Honestly, I love summer, but keeping a tween and teen entertained for 2 months has its challenges. After all, they would be perfectly happy to stay home all day playing Xbox, watching Youtube videos and Snapchatting with their friends. As a parent, I see summer as a break from rushing them back and forth between activities to spend some quality time together as a family. However, as good as my intentions are, my ideas always gets the evil eyeball roll as it’s just not “cool” enough (sigh). So when the folks at Attractions Ontario hooked me up for tours with Mariposa Cruises and The Haunted Walk in Toronto, I knew the eyeball roll was a thing of the past (this time at least). My finicky tween and teen had a blast (so did daddy-o). And just like that, I realized that we don’t have to travel far to be tourists. We can fill our summer days touring local attractions, many of which the kids have never been before.
Set Sail with Mariposa Cruises
Even though my husband was born and raised in Toronto, he has never done an official scenic harbor tour. Now as a Torontonian, he’s been to Queens Quay a million times, but never on the water. Who knew?! Going to Harbourfront is always a treat, even for us locals. There are lots of shops, restaurants and entertainment, all year round.
When we arrived by the dock, you can’t help but notice the boats Mariposa Cruises operates. The Canadian owned Mariposa Cruises has been a staple of Lake Ontario for 29 years, with a fleet of 6 vessels, each with its own unique character. We saw the grand Captain Matthew Flinders – a large luxurious yacht that serves as Mariposa’s flagship vessel docked and wow, it’s a great looking boat. My guess is it’ll be busy hosting many summer weddings.
We found the Mariposa Cruises booth easily along the boardwalk and checked-in. Our booking time was for 4 pm and we started boarding right on time. Our 45-minute narrated scenic tour was from the comforts of the Oriole, a mid-sized replica of a great lakes steamship. Upon boarding, guests hustled up the beautiful wrought iron staircases to grab seats at the stern (back) of the boat. It’s no wonder, as the stern is where you want to be as the Oriole sets sail towards the Toronto Islands. You know those gorgeous images of the Toronto skyline you see everywhere? That’s the view you can only get from the waters of Lake Ontario. The view of the city is simply breathtaking. Be sure to have your camera ready!
While you wait for all passengers to board, be sure to grab a cold drink from the fully licensed bar on-board. As the boat was slowly leaving the dock, there was a brief safety presentation about where to locate life jackets and a demonstration on how to put on a life jacket. Then it was full steam ahead!
There are 2 main levels on the Oriole, the main deck, which is completely enclosed and the open outer deck one flight up. Though the outer deck is open, there is cover in the midsection to provide relief from the sun’s rays. There were plenty of seating throughout the ship, including full seating with tables and chairs on the main deck (by the bar).
Visitors can see the beauty of Toronto’s skyline showcasing the CN Tower and Rogers Centre (it’ll always be Skydome to me). We sailed past the Billy Bishop City Airport, where we saw a few planes take off. The Oriole went towards Hanlan Islands past the haunted Gibraltar Point Lighthouse and Water Treatment Plant. As we were sailing through, you can see people enjoying the island with friends, with their boats docked on shore.
Even though seats filled up quickly at the stern of the boat, once the Oriole left dock, everyone was moving around. This is what I loved about our tour. My kids and I walked around the boat to capture sights from all sides of the Oriole. The boat sailed smoothly, which made moving around easy to do.
The fully narrated tour was in English, which played over the speakers as the majority of passengers were English speaking. New to Mariposa Cruises this year is their exclusive GPS-triggered audio tours available in English, French, Mandarin and Spanish. A few passengers were given the headsets so they could follow along in their native language.
Mariposa Cruises was a real fun way to see Toronto. Even though our tour was the last one of the day, the ship was clean and the crew very friendly and helpful. In addition to sightseeing tours, they also offer special event cruises such as fireworks and lunch/brunch/dinner cruises and if you’re so inclined, private charters too. Not only does this make for an awesome day out with the family but it also makes for a unique gift for all occasions.
