North America · Travel

2016 Summer Vacation (Part 1) – Toronto

This summer has literally been flying by.  Before we know it it was already mid-August, with just a few more weeks before school starts.  Where did the time go?!

We only had one true family vacation planned for this summer.  Part of it was because it has been particularly busy for both of us at work, and the other (bigger) part was because we have a major trip coming up in the fall.  With that in mind I wanted to pick somewhere where we can get to in less than one day’s drive (we hate driving for more than 6-8 hours a day so that’s really our limit).  Typically, Chicago seems to be our go-to destination whenever we want to do a road trip instead of getting on a plane.  But this time I wanted to go somewhere that the kids have not yet visited, so we decided to spend a week being tourists in the largest city of our friendly neighbor Canada.

We also had our very first Airbnb experience during this trip.  Since it was a ‘city-vacation’, I wanted to stay in a centralized location where we could walk to many places.  Going with Airbnb in downtown Toronto was just a much more affordable option than staying at a hotel.  We cooked our own breakfast every morning and a few dinners as well.  It’s always a bonus for us whenever we are able to cook some meals during a trip, since we have some very hungry people in our family, plus it’s nice to save some money from eating out all the time.  Another advantage was that each kid got to sleep in their own bed which was something I always strive for when I search for lodging options.  Since whenever there are only two beds available, I am always the one who has to share the bed with my daughter, and trust me when I tell you that she is NOT a good sleeping buddy, by any means.  In case all of the above wasn’t enough of a reason to love our Airbnb, it definitely sealed it when we arrived and saw the view that came with the place.  Talk about icing on the cake!

(view from our balcony)
(our personal light show every night!)

We have decided to purchase the Toronto City Pass for this trip.  It included the admissions to 5 main attractions in the city:  CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Ripley’s Aquarium, Ontario Science Center (or Toronto Zoo) and Casa Loma.  I highly recommend getting the pass if these attractions are on your to-do list as it does provide huge savings.  It also allows you to skip the long ticket line and go straight up to the entrance and get right in (with the exception of CN Tower unfortunately).

These five destinations fit in with our allotted time in the city perfectly as we were able to visit two places each day in a very leisurely pace.  On the first full day, we took the street car and the subway to/from ROM in the morning.  ROM is huge and it’s a combination of natural science and world history/culture museum.  It offers tons of interesting things to see such as dinosaurs, various gems and stones, an area where you can dress up as warriors from different cultures, areas dedicated to various cultures throughout history (we even saw a mummy in Egypt), evolution of animals in land/air/sea, etc. and tons more.  You can easily spend the whole day in there if you take your time looking through everything.  Though 3 hours was about the limit for our kids at their age.

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In the afternoon we walked over to Ripley’s Aquarium, located right next to CN Tower.  This was probably the kids’ favorite attraction in Toronto and I actually think it’s one of the best Aquariums we’ve visited.  Aside from all the things you’d expect in a typical aquarium, it also has a lot of interactive displays and a very cool jellyfish collection.  And in addition to a touch pool of star fish and such, it also has another pool where you can touch the stingrays as they swim by.  The best part in our opinion however was this automatic walkway that moves visitors slowly through a pretty long underwater viewing tunnel.  It was an ingenious design really that it not only allows the visitors to clearly see everything all around at a nice slow speed, but ensures no one would crowd in front of any part of the tunnel to block traffic, or to prevent others from having a clear view.

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Next morning we drove to Ontario Science Center which is also a fun place filled with lots of interactive games that kept the kids occupied for hours.  It’s similar to the children’s or hands-on museums we’ve visited in the past, but maybe 3 times bigger.  Unfortunately it was super crowded that day with a lot of summer campers there on field trips, otherwise I think the kids would’ve had even more fun.

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Next up was CN Tower.  CN Tower is such an impressive structure and I just loved seeing it among the Toronto skyline wherever we were in the city.  We strolled over to the Tower from the condo and waited for more than 1.5 hours in line to ride the elevator up to the observation level.  I think the queue to get on top was definitely too long considering there was not much else to do once you have admired the wonderful views from all 360 degrees and stepped on the glass floor.  Of course you do have the option to pay extra to go up to the SkyPod level, which is 33 stories above the level we were on.  Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you can pay a lot of extra money to experience the EdgeWalk, where you’d walk around the tower hands-free on the roof of the 360 Restaurant.

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Another cool option (however costly) would be to make a lunch/dinner reservation at the 360 Restaurant.  That way, you could skip the entire queue and go straight up to the restaurant level, and then go down to the observation level and glass floor after your meal.  I can only imagine how awesome of an experience it must be to be eating in a revolving restaurant with the beautiful view of Toronto and Lake Ontario as the backdrop.  Maybe next time?!


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