Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cheers For Chicago

There is so much to love about Chicago.

Sheila here. We took a family spring break trip to Chicago last weekend. With temperatures in the 40's, that wind off of Lake Michigan, and quite a bit of rain, it sure wasn't the beach, but we had a fantastic time.

I've been to Chicago several times in the last few years because my best friend lives there, but Ric hadn't been for several years, Katie has only been once, and our little guy, Eric was experiencing Chicago for the first time. It can be a challenge to find activities that a 17-year-old and a three-year-old will enjoy, but the Windy City truly has something for everyone. We went there for a campus visit to Loyola University, but we packed in a lot of activities in three days.

Our trip started on Thursday afternoon with my favorite part, shopping on the Magnificent Mile! I could spend days wandering in and out of the stores there, but we took it easy on the guys and just spent a few hours. My big steal of the day: I found Ric a pair of Cole Haan shoes for less than half the usual price at Filene's Basement. I love that place. And Katie found some T-shirts for 10 bucks at the Nordstrom Rack (which is a huge store!)

On Friday morning, the Field Museum was on the agenda. What an amazing place! We all loved seeing SUE, the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. SUE is 67-million years old! She's right there to greet you when you walk into the Field's Main Hall. The Evolving Planet was our favorite exhibit. That's where you can find the dinosaurs and much more. Here's a TRAVEL TIP: Don't pay for the extras at the Field unless you are just dying to see the special exhibition or see the 4-D movie. We bought the Basic Ticket, and we didn't even come close to seeing everything. Also, Friday morning is a perfect time to go. There were some school groups there, but it wasn't crowded at all, and we didn't wait in line for anything.

Saturday morning, we hit the Shedd Aquarium. Now, I loved it once we got inside, but we were very frustrated when we got there. The Shedd's website says if you buy advance tickets, you won't have to wait in line to get in. Totally not true. Unlike a lot of Ticketmaster purchases, you can't print your Shedd Tickets from your computer. You have to wait in the Will Call line, and we waited for an hour. Literally hundreds of people who didn't buy tickets in advance were waiting in the other line. I have no idea how long their wait was, but I'm betting it was a couple of hours. When I told the customer service rep. at Will Call how long we had been waiting, he gave us free passes to the Aquatic Show and the Jellies exhibit. (Thanks Louis!) The good news is the aquarium is truly wonderful. The way it's laid out, and the number of different animals and displays is totally worth the price. We loved the dolphins and Beluga whales, and I could've stood and watched the animals in the Caribbean Reef tank, in the center of the aquarium, for hours. TRAVEL TIPS: Buy tickets to the Shedd Aquarium in advance. The Aquatic Show is totally worth the extra four-dollar ticket price. The Jellies show is not worth the extra fee if you've ever been to the Newport Aquarium. Our standing jellyfish exhibit is not to be rivaled. Finally, get there early, and if you can, go on a weekday instead of the weekend to avoid the large crowds.

Finally, a word on Chicago food. Let's just say I am still recovering from 3 straight days of food hangover! There are so many wonderful things to eat! We had dinners at Bistro 110 (on Pearson right off of Michigan Avenue) and the Grand Luxe café (overlooking Michigan Avenue). Ric's Chicken Pot Pie at the Bistro was phenomenal. If you can ever go and have lunch outside there when it's warm, you will really enjoy it. (I did that on a previous trip.) The order-ahead desserts at the Grand Luxe are sooooo worth it. We had the Molten Lava Chocolate Cake and the Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies. Totally sinful and sensational. We also got some Garrett's Popcorn (on Ontario just off of Michigan Avenue), Lou Malnati's Chicago Style Pizza, and Chicago Dogs. I don't think we missed one delicious thing!

One last TRAVEL TIP: Take the bus and the train to get around when your destination is too far to walk. The "L" and the CTA buses are affordable, clean, and easy to navigate. I think Eric's favorite part of our whole trip was riding the bus (his first time). The folks who work in the train stations are very friendly and helpful too. We parked our car on Thursday and didn't drive it again until Sunday when we went home. You can avoid paying for parking altogether by taking the MegaBus, which I've heard is great.

If you've never been to Chicago, I hope you get the chance sometime. There are so many things to do, and I've only touched on a few of them. The five-hour drive is really easy, and there are always deals online on hotels. Plus, the people there are some of the friendliest I've ever met. We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn in the Gold Coast area (just off of Lake Shore Drive). The Guest Services employees and the women who took care of breakfast every morning recognized our family every time we were downstairs, and they were so helpful and nice. It was like staying with friends. I'll always be a Cincinnati girl, but Chicago is also my kind of town.

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