So, you’re planning a trip to see the team at SMILE Therapy for Kids? This may be your first trip to Canada…or maybe your first trip to Canada WITH a child. Either way, below is the run down on SMILE Therapy for Kids, what to do in the area, places to stay, tips on traveling to Toronto, etc.
First things first - make sure your passports are up to date! Your child will need one too!
Are you traveling solo with your little one? If both parents are not accompanying the child across the border then you will need to complete this form. It basically gives permission for one parent/guardian, etc. to bring the child into another country. You may get asked for it going into Canada or when you return home. Either way - I have been asked for it, so definitely throw this in your carry on to make sure you get through with ease.
Traveling with frozen blended food? We blend and freeze Conner’s food ahead of time for travel. It has worked out well for us and eliminates the concern of finding the exact same ingredients…and we don’t have to pack a big ol’ blender! We use cooler bags similar to this one and they have worked well. We make sure the food is frozen solid prior to our trip and pack it with ice packs to ensure that it stays frozen until we arrive. In addition, I put a note inside each bag that says what it is and include that it is food for my son (with his name, so they can check that he is a passenger) and that he is g-tube dependent. So far, we haven’t had any issues (knock on wood)!
Navigating Travel Solo: This is a tricky one. Let me be honest, it is going to be a difficult day. No question about that. However, it is ONE day! You’ve got this! Do your best to pack as light as possible on all fronts (easier said than done, I know). Just remember that you will have to carry…push…drag…kick…everything that you pack. Suitcases that roll up right have been a game changer for me. I can push a large and small one with one hand while also pushing the stroller. It isn’t pretty somedays, but it works. I check what I can (typically one to two suitcases, Conner’s food and his carseat). The rest, I carry.
Navigating the airport: I always have a stroller - usually a lightweight umbrella stroller, but for longer trips I bring Conner’s jogging stroller (mostly for my sanity while being away from home - I like walks and runs). Most jogging strollers are over the weight limit to be gate checked, so you will need a letter of medical necessity. I learned that the hard way, but the airport staff was gracious enough to give me a pass my first go.
Letter from your child’s pediatrician: I carry an up-to-date letter from Conner’s pediatrician in his diaper bag. It lists the medications he is on, the food he gets, the need for his jogging stroller, etc. I typically don’t have to bust this out, but I like knowing I have it incase I run into any issues.
Traveling with medication: I travel with Conner’s medication in his diaper bag. It goes with us on the plane incase anything happens to his luggage. We could probably get by without a couple meds, but there are some that are very important (i.e. seizure meds), so they stay with me at all times. They are in the medication bottles with the labels on them. Again, I have never had an issue with this, but the letter from the pediatrician will come in handy here if you run into trouble.
Rental car: If you are flying to Toronto (Pearson International Airport) then you will most likely need a car. They do have public transportation, but I have never been brave enough to rely on it. I check prices quite a bit before booking anything. Sometimes you can get much better rates if you book off site from the airport. However, I would advise against this if you are traveling alone with your child or if you have an early flight to return home. Weigh the pros and cons of it all. I use Costco Travel (must be a Costco member) for most of our rental cars, but I do search other sites to make sure I am finding the better deal.
Where to stay?
SMILE is north of downtown Toronto. It is in Vaughan, but Vaughan is a big city, so I would recommend staying in Thornhill or Richmond Hill. We have stayed in a few areas and I have felt safe everywhere. Traffic is crazy here even in the suburbs, so the closer you are to SMILE, the better.
Hotel: SMILE has a rate for patients at the Hilton Garden Inn in Vaughan. Be sure to ask for the SMILE rate when you call to book. It is about 10 minutes from SMILE and an easy drive!
AirBNB/VRBO: If you prefer an AirBNB or VRBO be sure to ask the host (before you book) how close they are to SMILE. As you know, you don’t get the exact address until after you book a place on these sites, so just ask then to make sure it is close enough to meet your needs. We need a full refrigerator/freezer for Conner’s blends and medications, so AirBNBs have been the best option for us during most therapy trips we take.
