I am a psychotherapist who usually writes about parenting topics, but our family just came back from a road trip to Chicago that was so fabulous, I wanted to share our experience.
We found ourselves with four unplanned days during the Christmas holiday. With two boys, ages seven and five, the thought of waking up each morning and asking, “What are we going to do today?” and spending much of that time refereeing kid-conflict or being a cruise director was less than appealing. So, we decided to take a road trip!
My husband and I thought of all the places we could easily drive to from our house, and discovered that Chicago was only six-hour hours away (six hours of driving, not including stop time). I find that is a great amount of driving time for our (very active) boys at this age—two three hour blocks with a lunch and running wind-sprints in the restaurant parking lot in between.
We tried using Hotwire for the first time: www.hotwire.ca for Canadians, and www.hotwire.com for Americans, and had wonderful success. This is a site where you book a hotel at a discounted rate without knowing exactly which hotel you’ll get. You are able to see a list of amenities (whether there is a pool or not—a must for us), and the general area it is in. We ended up getting the Hyatt Magnificent Mile, which was an excellent location. It is only a couple of blocks in each direction from great kid-activity spots.
Here are some cool Chicago attractions for kids (and their parents):
We had our car there but quickly found that we could go on a 10-minute cab ride for only about five dollars. Having someone else drive that knew exactly where to go was awesome. We left our car in the hotel parkade.
There is a huge Ferris wheel here, restaurants, and an indoor play area. You could spend half a day in and around the Pier area.
This attraction opened recently in December 2014, so some taxi drivers don’t know about it—clarify that you want to go to Maggie Daley Park if you are getting a ride. There is an awesome play structure in this park, too, so you might want to spend time there.
We brought our skates but you can rent some there if you like. It was quite busy when we went, but we still had fun zooming around the path, which had turns and a bit of a hill to go up and down. Skating is free!
This is about a twenty-minute drive from the north end of the mile so we did drive here—parking is $20 in a covered parkade.
Our family’s trick for going to large children’s attractions is to do our research ahead of time, buy tickets online, and be the first ones there. There are activities within the museum that require special bookings (a tour through a real German WWII submarine, the Imax theatre, the Walt Disney exhibit, and more) so I suggest taking time to look through those and book them online before you visit the museum. If you buy your tickets ahead of time, you can by-pass the lineup and go straight in.
Oh, as we went in winter, it was VERY cold when we were there—we geared up with warm weather clothes. To avoid long coat-check lines or carrying our gear around inside all day, we took our outerwear off in the car, I dropped the kids and my husband off right at the door, and left all the jackets, etc in the car. As our motto is “be the first ones there” we didn’t have to park too far away so my jacket-less sprint to the door wasn’t that long.
There is a good food court inside the museum, as well as a yummy ice cream spot. We aim to eat lunch at attraction restaurants by 11:30am at the latest, which so far has turned out very well! We often discover short or no line ups and a table to sit at.
This plaza is a mall located at the north end of the magnificent mile. The whole mile is stacked with shops, but this place has a bunch together in one indoor area. If you are a parent, you’ll want to know that this is where the LEGO store and AMERICAN GIRL stores are! There is also a cool toy-ish store called "Marbles, The Brain Store."
Rather than being spread out over a distance, this mall is vertical in nature: there are seven floors, centered around an escalator. So, seven floors of escalators = fun! (Take the kid's scarves off!)
You will find a Garretts popcorn place (you have to try this!), a massive Macy's and the Harry Caray Sports Museum in here, too. The sports museum is on the seventh floor, and our family had a blast there. The attraction has many interactive sports activities so it is a fun place to learn about sports history and also get the kid’s ya-yas out. We ate at the Harry Caray 7th Inning Stretch restaurant attached to the museum, so our entry fee was included in the price of the meal (which was very good).
Chicago = amazing pizza so we looked for the yummiest restaurant there. The place we discovered was Giordano’s Pizza. We had seen the long line-ups outside of this restaurant so we knew it might be hard to get in.
I’ll credit my husband with having this genius idea: he volunteered to wait in line at 4pm (leaving me with the kids to build LEGO in the hotel—hmmm, who got the better deal on that?!), got inside within thirty minutes, and was seated at a table moments later. It can take up to forty minutes for the deep-dish pizzas to bake so he settled at the table, ordered our meal and a drink for himself (he did get the better deal!) and texted me to then walk over with the boys.
Fifteen minutes later, I sheepishly zigzagged through the long line (which I was told was about a two-hour wait at that point), walked in the restaurant, and straight to our table. The pizza arrived shortly after sitting down!
Boat rides are cool! This tour will take you around the river, showing you the amazing buildings in downtown Chicago. These cruises don't run on colder days so check ahead to see if the tours are going when you are there.
When you travel with kids and are staying at a hotel, after the kids go to bed and the lights are out, there isn’t much the parents can do. They are relegated to the bathroom, which is the only place a light can be turned on. We decided to go to bed at the same time as our kids, because after a full day of touring around and mostly being on our feet, we were ready to sleep! This ended up being a great idea because we came back from this trip feeling rested.
I didn’t actually get any discounts or freebies for writing this post, it was such a great trip I had to tell you about it! Although I should try to get some for our next trip! If you want to read my parenting stuff, please do pop over to my Facebook page where I post free parenting information. Happy travelling!