"Chicago. My kind of town!"
The Sinatra classic couldn't be more fitting when describing how I felt after taking the family on a trek to the Windy City. Another line from that song is very appropriate too, "My kind of people too, people who smile at you." Friendly is the best way to describe the people we encountered - from one end of the city to the other.
Our hotel was located downtown, just one block away from the incredible Michigan avenue -better known as the Magnificent Mile. Again, a name very befitting this street. If you want to buy anything - food to clothing to services - you can find it on the magnificent mile. Upon checking into the hotel I had one quest and one quest only - real Chicago-style deep dish pizza for dinner. With my wife, two kids and mother in tow we headed to the highly recommended Giordanos Restaurant & Pizzeria. At first you are a little surprised because you are told there is a 45 minute wait but then you see how their system works. While waiting you order your meal and then once you are seated (we were sitting in 30 minutes) your food arrives fairly quickly. The food was incredible and the service was very old-style Italian - efficient and friendly. For $ 70 US all five of us were fed quite handily and that bill included a pitcher of beer and enough leftover pizza for a yummy breakfast the next day! A post-dinner visit to the Hershey Store downtown made for chocolate that my waistline could have done without but was still very enjoyable. A bright and airy store that gives the kids free Hershey Paper hats upon entry is filled with every product Hershey can pump out and all at very affordable prices.
After a good night's rest, we were ready to hit the town or at least my daughter and her American Girl were ready! You see, Chicago is one of only three centres in the United States that houses a three-story tribute to everything that is American Girl dolls (the other two are in Los Angeles and New York). Now I have to admit that going into this part of the journey was not something my seven-year-old son and I were looking forward to - you know, girls-dolls-yuk! But yet another pleasant surprise. To say this company thinks of everything would be a supreme understatement. Boys can enjoy a complentary Gameboy during their visit - trust me, it is a brilliant idea and one that makes it easier for the girls to enjoy the American Girl Place experience. This three-story building is quite something - a hair salon for the dolls, book store, hospital for dolls in need of repair, outfits that take you through history and some that girls can buy to match their favourite doll - it doesn't stop there. The lower floor offers up some history on the American Girls too - a real learning experience even for a girl from Canada. American Girls might be "american" but they stand for what so many of us are striving for in our young girls these days - girls being girls!
Just as our son was becoming bored, boom, it was time for lunch. And lunch itself was a fun experience - mini hamburgers and hot dogs to go along with a mini-seat just for your American Girl - all served with what, to us, was becoming customary Chicago friendliness. This three course meal was a real experience and I am happy to report that we were not the only "boys" in the house! After lunch we saw a live stage production called the American Girls Revue. A well-produced play with a constantly underlying storyline teaching girls that they can do whatever they want and be whoever they want to be when they grow up. It also bestowed upon them how important it is to be your own person and to stand up for what you believe in. American Girl Place is a must stop for anyone visiting Chicago with a daughter. It is an amazing experience and one worth taking in. (American Girl's 3rd TV Movie - shot in Canada - is due out in November. Watch for more info)
next day saw an excursion to the famous Navy
Pier on the edge of Downtown Chicago. Gently jutting out onto Lake Michigan,
this 3000 foot pier was originally a main shipping pier but was redesigned in
the late eighties into what it is today - a vast line of shops, restaurants, festival
halls, performance stages and docking for various tour boats and water taxis that
work up and down the lake. It also houses a Family Pavillion that is highlighted
by the 50,000 square-foot Chicago Children's Museum, a 440-seat IMAX theatre and
a 32,000 square foot Botanical Park. Wow -talk about maximizing your available
space - they thought of it all here.
Our first order of business was to take a water taxi over to the Shedd Aquarium - a must-see for the family if you are in Chicago. The ride alone gives you an incredible view of the Chicago skyline with the famous Sears Tower defiantly standing guard over one of America's landmark cities. As you approach the Aquarium, the architecture alone is quite stunning. Shedd Aquarium is surrounded by pillars, glass and incredibly well-groomed garden areas. Upon entry, the aquarium has it all but one tip - arrive early! As we were leaving around 2 pm, the line to get in was quite long. You will need 3 hours to really enjoy the aquarium and all it has to offer - which includes a dolphin show that teaches you more about dolphins and their real habitat & lifestyles than it does fancy tricks, unlike other marine type shows you may know. The number of exhibits are endless and the learning opportunities numerous for people of all ages- covering Waters of the World, Wild and Carribean Reefs, the Amazon plus a lizards exhibit that included a huge Komodo Dragon! All five senses are overloaded as you tour this well laid out Chicago landmark and all it has to offer. The cost for a family of four (kids 3 to 11) would be $ 80 US but a wise investment considering what they have to offer- kids under 3 are free.
Upon arriving back at Navy Pier after our 15 minute water taxi ride, we dove right into what they had to offer too.We stopped at the food court and had some lunch - a Gyro for mom and I while the kids, of course, reverted back to McDonalds for the always reliably happy meal! Once lunch was done we spent the afternoon wandering up and down the pier and taking in all it had to offer. From very-affordable souveneir stands & shops to bicycle rentals to carnival-like rides (the giant ferris wheel was the family favourite), we had no problem filling out the rest of our day. We made our way to the Pepsi Skyline Stage at the end of the day to see a show called Cirque Shanghai - an exclusive engagement direct from China showing off some incredible Chinese acrobats. The show was fabulous and kept the whole family enthralled just waiting to see what they would attempt next! The show is hyped with the slogan "Amazing Feats, Affordable Seats" and again, a very appropriate motto indeed. Our family of four saw the show for $55 US and considering it was a world class production that lasted well over an hour, that is pretty good bang for your buck!
But of course if you go to Chicago, you have to think sports at some point! With professional teams in all the major sports (two in baseball!), a stop in Chicago without taking in some action would not be right. That is where the World Series Champion Chicago White Sox provided a pretty special night for my son and I. We sat in the left field bleachers as the White Sox took on Baltimore Orioles and had a great time. Shucking peanuts, eating hot dogs and kibitzing with the fans were the first order of the day- fans that again showed off the friendliness of the city. Once they realized we were from out of town, the people around us went out of their way to make sure we had a good time. Some great one-liners from the longtime 'bleacher bums' plus not having to hear one curse word during the whole game a great experience. The White Sox won 4-2 so it ended on a great note too! Getting to and from the game was easy as well. Again, $ 60 US for a pair of seats with the true White Sox fans was well worth the cost. A very efficient transit system took us from downtown to the park in 10 minutes flat making driving to the park not even worth considering.
When the sun rose on our final day in the Windy City I could not help but once again echo of sentiments of Frank Sinatra when he sang "My Kind of Town -Chicago is!".
If you want a clean, family-friendly place to take the family - Chicago should definitely be high on your to-do list.