November 12 2014

Adler Planetarium Chicago – Travel Guide




adler planetarium chicago

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Just a quick hop, skip, and a jump from the Shedd Aquarium in Downtown Chicago, lies the Adler Planetarium. These two, along with the Field Museum, make this little corner of the Windy City a one-stop-shop for a full days worth of activities. Naturally, being a planetarium, the Adler hosts all things space related… from exhibits to shows you will find all of the wonders of the galaxy inside.

adler planetarium chicago

 

Whether you only have a few hours, or the whole day, the Adler Planetarium has an admission package to fit your needs. With a general admission ticket you have access to all of Adler’s basic exhibits. You can see a full size Mars rover replica or check out a collection of telescopes from the ages. The all-access pass is just that… all access! Check out unlimited shows in any of the three theaters and even see the stars as they were in 1913 inside the Atwood Sphere. However, for our money, we highly recommend purchasing the Chicago CityPass! This gives you all of the benefits of the all-access-pass plus admission to FOUR other Chicago attractions. On top of that you also receive discounts in the gift shop and cafe so it more than pays for itself in no time!

adler planetarium chicago

The planetarium is VERY kid-friendly and has a large space-themed play area for the kiddies to run around and go crazy. Within the exhibits there are also many hands-on activities geared towards children to keep them entertained and engaged. Our favorite was the space rocket launch simulator located at the very top of the play area in it’s very own space capsule.

adler planetarium chicago

On our visit there were 8 shows to choose from playing in the 3 theaters at various times throughout the day. We only had time to see one show so we picked the newest show called Destination Solar System. The show was decently entertaining with a live narrator taking you on a tour through space with the help of a futuristic computer pilot. Had we researched the shows ahead of time we probably would have picked a different one, only because this show was mostly a fictional story and I would have preferred seeing one that was more composed of facts. That is just completely based on personal tastes though.

adler planetarium chicago

Overall we really enjoyed the Adler Planetarium. Since we did not bring our children on this visit we ran out of things to do pretty quickly. Of course we could have stayed and played with all of the hands-on activities ourselves but we were on a tight schedule and had many other places to go in Chicago for the day. With our CityPass, we had to choose between this and the Art Institute. Since we had visited the Art Museum already we chose this one instead for the experience. We will probably flip back and forth between these 2 attractions on each subsequent visit as we plan on making it out to our favorite city at least once a year.

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If you are interested in getting the CityPass for yourself, we only ask that you click on our affiliate link when you decide to make your purchase. You will get the same great deal that we got, and they give us a little tip for helping to spread the word.




Category: Chicago, Illinois, museum | Comments Off on Adler Planetarium Chicago – Travel Guide
October 10 2014

The Shedd Aquarium – Chicago – Travel Guide




shedd chicago

 

shedd chicago

 

Overview: Probably our most favorite place in all of Chicago is the Shedd Aquarium. You can technically get in to the aquarium for about $8 but are limited to the most basic areas and would miss out on everything that makes this place special. The Aquarium is EXTREMELY popular and one of the most visited attractions in Chicago, at least by our observations. The line to get in can stretch all the way to the Field Museum at peak visiting times and even when it’s slow there is still a line. Expect 20 minutes to an hour wait just to get in the door (unless it’s the off season). You can avoid this by purchasing an express pass (HIGHLY expensive) or getting yourself a CityPass The CityPass costs about $100 but includes VIP admission to 5 of Chicago’s best attractions (skip the line access, discounts, and shows included). We prefer the CityPass because it covers everything we want to visit while in Chicago and saves us both time and money.

shedd chicago

The Main Entrance Aquariums: Split into 3 wings off of a giant central aquarium, each section has a theme and showcases different species of fish and their habitats in different tanks. The three themed areas are: the Caribbean Reef, Waters of the World, and Amazon Rising. This is the only area the general admission ticket has access to and you will typically find these areas quite crowded and difficult to view at times due to it’s cheap price. There is one “hands-on” exhibit where you can touch some fish in a large tank display, souvenir photos, and naturally a gift shop.

shedd chicago

The Abbott Oceanarium: With your upgraded ticket (anything above general) you get access to the Abbott Oceanarium. This is where they keep the dolphins, beluga whales, penguins, seals, and otters. You can view the animals from both above and below the water… and even grab a bite to eat while watching the dolphins swim. There’s an aquatic themed play area for the kids here and even a place where you can dress your child as a penguin and take their photo in the mock-penguin exhibit. Often you will see the trainers interacting with the animals here even when there is not a show going on.

