Weekend in Chicago

We went to Chicago the day after Thanksgiving: my parents, my husband and me, and our 3 kids. We went for 3 days and 2 nights. We managed to get off at about 9 am so we arrived in Chicago at about 1 pm local time (a 5-hour drive with a 1-hour time difference). It was a fun trip with visits to a few of the major museums and attractions.

Shedd Aquarium (1st day)

We went here the first day, from about 1 pm to 6 pm. The first item on the agenda was food! After 5 hours in the car, everyone was hungry. It took us about half an hour to get into the aquarium since it was pretty busy. So we checked our map and realized food was to be found on the opposite side of the aquarium. We headed over and found the Soundings Cafe. We were told about a 15-minute wait. But then we realized that Bubble Net was downstairs and would be cheaper. It was still quite expensive for a self service: $35 for 2 burgers with fries and drinks, 2 kids macaroni and cheese meals and 2 apple juices. After lunch we went to check out the Beluga whales. Looking at them from above the water wasn’t so interesting, but we went down a flight so we could watch them from below the water – much more fun!! Also this is where the Polar Play Zone is. The kids had a great time playing in a submarine and being penguins.

Can penguins climb?

Going down the penguin slide

After this, the only thing Hana wanted to see was the sharks! So we headed over to Wild Reef. This was a pretty cool exhibit. You could walk on the glass over the sting rays and lean over the railing to see into their pool. Hana wasn’t so sure about seeing the sting rays moving around below her feet. Towards the end of the Wild Reef exhibit, there was a fake tide pool the kids could play in and a real starfish that they could touch. Then we had tickets for the 5:30 Fantasea show, which was actually a bit disappointing. There was lots of singing and dancing (not very skilled). My husband said the girls would appeal to the middle-aged and older gentlemen. But the focus seemed to be more on Christmas than on the whales, dolphins and seals. I will say that the way the screen was used behind the show was fantastic!

By the time we left the aquarium, the kids were wiped out! So we headed off to check in at the hotel. We stayed at the Sheraton Chicago. My feeling is that it was a bit overpriced… The rooms were a bit small, not leaving much room once we had the stroller in there and the Peapod set up for Hana to sleep in. I was glad we hadn’t brought the Pack ‘n Play too. For dinner that night, we picked up food at Dominick’s Pharmacy (really more of a grocery store and deli) and ate in the room. Dominick’s ended up being a great find! The next day we had plans to go to The Field Museum. I decided to go back to Dominick’s in the morning and pick up sandwiches and fruit to take to the museum for lunch rather than pay inflated prices for a not-so-great lunch. 

The Field Museum (2nd day)

Gaku and Sue

Does it look like Sue is eating Gaku?

The very first thing we saw upon entering was Sue. Gaku and Hana were pretty excited and spent a lot of time looking at the giant T Rex. One of the staff was very helpful and came up to tell us all kinds of interesting facts about Sue. He told us that her real head was upstairs and we should go up there to take a picture. You can have your kid stand one side of the head and take a picture through her head so it looks like Sue is eating them. Gaku couldn’t wait to go up and try this. But first, it was lunch time. The Field Museum has a cafeteria area with vending machines called the Siragusa Center. This was a great place to eat our lunch (which we had brought with us). Then we went to the check out the mummies! The Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit was great and at the end were some interactive displays for the kids.   

Sauropod thigh bone

Planting/harvesting the corn

Hana the Turtle

Gaku is a cicada

After this we headed next door for a special exhibit Underground Adventure. Everything is huge as if you were the size of a bug. Gaku was fascinated by this. Hana was interested as well, but kept saying, “I don’t like this. I want to get out of here.” But not in a scared or upset voice, just in a very matter of fact way. Then it was across the hall to the Crown Family PlayLab. This was the kids’ absolute favorite place in The Field Museum. The first thing that engaged them was a forest area where they could put on costumes and pretend to be various animals. Gaku loved the Pueblo house and “garden” with lots of plastic corn cobs; he spent lots of time pretending to plant, store, boil, and mash the corn like the Pueblo would have done. Hana loved the small-scale houses with figures of people and animals. Both Gaku and Hana found the rhythm room, but we ran out of time before they played in the archaeology/dinosaur areas. One warning: the play zone closes at 4 pm and last entry is at 3 pm!

