Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chicago: The City

The afternoon we arrived in Chicago, we dropped our bags in our room and headed up the street to the Rosemont CTA station to make our way into downtown. In the past, Tracy and I have always flown into Midway, which is on the orange CTA line, and we’ve always stayed in the Loop downtown, so it was a new experience for us to have a 45-minute to an hour ride into the city, but it wasn’t a big deal, and the kiddo loved riding the trains.

Tracy and I felt great being back in Chicago, but it was definitely a new experience to be there with the kiddo in tow. We had to forego lunch at our favorite Chicago restaurant (Bistro 110) for a quick bite elsewhere, then off to the LEGO Store in the Shops at North Bridge. The kiddo loved the store and picked up a Bionicle and some other small items, then we went down one floor so I could go to my favorite chocolate shop... Vosges Haut-Chocolat for chocolate covered bacon. (Yes, it's awesome!) From there we headed south on Michigan Avenue to Millennium Park. The kiddo loved the Bean (“That’s the biggest orb I’ve ever seen!”) and the spitting faces of Crown Fountain.

We decided to get City Passes for this trip (another first for us) and so we took advantage of the new Skydeck Ledge at the Willis (née Sears) Tower. I was a little apprehensive about the Ledge, but once I got out on it, the view was amazing.

The morning of day two began with breakfast at the hotel. The kiddo thought that was most awesome thing ever... breakfast, including donuts and fruit and bacon and eggs and oatmeal and milk, all he could eat and always more being brought out. After he had his fill, we hopped back on the blue line and back into the city to explore the Museum Campus.

Shedd Aquarium was first on the list. What an amazing facility. There was so much to do and see at Shedd, but it never seemed overwhelming. The Planet Earth movie was very short and I didn’t find the effects that great, but it was included in the City Pass admission so I can’t complain too loudly (and the kiddo loved being sprayed with water and hit with bursts of air in the 4-D theater experience).

The beluga whales were incredibly beautiful and graceful, and probably my favorite animal at the aquarium. The kiddo loved the Wild Reef exhibit, primarily because there were sharks. (And, hey, what’s not to love about sharks?!) Tracy loved the sea otters – so playful and humorous.

With about three hours left before closing, we switched gears and headed over to the Field Museum so we could at least meet Sue and explore the museum with the time we had left. The kiddo loved Sue and was spouting off facts about her and dinosaurs in general for the rest of the week. Dinosaurs Alive! was one of the very best 3-D movies I’ve seen (and really put the Shedd 4-D movie to shame). My favorite part of the Field was the Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968 temporary exhibit. Understandably, the kiddo was a bit bored (the magnitude of the images are still outside his grasp), but he was very patient with Tracy and me while we lingered on each and every amazing photograph. It was impossible to not choke up reading some of the stories behind the photographs and witnessing the courage captured in the images.

From the Museum Campus, we took a water taxi across Lake Michigan to Navy Pier, again, something Tracy and I had never done and someplace Tracy and I had never been. It was far too touristy for our tastes, but the kiddo had fun walking around and seeing the sights.

Day three began much like the previous day... with the kiddo consuming a huge breakfast at the hotel. Then we hopped in the car for Schaumburg, which completely confused the kiddo and helped reinforce Tracy’s suggestion that we were headed to Wisconsin for cheese. We had found a deal on admissions online prior to our trip, and thank goodness, because LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago was a bit of a letdown for us. It was definitely skewed towards a younger set than the kiddo and the store was really kind of lame compared to Orlando’s Downtown Disney and the Michigan Avenue LEGO stores we’ve been in.

The Factory Tour is misnamed, the Model Builders Workshop was kind of blah, and the Dragon Ride is geared towards littler kids. Regardless, though, we made the most of it and the kiddo did have fun. The coolest thing about the place was the Miniland Chicago display, which was a huge Chicago cityscape, complete with Batman perched atop the Sears Tower.

Later in the trip, we made a point to visit the Museum of Science and Industry for Harry Potter: The Exhibition. This was an amazing presentation of costumes, set pieces and behind-the-scenes information about the Harry Potter movies. It was an extra admission on top of our City Passes, but worth every penny. It took us around two-and-a-half hours to go through the entire Harry Potter exhibit, and the only disappointment was not being able to shot photographs in the exhibit. The attention to detail represented was remarkable – the stitching on every costume, the authenticity of every set piece, the personality given to every wand!

It was sad to take that last train ride back in from the city after the MOSI visit. (At least for Tracy and me, the kiddo still had no idea what to expect day to day!) Much like going to Disney, it was revelatory to see this city we love so much through the eyes of a seven year-old. I don’t know that we’ll be able to look at Chicago the same way again.

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