shedd chicago

The Aquatic Show: This show is an upcharge for every ticket level except the “total experience pass” (even with CityPass there is a $2 charge). All we can say is that it is totally worth it! The dolphins and beluga whales come out to play with their trainers and show off their stuff a little. It runs about a half hour and actual content varies by the animals willingness to cooperate lol.

shedd chicago

Special Exhibits: There are a few special exhibits such as the “Jellies”, “4D experience” and the “stingray touch” that are included with select ticket levels or with an upcharge. The CityPass, however, gets you into all of them and almost pays for itself on this stop alone.

shedd chicago

The Visit: This was our first stop in Chicago. We jumped ahead of a pretty long line at the door thanks to the CityPass and got in with little time wasted. The top level was considerably less crowded than the last time we had been here so we were able to see more of the tanks with an unobstructed view. There were a few school field trips going on at the time so kids were running around acting crazy all over the place so we saw what we wanted to see then headed to the Oceanarium away from all the little kiddies.

shedd chicago

We saw the Jellies, and watched the dolphins swim for a little. Shopped in the gift shop and ate lunch at one of the 3 places to eat there (you also get 10% off with the CityPass). We decided against seeing a 4D show this visit because we had a lot to do in one day and didn’t want to burn up our time watching a movie. We also completely missed out on the stingray experience as it is outside and we apparently didn’t see the signs for it. Before too long it was time to find a seat for the Aquatic Show…

shedd chicago

The Aquatic Show is by far the best attraction in the whole place. We gladly paid the $2 as it is worth it for sure! The show wasn’t quite as spectacular as our last visit… they explained that there were “sibling tensions” between some of the animals and thus they weren’t being as cooperative. It’s essentially the same show every time and our narrator sounded as if she had went over the script one too many times and was about to lose her mind lol. Either way we left the show happy and satisfied with our visit to Shedd. We quickly made our exit as we had plenty more sights to see out in Chicago-land before the day was up.

If you are planning a visit to Chicago:

Be sure to check out the CityPass by clicking the affiliate banner below to view all that you get with the Chicago Pass! This was our second time using it and wouldn’t visit Chicago without one.

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Or if you prefer, Check out the GoChicago Card from Smart Destinations. We have used them before in Miami which was awesome but not in Chicago -also an affiliate link:


Save up to 55% OFF Top Chicago Attractions!

 

I would be very interested in trying out the Go Chicago card one of these days. They have a lot more options to choose from but there are also some restrictions (not valid after 5pm for one)… it would take a bit of planning in order to get the most out of this card so we’ve been avoiding it for the time being. One things for sure though… we will not be traveling to Chicago without using one of these 2 options.




October 8 2014

Making The Most Of A Day In Chicago – Travel

chicago

Recently we packed up and took a weekend trip to Illinois. We like to think of Chicago as our home away from home so we made sure to set aside a day to visit the city. There is so much to do and see in this great big city it can be overwhelming for a first time visitor. We wanted to show how much is possible to do in just a single day so get your walking shoes on because we are going to cover a LOT of territory!

chicago skyline

Places To Stay: There are no shortage of hotels in Chicago! On a previous trip we stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel which was right in the heart of everything. This was convenient for us because we were spending several days in the city so it eliminated all commute time. However, hotel rooms in the city go for a premium and since the rest of our trip was elsewhere we chose to stay outside of town where the room rates are more reasonable.

Parking: Now that you have a place to stay let’s talk about parking. If you have never been to Chicago before you may not know that parking can be a HUGE challenge in the city. Much like hotel rooms, parking rates can fluctuate quite severely. If you’re not careful you could wind up paying more to park than it costs you to sleep. I would highly recommend reserving you parking ahead of time with an online service. We prefer “Spot Hero” although there are others to choose from. With Spot Hero we chose which attraction we wanted to be closest to and then had it search out the best deal. This trip, for example, cost us $12 for the day at a garage a little under a mile from where we wanted to go. As we ventured around the city we saw signs for as much as $25 per day so it definitely pays off to use this service. *NOTE* Most parking garages do NOT have “in-out” privileges so once you park you can not leave and return without paying again.

Getting Around: While there are plenty of taxis throughout the city that can get expensive… and traffic is HORRIBLE! Get stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time and you will be paying someone yet no going anywhere. We prefer to walk it! Almost everything is within walking distance in the downtown area. Make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes though because you will be putting on some miles for the day. On one trip we entertained the thought of taking a shuttle bus down to the Navy Pier but opted to walk it instead… not only did we get there faster, we did everything we came to do and left before the shuttle even made it.

cloud gate chicago

Sightseeing: There are tons of things to do and see in Chicago: Museums, Restaurants, Shopping, Parks, Sculptures, and of course Views from the tops of very high buildings. If you plan on doing alot we highly recommend purchasing a CityPass.
Chicago CityPASS
With the CityPass we were able to see 5 of the city’s most popular attractions for half the price, not to mention all of the extra benefits and discounts that come with it. Since we were tight on time, the “line jumper” option was the best value of all which allowed us to skip the general public lines and walk right in.

