I offer the following as a review of our recent trip to Ontario departing London Gatwick on 28 May 2006 and returning on 12 June from Toronto Airport. We shared our vacation with 2 friends and based ourselves at a time-share resort called Carriage Hills about 20 minutes drive North of Barrie. My account may serve as a help to someone, and, if you have a specific question I may be able to answer, please post it!
Where does one begin I would say? Flights with Airtransat, fab, would pay the extra to fly Airtransat club again. OK, it’s not British Airways, but neither is the price tag! But we were very satisfied. Very attentive flight staff, nice meals, choice of four main courses from a menu even, followed by a fine port or Grand Marnier etc if preferred! Unlimited other drinks, including some good wines served from bottles into glasses. We were given champagne and did a toast to Canada as we passed over Newfoundland. Spooky! We got champagne as well on the way back as we took off, I don’t know what we were celebrating then, maybe they were glad to see the back of us. Good flights both ways. But was really surprising and then frustrating when we got back to Gatwick, one of our bags was actually the first to come off the plane, but we had to wait nearly an hour for the last one to appear as it had lost it’s priority label, so it was nearly the last one off. You can only win some of them as they say.
So, the following is not in any order but structured in a more sectional way. I’ll start with some places we visited.
Niagara, although my wife and I visited on a coach tour last Fall, we saved the trip on the Maid of the Mist for this visit. Feelings? Awesome! The exhilaration when that little (by comparison) boat got next to the falls was like.....well, I can't describe it really, it could lead a lesser man than I to tears ..... but there we are!
Niagara on the Lake, Thorold, and St Catherines. We stayed 1 night at The Inn at Lock 7 in Thorold. It’s right on the edge of the Welland Canal and all rooms face the lock! There’s evidently a flight of some 7 locks along the escarpment which fall/rise about 90 metres overall and allow ocean going ships to travel between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. We walked down to The Keg in the evening and had superb steaks on the recommendation of our host Patty, who said "you English wanna walk? It could take you 20 minutes. We don't walk!" So we walked, for 45 minutes, several beers and a superb meal to get over that experience, then a taxi back for $7-50, great evening. The Inn at Lock 7 is pretty reasonable for the price, just about $100 for the room including continental breakfast. Although an oldish place, it was clean, comfortable and had aircon included. We didn't do the biker trail as had been recommended to us for the drive down to Niagara because there was a lot of construction and various roads were closed, so we stayed on the HWY. It took us about 2.5 hours which was excellent given that it took about 1.25 hours to get from our accommodation to pass by Toronto. Next morning, just about to check out, a BIG ship right outside our window....amazing! It takes just 10 minutes for 23 million gallons of water to fill the lock and the ships just rise into the air in front of your eyes.
We realised then we could not better that so my next plan was to 'Do' the CN Tower and hit the shops on the way back to Carriage Hills.
So off to TO, with just a drive around NOL before we hit the road. Lovely little boarded houses and the like, could have done with more time, but, had to move on. Found a fantastic place to park, we came off Gardiner onto the Bay road and turned into the marina area just before you get to the Spadina and the Queens quay. Underground lot @ $7-00 all day. Went to the CN, no lines, did everything including lunch in the SWISH revolving restaurant, (we got $45 per couple rebate on the ticket because we had an entrée. Jumped on the glass floor, after nearly wetting myself when I first looked down ( I get dizzy on a thick carpet). We went right to highest part you can go to, watched the film about the construction and did the crazy simulator thing. Fantastic afternoon, only took us 4 hours to do the whole thing, and NO lines anywhere. Well, we came out, debated whether we should hit the shops, but as it was now about 4pm, I encouraged everybody to head back to the car. So, we set off for Carriage Hills, our base resort located about 20 mins drive from Barrie, found our ramp onto the Gardiner closed, so my wife The Navigator took us up thro' the middle of well, everywhere to, run straight onto the HWY400.
Wasaga Beach, yes, long drive, nobody there, bit desolate but lots of sand if you want to make castles! Not really the place for a day trip and we wouldn’t want to spend a vacation there.
Collingwood on the same day, same applies. Maybe we missed what we were supposed to be looking for, but as we didn’t really know what we expected to find, we didn’t find anything that excited us!
