This past weekend, we made the dreaded drive to Toronto. I say ‘dreaded’ only because the traffic is terrible and getting parked is always an exercise in frustration. The occasion was my daughter shopping for her prom dress. We parked downtown, where we planned to meet up after the shopping for dinner and a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium. While Natasha, her grandma and my wife hopped on the subway for Yorkdale mall, the boys and I were left with hours to kill. What do you do in downtown Toronto with twin 15-year old gamers who are hungry after a three hour drive?
We decided to check out The Rec Room, a facility that opened last year in the historic Roundhouse, just a few steps from the CN Tower and Rogers Centre.
It’s 40,000 square feet of games and several restaurants, all housed in an expansive building that used to be an old railway roundhouse — towering ceilings, lots of exposed wood beams and a lot of flashing lights. It’s along the idea of Dave & Buster’s, but this is a relatively new enterprise launched by Canada’s Cineplex movie theater chain.
I was expecting a Saturday might be crazy busy, but we arrived a bit after the 11am opening and it was quite calm. We purchased wristbands loaded with credits and strolled in to be greeted rows of flashing, beeping games and simulators. There was a mix of video games and reward-based games, including physical options like basketball hoops. The space was huge, with banks of games in a central position, and several restaurant spaces and a bar surrounding them. There were rooms off the main space, with additional seating along with pool, shuffleboard and ping pong tables.
And there was virtually no crowding. The boys and I played head-to-head in the Mario Kart racers, shot up Aliens and took out waves of dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park simulator. There were no line-ups, we just wandered from machine to machine. Games we played ranged around five or six credits per play, and we were loaded up with 200 credits each. After an hour, they decided to try out the virtual reality attraction before things got busy. It was a Ghostbusters simulator, and the boys reported that it was “pretty cool” and definitely above the Ghostbusters VR for HTC Vive we tried out a few months ago.
That was a 12 minute affair, although it stretched over 20 minutes with the preparation, enough time for me to retire to a table at the THREE10 restaurant and check out the selection of beers on tap. When they returned, we ordered lunch. The food was very good, although all three of us ordered burgers instead of more exotic dishes on the menu like bison lasagna or smoked meat deviled eggs. There is another restaurant on site that specializes in poutine and donuts…
Even at our table, which was about as far from the main gaming floor as you could get within the main space, the drone of Formula One racing simulators was loud enough that it was sometimes difficult to hear people speak. The other games weren’t that bad, but the noise from those racers really carried through the building.
During lunch, things got considerably more crowded. Tables began filling up, a large collection of baby strollers began to collect on the periphery and lineups started at many of the more popular games. At this point, people began to camp at games once they found one they liked, so the waits could get long. We switched to the physical skills games like throwing basketballs and footballs, which were less popular with the younger kids.
After about three hours from the time we arrived, we’d used up all our credits The boys redeemed the tickets they’d won for a pair of basketballs, and we headed back out into the cold. It was an enjoyable way to spend some time together, and something we’ll probably do again when we’re back in Toronto.
The Rec Room isn’t exactly what I’d call an inexpensive way to pass a few a hours. With tax included, three wristbands with 200 credits each came to $101.80, two tickets for the VR simulator were $54.24 and burgers for three (plus a beer for me) came to $80.69 with tip. So for about three hours of entertainment for three people, that was around $237.
Keep in mind, the prices were in Canadian dollars, so if you’re visiting from the U.S., you do get more bang for the buck. The refreshments were optional, as was the VR, so you can definitely do it for less.
If you find yourself in downtown Toronto with some time to kill, The Rec Room is definitely worth a visit. Other locations are in Canadian cities including Edmonton and Calgary, with one slated to open in my city — London, Ontario — later this year.