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Can’t Sit Still: Family Fun

See what eight-year-old TV star Daniel Cook does for fun in the city in Fun With Daniel Cook. Check out the most colourful ice cream concoctions in the city in You’ll Scream. Our picks for Travel Toys keep the kids occupied for a little while at least.

A day at an amusement park is a quintessential summer activity—pulling at wisps of cotton candy, playing carnival games for stuffed animals, and of course, the rides. You know, those heart-thumping, scream-inducing roller coasters that whip sideways at the speed of lightning, upward and then plummeting downward again.

Find spine-tingling roller coasters at Paramount Canada’s Wonderland, where there are more than 200 attractions and 65 rides. The names are a tip-off to the fright level: Drop Zone, Jet Scream, the Vortex and Tomb Raider. Youngsters will like tamer options at KidZville and Hanna-Barbera Land, such as Dora’s Dune Buggies or Chopper Chase. The 20-acre water park, Splash Works is the perfect place to cool off between rides.

Nestled along Toronto’s waterfront, Ontario Place Ontario Place is jam-packed with fun. Go up, up and away on First Flight, a replica hot-air balloon ride, test driving skills at the Bumper Boats (there’s a mini version, too), shimmy through mazes on H20 Generation Station, get drenched at SoakCity with a plunge on the Hydrofuge or hit the links with a round of mini-putt.

The Toronto Islands, which is comprised of 14 islands, is an all-in-one family escape, with Centre Island, Ward’s Island and Hanlan’s Point being the main draws. Centreville Amusement Park has more than 30 rides, including an antique carousel and train, while the Far Enough Farm (416-392-1111) is a petting zoo with horses and goats. You can also enjoy a picnic, walk or bike along the trails, play a game of tennis, volleyball and baseball or head off the heat in the wading pools.

The truly adventuresome will be undaunted by a visit to the world’s tallest building, the CN Tower, which proudly stands at 553.33 m (1,815 ft., 5 in.). Get the ultimate bird’s-eye view from the Look Out level at 346 metres (1,136 ft.) or peer down at the city below through the Glass Floor. Ante up the stakes by going higher: take the Sky Pod up another 33 storeys.THE HISTORIAN
Few children can resist a castle. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, majestic Casa Loma, perched atop a hill, is the stuff of fairy tales. Built between 1911 and 1914, this 98-room palace boasts underground tunnels, three towers, a beautiful conservatory and even a secret garden.

What did kids do before PlayStations? Travel back to the days of yesteryear to see what little lads and ladies did for fun. Each weekend at Mackenzie House, the home of Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, young ones can try historically inspired activities such as newspaper collages and relief painting.

A battlefield is literally beneath your feet at Historic Fort York, the site of the Battle of York during the War of 1812. Hourly demonstrations honour military life, from uniformed guards and musket firings to canon and artillery demonstrations.

A Toronto Blue Jays game is a home run for baseball-loving kids. Watch batting practice, meet the players and get their autographs, and to really get a feel of the big leagues, kids can run the bases on Jr. Jays Saturdays at the Rogers Centre.

Football fans shouldn’t miss a chance to see North America’s oldest football team, the Toronto Argonauts in action. Ten minutes after games, meet and greet the Argos during See You On the Field.

It may be summer, but don’t forgo Canada’s favourite pastime. The Hockey Hall of Fame provides the full ice experience. Revel in Stanley Cup glory and have your picture taken with the crown of hockey.

Aspiring artists should seek out the great masters such as Monet, Van Gogh and Canada’s own Group of Seven for inspiration at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Dragon Wagon roams the AGO on weekends, loaded with games, costumes, blocks and puzzles. At the ROM, touching is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Here, the youngest of visitors can don armour or dig for dinosaur bones in the CIBC Discovery Room.

If all the world’s a stage, and there’s nothing like an afternoon of song and dance accented with dazzling costumes, settle in for a show at the Solar Stage Children’s Theatre (4950 Yonge St., 416-368-8031). The hour-long plays are tailored for bright minds, while cozy cushions make comfortable quarters for squirming kiddies. Sibling rivalry is the theme of The Stone Princess, which continues this month.
Young hearts who embrace all animals big and small will go ape for the Toronto Zoo, where more than 5,000 animals of 460 different species live. Come nose to nose with the likes of a cheetah, black-faced kangaroo, Komodo dragon, or an orangutan. And if the kids themselves feel like monkeying around, the Kids Zoo lets them channel that energy as they crawl through a snakeskin, play in a giant bird’s nest or climb a spider web. The Splash Pad and 10 km of walking trails provide natural respite, too.

For the child who is fascinated by creepy, crawly creatures—the type who has an assortment of bugs in jars on the front porch—scurry to the Ontario Science Centre. The exhibit, Animal Grossology, spotlights the slimiest, stinkiest and yuckiest critters through scientific facts and games. Bugs aside, the interactive exhibits here allow kids of all ages to learn without realizing it. Examine an elephant’s heart, analyze your own saliva, touch a tornado or talk to animals via a keyboard.THE TOURIST
Everybody loves a backstage pass. The Rogers Centre Tour Experience is an hour-long behind-the-scenes tour of this stadium with the world’s first fully retractable roof.

Touting itself as the hippest way (pun intended) to see the city is Toronto Hippo Tours. Part bus, part boat, this 40-passenger vessel takes visitors on an urban tour of such landmarks as Old and New City Hall and the Air Canada Centre before transforming into a boat that splashes into Lake Ontario for a watery jaunt.

The lake expedition can continue aboard the tall ship Kajama, a 165-foot three-masted schooner as she sails from the Toronto Harbour and around Lake Ontario.

CityPass allows visitors to get the most bang for their buck with admittance to six of the city’s most popular attractions for one low rate of $55 for adults and $37 for youth (age 4 to 12). Enjoy the Art Gallery of Ontario, Casa Loma, CN Tower, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum and Toronto Zoo within nine days.THE EPICUREAN
Even the pickiest of eaters can find dishes to their liking at these restaurants, many of which offer themed or smaller portions for junior diners.

In an Amazon-theme setting, complete with colourful birds tucked into foliage, the Rainforest Café is a tropical escape with menu items to match. Few youngsters can resist chowing down on dishes with such imaginative names as gorilla grilled cheese delight, python pasta and the sparkling volcano, an eruptively rich chocolate brownie cake.

Known for its family-friendly atmosphere, The Pickle Barrel features an all-encompassing menu that will fill up tummies without breaking the bank. Among the hearty offerings are cheeseburgers, hotdogs, wings and corned beef sandwiches, as well as kid-size shakes and chocolate sundaes. An all-day breakfast serves up omelettes, bacon and eggs, waffles and French toast to fuel the whole family.

More refined dining in an unstuffy setting is at Alice Fazooli’s Italian Grill, which serves dishes such as chicken or pasta with a child’s beverage and a Fazooli’s sundae. Pint-sized carnivores can cut into a juicy six-ounce steak.

The Old Spaghetti Factory is a fun, carnival-like dining room complete with a historic San Francisco trolley car. Tuck into pasta—and lots of it here. Slurp on spaghetti with meat, clam or mushroom sauce, chicken penne or veggie lasagna. Each meal finishes with ice cream.

Young hockey fans should stop in for a bite at Wayne Gretzky’s. Memorabilia of Number 99’s career, such as his rookie jersey with the Edmonton Oilers or his 1987 Team Canada jersey, are on display. The menu includes essential sports chow (nachos, burgers, wings and pizza) and nostalgic faves like Grandma Gretzky’s perogies and meatloaf.
—Linda Luong

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