On the coast of Lake Ontario, Toronto is overflowing with fun and big things for the family. The city is home to the world's longest street, the 1178-mile Yonge Street; the Americas' tallest freestanding structure, the 1814-foot CN Tower; and the world's largest urban castle, the 200-room Casa Loma. And if these numbers are not enough to impress a family, all of the fun attractions will.
Great for the young and young-at-heart is the Ontario Science Center. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the center can take an entire day to explore. An interactive treat for anyone who loves to be hands-on with science, the center has its staple exhibits: the Science Arcade, where the entire family can have a hair-raising experience jolted by (safe) electric currents, and the CA Planetarium, the only public stargazing experience in Toronto. In 2003, the center opened Kidspark, a fun play zone for all children under 8. Teens will love the interactive Challenge Zone where they can make hi-tech art or explore 3-D wallpaper.
The Royal Ontario Museum, affectionately called the ROM, boasts an astounding collection of dinosaur bones and fossils of creatures from the past. Kids will love watching the digital presentations that show how the skeletal structures were assembled for the exhibits. There is also a fascinating collection of more than 1,000 specimens that shows the diversity of animal life on the planet. The interactive Discover Gallery features a dinosaur dig, costume area, and a kid-size teepee. Any family with a passion for history should check out the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, on display until January. And a tip for inquisitive children: avoid the elevators; the east staircase by the rotunda features two authentic, giant, carved totem poles, the largest of which is over 80 feet tall.
Next to the ROM is the Bata Shoe Museum. The boys of the family may not be too crazy about this stop, but a quick glance at some of the most amazing shoes in history should be arranged. The museum has over 12,500 shoe artifacts from all over the world and across time. All shoes cannot be displayed at once, so Bata has constantly rotating exhibits, and there is the permanent All About Shoes, which follows 4,500 years of shoe history. Some noteworthy shoes: Marilyn Monroe's red leather pumps and John Lennon's Beatle Boot.
For a spectacular view of all of Toronto, visit the CN Tower. For a great spot to refuel after a morning of sightseeing, have lunch at Horizons Restaurant, located more than 1,500 feet above the city. The menu features "Toronto's Best Burger," plus a relatively inexpensive children's menu. After your meal, explore the observation decks: the Look Out Level (1,136 feet) and the Sky Pod (1,465 feet). Brave family members can walk, jump, or lie across the glass floor, which looks straight down onto the streets of Toronto. The tour guide claims that although it's more frightening to stand on, the reinforced glass is actually sturdier than the regular floor. Also, from the top level, the mist from Niagara Falls can be seen on a clear day if you have your binoculars. Back on the ground floor, you can experience the 4-D motion ride, Himalamazon, and enjoy The Height of Excellence, a 15-minute film about the construction of the CN Tower.
Toronto is the perfect city for a family of sport fans. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Rogers Centre, formerly the SkyDome, is a sports arena in the heart of Toronto that is home to two major sporting teams: baseball's Toronto Blue Jays and football's Toronto Argonauts. In addition, since its opening, the venue, with the world's first fully retractable roof, has hosted more than 2,000 events and concerts. If your family can't catch a game or a show, you can take an hour-long tour that features the Blue Jays Hall of Fame, the press box, and a museum with memorabilia from past concerts.
Since Canada is home to the some of the world's greatest hockey players, your family may want to check out the Hockey Hall of Fame, home to the Stanley Cup trophy. Museum guests can fire a puck at a virtual goalie, call the play-by-play, or simply explore the largest hockey memorabilia collection in the world.
Still have more time? Consider the Toronto Zoo, the NASCAR SpeedPark, Canada's Wonderland, or the Centreville Amusement Park. For more family-friendly ideas on what to do in Canada's city of big things, visit www.seetorontonow.com.
Welcome Lords and Ladies
If your family is in the mood for adventure, dazzling costumes, a hardy and hot meal, plus a great show, Medieval Times will take you back to the 11th century and provide you with just that.
Upon arrival at the arena, guests are given a crown of one of six colors, each representing a region of medieval Spain. This color indicates your seating assignment and which "Knight of the Realm" you should cheer for during the show.
In 2009, the franchise introduced a new script and choreography, plus even more chivalry, action, and romance. Upon the start of the show, royal trumpeters summon the Lords and Ladies to take their seats. As the serfs pour beverages, guests are greeted by King Phillipe and Princess Leonore, who have invited the visitors to enjoy the feast.
Supposedly in celebration of peace in the new land, the feast is interrupted before the first course of garlic bread and tomato bisque soup has even been served. A brave and handsome prince of the realm has been captured after a sneak assault.
The attack, however, goes on unbeknownst to King Phillipe, who continues with the Tournament of Games. During the main course of roasted chicken, spare ribs, and herb-basted potato, there is a display of equestrian skills and medieval pageantry. Young boys will love to witness live jousting, swordplay, and falconry, while young girls (and maybe even the moms) are given flowers by the victorious knights. One lucky lady in each colored section is declared Queen of Love Beauty.
Parents should note that this meal is being consumed in a time prior to the invention of silverware, so it can get messy. Although the venue does provide wet napkins to remove chicken grease and other residuals, an extra supply in tow is a good idea.
The pace of the show quickens when King Phillipe gets news of the aforementioned kidnapping. The once-friendly tournament turns into a full-on battle as guests enjoy their dessert of pastry. Upon the conclusion of the show, after peace and harmony is, of course, restored to the land, guests are invited to meet and greet the players.
Since its inception in North America in 1983, the Medieval Times chain has entertained over 50 million guests. Each of its nine facilities features a decorated Hall of Arms, Museum of Torture, Knight Club, aviary, and stable facilities. Locations include Lyndhurst, NJ. For more information: www.medievaltimes.com.
Jillian Ryan is an associate editor at FamilyTravelForum.com (FTF). FTF sites offer libraries of destination research, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, attractions, cruises, and vacations ideas. Check out the interactive "Flee Market" map for vacation discounts.