Yorkdale, vale or whatever mega shopping mall down the HWY401 on the most horrific day to drive you can imagine, driving in torrential rain. The plan was to suss this place out and maybe park there and get the subway into TO to do the proper (?) shopping. We men did not find it very exciting and I really wanted to get the driving back up to Carriage done, as this was such an awful day to be on the HWY. We nearly had a very nasty experience coming out of the York thing, because of spray, big trucks and really HEAVY traffic etc, we didn’t see our ramp until the last minute, and then it was difficult getting in the lane, nobody would let us in. In the end I just cut someone up, got a blast on the horn for my efforts, but it was the only bad bit of the whole 2 weeks driving experience. However, we did have to go to TO another day so we parked at the $7 place and shopped another wasted day!
Barrie. 90 K north of Toronto and a lovely place. Could easily live there. It has most things we could need or want. Spent some time walking around the bay and did some shops. Georgian Mall, with a lovely housewares shop (Homesense) in there, I bought a Japanese chef’s knife and a cleaver for about ½ the UK price, and then spent days worrying whether I would get aggravation at the airport. But I owned up to them when we checked in and didn’t have a problem. Went to the Home Depot and bought a cutter for one of my wood butchery tools (£120 in the UK but I paid just $114 – superb saving) I’m thinking of bringing a large trunk next time we come! Also went to Canadian Tire, virtually everything there, it’s an excellent shop.
HWYs and things over the 2 weeks? .....amazing.....crazy.... but The Navigator guided us everywhere, 400, 401, 409, 427, QEW, Gardiner, done the lot and 2300 K to boot, spooky roads, bit frightening till you get the hang of it but we had a powerful car, a Ford Freestyle it was called, it even had a DVD player in the roof for the folks in the back! Alamo supplied it, pre-booked via the net. The only trouble was getting the itinerant male clerk at the desk in Toronto airport to do some work and issue it. Evidently his computer didn’t want to play, or he with it, so he just resorted to his chewing gum and kept repeating “computer down man.” In the end a really helpful lady called Adrienne with a fantastic sense of humour and who had a computer that worked, sorted us out. Thanks Adrienne.
Carriage Hills. Superb accommodation. Lovely spot, relaxing, quiet. Not a lot of features really, good kids play area and the one amongst the trees in the wood is fantastic. There are just dozens of rope bridges and other sorts of jungle stuff, I imagine you could stay in there for hours if you were a kid! We saw all this when we walked through the wood down to the Horseshoe Resort, it only took us 20 mins there but 25 to get back as it was quite challenging in places. I think that’s where we must have picked up the majority of our bug bites. Oh, I’d not mentioned it before, May/June is big bug time in Canada. Use plenty of repellent and you’ll be ok if you stay out of the bush!
There are also BBQ areas near the condos with gas piped on, all free and they even loan you the utensils if you want, so you can really BBQ yourself to death if you have a need.
The accommodation. What did we get? A fantastic great lounge with a dining table, 6 chairs, 3 seater settee, 2 armchairs, fireplace, mega size TV, HiFi and DVD, dish washer, big oven, micro, big fridge with ice maker (wow) and every cooking appliance you can think of! I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! We also got 2 bedrooms as well, each one also had a Big TV and DVD. Both had showers but one had a really big one, his and her’s basins and a Jacuzzi, that would fit 2! There was also a laundry room with industrial size washer and drier (free of charge usage and was even issued soap powder to use in it!). The area around Carriage is lovely, you see it’s very flat where we live so it’s really nice to be amongst lots of hills and trees. The Navigator and I had several walks around the golf course and went to see the new houses they are building on the approach to Carriage. We saw inside the show homes and they are to die for.
So, where are we now?
Went to Hooters in Barrie on the first free day, good shell fish which I adore! And the hooters were very nice as well! Went to Settlers Ghost golf club restaurant near to Carriage Hills one night, very nice, and good food, reasonably priced. Not a large menu, but unfortunately closed at 9 pm (we like to party late). Abbott’s of Craighurst, couple of times just for drinks then 1 night for food (the middle Sunday I think) also very nice, good menu, but again will close at 9 if nobody in. SILKS at Horseshoe Resort. Well, yes, if you want to take out a mortgage. In actual fact the price of the food was reasonable for the quality and it’s presentation, just the sort of standard you get on The Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship, but drinks are very expensive. They sell a dark/red beer called Leffe which is very drinkable but about $8 a pint!!!!!! I don’t think there was a bottle of wine under $36 as far as I can remember. But you don’t want to do this every day, it can seriously damage your wallet!
