May 2016 – We spent Memorial Day weekend in Chicago. We paid for the flight with airline miles and utilized the three day weekend so we did not have to request off work. Once we landed at O’Hare, we followed signs for the train and took the blue line out of the airport. The train only cost us $5 each (multi day passes are available if you know you’ll be riding it more than once), a much better deal than using a taxi would have been, and was very easy to navigate. A quick search on Google Maps told us exactly what line to ride, what stop to get off at, and how far the walk would be. We switched to the red line once we got into downtown, and we got off with only a short walk to our hotel, Whitehall Hotel. The total trip was about an hour. We dropped off our backpacks at the hotel and headed back out in search of food.
We decided on Gino’s East for some deep dish pizza. Although we were seated immediately, the pizza took about 45 minutes to cook. We were on the third floor outdoor patio and passed the time watching the city below. The pizzas were a bit pricey, at around $23 for a small deep dish. The pizza was plenty large enough for two people, however.
After lunch, we visited the John Hancock building to see the 360 Chicago Observation Deck. We had pre-purchased tickets using credit card points, and we did not have to wait at all to go up to the deck. It wasn’t overcrowded, and it was a great view of the city. I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had a more open section. The only area to go outside was so completely secured by beams and screens that the view was obscured.
Back on the ground, we had a couple of hours to kill until a tour we had booked. We decided to walk along the lakefront. There is a trail that runs about eighteen miles along the lakefront and is used for walking, biking, and skating. It was fantastic; I think the city did a wonderful job installing the trail. We followed it past a beach area and had some great views of the skyline.
In the afternoon, we met our tour guide for the Crime and Mob Tour. We paid for this tour with credit card points and had greatly anticipated having a good time and learning a lot about Chicago’s history. It wasn’t a bad tour, but I definitely think it could use some improvements. Pretty much everything covered on the tour were details we had already read online. The stops we made were simply to get off the bus, look at something, and get back on. It would have been better if we had walked around a little more.
After the tour, we walked south again, visiting the river walk and then continuing down to Millennium Park and Grant Park. The famous “Bean,” formerly “Cloud Gate,” is located in Millennium Park. As expected, it was crowded. We spent a few minutes taking pictures and then continued south to the Buckingham Fountain. After viewing the fountain, we walked back to the hotel. After walking thirteen miles following a very early morning, we were ready to call it a night. For the first day of our trip, we only spent money on the hotel, food, and the train.
The second day of our trip started with a visit to the Field Museum. Admission is around $25 a person, and we had pre-purchased the tickets. The museum is a lot larger than it looks and is filled with natural history exhibits. We enjoyed our time there and spent more hours than expected. For a late lunch, we bought Chicago dogs from Kim & Carlos, a stand outside the museum. The combo was around $7 and included a hotdog, drink, and chips. There were plenty of benches nearby to sit on and enjoy the beautiful weather.
After leaving the museum, we walked to the Navy Pier and walked its length and back. It was a nice walk, but I really had expected to see more entertainers and food vendors along the pier. I really wasn’t sure what the crowds were there for. Next, we walked to the Lao Sze Chuan for dinner and then on to Skydeck Chicago. We were very happy we pre-purchased our tickets to the skydeck because the wait was over three hours. We spent about half that much time total at the skydeck, most of which was waiting to actually go out on the deck. The problem with the skydeck is that they only had about four decks, and each person to go out on it was averaging about ten minutes. The parents with huge strollers were obnoxious, as well, since they were constantly running over people’s toes and getting in the way. We finally got to the front of the line, spent about twenty seconds on the deck, snapped a few pictures, and walked back to the hotel. Money spent: hotel, food, Field Museum, professional photo at Skydeck. We walked over ten miles throughout the day and were ready for bed when we got back to the hotel.
Our final day in Chicago was spent primarily at the Shedd Aquarium. We had pre-purchased tickets which allowed us to skip the line waiting outside. Tickets cost about $38 a person. They do a quick search of bags (we had our carry-on backpacks) as you enter. We had a small breakfast at the cafe inside and then toured the exhibits. We saw a 4D video and watched an aquatic show. The aquarium had a couple of interesting exhibits regarding rescued animals and animals that are now extinct in the wild. Other than those, I found the price to be a bit steep for what it was (Georgia’s aquarium is far better). We spent a few hours here, then we walked to Kim & Carlo’s for another Chicago dog lunch. We ate in the soft grass (seriously, so soft; Florida’s grass isn’t soft like that), enjoyed the view of the skyline, and then jumped on the train to head back to O’Hare. Money spent: food, Shedd Aquarium, train