To help you kick start your summer planning, Mariposa is offering a BOGO Mariposa Cruises coupon for a 45-minute narrated sightseeing harbour tour.
Ghostly History Lesson with The Haunted Walk
After the cruise, we made our way towards the Hockey Hall of Fame for our haunted walk tour. Since it didn’t start until 9 pm, we headed out to dinner. Luckily for us, there are so many fantastic restaurants in the area. But our favourite is the Olde Spaghetti Factory.
We met our tour guide for The Haunted Walk of Toronto on Front Street just outside the Hockey Hall of Fame about 15 minutes before departure. The Haunted Walk guides are hard to miss. They are dressed for the occasion at hand – all in black complete with a cape and lantern. Upon check-in, we were advised to use the bathrooms and bring any snacks or water that we need for the 90 minute walk. There are no break stops long the way. Sebastian, our storyteller guide, did a great job leading our group on the 2.5 km walking tour. He stressed at the start that safety is a main concern, as we would be crossing only at main intersections with traffic lights. The route is meticulously planned, as each stop had plenty of room for the group to gather in close to hear the spine tingling tales.
The tour started in the small courtyard at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The building was once the site of a bank, where a female teller committed suicide. She was having an affair with a married man, who was also an employee at the bank. She shot herself with the bank’s revolver in the women’s bathroom. People have reported seeing strange, unexplained things inside the building. It is believed that the ghost of the teller still haunts the building to this day.
Having grown up in Toronto, a few of the stories I’ve heard over the years, but for the kids, it was all fascinating and new. Many popular hotels, theatres and hospitals all have a dark past, most of which were news to me. I had no idea that Toronto had many public executions in the form of hangings. These hangings were done just outside the old courthouse (today it houses a popular restaurant) in what is now a small but quaint garden courtyard. I have to admit standing at night in the same courtyard where the hangings took place was a bit unsettling.
One of the stops on the tour was Mackenzie House, which is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in the city. This was the former home to the city’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, who died in the house. There have been reports of printing presses going off on its own and sightings of apparitions throughout the home. If you dare, I was told that the Haunted Walk have Halloween tours that take visitors inside the home.
My astute daughter was sensing a theme as the tour progressed. Former banks and ladies washrooms seem to be where ghostly creatures like to hang out, so my teenage daughter has now declared that she won’t enter a ladies bathroom alone anymore. At least I know she was paying attention, lol.
Although I didn’t think the tour was overly gruesome in terms of detail, some of the stories may scare very young children. For older tweens and teens, this is one history lesson they won’t get bored listening to. Talk about a big hit with this age group!
The Haunted Walk also has similar tours in the Distillery District, Ottawa and Kingston. Tours go rain or shine. The Original Haunted Walk of Toronto tour does not go inside any buildings. The tour is entirely outdoors, so comfy shoes are a must. Luckily for us, it was a beautiful evening, and even for those who don’t like to walk, the 90-minutes just flew right by.
So the next time you’re searching for a fun day or weekend out with the family, consider booking a few tours at local attractions (just like you would visiting a new city). Get the kids involved and let them dictate the itinerary.
Attractions Ontario has plenty of fun ideas and money saving coupons for a variety of attractions in Ontario. You can also enter to win some fabulous prizes of family fun in the annual Attractions Ontario Explore Ontario Summer Contest, with new prizes being drawn every two weeks.
*Thanks to Attractions Ontario, Mariposa Cruises and The Haunted Walk for arranging this experience for us. We were provided with free tours for purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.
About Wendy Morelli
Wendy loves her 2 kids and her iPhone, not necessarily always in that order. She is an app obsessed mom who loves everything tech and is (unfortunately) old enough to remember the brick Motorola cell phone and the Commodore computer. Her love for technology stems back to the 10+ years of working for technology based companies. Wendy's alter ego, "AppHipMom" has been featured in Canadian Family, iVillage, Women in Biz, EverythingMom, BlogHer and Savvy Mom.