So are you ready to hear about our day? Well here it goes:

chicago museums

 

We arrived in Chicago just before 11am. Parking was easy since we had pre-paid and the GPS took us right to it. Our first stop was also our favorite stop (all will be featured in their own posts) at the Shedd Aquarium. The CityPass allowed us to jump the line and get right in. It also gave us access to the special exhibits that cost extra for everyone else (except the animal show which was an additional $2 per-person). Since we had been here before we only spent about 2 hours walking around. From there we went to the Adler Planetarium which is just a short walk away. This was a first for both of us so we didn’t know what to expect. It was nice but more geared towards children so we walked the place and took in one of our included shows before leaving after an hour and a half. Third we hit the Field Museum which was also in the same general area so there wasn’t much walking at all to be done. The exhibits here had changed alot so it was almost like the first time… we visited the special exhibits included with our CityPass but not the shows… again spending about 2 hours inside.

From there we had quite a hike ahead of us to get to the SkyDeck so we hit “Cloud Gate” aka “The Bean” and stopped for dinner at Giordano’s for some famous Chicago-style pizza. At the SkyDeck we skipped the 45 minute wait and got right up to the top… again the passes are awesome! After taking in the view, we had another hike to get to Chicago 360 at the top of the John Hancock building for some stunning night views. After that, we had a quick stop at Ghiradelli for dessert before making the trek back to the car and calling it a day. *phew*

chigagoNot once did we ever feel rushed, even after all of that. Since we had been here already we were mostly just revisiting our favorite sights. Plus with the money we saved on admission we didn’t necessarily have to use all of our tickets. If we ran out of time we would still wind up on top cost wise. Chicago is an awesome city! If we have it our way we will come back and visit every year (very do-able since it’s only a 5 hour drive for us)

If you’re planning a Chicago visit, seriously consider getting a CityPass. We’ve used them in several cities and liked them so much that we became an affiliate because hey …if you’re going to sing praises for a product, you might as well try to make a buck off of it too! Clicking on our banner below does not affect your price in any way shape or form: you get the same great deal we got, they give us a couple bucks (literally) for sending business their way. If you want to learn more about the attractions visited, stay updated with our blog as we write about each in greater detail.

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Category: Chicago, Illinois, Sight Seeing | Comments Off on Making The Most Of A Day In Chicago – Travel
September 18 2014

Wildberry Pancakes And Cafe – Chicago – Review *BackTrack*

wildberry chicago

This post is part of our “BackTrack” series where we write about places we visited pre-blog. We are currently featuring Chicago in preparation for our upcoming return trip.

Adventurer’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

One thing Chicago is known for is it’s food and where there is food, there are restaurants. According to Tripadvisor, Chicago has 8,296 restaurants within the city limits… Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe is ranked #5. Yes FIVE out of Eight thousand two hundred ninety six restaurants in Chicago! You KNOW that’s gotta count for something.

wildberry chicago

If you couldn’t tell by the name… Wildberry is a breakfast place. Open 6:30 am – 2:30 pm the menu isn’t strictly breakfast, they also have some lunch items as well. Being as popular as they are you should always expect to wait for a table. When we visited there was roughly a half hour wait which grew to be even longer after we got in.

We ordered berry pancakes with a side of bacon and some waffles (apple but it appears they have altered the menu since this visit) and shared them between us. They. Were. Fantastic! Everything was cooked to perfection. The fruit was fresh, the pancakes were fluffy, and the waffles were light and crisp. No syrup was needed on anything however we did add a little to set off the flavor.

wildberry chicagoThe atmosphere was busy but it seemed the staff was well prepared to handle the large crowds. The coffee was good although nothing to write home about but our cups were always kept full and warm. I’ve read reviews where people had complained they felt “rushed” but what they fail to keep in mind is while they sit around chit-chatting after they’ve finished eating there’s still 50 people waiting outside to get in… so yes, if you want to sit around and read the paper go to Denny’s, if you want to eat a great breakfast come to Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe. When we left we were so full that we could barely move! It upsets me that we wont be able to fit this restaurant into our return visit, however, Chicago isn’t too far for us so I guarantee we will be back soon enough!

