Toronto has an ideal setup for visitors because so many of the city’s attractions are within a few minutes’ walk of a subway stop so you never have to get behind the wheel when you have no idea where you’re going. (This is a particularly attractive feature considering drivers here tend to be both aggressive and impatient.)
Sure, we like to mock the astronomical housing prices, the ineptitude of the Maple Leafs and the never-ending gridlock but visiting Canada's biggest city -- particularly with children -- can be a blast. (Just don't tell them, OK?)
Toronto has an ideal setup for visitors because so many of the city's attractions are within a few minutes' walk of a subway stop so you never have to get behind the wheel when you have no idea where you're going. (This is a particularly attractive feature considering drivers here tend to be both aggressive and impatient.)
Let's deal with the elephant in the room if you go to the Big Smoke with kids in tow. You don't really have any choice when it comes to the CN Tower. You're going up and it doesn't matter if excessive heights give you panic attacks. Your kids can see what was once the world's tallest building from anywhere in town and the allure to ascend to the main observation deck -- which makes any of the three towers in Winnipeg seem miniscule by comparison -- is simply too great for any parent to counter, no matter what kind of bribe they're prepared to offer.
It's not a cheap ride but it's worth it. Two adults and two kids will run you nearly $90 to visit the main observation pod, located 407 metres above the ground. The 58-second great glass elevator ride is just as good or better than anything at the Red River Ex, as the sprawling city appears before your sneakers. (All the elevators have glass fronts but one of them has a see-through floor, too. Yikes.)
Kids flock to the observation deck's glass-floor area like flies to honey if for no other reason than to freak out their nervous parents as they stomp up and down on the six-centimetre-thick glass. (For the squeamish seeking refuge on the carpet, it may surprise you to learn the entire floor is made of this same glass, it's just covered up.)
If you've got an extra $5 per person kicking around, do yourself a favour and take one more elevator up to the Skypod. The quarters are far tighter -- you really can't pass anybody without turning sideways -- and it's freakishly high up. How freakish? Well, the distance from the observation deck to the Skypod is slightly more than the height of the Richardson Building at Portage and Main and your kids will feel like giants as planes landing at the Toronto Island airport look like board-game pieces.
The fact you can feel the tower at that height sway a little in any direction with the wind -- either that or it would snap, the guide tells me -- only adds to the, um, experience.
If you're a fan of the Manitoba Moose, you'll discover what a true bargain the team is if you take your kids to see the Toronto Maple Leafs play. First of all, you've got to realize the only way you're going to get tickets is from scalpers, either online or in front of the Air Canada Centre, so it's not going to be cheap. Face value of seats in the lower bowl is north of $200 and even seats in the nosebleeds can't be had for less than $100 unless you wait until the puck has dropped. Of course, then you're taking a chance the scalper might rip the tickets up rather than lower his price.
Of course, you can only do so much sightseeing when you've got little feet so you're going to need a hotel nearby. The Delta Chelsea is perhaps the most kid-friendly in the downtown area as it's the only one with a waterslide. In fact, unlike most waterslides this reporter has raced down, this one is unique for its complete lack of light. From the second you leave the top, three storeys high, you can't see a thing, including the steepness of the slide or which direction you'll be turning. It's not uncommon to finish the 40-metre run with a mouth full of water, particularly if you've been, um, screaming like a five-year-old.
You might scream a little louder once you know the waterslide actually goes outside of the building and back in before emptying into the pool. (If you're under five-feet tall, you'll have to pass a quick swimming test for the lifeguard before making your first run.)
When you arrive at the Delta Chelsea, your young kids can check in by themselves at the Children's Check-In Reception Hero. They can climb up mini-steps enabling them to see over the front desk. They'll all receive a Kid Essentials kit that can include an animal mug, a chunky book, crayons and assorted travel games.
And if the kids need a break from their parents on weekends, major holidays and weekdays during the summer, they can partake in the sports, arts and crafts and behind-the-scenes tours offered by the qualified instructors at Camp Chelsea.
IF YOU GO
So, you're visiting Toronto and want to take in some more of the Golden Horseshoe, such as Ottawa, London or Montreal.
There is no more worry-free way if travelling with children than to take the train.
No road maps to contend with, no crazy drivers and you won't experience that deflating feeling when you hear "I have to go to the bathroom," because there's one in every car on board.
Via Rail trains can be boarded at Union Station in downtown Toronto, the same station used by the Yonge subway line.
In fact, the train is the quickest and most direct route from city to city because you won't have to return a rental car. And if you're really lucky, you might even be able to catch some shut-eye during your journey.
There's a snack cart on board but the selection isn't the greatest and as it's the only game on board once the train has left the station, it's a little pricey. So, if you or your kids are at all picky eaters, you may want to stop off at a sandwich shop before boarding and stock up for the ride.