Explore the Big Smoke Family Getaway

If thoughts are moving from snow to long days and you are looking for holiday ideas, especially ones not involving a long road trip, load the kids in the car and head to Toronto. It’s one thing to go there for business but to experience the city as a tourist is a whole other experience, especially with kids.

For starters, stay at the Chelsea Hotel, Toronto. The hotel almost has a resort-type of feel, a destination unto itself. It is Canada’s largest hotel with 1,590 guest rooms, four restaurants and bars. The hotel’s best kept secret is the Market Garden Patio, a private oasis for guests to enjoy the hotel’s very own food truck. In addition, live bands perform an “unplugged” set on the patio from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Tuesday to Friday.

The hotel offers a full range of services to keep the younger ones busy, including the Family Fun Zone, Kids Centre and Club 33 Teen Lounge. The Chelsea Hotel is home to the Corkscrew, downtown Toronto’s only indoor waterslide. As the name implies, it is a swirly pool slide that thrills kids of all ages (including those over the age of 10). The pool is open late, well into the night by most kids’ standards, until 10 p.m.

While traveling with kids is fun, sometimes you just need time alone. The hotel offers a reasonably-priced babysitting service. If you want a longer kid-free break, the Chelsea Hotel has a day camp as well.

With your alone time, you can hit the Chelsea’s fantastic gym or take a dip in the over-18 pool. You can also lounge outside on the hotel’s adultonly deck.

While you could easily have a staycation at the hotel, venture out. The hotel has its own designated beach area, so be sure to head to the Chelsea Beach in Toronto Island Park. The beach has every amenity required for a fun and safe day out, including change rooms, a first aid station, a snack bar and a bike rental facility. Best of all, this beach has a Blue Flag rating — an international eco-label awarded to beaches for excellence in water quality. The ferry ride over is fun in and of itself. The hotel will prepare a lunch box full of healthy, kid-friendly meal options for the family to take over.

While you are there on the Island, be sure to hit the Centreville Amusement Park. It will remind you of amusement parks of days gone by. There are 30 rides with something for kids of all ages. There are bumper cars, roller coasters (not huge but still fun), a haunted cable car ride and pony rides. Be sure to slide down the Saugreen Lumber Mill Log Flume Ride for a great thrill. There are games and enough cotton candy to keep your kids wired for days. It’s a fun day outside and a nice addition to the beach time at the Chelsea private beach.

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To help explore the city, the hotel has special “show your key and get a discount” at a variety of tourist sites such as Legoland Discovery Centre, the Art Gallery of Ontario as well as Ripley’s Aquarium. While the name Ripley’s might conjure up the word gimmick, nothing could be further from the truth. Ripley’s Aquarium is an incredible education centre that will blow your mind with fascinating information on the various aquatic life you see. There are enormous tanks that are at least 30 feet high brimming with fish. Wander through a tunnel that surrounds you with other fish of varying sizes and colours, sharks and manta rays. The experience is breathtaking. It is impossible to get closer to these sea creatures unless you were deep sea diving.

In another part of the Aquarium, there are manta rays your kids can touch and you can watch marine biologists feeding them. The jelly fish section is extraordinary. It’s the best education outing under the guise of fun. If your kids really get into the place, there is a summer day camp available in July and August.

Ripley’s is also just a few blocks from the Hockey Hall of Fame, another great museum to hit. Sure there is the Ontario Science Centre and the Royal Ontario Museum, which are amazing places to say the least, but coming from Ottawa where we are lucky to have phenomenal museums, it’s really a treat to visit places in TO that truly are different from what you can get at home. Ripley’s and the Hockey Hall of Fame are two such locations.

When you are feeling peckish, there are endless possibilities in downtown Toronto but for something that is funky, satisfying and family friendly (which is not always the case with trendy restaurants), head to Wvrst on King Street West. The name, pronounced “verst,” is imperfectly German, but the concept is genius. It’s simple, with just four things on the menu, five if you count the bread: beer, fresh sausages, French fries and dipping sauces. It’s unpretentious, with counter service and communal tables. Plus the beer list is excellent. The guys who started it wanted a place where families could go but at night could transform into a hot spot for hipsters. It succeeds in both.

The Chelsea Toronto Hotel is near it all and makes Toronto a perfect family getaway.