Wednesday, September 5, 2012


We live close to Chicago (about a 3 hour drive) but we never go there.  My husband had actually never been to Chicago!  Many people we know think that is strange since they usually visit Chicago a few times a year.  We had a plan to visit there as a family some time soon and it just worked out perfect that I received a Groupon deal for my favorite hotel (only one of two that I have ever stayed at in Chicago but still - my favorite).  So I purchased the Groupon and made our reservations.  

Congress Hotel

 I love this hotel because of the location and the view.  I have been lucky to get a good view of Lake Michigan both times that I stayed there.  Just across the street is a large park that has many statues, seating, and relaxing spaces.  It also has the "Married With Children" fountain (for those of you who are old enough to remember the intro to that show).  The Congress Hotel is also within walking distance of the Art Museum, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Solder Field, and the planetarium.  However, it wasn't close enough for my little kiddos so we didn't take advantage of that.

View from my hotel window.

We decided to purchase Chicago CityPASS's for our family since everything we wanted to see was included.  I knew that the passes would save us some money but I didn't realize the full benefits until we actually used them.  I will mention the benefits as this blog post continues.

Chicago CityPass
We planned to only stay 2 nights in Chicago (a mini vacation) so we decided to stop at one of our sites on the way in and another on the way home.  Our first stop was the Field Museum.   It was too early to check in to our hotel so we decided to park in the ramp at the museum.  It was $20 for the day.

Field Museum

It was a rainy day so it was great to be inside.  The lines weren't real bad at first but then we noticed a split in the line.  One was a long winding line to purchase tickets and other was a short line for "Will Call" and for CityPass!!!  So, with our printed CityPass receipt in hand, we entered the shorter line and quickly received our official CityPASS tickets (booklets pictured earlier in this post).  Since this was our first CityPASS stop we were given everything we needed to start using the passes.  Our CityPass also included a free admission into one of the 3D movies they offered but they were sold out for the day.  I noticed this is common at all the big "museums".  The movies/shows sell out quick so get there early!!  

My son LOVED the real T-Rex bones!
Next, it was time to check into the hotel.  We decided not to hassle with parking (I've never had luck with hotel parking in Chicago) so we did valet.  It cost us a little more but it was worth it.  From there, we were just going to leave the car until our trip home.  I personally find it much easier to just take a taxi!  The taxi drivers know where they are going and you don't have to worry about parking and parking cost.  Plus, my kids were very excited about riding in a taxi for the first time!

I got a chuckle out of seeing that they post a "Vomit Clean-up Fee"!
We had a taxi take us to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner.  It's one of our "must stop" places to eat!  My kids love it, they offer a great vegetarian meal, and we also collect pins for each city we visit.

A couple of the pins we have collected.
We decided to walk for a while to burn off our meal and check out the sites.  Since it was rainy and foggy we didn't go to the Skydeck that night as we originally planned.  

We started the next day at the Shedd Aquarium.  We took a taxi but we could have walked (if our kids were bigger) or parked for $20.  The taxi cost us about $10.

See that long line?  Our Will Call/CityPASS line was at the white canopy - no line!!!  We were also given free tickets to the live Aquatic Show and to a 4D movie of choice.  Those all sell out so get there early.  Thankfully, we were early enough to get tickets for a show within our visit time (some times your only option is many hours from your arrival time...).

Shedd Aquarium

Do you see that line we were able to pass by???!!!
At least they had a canopy to keep people out of the sun and rain....
There are many great things to see.  I personally LOVED their jelly fish exhibit (limited time).  They also had a lot of kids activities.  My kiddos loved the play submarine and the penguin dress-up area.

 You can also touch a live starfish!!!

Next, we took a taxi to the Skydeck.  I'm glad that we took a taxi because with construction and everything else going on I have no idea where we would have parked!  As soon as we entered the front doors we saw the line.  It was long but not bad.  I didn't see anything about the "CityPASS line" so I had my husband ask the gentleman at the elevators.  He said that this was the first line that would take us on the elevator to the basement.  Once in the basement you could purchase tickets or go into the "CityPASS line".  It took us about a 1/2 hour to get through the first line and on the first elevator.  Once we got off the elevator I couldn't believe the huge line to buy tickets!!!!!  But then I saw the CityPASS line :-)  We passed by everyone!!!!!  Not only the line to purchase tickets but also the line after that to get on the main elevator that would take us to the top!!!!  This experience made the entire CityPASS option so worth it to me!!!  

