Tips on Touring Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada (Toronto)

One of Canada’s newest attractions is not without a plethora of buzz; Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada sits at the base of the CN Tower, steps away from the Rogers Centre and basically completes the tourist circuit.  After a few families asked us about it, we realized it was time to brave the crowds and check it out.

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Before I get started here I want to be clear that this isn’t a post detailing all of the available activities (interactive stations, sting ray petting, playground, pumping station), food options (from salads to snacks, they’ve got you covered) and marine life species (there’s over 450).  I’ll leave that to the aquarium website.

If you’re looking for hours of operation, school trip information, parking Q& A or other standard visitor information, you’ll also want to check out their own responses.

I’m not here to add yet another eye-popping, picture-filled post about how stunning their 35-000 square foot space is laid out.

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This post focuses on making the most out of the exhibit with your kids.

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Tips on visiting the aquarium with a family:

(1) Go with multiple adults

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If you’re venturing out with kids four years of age and younger, you might want to consider either a stiff leash (or drink) or bringing along another adult.  We traveled as a pack: two moms and three kids. Even we felt short-handed.  It’s a dark space with a ton of nooks and crannies, which the little ones always find their way in to.  If you take your eyes of your kid(s) for even one minute to snap a quick picture, you’re liable to end up frantically looking for your wee one.

(2) Time of day matters – even during the week.

 There’s a misconception that visiting the aquarium during the week means more space to roam and some quiet time.  Wrong.  Remember, if it’s not peak season (with summer tourists) then school is in session and bus loads of students of all ages tear through the place.  It’s recommended to arrive right when the doors open and be out of there by 10:30am.  Or, alternatively, arrive after 2pm when most of the school kids have cleared out.

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(3) Pack light

Besides the obvious reason (that you have to travel from either the train station or a parking garage into the venue), you’ll want to limit your bags.  Although there’s a coat/bag check on site, the aquarium does not allow outside food or drink.  It’s also extremely dark throughout the exhibit (to allow for better visuals), which means your unattended strollers and backpacks are at the mercy of ‘sticky’ fingers.  We definitely didn’t feel like we had the luxury of stepping away from our strollers to check out the tanks as kids/teens roamed around us in the dim pathways.

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(4) Be realistic about time

Although it’s a very large space with a lot to see, if you’re visiting the aquarium with young kids, you’re likely looking at a 50 minute – 1.5 hour outing.  We kept a pretty steady space (toddlers and babies don’t last long staring into the tanks – it was as though once they’d seen some fish they’d seen them all) and we finished in just under an hour.  I kept my eye on two other families and a teenage school group and almost all of us exited at the same time.  I’m sure it could be a day trip for really keen kids/teens but don’t expect too much out of the younger ones.

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(5) Let the kids roam free

There’s a lot of great interactive stations and each large tank boasts excellent ledges that are perfect for the little ones to stand on and get up close and personal with the fish.  I tried keeping my (non-walking) son in his stroller but that only led to increased irritability.  Yes, they’ll crawl on the floor and touch public surfaces, but allowing the kids to really experience all there is to offer is the best and easiest way to enjoy this place.

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(6) Don’t be afraid to get dirty yourself

There’s a ton to do – from petting sea creatures to crawling through shark tanks.  Wear comfortable clothes/shoes, bring sanitizing wipes, and get down and dirty. It’s the best way to take it all in.  Just allow yourself to be a kid again and set a good example for your own kids.

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(7) Plan around nap time

If your kids still take naps, try to time this excursion so that you’re leaving right around nap time.  It’s an extremely stimulating environment both physically and mentally so it’s a great way to get them all tuckered out.  My little guy never sleeps anywhere other than his crib and on this one and only day he fell asleep in the stroller on the way to the car.

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All in all, it’s obviously an excellent excursion for families.  There’s no denying that.  With a few helpful hints like travel time, packing advice and attire, I’m hoping your experience will be that much more enjoyable.

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Happy travels!!

Some additional fun photos:

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Disclaimer: As a journalist, first and foremost, reporting on various family activities often involves putting aside personal opinion, feelings and bias to ensure diversity and fairness.  Opinions expressed above are tip-driven and in no way encourage/discourage participation in activities involving captured animals.

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