Navy Pier (2nd day – dinner)

We headed off to Navy Pier (someplace my parents had never been) with the thought of finding dinner there. Navy Pier itself wasn’t so fantastic (probably more fun in the summer), but we were there in the evening and did not check out the Chicago’s Children’s Museum. We did walk through the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows which had some beautiful windows, including some by Tiffany. We had dinner at Riva. The food was great, but not enough of a reason for me to go to Navy Pier. I probably would not bother to go Navy Pier on a future visit, since it really didn’t seem to be that special to me.      

Willis Tower Skydeck (3rd day)

Well, we checked out of the hotel with plans to go to Adler Planetarium. But, silly us, we had not thought about there being a Bears game at Soldier Field. When we were trying to go, pregame traffic was crazy so we decided to go check out the Willis Tower Skydeck and find lunch first.      

The Skydeck was pretty cool. We didn’t spend a lot of time there and probably would not have gone if we had not bought the Chicago City Pass (which included Skydeck entry) on the first day. I have to say that the coolest things there were the ledges where you could step out and see straight down below. Freaky, but cool.      

Adler Planetarium (3rd day – last stop!)

So after lunch, we decided to give the Adler Planetarium another try. Okay… this time the traffic situation was worse. They had the street between The Field Museum and Soldier Field completely closed! We asked one of the guys directing traffic if there was a way to get back to Adler Planetarium and he told us to drop off there in front of The Field Museum (about a half-mile walk). So we had to make a quick decision, and decided that my husband would skip the planetarium and stay with the car and the baby. My parents and I took the older two kids back to the planetarium. While walking, we realized that there was a way to get back there because there was traffic moving through the area. So I asked another guy and found out that you have to go down Waldron Drive.

Launching the rocket

Driving on Planet X

Exploring Planet X

I have to say that I am very glad that we went to Adler Planetarium! The other museums were fantastic, but Adler Planetarium put them all to shame (from a kids’/mom’s perspective)!! We only had a little bit of time left, so we didn’t see much of the planetarium. We spent almost the entire time at the Planet Explorers exhibit for kids, and then we went to one show. The Planet Explorers exhibit was absolutely fantastic and the staff were great as well. As soon as we walked up, a guy in an astronaut suit came right up to Gaku and said, “Let me show you something.” He led him over to an electronic microscope and put Gaku’s hand under it. He proceeded to explain to Gaku that the shiny parts on his hand were sweat. Gaku was really interested. There was a second microscope, so I put Hana’s hand under that one. Inside the exhibit is a “rocket” where they can pretend to launch (their absolute favorite part of the whole trip to Chicago!) and see what it would be like to be in a rocket, a “star walk” which was cool but maybe a bit much for the kids since it’s so dark and “Planet X” where the kids can do all kinds of other activities. While we were there, they had a special activity where the kids worked to make a water delivery system from their “rocket” (up on the table) to an X on the floor. The kids were told to draw a plan on paper first, then make their system using pipes, flexible tubes, tape, clamps and other materials, and then finally present their system to the other groups. Really cool. Then we had to rush off to see the show Night Sky Live. I would have liked to see the other show we had tickets for, Journey to the Stars, but the kids were having too much fun in Planet Explorers. I think the kids would have liked the other exhibits as well, but we just didn’t have time!! We had to leave for our 5-hour drive home. I have to say that I wish we had gone to the Adler Planetarium earlier in the day and just skipped the Skydeck. Oh well!

I do recommend getting the Chicago City Pass if you go. It was definitely a great deal. (We bought ours at Shedd Aquarium after we arrived.) And if you can only go to one place, make it the Adler Planetarium!!

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