Fall hit my little family hard this year. Summer passed by as fast as a camera flash and before we had a chance to say “cheese”, it was all over! We didn’t even take our annual family getaway before school started. My husband, Kerry, and I were looking for a family adventure that was quick and affordable — basically, it had to be local. And then we saw a documentary about “Come From Away”, on T.V. An idea was born: our 2019 adventure would be “Come From Away”, in Toronto.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. But Toronto? Isn’t that, like less than an hour from Oakville? And yes, it is. But like most families I know, our schedule is packed, especially on weekends, when we’re limited by dance on Saturday and lacrosse on Sunday. Which means we had just over 24 hours to banish our fall blahs and experience family togetherness. Plus, even though Kerry and I have lived and worked around the city for years, the kids haven’t been jaded by that experience yet. To them, Toronto is still a huge and exciting place they never get to visit.
“But Dana,” you protest, “this is a blog about depression! Why the F are you writing about your family’s trip to Toronto?” The reason is simple. Fighting depression is hard and I do whatever I can to feel better, that includes light boxes, therapy, shopping and travel. And since my depression is seasonal, I try to squeeze in all the fun I can before winter. It’s like I’m filling up my gas tank for the long winter ahead. There’s no gas in winter. Nope, no gas.
“Come From Away” Toronto, here we come!
Charlotte, 15 and I had already seen “Come From Away” in Toronto and we both love the show. Honestly, I wasn’t so sure Carson, 13 and Peyton, 12 would be as appreciative. I needn’t have worried, the show is so lively it’s almost electric and by the end, all of us were clapping and stomping our feet with the rest of the audience. We had all the feels. I particularly enjoyed the characters’ references to Tim Hortons and Shoppers Drugmart because they reminded us that this event really happened and it happened here. My hope is that this amazing musical gave my kids a greater appreciation of how lucky we are to live here. Carson says it was the best musical he’s ever seen — but it’s also the only musical he’s ever seen. I, on the otherhand, am a long-time musical theatre junkie and I say “Come From Away” is wonderful and surprisingly happy — all in all, the perfect way to chase away our fall blahs.
Where to Stay
The bright side of our time crunch was that we only had to pay for three meals and one night in a Toronto hotel. In my mind that meant we could splash out more than we normally do on family trips. We chose The Fairmont Royal York primarily because it has big rooms that can accommodate all five of us and we found a great deal on Expedia. The Royal York also checked off some other key boxes on our must-have list: it’s close to the Royal Elgin Theatre and Ripley’s Aquarium and it has a restaurant and pool. Hotel pools are important because there’s just something special about swimming indoors on a cool day. To be honest, The Royal York has “special” in spades, just walking into the lobby lifts my spirits and make me feel fancy. Our room was beautiful, roomy and clean. The pool was noisy and full of kids on a Saturday afternoon, which was fine for us. If we had to pay for two nights, we might have stayed somewhere else but I’m glad we didn’t. I enjoy feeling like a princess and The Royal York isw a freakin’ castle!
Where to eat
One of the things we enjoyed about staying at the Royal York was the access to both budget and over-the-top meal options. We blew our budget at Reign on Saturday night and it was worth every penny. We had duck and wine and it was all delicious. Peyton tried out the kids’ menu and she loved the Green Goddess dip that came with her veggies — a pleasant surprise since getting that kid to eat vegetables is a huge deal. Our meals on Sunday were much more modest: Starbucks pastries for breakfast and lunch from the Union Station food court.
No Toronto family adventure is complete without a trip to Ripley’s Aquarium. It’s a magical place where sharks swim right over top of you and you can pet horseshoe crabs. My favourite part is watching the black-lit jellyfish glide through the water like neon parachutes of the sea, it makes me understand why watching fish is good for your mental health. Being surrounded by screaming toddlers and pushy tourists wasn’t as great but both are as much a part of the aquarium experience as the subtle fishy smell. And sure, I may have worried a little about being trampled by a crowd but the rest of my family was happily oblivious to the chaos. The princess in me was very intrigued by the posters advertising jazzy Friday nights. Wandering through the aquarium with grown-ups and a glass of wine sounds downright spectacular.
Toronto: unexpected fun with teens
Most of the time I associate Toronto with busy days and long commutes but seeing it through my teenagers’ eyes was so much fun. The loveliest part of the trip wasn’t the show, or the hotel, or the fancy dinner. It was witnessing their excitement at doing very ordinary, very Toronto things. Taking the subway, eating at food trucks, seeing the lights of Yonge-Dundas Square after dark — I’ve done all those things hundreds of times but my kids loved every minute of it! I was reminded of an earlier time, when every step was an adventure, when toddling a few feet down the sidewalk could take an hour because there were leaves and flowers to be discovered. And it reminded me that fun doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. So, what if we couldn’t do a big trip? Seeing my city through their eyes was exactly the escape I needed.