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  • Writer's pictureErin Schoen Marsh

Family Vacation Guide: Toronto on a Budget

Updated: Mar 2



Mom in red glasses with bald dad in brown glasses and two kids, a boy and a girl, overlook Toronto from the CN Tower.
Overlooking Toronto from the CN Tower

While our family vacation to the all-inclusive resort at Barcelo Bavaro Palace in the Dominican Republic was about as budget friendly as you could possibly be for an all-inclusive, out of the country trip, it still wasn’t cheap. So when spring break rolled around just two months later, we wanted to do something for vacation, but it had to be as inexpensive as possible. 


Flying was out of the question – too expensive – so we looked at all of the major cities within driving distance. Most cities we had already visited or were too expensive, so we landed on Toronto. After all, who travels NORTH for spring break anyway? 


View from the AirBnb: The sun shines brightly on the buildings and the train tracks.
Our view from the AirBnb

AirBnb

Because Toronto is not a tourist hotspot at the end of March, the AirBnb was reasonably priced – less than a hotel for a centrally located, 2 bedroom with a pull-out couch on the 30th floor with parking included. The apartment itself was beautiful and clean while still being very budget friendly. A full kitchen allowed us to eat all our breakfasts and some meals in the apartment, which saved on meals.  


My only complaint with the rental space is that the owner was not supposed to be using it as an AirBnb, so there was some weirdness about us getting and dropping off the key, which ended with us getting locked in the parking garage with our luggage for half an hour. So that part stunk, needless to say. Overall, the rest was fine. 


Mom in red glasses signs ILY with son signing ILY from CN Tower with Lake Ontario in background.
Lake Ontario from CN Tower

City of Toronto

The city of Toronto has become one of my new favorite cities. I lived in New York City for a couple years, and the Big Apple will always hold a special place in my heart, but Toronto is the first big city that has pulled at my heartstrings in the same way that NYC, Paris or Rome has. 


Toronto is wonderfully multicultural, and from my outsider perspective, it seems to be more blended than other big cities. More than half of Toronto’s 3 million people were born outside of Canada, which resulted in the BBC declaring Toronto the most diverse city in the world, and 180+ languages are spoken in Toronto. I heard (and saw printed) many different languages.


I also noticed that people would greet others in multiple languages. I interpreted this as a subtle way to let people know they spoke more than one language and the other could choose their language of comfort, which I thought was such a nice way to start a conversation. 


Then there was the food. Every cuisine was available within a quick Uber drive. I could have spent a week there just sampling restaurants. Too bad my picky kids limited our options. I can’t wait to return with my husband so we can eat all the food! 


Kid-Friendly Activities

The kids loved being able to walk around the city (even if the strong winds the first day made it unbearably cold), so that was a (free) activity in and of itself, which helped us stick to our budget. It was their first time in a true big city and they were eating it up. They loved everything about Toronto: the skyscrapers, the many pedestrians, the people of all ethnicities, the languages, the sights and smells. It was also their first time taking an Uber (although the novelty of that wore off quickly). 


Our most expensive, but most unforgettable, part of our family vacation in Toronto was Medieval Times Toronto. Our kids devoured the chicken dinners while watching sword fights, damsels in distress and knights in shining armor. Our daughter even received the Queen’s Favor (which made her entire week). It’s worth the splurge. 




We then saved some money by buying a family pass (2 adults and 2 kids) online for the CN Tower and arrived right at opening, didn’t wait in line, and practically had the tower to ourselves. 



If you are into fish, then you MUST go see Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. We have been to a lot of aquariums, and this beats out most (including Shedd Aquarium, our own Toledo Zoo, Ripley’s in Cincinnati…I’m sure I’m forgetting others). I felt like a kid again – that was my state of awe.


A dad and his two kids are outline by a blue water tank and pink jellyfish.
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

The last paid attraction we visited was the Royal Ontario Museum. If you book ahead, you can save money on tickets. We coasted through most of the museum, but once we reached the dinosaur exhibit, you could not peel my son away. 



The Ontario Science Centre we were able to visit for free as part of reciprocity with our membership with Imagination Station in Toledo. Unfortunately we went on a Friday, which is when numerous schools were going on field trips, so the place was PACKED (so avoid a weekday or go after school hours). On top of that, the science centre paled in comparison to our own, so we left feeling thankful we hadn’t paid. 


We opted to not do the CItyPASS because it only made financial sense if you visited at least 4 attractions, and we only visited two, with the third (the Ontario Science Centre) being included with our hometown Imagination Station membership.


One of my favorite activities, and something both kids remember fondly, was walking around Chinatown and Little Italy. We spent almost nothing – just bought some dumplings at Juicy Dumpling, which both kids loved – but it opened the kids up to new experiences and cuisines (despite the fact that we had tried many, many times at home to get them to try new foods). 


My 8-year-old daughter now eats all Asian cuisines (we are still working on Italian), and before that trip, she hadn’t even tasted dumplings. I also give credit to her watching and loving XO, Kitty. Sometimes television isn’t all bad! 





Rapid Review: 

  1. Weather: It’s Toronto, so cold and windy even in March!  

  2. AirBnb: For a weeklong stay, definitely recommend an AirBnb with multiple bedrooms. 

  3. Rooms: 2 bedroom with a pull-out couch

  4. Activity: Medieval Times Toronto

  5. Must see: Chinatown 

  6. Must do: CN Tower 

  7. Favorite casual restaurant: La Bella Managua

  8. Favorite ice cream: Bang Bang Ice Cream (dairy free/vegan options!)

  9. Favorite place to eat in Chinatown: Juicy Dumpling

  10. Best time to go: Anytime except winter imo!


Accessibility: Toronto is the most Deaf-friendly city I have visited in at least a decade. Since many languages are spoken here, directions are often visual/symbolic instead of/alongside auditory communications, which made it easier for me to get around. People are also accustomed to communicating with others who do not speak their language, which means folks are used to nonverbal communication (gestures, phone apps, etc.), another boon for Deafies. 


Toronto is very walkable, which means it’s a great destination for those who are Blind and low vision. Some of the intersections have accessible pedestrian signals (APS), and 20-30 more are being installed each year. For my optic nerve atrophy, which makes it hardest for me to see in low light and nighttime, Toronto was great because everything is well-lit in the evening and the crosswalks have the pedestrian countdown timers, so I don’t have to second-guess colors or how much time I have left to make the light.


Lastly, everything you need is a short Uber/Lyft drive away. And for the days you don’t feel like leaving the safety of your place, there’s an app for that – the beauty of the big city! I have already decided that when we retire, I hope Toronto will be where we spend our spring/summer days. I haven’t yet shared this aspiration with my husband – let’s hope he’s on board! 


A bald dad and a blonde mom with red glasses hold their son and daughter in the CN Tower with the Toronto skyline in the background.

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