Once we got to the top we noticed how crazy busy the place was.  It was hard to get to a window to take a picture without getting a portion of somebody else in it.  It was a great experience though!!!  On one side of the building there are glass windows that you can walk out onto.  There are 4 total but one is used for professional pictures.  We had to practically fight our way into one of the other 3 windows to get a picture opportunity!

We did have the more professional picture taken of our family.  It was great!  Although it did cost a nice chunk of money to buy a copy....  That picture was the whole reason I wanted to visit the Skydeck so we got one.

Another place that we always have to eat at is the Rainforest Cafe. We had a taxi take us there (valet parking appears to be their only option) for an early dinner.  

Rainforest Cafe

My husbands favorite meal.

They had a very good pasta dish for me!  

The next stop for us was Navy Pier.  Before I actually discuss the pier I wanted to share a tip with you that I learned one time while staying in Chicago on the "Miracle Mile".  The Rainforest Cafe and the Hard Rock Cafe are not far from the Miracle Mile.  If we would have timed things out better we could have taken a free ride to the pier instead of paying for a taxi.  Here are a couple of pictures I took of a free trolley service that is offered.  My mom and I once took advantage of this service because it was near our hotel.  It was nice but I noticed it can get busy so you may get stuck without an open seat to ride (bring taxi money just incase).  With kids, it was too much of a hassle!  But, if I would have been traveling with my dad (who was always looking for fun ways to save money) we would have walked for miles to catch the trolley!

We could see Navy Pier from our hotel window and at night you could really see the beauty of the large ferris wheel!  So, my kids were overly excited to check out the pier.

Navy Pier
Of course, we had to ride the ferris wheel.  If I remember correctly, it was $6 a person to ride.  Or, you could do what we did and buy 10 ride tickets for $37.  We decided to do that since the kids were already begging to ride some of the other options.

You can get some great pictures of Chicago from here!!

Okay - you can barely read this!  One thing to know is that you only go around once.
Also, you get on and off while it is moving so it might be hard for some with physical limitations.
We did not take advantage of the many options to take a boat ride out onto Lake Michigan.  We figured we had crammed enough activities into one little vacation.  We hope to catch a ride on the pirate ship the next time we visit.  Tall Ship Windy Sailing.

After checking out the sites from the pier we headed back to the hotel for our final night.  Unfortunately, they were having a huge dance party in the park across the street so it was a little hard for the kiddos to settle down.  But, it wasn't long before it started to rain and the people scattered.  It did look like a fun event to check out though!

The next day we checked out of the hotel and headed to the Museum of Science & Industry (our CityPASS gave us the option of this or the John Hancock Observatory).  It's a little out of town and on our way back home.  Parking was under the building and $20 for the day.  There wasn't really a line the day we went but there was a "Will Call" area for CityPASS customers.  Because of our CityPASS, we also received free tickets for a flight simulation and for our choice of a movie at the amazing Omnimax.  The Omnimax movie and the flight simulation are at scheduled times and could be full for the day if it's busy.

I have to admit - I LOVED this place!!!  Everything is very interactive, educational, and just amazing!  They also had great food options in the cafeteria.  Expensive - but they had a large variety and it was really good.

Museum of Science & Industry
The nose of the airplane in the picture is actually an airplane that was once in service.
The inside has been transformed into an educational piece and a past pilot of the plane was there to help us learn.

This is a full size real (U-505) submarine that you can pay extra to tour the inside of.
We decided to save that for another visit.
Behind my kiddos is a simulated tornado in the weather section.  

We did pay extra to tour the coal mine since that was one of the things I had heard the most about.  It was very educational (like everything there) and fun.  However, it was a little dark for my kiddos who were just excited to find out that we were actually still in the building - not in an actual coal mine ;-)

Also, check out the schedule for the day.  There are a lot of hands on classroom opportunities that are broken down by age.  Heck, you can even dissect something!!

You could spend a full day at this museum and still barely touch the surface of all it has to offer!!!  It was great for all ages!  I actually think my husband enjoyed it the most!

That was the end of our mini vacation but not the end of this post.  When I returned home I still had to rate my CityPASS for a potential winning of $250.  Don't laugh at the idea - when I rated our Southern California CityPASS a couple of years ago I won $500 from the survey I completed afterwards!!!  

We did not use all of the CityPASS.  We had the option to go to Alder Planetarium (would have loved to if we had the time) or to the Art Institute of Chicago.  Even though we didn't use this portion of our pass, it still saved us a ton of money and the bonuses of having the pass was priceless!! 

We plan to visit Chicago again to check out some other sites.  Do you have any recommendations?

No comments:

Post a Comment