Last August my husband was invited to a conference in Toronto. Even though we had been to Toronto the previous year, we decided to meet him there for a little extra end of summer fun. On our first family trip in 2013, we took a general bus tour of the city to see the highlights and get our bearings. We also visited the CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame, and took a waterfront cruise. There were a few things that we hadn’t had a chance to visit, so it was great to go back in 2014.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
The first attraction that we visited in 2014 was Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada which opened between our August 2013 and August 2014 visits. The Aquarium is located on the same plaza as the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the SkyDome and home to the Toronto Blue Jays). We had pre-purchased our tickets at a discount at our hotel which also prevented us from having to wait in the long ticket lines. There was a Blue Jays game that day, so there were lots of fans visiting the aquarium before the game which made it a bit crowded. I recommend planning your visit either for a non-game day or during the game rather than before or after game time.
My daughter loved exploring the aquarium. There were even playgrounds with slides inside the aquarium! Be warned though, the aquarium is basically a one-way path through the museum (no re-entry). The playground is about mid-way through, but is visible from the start of the aquarium. My daughter sped through the first half the aquarium to reach the playground, then only spent a couple of minutes on the slides and was ready to get back to seeing fish. I wish I had encouraged her to go slower in the beginning. There were several aquariums that you could go “inside” (the aquarium was like a tube). My daughter loved going inside. When she saw one of the pictures from inside an aquarium, she wanted to know why I put a fish sticker over her face. I explained that I didn’t and that the fish had swum in front of her face.
Before you leave the aquarium, they will take a group photo. I loved the picture that they took of us before we left the aquarium. I don’t usually buy the photos but this one really turned out great. I bought it as a magnet for $9 and received one magnet plus three additional magnet size prints. For an additional $2, I was able to add the digital image to my purchase. I love that I was able to get the digital image so that I can share it with you and also use it on my Christmas cards. I thought the price was quite reasonable compared to typical attraction photo prices.
We had a lot of fun at the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and definitely recommend it. We were at the Aquarium for approximately 2 hours.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is located at 288 Bremner Blvd, Toronto, in the CN Tower Plaza. Anytime tickets are priced at:
- $29.98 Adults
- $19.98 Youth (ages 6-13) & Seniors (65+)
- $9.98 Child (ages 3-5)
You can save $3/ticket by purchasing timed tickets valid for a particular entry date and time at least one day in advance. We were able to purchase tickets at the advance rate from the Concierge at our hotel, the Eaton Chelsea. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada offers a $5/ticket discount on admission for Sharks After Dark (after 7p) or Rise & Shine Saturdays (from 8-10a).
In my opinion, the CN Tower is a must-do attraction for a first-time visit to Toronto. On both of our visits we dined at the CN Tower’s 360 Restaurant for lunch. We definitely recommend doing lunch at the 360 Restaurant. Both times we have been seated at a table directly at the window and were able to enjoy a private view for over an hour (and you are one story above the lookout deck). After lunch we descended to the Lookout deck and found it quite crowded. We definitely had a much more pleasant experience in the restaurant. The restaurant takes about an hour to make the full 360 degree rotation and on both trips we made the full rotation. When you consider that the price includes your CN Tower admission and a 2 or 3 course meal, we definitely felt it was a reasonable deal.
Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day in 2014, so we didn’t get the greatest view of the city, but at least we had been in 2013 and enjoyed great views then. It was actually really interesting to watch the clouds roll through and go from a white-out to clear conditions. It was also cool to see the Rogers Centre right before the game started with the roof open.
We all enjoyed our meals. After a very filling lunch, we opted for a light dinner.
The CN Tower is located at 301 Front St West. Admission to CN Tower’s Lookout Level is $35/adults (ages 13-64) and $25 for youth (ages 4-12) and seniors (ages 65+). A lunch prix fixe menu with 2 courses is $55 or 3 courses for $69. This is a considerable increase from our two trips where only the 3 course menu was offered for $55. The children’s menu and pricing is not available online (it was $30 when we visited). Reservations for the 360 Restaurant are available on the CN Tower website and through Open Table. On our first visit in 2013 we were able to walk up without a reservation and on our second trip I made a reservation that morning on Open Table before we left our hotel.
Royal Ontario Museum
On our bus tour in 2013, we heard about the Royal Ontario Museum, but hadn’t had a chance to visit. I wasn’t feeling well, so I went back to the hotel, but my daughter, my husband, and my father had a great time visiting the museum. My daughter particularly liked the armor displays. She was most intrigued by the inclusion of hockey gear in that exhibit.