Rundown on SMILE Therapy for Kids
I think you will fall in love with SMILE Therapy for Kids just as I have. It is full of positive energy, amazing therapists and kind families. SMILE just expanded, so they are offering more services than they had previously. Some of the services include: PT, CME/MEDEK, OT, PROMPT, SLP, feeding therapy, conductive education, spider cage, vibration plate, NMES/FES/TASES/Muscle Stim, kinesio taping, therasuit, post SDR rehab, post SPML rehab, theratogs, sensory integration, astronaut therapy, intensives and so much more.
A popular question (and for good reason) is cost. SMILE Therapy for Kids is out-of-pocket - meaning they don’t run anything through your insurance. If you are from Canada then they provide you with the information you need to file with your insurance. Prices vary based on the discipline and it is best to contact SMILE Therapy directly to discuss pricing based on therapies you would like your child in, duration, etc. Wondering how you schedule an intensive or regular therapy at SMILE? Click here to email them!
See, Do, Eat and more!
You probably know by now that Toronto is a big city with plenty to see, do and eat. If you have time to explore the city between therapy, after therapy or on the weekends then you won’t be bored!
Shopping: There are plenty of malls to walk around just to shop or pass the time/let your kiddo nap or rest while you do some retail therapy. Some of the ones we like are: Vaughan Mills and Yorkdale. Both are so big that it may take you a couple trips to make it through them (not kidding).
Markets: If you like farmer’s markets like I do, then there is no shortage of those here. Just do a quick google search to find one near you. In addition, St. Lawrence Market is an indoor market downtown with 120 vendors. You’ll find everything from seafood, Montreal bagels, desserts, every meat and cheese imaginable along with Toronto souvenirs. On Saturdays there is a tent filled with local produce, meats and cheeses as well. If anything, it is a fun atmosphere to walk around and grab a few snacks while you’re at it.
Reptilia -At Reptilia you’ll find over 250 animals on display throughout the zoo. Although reptiles are their specialty, watch out for colorful amphibians, and fluffy arachnids as well! We have not been to Reptilia yet, but it is close to SMILE Therapy for Kids. Maybe by the time our next trip rolls around, I will be brave enough to embark on this adventure!
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada - Our favorite aquarium we’ve been to by far! Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is 135,000 square-feet with more than 1.5 million gallons of water with marine and freshwater habitats from around the world. Get there early if you’re going on a weekend…lines get crazy mid-day! I have found the best deal for tickets online, so if you are planning on going, check their website to see what specials are running.
CN Tower: The CN Tower is located right next to the Aquarium. If you want to do both, check for the Sea to Sky combo pack which includes tickets to both the CN tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. The CN Tower used to be the tallest building in the world. It gives you a great view of Toronto and there’s a glass floor for those that aren’t afraid of heights! However, lines for this can be insane on the weekends…so like the aquarium, get there early.
African Lion Safari - African Lion Safari® is a drive through Wildlife Park dedicated to the conservation of declining wildlife species. It is home to over 1,000 exotic birds and animals that roam freely throughout seven distinct drive through Game Reserves. We haven't been yet, but it is on our list for a future visit.
Toronto Zoo - The Toronto Zoo is Canada’s premier zoo and one of the largest zoos in the world with over 710 acres and 10 km of walking trails. In addition, they pride themselves on accessibility, so check out their website for details.
Niagara Falls - Niagara Falls is about 1.5 hours or so away from Vaughan. The Canadian side is prettier and there are boat rides you can take to get closer to the falls (Conner loved this part). You get splashed with water (but they give you a poncho to wear). There are plenty of restaurants to stop at near the falls as well. They do have tour buses available to take from Toronto, but we opted to make the drive ourselves.
Canada’s Wonderland - if you plan your visit during the warmer months - this may be a fun place to venture. Canada’s Wonderland is a 330-acre theme park located in Vaughan. Check their website for ticket information and hours!
Centre Island: Centre Island is just a boat ride away. Ferries run frequently, but you can also hop on a water taxi (like we did) and get there much faster! You will find fountains, formal gardens, Centerville Amusement Park, a pier that extends into Lake Ontario, a sandy beach, picnic areas, Franklin's Children's Garden and an amazing view of downtown Toronto!