We had nice starters and entrees and our friends and the Navigator had the flambéd fruit at the table. Total bill - - $280 for 4, – heart attack coming on but it was a treat! The added bonus was an entertainer who played all sorts of music so we were able to have a few dances as well.
Casino Rama at Orillia. Sintons Transport school buses collected us from Reception, and took us there, then brought us back. It cost us $10 deposit each, which we got back, we also got vouchers for a free Chinese buffet, eat as much as you like. Admittedly it did cost us $28 for one round of drinks and we also spent (invested) about $15 on the slots, but in comparison with some of our nights, it was really a cheap one.
Crazy Horse grill at Horseshoe is the pits. Do not go unless you are really pushed! Food naff and there are some questionable types who frequent the place. But it stays open till late and it sells Rickards Red!
Had lunch one day in the Crab Shack on Dunlop street in Barrie, nice crab cakes!
Had drinks in Tiffs, on Mulcaster, could feel at home here!
Our middle Friday or somewhen, called at Shirley’s Bayside to book a table for 10pm ( be on time we were told quite firmly at the front desk), went to Tiffs and had some drinks first, got to Shirley’s at 9.40 pm. The waitress showed us to our tables, thrust a menu into our hands and then said “please order now, because the kitchen is closing and I want to clear away”! So we did as we were told, the food was good, and it is an upmarket place with prices to match, but we could have done without the hassle.
Went twice to Naked Steaks on Dunlop. Very nice, very clean place, only been open a few months. Food is excellent, and the service the same. The menu was quite extensive and comprised fish, various type of steak, chicken and superb ribs. Have the one’s finished in an apple sauce, delicious. They also had a music combo on both the Friday and Saturday night. Very nice place, run by a Canuckian (ha ha, what do you think of that) and his business partner ( – a Liverpudlian – or a bloke from Liverpool, UK, if you didn’t know that). One of the best places (apart from Silks) we went to. We would have liked to have finished our last night there (the Sunday) but it closes at 3pm after brunch. So, short of a place to go, we took the suggestion of a lady we were talking to in Homesense and had a taxi to take us from the Travelodge on Bayfield (where we stayed for our last night) to Wickies, a bar/restaurant at the bottom of town. Great place, could make this my local pub! Taxi cost us $10 each way..
Taxis. Well, yes….Sintons of Craighurst to Barrie, for a 20 minute run, $40 each way. Sintons from Carriage Hills to Horseshoe Resort? $20 each way for only 4K and being entertained by the owner telling us how many vehicles (200) they own and how many acres of land they own also. She even pointed them out! But she is still manning the phone at 1130 pm at night at her house but can’t manage to make her pickups personally until an hour late in our experience! So in the 4 trips we had with this company, she personally brought us down to Barrie, one of her staff fetched us back, and her son took us down to the Horseshoe Resort Crazy Horse bar and the she fetched us back! It’s not as if she needs the money we thought, $120 plus tips for for 4 trips, NOT IMPRESSED but she has a captive audience……... Lesson learned here if we ever come this way again.
So where are we, places, eating out, driving, alcohol, ah! Right. Alcohol in restaurants, forget it. Drink somewhere else..and then eat out and drink at home after if you still need topping up! You can’t by beer in all stores like you can in the UK. You have to go to a store with an LCBO. This stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario, I think the clue is in the word ‘control’, that and the price I think will tend to dissuade people from imbibing. Food to cook at your accommodation if you have the necessary equipment? Don’t I envy you folks in Ontario, superb choice of meats, veg and other stuff. Prepared frozen stuff – amazing choice, ribs, shellfish, pies (those at the gift shop near Abbott’s looked fantastic, but we didn’t get any of it, apart from peameal bacon! We did have that, and portobello mushroom and tomato sandwiches for the England game at 9 am one day, which was the only (cooking?) that I did.
So, what are our overall reflections? Great, fantastic, could do it all again but I could also do without the jet lag, aaargh!!!