 

Category: Chicago, Illinois, Restaurants | Comments Off on Wildberry Pancakes And Cafe – Chicago – Review *BackTrack*
September 17 2014

Art Institute Of Chicago – Travel Guide *BackTrack*

 

 

art institute chicago

This post is part of our “BackTrack” series where we write about places we have visited pre-blog. We are focusing on Chicago in preparation for our upcoming return visit. Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

art institute chicago

The Art Institute Of Chicago is arguably THE greatest art museum in the United States. If you are a fan of the arts and have the means, we HIGHLY recommend you see this museum at least once in your lifetime. Located in the heart of the city, this unmistakable landmark building is a work of art all in itself. Inside you will find highly recognizable works from just about all of the great masters.

art institute chicago

General admission is $23 for non-residents or $33 for a “fast pass” admission which enables you to skip the entrance lines and get expedited access to special exhibits. We, however, purchased a CityPass which granted us all of the “fast pass” privileges PLUS entrance to 4 other major Chicago attractions. Another option is the Smart Destinations  GOChicago Card which we did not use but have purchased from this company in other cities. Both discount options have their strengths and weaknesses which you should weigh when visiting a city that offers a choice. If you plan on visiting multiple attractions these are a MUST HAVE! They save you both time and money and you may just visit something you wouldn’t have otherwise …creating a new and unique experience.

art institute chicago

One of the things we did on our trip to Chicago was take the “Ferris Bueller Tour” (created by Chris) which included a stop to the Art Institute in order to recreate such iconic scenes as the “stained glass window kiss”. Don’t remember it? It’s a thing …seriously …Google it! Anyways it was difficult because we did it selfie style and there were crowds of people so it was slightly awkward at the same time lol.

art institute chicago

The museum itself is HUGE! You could spend days in there studying all of the art. It’s separated into several wings that house different genres, styles, or art medium. You could easily get lost or miss an entire section if you’re not careful. While we enjoy looking at art… we are not ones to sit and study them all. We are more of the “ok seen it move on” types so we were able to knock out the entire place in only a few short hours.

art institute chicago

As much as we would like to visit the museum again on our return trip, we are buying the CityPass again and you must choose between this and the Adler Planetarium. Since neither of us have been to the planetarium we decided it would be worth the sacrifice in order to experience somewhere new. And subsequently be able to write about yet another great Chicago attraction. If you plan on visiting The Windy City, I highly recommend you purchase a CityPass… preferably from our site using one of the links provided as it helps offset our travel costs and it is GREATLY appreciated!
Buy Your Chicago CityPASS Here!

Category: Chicago, Illinois, museum, Sight Seeing | Comments Off on Art Institute Of Chicago – Travel Guide *BackTrack*
September 15 2014

The Hard Rock Hotel – Chicago – Review *BackTrack*

hard rock chicago

Today we’re kicking off a new series called “BackTrack” where we write about places we have traveled pre-blog. With our upcoming trip to Chicago, we decided what better way to get in the mood then to remember our trip from last year:

On Michigan Ave. in the heart of Chicago, you will find a giant green building with a golden cap on top. This unique piece of architecture is the “Carbide and Carbon Building” better known as The Hard Rock Hotel. Quite literally walking distance from just about everything in Downtown Chicago, once you park your car there is really no need to get it back out and drive again. In fact, most of the time its actually faster to walk than to try and get anywhere in the crazy Chicago traffic.

hard rock chicago

Adorned with rock memorabilia (naturally) the lobby was quite hip and modern looking. There was rock playing from the overhead speakers and even the employees seemed edgy and cool. There was a small lounge and (of course) a Hard Rock store where you can get all of that merchandise you just love to collect. Their rooms can be a bit pricey, however, on this particular trip it had been comped for us for an event completely unrelated to the hotel or this blog. We arrived a bit too early so our room wasn’t ready when we checked in. Anxious to get out on the town, they gladly held our luggage for us so we could go sight seeing and everything would be set by the time we got back.

hard rock chicago

Our room was nice… simple, modern, with some rock inspired artwork and a somewhat decent view of the city. Upon closer inspection of the room, however, the furniture looks like it has taken a beating and we joked that there were probably some hard core parties held there. The in-room snacks were on some type of pressure sensor device that could tell if they had been tampered with… at $8 for a bottle of water I made sure we didn’t set anything near it as to not accidentally knock something over.

hard rock chicagohard rock chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our view was that of buildings… but essentially that’s Chicago. However, we did get a small view of “the Bean” off in the distance. Overall it was a nice place to stay …if given the choice we will probably stay there again if the rates are competitive at the time.

Category: Chicago, Illinois, Places to Stay | Comments Off on The Hard Rock Hotel – Chicago – Review *BackTrack*