We (my wife, myself and our two teenage boys) decided that Chicago would be perfect for our annual Christmas Family Getaway......and what a choice it was! We arrived after dark to a city that was glowing with holiday cheer. Almost every tree along the downtown city streets was wrapped with twinkling white lights and many of the skyscrapers were adorned with colourful red and green spot lights.
At The Holiday Inn, Chicago Mart Plaza, we were greeted with friendly staff, willing to do anything to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Within walking distance of many major attractions, this hotel offered many amenities that we enjoyed such as the large pool and well equipped fitness centre. The hotel was connected by a street overpass to Merchandise Mart, a selection of fine shops, boutiques and food court. The Mart also offered a convenient stop along
The Loop, the elevated train system, which made getting around Chicago very easy. The hotel provided a stunning view of
downtown Chicago and had a comfortable lobby with a unique, eye catching waterfall. The holiday decorations around the hotel were a perfect touch for the season.
We enjoyed a morning jog down Michigan Ave. past many flagship stores. Other attractions along the route included the
John Hancock Tower and a huge statue of the iconic Marilyn Monroe. We walked over to the
Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) and made the trip up to the 103rd floor observation deck. Even though the line-ups were much longer that we expected, the view at the top was worth the wait. Visit early in the day as line ups quickly grow very long. Don't miss "The Ledge," a protruding glass enclosure that allows one to look straight down 1350 feet to the street below!
No trip here is complete without tasting authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza. We highly recommend
Giordano's, a Chicago tradition for over 35 years, located minutes from Willis Tower! The
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Money Museum are also close by with two displays each containing one million dollars. A take-home souvenir is a bag of shredded money containing about $300. Admission is free.
United Centre, the Blackhawks have a fantastic young team and tickets are red hot! Standing room tickets are an inexpensive option that will get you inside the building and you can often find a couple of empty seats as the game progresses.
Chicago offers a dizzying array of world-class museums, many clustered along Lakeshore Drive in what's known as the Museum Campus. Three of the best are the
Adler Planetarium, the
Field Museum of Natural History and the
Shedd Aquarium. We decided on the Shedd Aquarium which featured many displays of underwater animals from around the world. The Pritzker Caribbean Reef is a gigantic, circular aquarium holding hundreds of fish and underwater creatures. At catch feeding time, a scuba diver equipped with a microphone performs a Q and A while in the tank feeding the fish!
We took in "
Million Dollar Quartet," a musical at the Apollo Theatre. This intimate, 400- seat venue featured a 90-minute, Tony-nominated performance, inspired by a 1956 jam session that brought together Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. The show was electric - very entertaining. Even our teenagers admitted to knowing a few of the more than twenty rock and roll hits from the 50's that were featured in the show.
There are many tours available in the heart of Chicago. We took a Segway tour. Segways are stand-up motorized two-wheeled bikes that, with a little practice, are easy to maneuver and a fantastic way to get around the city. Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours, open year round, gave us a great tour of the lakefront area and highlighted many landmarks and fabulous architecture. Our tour guide, Derek, was friendly and extremely knowledgeable making our tour very enjoyable. We started our tour at
Grant Park and headed north. We passed by Millennium Park, The Bean and Buckingham Fountain. The sports fans in the group loved the close-up look at
Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears. The 2.5 hour tour went by very quickly!
Our final attraction was to visit one of the most distinguishable structures on the lakefront,
Navy Pier. The Midwest's top tourist attraction, with over 8 million visitors each year, has graced the Chicago shoreline for over 100 years. Our family enjoyed walking through the long corridors and sampling some of the treats offered by the vendors. Our sons were able to find a variety of Chicago souvenirs. The Winter Wonderfest was on display at the convention centre located at the end of the building, including a gigantic decorated tree and many smaller colourful trees. There was even an indoor skating rink! Younger kids would enjoy the carnival games and rides too.
Chicago can be enjoyed from early in the morning to late at night year round. Even though it is the third-largest city in the US, a family can move about safely on foot, by transit or in a cab as we did. We highly recommend Chicago as a wonderful family destination!
Fred Masters and his wife Kathy reside in Kitchener. Fred has performed technical review work for a major Canadian textbook company. Both are avid "last minute" travelers who have attended three Olympic Games. (Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010)