Story by Diana Ballon
TORONTO, ONTARIO — As kids age, we witness fewer and fewer of those magical firsts — those initial experiences our children have of trying or succeeding at something for the first time — and that incredulity or sense of wonder they bring to the moment.
Although our kids are now 10 and 11, I sought to expose them to new experiences in Toronto — to find newness in cool new activities they’d never tried before in their home town. Here’s what we came up with.
Indoor Skydiving in Toronto?
Have you ever had a fantasy to fly? At iFly Toronto, kids as young as four years old can experience the sensation of what skydivers feel in freefall. But rather than falling through the sky, you are in a cylindrical glass chamber or wind tunnel where you are held up by air being forced upwards through a tunnel at a speed of 175 kilometres per hour (110 miles per hour).
Flyers first enter a classroom for a quick lesson.
“It’s like learning how to ride a bike. It’s challenging at first, but there are some tricks [to make it easier],” says our instructor Mike Gravelle. “Look in front. See your hands at eye level. And move slowly.”
Then we don a flight suit, helmet and eye shields and enter the antechamber, where we sit on a bench waiting for our turn to fly. I have a sick feeling in my stomach — that one you get before an exam you haven’t studied for.
My trepidatious son goes first. Then it’s my turn. I throw my body out the door into the tunnel, and then spread my arms and legs. Like a bird, I feel a rush of air as I am pushed upwards, into the air. Gravelle is there giving me a thumbs up. I’m flying …
[box_info]Cost: $72 for two flights or $106 for four. Each flight is 60 seconds, the equivalent of a skydive freefall. Website: www.iflytoronto.com[/box_info]
Dining in the Sky
This is an ear-popping experience — at least it is on the ride up. Horizons Restaurant is on the 114th floor of the CN tower, 346 metres (1,135 feet) above the ground. But when you’re travelling 22 km/hour (13.7 mph), it takes only 58 seconds to get there. Unlike the more high-end 360 Restaurant one floor above, Horizons is a more family-friendly dining option.
With young kids, we were willing to sacrifice a luxe gastro experience for some still tasty and more affordable food. Admittedly, Horizons doesn’t rotate, but you still get an awesome view of Toronto’s islands to the south and the skyscapes of the city way down below.
Some stand-out items on the menu were two enormous-sized appetizers (at least as large as the mains) — a potato, garlic and chorizo soup, and a baby kale and watercress salad with duck confit. Kids’ meals were also sizeable ($10 to $14), and mains offered a range of choices. But the best part of the meal? The dark chocolate lava cake with Beamsville sour cherries for dessert.
Before you leave, walk down one floor to check out the view from the outdoor SkyTerrace and stomp up and down on the glass floor; with only 2.5 inches of glass separating you from a 342-metre descent, best to avoid looking down if you’re scared of heights.
[box_info]Horizons’ Menu Price Range: $18-$21 for main entrees. Website: www.cntower.ca/en-ca/plan-your-visit/restaurants/horizons-restaurant.html[/box_info]
Ziplining Over Exotic Animals
At the Toronto Zoo, you can expect to see giant pandas, cuddly-looking polar bears and African penguins, but being able to travel by zipline? Open only since July 2014, the TundraAir Ride takes one or two passengers on a two-minute ride over the award-winning Tundra Trek. Travelling at up to 48 km/hour (30 miles per hour), you move backwards and forwards — as you gaze down at the grounds.
Other cool options? There’s a ropes course overlooking the gorillas, a zoomobile that gives you guided tours around the zoo, a “conversation carousel” (with important educational messages as you spin) and splash island (a two-acre splash pad).
Visit the zoo by day, or get the kids involved in a day, overnight or week-long camp. At the overnight Serengeti Bush Camp, you and your family can sleep in African tents, and get a glimpse behind the scenes at the zoo.
[box_info]Tip: Food here is fast and expensive, so pack some healthy snacks and a water bottle and enjoy a picnic at one of the many tree-lined tables around the property. Cost: General admission is $28; Serengeti sleepover rates start at $99 for patrons who are not members of the zoo. Website: www.torontozoo.com. More Vacay.ca Coverage: Read About “Extreme Sleepovers in Ontario for Kids”[/box_info]
Returning to Medieval Times
As soon as you enter the grounds of Medieval Times, you will be handed a crown and a flag, and appointed to one of six teams you will be cheering as knight and horse join together against their opponents. It’s a grand tournament of the knightly arts featuring exhibitions of beauty, skill and bravery: there’s falconry and dressage, and a jousting tournament that demonstrates swordsmanship and hand-to-hand combat.
You watch all this while cheering ringside, as you sit at long vertical tables sipping your “dragon’s blood” (tomato bisque), gnawing on “baby dragon” (half a chicken) and garlic bread, and rounding off your meal with the “pastry of the castle” — in our case a butter tart. No cutlery allowed. Your menu is typed on your napkin, wine and beer is available for parents, and kids of any age get free soft drink refills. The vibe is rough and ready, in a spirit of high competition at its finest.
Toronto’s Medieval Times, located on the grounds of Exhibition Place, is the only one of its kind in Canada.
[box_info]Cost: $39.95 for adults / $29.95 for kids. Website: www.medievaltimes.com/toronto.aspx[/box_info]
Car-free and Classy
The Distillery District is a pedestrian-only village east of downtown that is not just a cool place to shop, visit art galleries and meander along brick walkways through Victorian architecture. It’s also a fun place to take your kids to eat. Soma Chocolate Maker lets you observe chocolate being made — and has about every variety of chocolate on offer — from hot chocolate to truffles and gelato.
[box_light]Read About How the “Past Meets the Present in the Distillery District”[/box_light]
But for a full meal, visit El Catrin for authentic Mexican cuisine. The patio is surrounded by red exposed brick from the neighbouring buildings, the funky overhead steel lights mimic massive paper lanterns and indoors, the folk art, and a bright wall-to-ceiling mural by Mexican street artist Oscar Flores, captures all the vibrancy and colour of Mexico.
Chef de cuisine Olivier Le Calvez also uses colour and flare to create an innovative menu. Three stand-out tacos are the baja (fried cod), cochinita pibíl (pulled pork) and the gobernador (shrimp and lobster). Kids’ meals ($6 to $9) are interesting Mexican fare rather than the standard unhealthy choices. For example, the classic fish and chips is a crispy battered cod with tortilla chips. Our kids loved the arroz con pollo — braised chicken with red rice and queso fresco.