After years of doing all kinds of outings with my children, I can assure you the secret to a perfect outing lies in the details, not the destination.
I remember a very productive day when my son was 4 years old. In the morning, we had gone to Jungle Cat World in Orono (where we saw a German Shepherd puppy play with a lion cub and spun on in a merry-go-round with goats). After a quick lunch at a local McDonald’s, we spent the afternoon at Cullen Gardens & Miniature Village in Whitby. My boy was enthralled by the running train, the small cars moving on the mini highway and the fire truck by the small house with real smoke.
In the evening, when I coaxed my little day tripper into telling his dad about the exciting places he had visited, he turned to his father and said: “Daddy!...We went to McDonald’s!!!” There wasn’t even a playground in the place!
I hope you find the following tips useful.
Author/publisher of TORONTO FUN PLACES.
Always, always, always call ahead
It only takes a few seconds to call a place to avoid disappointing the kids, not to mention wasting your precious time and energy. It's part of life. Businesses close permanently, owners rent their place for private functions, schedules change, stores get replaced by condos...
About food and drinks!
Don't rely on food outlets: long line-ups, outrageous prices or simply a lack of outlets are always a possibility. Have snacks and drinks handy. The best attraction will be lost on children if they are hungry, as
a good friend who paid for expensive tickets to the Lion King musical discovered. The line-up to buy snacks was too long for her to get food for her hungry boys during intermission. They spent the second
half of the show focusing on their empty stomachs!
In very popular attractions, try to have snack time coincide with time wasted in line-ups. Pens and paper will also grab kids' attention for a few more minutes. Wherever possible, when with another adult, I wait in a line-up (with a good book) while the kids are supervised in an adjacent attraction. Generally speaking, Sundays are busier than Saturdays and arriving before 11 am or after 3 pm is always a bonus. Weekdays are obviously less crowded than weekends so I have been known to take my child out of school for some special occasions in deserted museums...
Anywhere our kids go is always more fun with friends their own age. First of all, it entertains them on the way to the attraction. Plus, the parent of the child we are borrowing is forever grateful. I often "trade" my daughter for my friend's older son. My son plays with him; she plays with his younger brother. The next time, it's the other way around. It's a win-win scenario.
About age groups
capability varies widely depending on the age. Nothing kills the enthusiasm of a parent like having to choose between frustrating the oldest by spending too much time in a kiddies attraction or running after the smaller ones as the bigger siblings stay too long at their point of interest. The "trading" scenario mentioned above in the "About friends" section comes in very handy in this situation.
How much time do you have? A whole day? A few hours? Calling the attraction to find out about their driving time estimate to your home is always a good idea. Generally, add some time because they tend to minimize their estimate in order to attract us.
Some great attractions require only one hour to visit but it would take you over an hour to get there. Combining them with the visit to another attraction would justify the ride. When calling the main attraction you want to see in a specific area, ask about nearby attractions. Always, ALWAYS, call a place before you go! Opening hours can change on you at any moment because of a new administration, sick staff or any other reason.
Is it rainy? Too cold? Too hot? Might be a good time for an indoor activity. But first, ask yourself if the kids need to spend some energy, in which case museums should be given a lower priority than indoor playgrounds.
After a rain, some outdoor attractions are quite muddy, which prevents the use of a stroller. Whenever there's a chance of mud, bring extra clothes for the kids. You will appreciate a clean set of clothes on your way back (in the car or the public transit). Don't forget plastic bags to store the dirty laundry!
When the weather is really hot, don't forget to take bathing suits! I have often found a wading pool or a swimming hole in unsuspected places, a very frustrating fact when you are not equipped properly. Be aware that during the summer, some lakes might not be safe to swim in after a rainfall.
When a child shows an interest in something specific, it is a good time to plan an outing accordingly.
After my 2-year-old son had requested we read and sing "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round" for the hundredth time, I decided it was time to take him on his first bus ride which led to a GO Train experience.
When my daughter turned 3, she became fascinated with cows. It prompted us to spend a night at a milk farm offering bed and breakfast. Mind you, she was scared to death when she came face to face with the real thing so maybe this is not such a good example, but you get the idea!