The Royal Ontario Museum is located at 100 Queen’s Park. Admission tickets are available for:
- $17 Adults
- $15.50 Student (ages 15-25 with ID) or Senior (ages 65+)
- $14 Child (ages 4-14)
We also didn’t have a chance to visit Casa Loma on our first trip. Casa Loma is Canada’s castle and was built in the 1930s. It is a little further from downtown than the other attraction, so it is a great place to visit on your way in or out of town when you have your car. My parents were leaving the day we went to Casa Loma and drove all of us up there and left directly from Casa Loma. My husband, daughter, and I had planned to take a taxi back to our hotel, but couldn’t find one at Casa Loma and they have removed their pay phones (and we hadn’t activated our phones for outgoing calls while in Canada). We ended up walking down the hill to the subway and taking the subway back to our hotel.
We really enjoyed the tour of Casa Loma. Your admission includes handsets that you can enter the code number at various points for a self-guided tour. I was worried about my 8 year old getting bored. It wasn’t a problem! She loves history and facts, so she was insistent on stopping at every number and listening to everything. I was actually the one ready to start skipping some of the numbers.
We dined outside at the Terrace Grill for lunch where we enjoyed pizza.
Casa Loma is located at 1 Austin Terrace. Admission costs are:
- $24 Adults
- $18 Youth (ages 14-17) and Seniors (ages 60+)
- $14 Children (ages 4-13)
Ontario Science Center
The final attraction that we visited on our trip was the Ontario Science Center.
One of the highlights was the planetarium. We really enjoyed the session that we saw. The planetarium does not offer tickets and is filled on a first come, first serve basis for each show. The planetarium offered some seats, and then rugs or pillows for laying on the floor. We were on the floor, and it definitely offered a superior view of the planetarium since we weren’t straining our necks.
By far my daughter’s favorite part was designing a roller coaster for a ball. She got to experiment with various hill heights to build momentum and different loop shapes.
We really enjoyed our trip to the Ontario Science Centre. Unfortunately, we spent far too long in the little kids area (which my daughter had nearly outgrown) and we barely got to visit some of the other areas of the museum before we needed to head home.
There are several options for dining at the Ontario Science Centre. We ate at the Terrace Grill BBQ where we had fresh burgers, lemonade, and chips.
The Ontario Science Centre is not located in the Downtown core. Public transit via subway and bus is available, but the best bet would be to drive to the Science Centre (parking is $10/vehicle).
Admission to the Ontario Science Centre is:
- $22 Adult
- $16 Youth (ages 13-17), Student (with ID), and Senior (ages 65+)
- $13 Child (ages 3-12)
The Ontario Science Centre is an ASTC member institution so we were able to use our Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Membership for free admission (you would also receive admission with a University of Michigan Museum of Natural History membership).
Toronto City Pass
The Toronto City Pass is a great way to see the sites in Toronto for a lower cost. The City Pass provides admission to 5 attractions at a single price. Included in the pass are CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Casa Loma, Ontario Science Centre, and Toronto Zoo.
A City Pass can be purchased in advance in US Dollars to avoid conversion fees. The prices for a Toronto City Pass in US Dollars (including taxes and processing fees) are:
- $61.47 Adult
- $39.74 Child (ages 4-12)
Before deciding if the City Pass is worthwhile for your family, you should decide which attractions you plan to visit, whether you will dine at CN Tower’s 360 Restaurant, and whether you have a membership for admission to the Ontario Science Centre or that offers reciprocal admission to the Toronto Zoo (neither Detroit or Toledo Zoo offer reciprocity with the Toronto Zoo).
Eaton Chelsea Hotel
On both trips we stayed at the Eaton Chelsea Hotel (33 Gerrard St West). The hotel was centrally located near the Eaton Centre and Yonge Street. There were street festivals during both of our trips which generated quite a bit of noise, but they ended at a very reasonable hour in the evening (9 or 10p) and did not start too early in the morning. The hotel has an indoor family swimming pool with a corkscrew slide. (Note: Kids must be 44″ to use the slide and under 5′ tall, they need to pass a swimming test first). They also offer a Kids Centre and a Club 33 Teen Lounge. My daughter (age 8.5) was jealous of the teen lounge as she had outgrown most of the activities in the Kids Centre.
The hotel offers free Wi-Fi (very important since data on our phones is extremely expensive in Canada). We booked a package which included parking and a breakfast voucher.