While visiting family in Toronto last month, we took the kids to the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada. Located downtown across from the famous CN Tower, the aquarium has only been part of the city for a few short years. My seven year old is currently fascinated with all things sharks and whales, so it was his pick to visit.
Over the years I've visited several aquariums, including ones in Genoa, Italy, Monte Carlo, Monaco, Paris, France, and Lisbon, Portugal. While so far nothing compares with the setting of the Monaco aquarium, the Toronto one certainly holds its own in terms of attractions for the whole family. It's not cheap, with adult tickets running almost $27, but it is a great way to pass a few hours in the heart of the city. We purchased advance tickets online that specify an entrance window period to avoid overcrowding, and I recommend it. I also recommend early morning weekday visits for fewer crowds.
The aquarium is organized by theme, including Canadian Waters, Rainbow Reef, and Dangerous Lagoon, and interesting facts are posted along the way. What made it special for the kids were the number of interactive displays throughout the aquarium, including an underwater glass tunnel kids can crawl through and petting basins.
Both the kids and adults enjoyed the Dangerous Lagoon, which is the largest exhibit at 2.5 million litres of water! The moveable sidewalk kept people moving along and avoided bottlenecks, and allowed for uninterrupted viewing of the exhibit without having to worry about walking into anyone. Sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, and more delighted everyone, and my son was proud to be able to correctly identify several species of sharks.
I was impressed by the amount of information the kids took away from their visit, not just of different species of fish, but also of the environmental issues at play in the world that affect our lakes and oceans. Even my youngest was mesmerized by the displays, and wanted to touch all the interactive activities. The playground area was busy so we only let the kids play for a few minutes, and since it's not really fenced off it's not easy to keep track of younger kids who may wander. We didn't eat in the cafeteria as there weren't really any gluten free meal options, but it is possible to have a meal there if food restrictions aren't an issue.
The gift shop was pretty interesting as well, with a good selection of books and activities nestled in among the typical gift-shop trinkets. My boys each picked out one item they wanted to pay for with their own money, and I bought them each a book. My oldest picked a shark tooth excavation kit and my youngest picked a shark toy. Everyone left happy.
The aquarium has several special exhibits and activities year-round, such as sleepovers, morning yoga, and day camps, that would be fun for kids who are really interested in all things oceans, but a bit pricey otherwise. I know my eldest would love to sleep among the sharks!
Overall, the Ripley's Aquarium of Canada is an attraction I would recommend visiting with kids of any age. I don't know if they have special hours for children with autism or other sensory sensitivities, as it can get a bit overwhelming at times if there are a lot of people, but it might be worth asking. Otherwise, we really enjoyed our visit, and the kids hung out for over two hours, which is impressive!
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
- 288 Bremner Blvd., Toronto, ON M5V 3L9