The Beaches: The Beaches is named because of its four beaches situated on Lake Ontario.. It is located east of downtown within the "Old" City of Toronto.This was one of my favorite places in Toronto! If you’re in Toronto on a nice weekend then grab a cup of coffee (yes, I am officially a coffee drinker!) and head to The Beaches! Conner and I walked up and down the boardwalk - enjoying the view, the sound of the water and all of the dogs (Toronto loves their dogs)! The Beaches is a great place to spend the day if you have a kiddo that loves sand and water! Conner loves the water, but sadly lake water is a no-go with his g-tube.
Food: You won’t go hungry in Canada. Toronto is a very diverse city with every food you can imagine. There are so many restaurants that sometimes it is actually difficult to choose where to eat! Canada seems to be know for their Poutine. If you haven’t had it before, then you should probably give it a shot while you’re there. It is basically French fries with gravy and cheese curds on top! If you are in Toronto in the summer, check out all of the festivals! There are so many each weekend - you’ll find all the good eats at these!
Grocery stores: I hate to say it, but Toronto does not have Target. Mentally prepare yourself for that! They do have Walmart, but sadly they aren’t like ones in the US. My favorite grocery stores are Loblaws and Longos. There are plenty of grocery options, but these are ones I frequented based on their proximity to where we stay.
Trexo Robotic: Did you know Trexo Robotic is based in Toronto? If you are wondering if it is a good fit for your kiddo, contact them to set up a trial! The team at Trexo is amazing and so helpful!
Little Ones Aqua Spa: Little Ones Aqua Spa will be on our to do list each trip back to Toronto! If your kiddo is doing an intensive then I would definitely consider getting them a pre-intensive massage (it gets the muscles activated and ready to work) or a post-intensive massage! They also offer hydrotherapy! They are so good and thorough - especially with medically complex kids!
Toll Roads: they have tolls roads here and if you rent a car, it can get REALLY expensive. However, there are times that the tolls roads are worth taking....sometimes the toll road is 30 minutes and the non-toll route is an hour. So I always check before we go anywhere to see what our best option is and try to plan accordingly. We do take the toll roads some, but every time you use it, there is a camera fee on top of the toll. If you are driving to Toronto, you can get a pass for your personal car that will save you money if you plan on taking tolls.
Waze App: download the Waze App as it will make traveling around the area much easier. It will also give you a toll estimate, so you can decide if it is worth taking based on the travel time and cost. You can also plan ahead for trips and see what the average travel time is with traffic.
Grocery bags: Bags at stores are extra at all stores, so purchase a reusable bag during your first trip to the store. This may be the norm for where you live, but it isn’t in Oklahoma, yet.
Credit Card: We have a travel credit card, so we don't get hit with fees every time we purchase something. Check with your credit card company/bank if you don't have one like this already.
USD/CAD: Don't pay with USD cash while you're in Canada. It seems like a lot of places don't have exchange rates, so you actually lose money when you pay in USD. USD goes further in Canada which is great news for Americans!
Socks: This sounds silly, but SMILE along with other therapy clinics and families request that you take your shoes off at the entry. Many kids are on the floor in these places and who knows what we track in on our shoes (nasty, right?)! So, don’t pack your favorite pair of hole-y socks unless you want everyone to see :)
What to pack: Packing extra clothes for your kiddo is always a good idea (especially if you don’t have access to a washer and dryer while you’re here). Some kiddos get sweaty if they are working in theratogs or the therasuit. I dress Conner in tight fitting pants for his therapy so that the therapists can have a better grip on him when working and to protect his skin.
When all else fails, ask one of the many amazing regulars at SMILE. The local families that are fortunate enough to live so close to SMILE are a wealth of knowledge! Say hi and pick their brains, but if they say “it’s not that far from here,” that is code for “It isn’t that far for those that are use to Toronto traffic!” You’ll make a few friends before you head back home and it will make your experience here even better! If you have more specific questions, please feel free to email me!