As we’re whisked like royalty into the newly opened Hotel X Toronto, staring into a lobby of nearly 10-metre ceilings, gorgeous floor mosaic tiling, oversize flowerpots, and an impossibly cool living wall of plants taking pride of place behind the front desk, I hear my teenage daughter marvel: “What kind of fancy people stay in a place like this?”
My 15-year-old is understandably awed as we’re swept by welcoming staff into the first Canadian property of the posh Library Hotel Collection, that among its highlights includes a rooftop infinity pool, two movie theatres, and a sports complex where we saw Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic practising his game.
If you think it’s hard to impress a teenager, then I highly recommend a parent-and-child getaway to Toronto.
In four days, my teen ate all the food (and I do mean all)—from dim sum in Chinatown to Sweet Jesus’s insta-worthy soft serve, from the rack of lamb with pistachio crust at terrific Ricarda’s, to the regional delights at 360 Restaurant, the CN Tower’s revolving restaurant. The child has good, albeit expensive tastes… She also indulged her curiosity at the iconic Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), her creativity, escaping from Mysterious Minds Escape Room, and we sat side by side, witnessing the magic of Come From Away. We both came away a little breathless.
Here are five great ways to wow your teen (and yourself!) when taking on Toronto:
No naps, no food fights, no early bedtimes. Yes, travelling with a teen is cool. And nowhere was this more evident than on our date with Toronto theatre. We were in town for the hit show, Come From Away, the remarkable true story of Newfoundland hospitality and hope after the tragic events of 9/11. High energy from start to finish, Come From Away makes you laugh, and cry, and glad to be alive. It also makes you proud to be Canadian, and even more so, Atlantic Canadian—like us. I know the real-life Janice, and the fiddle player hails from my husband’s hometown, where we now live. The play so inspired us that for weeks later we regaled each other with key lines and talked about favourite scenes—such a sweet bond to share.
Honestly? Hotel X Toronto had us at rooftop infinity pool. Moments after checking in to the property located on the waterfront at Exhibition Place, near Billy Bishop Airport, we slipped on robes and slippers and padded off to the top floor for a quick swim and to drink in dreamy waterfront and Toronto city skyline views from the terrace. But the hotel offers so much more. It’s enormous but has a people-friendly motto which shows in the staff.
I loved browsing the little libraries located throughout Hotel X and admiring the striking landscape images by Canadian photographer Neil Dankoff—there are 800 of them scattered across the hotel, in rooms, hallways and an onsite art gallery! There’s also an impressive 250-seat cinema and 56-person screening room (hello kid-friendly movie nights!), a children’s centre, and food options ranging from Starbucks to the gourmet Mediterranean restaurant Petros 82. And it doesn’t stop there. Brides and grooms can book special rooms to prep for the ceremony, and there are event space options aplenty. Ten X Toronto extends its services to hotel guests including four indoor tennis courts, squash courts, a golf simulator, a number of workout room options, fitness classes and studios for Pilates, spinning and yoga. While not open during our visit, the word is a small brewery, and a second swimming pool and spa are expected to launch in 2019.
Of course, we had to explore downtown, starting with Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and its 100th Oddiversary: Curious Creatures Exhibit. Since opening in 2013, the over 12,000 square metre aquarium has been a top attraction where visitors should budget at least two hours to see what they weigh as a tuna, stare into a wall of jellies (the most photographed exhibit in the place), try to spot the camouflaged octopus in Canadian waters, and ride the moving sidewalk in the Dangerous Lagoon while gazing into waters filled with sharks, turtles and marine creatures.
In 2018, visitors can also see the 100th Oddiversary exhibit, following the strange and brilliant life of the late Robert “Believe it or Not” Ripley, cartoonist, explorer, reporter, adventurer, and collector who travelled to 201 countries in 35 years seeking the odd and unusual. I was at once fascinated and repulsed to come face to face with one of his collected shrunken heads.
You can’t go downtown without visiting the CN Tower, where it’s worth it to book lunch at the 360 Restaurant. Not only does it give ‘skip the line’ admission privileges, but it’s also pretty impressive to dine atop the iconic tower, an award-winning national icon at 553 m, seeing the city skyscape pass by. Don’t leave before taking a step onto the famed Glass Floor, if you dare! Thrill-seekers can make arrangements to attempt the EdgeWalk, the world’s highest ‘hands-free’ walk, 356m (116 stories) above ground.
So Much Good Food
Food is always a must when travelling with a teen. Standing out for us was the Chinatown + Kensington Market food tour with Culinary Adventure Co. Kevin Durkee, and daughter Taylor led us through two eclectic Toronto neighbourhoods, Kensington Market—a National Historic Site filled with Victorian homes, restaurants, food and vintage shops—and Chinatown, one of North America’s largest. “It’s super casual,” Kevin says of the tour. “We want you to feel like you’re hanging out with us,” he says as he peppers the conversation with fun stories and leads us to some of his favourite restaurants, including sampling some of the best BBQ pork and the best congi in town. We feast too on Mexico City-inspired street food and find heaven with mini cherry pies from Wanda’s Pie in the Sky that immediately have me plotting to return. (Seriously, I need more pie!)
Other foodie highlights? Sweet Jesus Ice Cream is worth the hype, especially the O’Hungry, and our favourite restaurant had to be the excellent Ricarda’s on Peter Street in the entertainment district where I still think of the grilled free-range Cornish hen and delish California Solid Ground Pinot Noir.
As a special treat, we signed on for a cooking class at Le Dolci, a bake shop specialising in custom cakes, macarons and cupcakes. Donning matching aprons and taking side-by-side spots along a long table filled with eager bakers, we learned to mask a cake in buttercream and to create a unicorn horn (trickier than it sounds!), painting with edible gold, and piping a mane using coloured frostings.
Improv Fun, Escape Rooms and the ROM
Toronto offers a wealth of options to satisfy teens. Over our four days, we took seats for an afternoon Improv Showdown at Second City, in a winner-takes-all comedy showdown fuelled by audience suggestions and volunteers. We loved it.
We also loved tasking our creativity escaping from Mysterious Minds Escape Room on Bloor Street West—and yes, winner, winner, we still talk about our own prowess! Perhaps what most appealed to my museum-loving kid was exploring the Royal Ontario Museum, including its new exhibit, Spiders: Fear & Fascination, where the motto is ‘the more you learn, the less you fear.’ My daughter would have spent all day looking around the ROM, founded in 1914, and showcasing art, culture and nature from around the world. It’s among the top 10 cultural institutions in North America, and Canada’s largest and most comprehensive museum, so even if it doesn’t quite hit all my interests, it does hers, so I’m not saying no to more time exploring.
Afterwards, we make our way to the waterfront for ROMWalks, a 90 minute guided jaunt to learn about the Queen’s Quay area, from its industrial and commercial origins to the recent revitalisation. The walk is free on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons and gives us an appreciation for a side of the city we’d never see on our own, and one I’m glad to see with a teen at my side.