Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Rip Off

You know how when you reserve a hotel room and you ask for a room with a view and they always sigh in annoyance and then say ok, if we can, we cannot guarantee it, but.... and then you figure you'll have a view of a brick wall or something? That didn't happen this time! We were only on the 8th floor, but the photo above was taken through our hotel room window. Gorgeous. There was a substantial window sill and every morning, I put my water and breakfast on the sill and ate while gazing out the window at the lake.
One morning, we took the ferry over to Toronto Islands. It's a quick 10 minute ride. We took the ferry to Center Island.
To me, the islands are a wonderful, huge park. It was so peaceful and relaxing to walk around. Of course, we started out on Center Island, and there is a small amusement park for kids. So it wasn't so peaceful at first. It's also for big kids as SP purchased some ride tickets and rode several rides, including this adorable kiddie coaster, the Toronto Islands Monster.
There is something pretty neat about sitting in the shade, people watching, and hearing/seeing kids run past screaming with such joy, running with abandon, excited about a ride being open and isn't that great and let's go! It's what I imagine little SP was like at amusement parks.
After riding a few rides, we started walking towards Wards Island. We walked past several fountains, along a boardwalk, past a beach area, and out onto a pier.
I could sit and gaze at water all day long. Somewhere, across the lake, was NY state. All those beautiful shades of blue.
Toronto Islands is a great place to walk, to bicycle, to play disc golf (there is a course), to kayak. To relax and savor and feel miles away from the city, which if you turn north-ish and walk a short distance is instantly visible across the water.
 We stopped for lunch on Wards Island at a place called The Rectory Cafe.
There is a small indoor seating area, but the day was so absolutely gorgeous that we decided to sit out in the garden. Our table was right next to a bunch of flowers and I kept a close eye on hovering bees. I've never been stung, by anything, and I'd like to keep it that way! SP ordered iced tea (they had unsweetened iced tea!) but I opted for a pot of hot tea. I also chose a special of the day, a frittata with smoked mozarella, spinach, and red onions.
The slice of frittata was served atop a toasted and lightly buttered brioche half. It was light, tasty, filling, a great accompaniment to the tasty frittata. A small bit of mixed greens with balsamic drizzle completed the plate. The frittata was not under or over cooked and had a nice amount of filling.
SP chose Curry Cauliflower Soup, which I tasted and liked but I am not sure I like the flavor of curry enough to eat an entire cup or bowl of this soup. No chunks of cauliflower, they were pureed, it was thick and rich, not overly spicy, a good amount of curry taste. The sandwich was fresh mozzarella and avocado on brioche. It was creamy without being too creamy and fattening/decadent. The mashed avocado had a hint of citrus flavor.
We decided to share a dessert. It was such a great day and we were enjoying a leisurely lunch, outside, in the sun, on vacation, no worries, no schedule, that we wanted to linger. The Brandied Apple Cake with caramel sauce and strawberries & blueberries and a dollop of whipped cream was delicious. Moist. A hint of cinnamon and I think clove. Small, moist chunks of apples.

All in all, a very nice and tasty cafe with terrific servers on Toronto Islands. Rectory Cafe on Urbanspoon

After riding the ferry back and freshening up at the hotel, we walked to CN Tower. We got there a bit before 6 pm and there was not a line to buy tickets. This surprised us because we had read about long lines to buy tickets, long lines to ride the elevator up, etc. By long I mean 1-2 hours.

When I was 10 or 11 years old, we drove to Toronto, stayed overnight, and then flew to Calgary for a 2 week vacation in western Canada. I remember 2 things very clearly. One, it was my first ever plane ride, first plane ride for my mom and brother, too, and as we started to taxi away, there was some kind of mechanical issue and we had to return to the gate and wait for a new plane. My mom always tells this story with relish and reminds my poor brother of how white with fear his face was.

My other recollection is dining at the revolving restaurant at CN Tower. It was a very big deal because at that time, the tower had been open to the public for about 5 years and was the world's tallest free-standing structure and the world's tallest tower. I remember walking across a nice park area to get to the tower, the thrill of riding the elevator up, the excitement of the restaurant revolving as I ate. My dad, the engineer, regaling us with facts about the tower, how it was an engineering feat, something special, the experience not to be forgotten.

Things are a little different now.

For one, there is construction all around the tower, It's construction - it's not pretty. I think they are building a Ripley's Aquarium. For another, I thought the restaurant prices were ridiculously high and I know there is no way they were that high when we went because my parents would never have paid that kind of money for 10-11 year old me and 9 year old little brother to eat there. It had to have been more reasonably priced.

If you're willing to spend $48+/person on lunch or $55+/person on dinner, your access to the elevator ride and views are free.

We did not wish to have a meal at the revolving restaurant, so we bought tickets to ride up, do Skypod, and do the Glass Floor. With taxes, one ticket was close to $35. Here's what our experience was:

Good: no ticket line

Bad: somewhat confusing entrance, kind of dirty, not very well done

Good: 5 minute wait to ride elevator up to Look Out

Bad: mob scene, difficult to get around, hard to see out window from wheelchair, not very well marked, not many easily visible and useful signs, confusing

Bad: At least an hour wait for Skypod with the line wrapping around much of the viewing area, making it difficult to get around

Good: We were able to hop on an elevator right away to go down to the outdoor observation area and glass floor

Bad: In spite of sunny and warm day, windy and cold outside on this level (I was really, really cold!), and netting, while an important safety feature and I am not at all suggesting it be removed, does somewhat inhibit a clear view

Bad: Glass floor freaked me out and I could not go out on it. I am old and wimpy! SP and all the kids there loved it.

So-so: 15-20 minute wait for elevator down
Employees were extremely courteous and helpful when we asked for help. Due to the long wait and somewhat mob-like atmosphere, we skipped Skypod even though we paid for it.

I feel as if CN Tower is somewhat... tourist tacky now. It's still the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, it's a symbol of Toronto, of Canada, it's been declared one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World, it just didn't seem to live up to its status as an amazing engineering marvel. It was disappointing and possibly the biggest travel disappointment we've had. We definitely felt ripped off. $34/ticket x 2 tickets = $68 and it just was not in any way a $68 experience.

Adding to my frustration was that for the first time in my life, as we went up in the elevator and I saw the cables through the glass windows on the side of the elevator and as I glanced down through the glass window on the elevator floor, I had some sort of... panic attack? Fear of heights? I wanted out. I felt sick. I was flushed, my heart was racing, I was trying to take deep breaths and control my breathing. I told SP as soon as we got off the elevator that he would most likely be experiencing the glass floor without me. I was OK after that, I had no problem going outside and walking around on that level, I was OK on the ride down, but going up...something weird happened!

I'm not sure I can really recommend CN Tower. It was a lot of money for a so-so experience in a mob of people with long waits plus my sudden panic attack. We could have done without this on our trip and never would have regretted it.

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