leak away into the past. At the stroke of midnight, the massive bulge of balloons was released from the ceiling and party-goers began to stomp on them, creating the semblance of fireworks on the dance floor while toasting the arrival of another new year and singing the familiar Auld Lang Syne (with a bit of the original Scottish tucked in at the end):  

The Wind Gypsies
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
And here's a hand, my trusty friend
And gie's a hand o' thine
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Although last call was not until 1:30 am, we decided that a bit of the sumptuous snack buffet and one final cocktail was the signal to end the evening. We headed for our room and quickly fell asleep.

On Sunday morning, the Chef's New Year's Day Brunch was another incredible offering of the talents of Chef Josef Yurisich.  Similar to his weekly Sunday Brunch and offering over 100 culinary delights, free champagne and a live jazz trio, it was the perfect exclamation point on a fine and festive holiday and a reason to embark immediately upon a sustained and very austere diet!

New Year's Day brunch

As I sit now at the keyboard and reflect upon the entire experience, I must say that our choice for New Year's was a good one. It is also one that I can easily recommend to you. With all of its activities and offerings, Pheasant Run is a great place to go at any time. But if this New Year's Eve is typical of what they usually do, then by all means, give it a shot next year. For parents who don't want to leave their children behind, there was a special Kids Klub and plenty to do for the youngsters. It seemed that many took advantage of that.

We were both impressed by the Resort's ability to effectively handle large crowds (I'm not sure of the numbers, but I was told that the place was at 95% occupancy). It was not only clean when we arrived, but there were crews that cleaned continuously throughout the evening. And we were amazed at the almost immaculate condition of the Resort's physical plant on Sunday morning especially after the extent of the partying the night before.  

We were also impressed by the presence and effectiveness of the security staff. They did an excellent job handling those who had obviously taken overzealous advantage of the open bar part of the evening. My only suggestion to improve next year's event would be to consider selecting a mellower music to play during dinner - Prince, Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan do not do much for digestion.

My New Year's and other hats go off to Pheasant Run Resort in St Charles. Thanks for a great stay, great meals and a phenomenal party!

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The tower at Pheasant Run in St Charles