by Candyce H. Stapen
We really like hotels with character. Give us a colorful history, tasteful period furnishings and maybe even a benign ghost or two and my family and I are charmed. That is, as long as the property has modern amenities and good services. Such is the case with the AAA/ CAA Four Diamond rated Fairmont Royal York.
Far from being another big box on the block, the 1,365-room Fairmont comes with 80 years of history plus a prime location. Often referred to as Toronto’s “grande dame” or the city’s “mother ship,” the Royal York, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, opened in 1929. Naturally, the hotel sits across from the train station.
The well-located Royal York is also within walking distance of Toronto’s Harbourfront, the St. Lawrence Market and the Air Canada Centre, the city’s sports and entertainment complex, plus several other attractions.
In constructing the Royal York, Canadian Pacific accomplished its goal of building the tallest hotel in the British Commonwealth. Upon debuting, the hotel featured 28 floors and 1,048 rooms, all with radios and private baths, as well as pressured steam to provide heat and electricity. The hotel also contained a Concert Hall, a 12-bed hospital and a 12,000 book library. What did it cost to lodge at such a modern and luxurious property? Two dollars per person, per night.
Three generations of Britain’s Royal Family have stayed in the Royal Suite since it opened. Queen Elizabeth’s and Prince Phillip’s portraits hang in the lobby, a grand, two-story space with a hand-painted ceiling, period settees, circular banquettes, potted palms, travertine pillars and crystal chandeliers. Just as you’d expect, such a striking face has starred in movies, including scenes with Julianne Moore in “Chloe” and Drew Barrymore in “Grey Gardens.”
For all its tradition, the hotel has a thoroughly modern attitude. An award-winning green property, the Royal York grows herbs and vegetables on its roof garden and makes honey from its own rooftop hives. The restaurants, whenever possible, use local, organically grown products.
And what about the ghosts? Friendly, rarely seen and no trouble at all. Legend has it that an old steward sometimes appears in the silver room in the hotel’s basement and that a past guest strolls the corridors wearing his red satin smoking jacket, undoubtedly too comfortable to leave.
Our Editor Loves
- Convenient location
- Indoor pool
- The roof garden and beehives
- Connecting Rooms
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
For families Fairmont's deluxe rooms provide ample space. At 500 square feet, the room comes with a sitting area with a couch plus plenty of places to put a crib or rollaway. The hotel also offers larger suites. At 250 square feet, a standard Fairmont Room may feel a bit cramped when accommodating a family of four.
The rooms are comfortable and traditional, not trendy. For many rooms, the decor runs to cranberry and gold with dark wood headboards. Some suites have lighter touches of coral. All rooms come with bathrobes, mini-bar, coffee makers and high-speed Internet access for a fee.
Tip: Join the Fairmont's Presidents Club ahead of your stay (no fee required) and receive Internet access for free.
Cribs and rollaway beds are available. Microwave and a mini-fridge are available by request and fees apply. Children 18 and under sharing a room with parents stay for free.
by Ashley A
I stayed at this hotel while attending a conference in Toronto. The lobby and room were beautiful. I especially appreciated the Le Labo toiletries and high-quality linens. Room service breakfast was great! I'd definitely stay here again. Another wonderful Fairmont property.
Nice historic hotel, convenient downtown location across from Union Station. Free shuttle bus to Billy Bishop Airport. Beautiful bar. Friendly staff. Pool is small but nice workout gym. Beware of electronic inventory control of the minibar!
Afternoon tea, available on weekends, a relaxing treat by itself, comes with a bonus: a complimentary tour of the rooftop garden and apiary. As part of Royal York's green policy, the hotel grows herbs and vegetables in raised beds atop the roof. The chef uses the lemon balm, red basil and other herbs in salad dressings and the edible flowers garnish dessert plates.
Along with plants, the rooftop houses the hotel's apiary. The six hives produced 500 pounds of raw honey on 2009, some of which is used in EPIC, the hotel's signature restaurant. If you don't want afternoon tea, you can sign up for the weekend tours at EPIC.
The Fairmont Royal York works well as a base for sightseeing. The Hockey Hall of Fame is nearby and so is Harbourfront, Toronto's waterfront park and site for festivals, as well as the place to rent bicycles and inline skates plus kayaks and sailboats. The ferry to Centreville, one of Lake Ontario's islands, also departs from the Harbourfront area.
Other must-sees for families visiting Toronto are the Royal Ontario Museum, known for its dinosaurs, bat cave and First Nations collections; the CN Tower, where you can stand on a glass floor and see the street 1122 feet below; and the Ontario Science Center, with its many hands-on exhibits.
In addition, the Fairmont Royal York is across the street from the train station, making it exceptionally easy to take a day excursion to Niagara Falls, just two hours away. We departed Toronto on an 8:30 a.m. train, arrived at the Niagara station at 10:30 a.m. and then took a taxi the short distance to the park. That gave us plenty of time to board the Maid of the Mist, the boat that carried us close enough to the thundering falls to get soaked by the spray and to be amazed by the sheer power of the wall of cascading water. We had lunch, took in some other falls' vantage points and checked out the fun houses and Ferris Wheel (SkyWheel) on Clifton Hill, the street abutting the park, before making the 4:15 p.m. train back to Toronto.
After a day of sightseeing, it's nice to relax by swimming in the hotel's indoor pool.
EPIC, the Royal York's signature restaurant, is committed to locally sourced products and sustainable products. Some of the herbs in the salads and sauces were grown on the hotel's roof and the honey produced on the roof is used in some desserts. The restaurant serves a mix of North American and European cuisine but strives to use local products. For example, the Atlantic salmon (delicious) came from Canada's east coast.
Despite serving really good food, the restaurant isn't "stuffy." Well-behaved older kids into good food should enjoy their meals.
For showmanship with your food, try Benihana Japanese Steakhouse at the Royal York, where the chefs dice, slice, mix and cook the vegetables and meat in front of the diners. Typically, the chefs do some knife juggling and jokes, too.
Most of the Royal York's restaurants offer children's menus. For ages 5 through 12, you can request half-portions at half-prices, depending upon the entree.
The Imperial Bean Cafe, located in the lobby, offers good-to-go items such as muffins, tea, coffee and apples.
Planning & Tips
Toronto's main airport is Pearson International Airport, served by Air Canada and more than 75 other scheduled and chartered airlines. Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (formerly Toronto City Centre Airport) located on Toronto Island, a few minutes away from Toronto's downtown by ferry. Porter Airlines serves this airport.
Amtrak and VIA Rail arrive at Union Station, 65 Front St. Roads linking Toronto to surrounding cities include Highways 2, 401 and 407. The U.S. -- Canada border crossings nearest Toronto are at Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Windsor. American visitors must have passports.
The Art of Smart Timing
Summer is high season and winter is low season. Spring and fall are shoulder seasons.
All About the Extras
Take advantage of the rooftop garden and beehive tours first, because they are interesting tours, and second, because you'll enjoy the panoramic view of the city.
Fairmont has instituted learning program at all of its hotels. The Royal York's aims at foodies by including chef tips on scouring local markets, a chef's tour of the St. Lawrence Market with sample tastings that include a peameal bacon sandwich, a Toronto specialty, plus a one-hour walking tour of the city and a six course meal at EPIC. Teenagers into food will love it.
For Mom & Dad
The Fairmont Royal York has a spa. For those parents who like to swim laps, each evening from 9 to 10 p.m., the indoor pool is for adults only.