And is family friendly, too
By Deanna Adams
First thing to know: Chicago is expensive.
Second thing to know: If you do it right, it’s a good investment in fun, new experiences, and making memories.
Apparently I did it right, so I’m here to share some tips gleaned from what I did on my summer vacation, 2012.
First of all, it helps to know someone who lives there. Or at least someone who’s been there. If you have neither, make sure you do your homework before leaving your house. Chicago is a big, big city and can be overwhelming. Lots of options. And with so many choices, it helps to have an agenda. A day-to-day planner, so to speak. Especially if you’re bringing the kids. As I often say, preparation is key.
The choices begin with how to get there. Sure, you can fly, but considering the air fares these days, the travel to and from the airport, the car rental, the hustle/bustle . . . I say, if you live anywhere in Northeast Ohio, make it a road trip. It’s an easy drive, straight down I-90 West. Just make sure you have about $20 for the toll fares. The drive takes approximately six hours, and having a GPS with updated info on possible construction will save you time and frustration. Another option is to take the Megabus, which I did, mainly because of the cheap rates. While prices vary depending on when you go, it cost me only $80 to go round trip from Cleveland to Chicago and back. Not only that, but you can read, sleep, or in my case, write, all the way, which is very nice. One caveat (and isn’t there always when it comes to “deals”), and without going into great detail, you might want to do some checking into their record. Not great. My personal experience left it questionable as to whether I’d use them again. Their service is inconsistent (regarding departure times) and in my case, both drivers were not at all friendly. There were other issues as well, but that’s for another article. Still, the price is right.
Okay, once you get there, you need a place to stay—and here is probably where you’ll spend the most money. Downtown hotels are expensive, no question. I’m one of the lucky ones who happen to have a friend just outside Chicago, and so, spent a few nights at her house. However, because this was my first trip there, we decided to treat ourselves and stay downtown for the weekend, close to everything we wanted to see. And being baby boomer rock ’n’ roll fans, there was no other choice other than the Hard Rock Hotel. Did I mention expensive? Aw, but you only live once. And when you’re in Chicago, you will be living it up. Guaranteed.
Yes, even if you have children in tow. While Chicago makes a great getaway for parents, it’s also a terrific family getaway as well. If you are bringing the kids, book a hotel that offers complimentary breakfasts—which saves a bit of money, and most include those sugary cereals kids love and moms often don’t allow on a regular basis—so that itself will seem like a special treat.
Google comes in handy when it comes to researching accommodations. The decision then comes down to getting the best deal at a hotel close to your planned events. Sometimes that means going through one of the travel sites, such as Orbitz or Expedia. I’ve used both in the past and have gotten good rates, good service.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go
Now for the fun part. My friend, Tracey, and I began our adventure at the Hancock Building, known for its restaurant, the “Signature Room at the 95th ” - as in 95th Floor. Funny thing about vacations, you tend to do things you normally wouldn’t do. For instance, I’m afraid of heights. Yet, for some reason I felt no anxiety as we sat at a window table. Perhaps because the view was so spectacular and looked so surreal I was too mesmerized to think about how high up I was. Or maybe it was the Martini . . . In any case, it is a must-see place to go in downtown Chicago.
Now, if you’re with children, you might want to instead opt for the Willis Tower, formerly the famous Sears Tower, so they can later brag to their friends that they we were in a building 110-stories high. Built in 1973, the tower was considered the world’s tallest building. That’s no longer true, but it’s still the tallest in North America. There is an admissions charge, but look for bargains online. (See chicagotraveler.com, for one)
This public park is simply fun. Lots of attractions throughout its 24+ acres, where you can choose to walk, or rent a bicycle, or even a Segway! Some must- sees include the Cloud Gate sculpture, the interactive Crown Fountain and the Pritzker Music Pavilion (very impressive!).
My friend and I finished off our Chicago visit on this 3,300-foot long pier on the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan where spent the entire Saturday until midnight and did not get bored one minute! There is something to do here for kids of all ages, meaning from 3 – 93. The list includes the Chicago’s Children’s Museum, an IMAX theater, tons of shops, fine restaurants and fast food places, rides (including a 150’ Ferris wheel and fun house maze), and yes, folks, a beer garden, where you don’t have to drink beer to have fun. We were lucky enough to be there on Labor Day weekend, so there were musical acts all day into the late night. And fireworks, too!
Hop-on, Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour, River Tour . . .
Both, or at least one, of these is a must if you want to see as much as you can in a short period of time — while also learning about Chicago’s fascinating history. The bus tour saves lots of cab fare since, with your ticket, you can indeed, hop off to see what you want, then hop back on whenever you want (they run all day until evening, but check current hours). Once again, go online for special offers.
But Wait, There’s More! Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, The Adler Planetarium, Field Museum of Natural History . . .
As you see, Chicago is everyone’s kind of town. And while my hometown of Cleveland will always be my favorite, Chicago has earned second place in my heart. I love going somewhere that expands my world and this city is it. You simply cannot run out of things to do and places to see. Although my kids are all grown, I found myself wishing I knew then what I know now of what the Windy City has to offer. My kids, along with my husband, would’ve had a blast.
However, I will admit I enjoyed the chance for some “me” time, and also to hang out with a longtime girlfriend.
But sure, maybe next time, I’ll bring the other half along. ☺
For more ideas, see the Chicago Office of Tourism at www.explorechicago.org or call 1.877.CHICAGO (244.2246)
Deanna Adams is a writer for Today’s Family magazine and other publications.