Chicago

Chicago is a bustling, energetic city that never stops no matter the season. It’s a destination with world-class cultural attractions, diverse neighborhoods and architectural wonders. Chicago is known for critically acclaimed restaurants, world-famous museums, first-class shopping, adventurous nightlife, action-packed sporting events and a thriving theater scene. It is a fabulous spot to enjoy a family vacation.

PERFORMING ARTS:
Chicago’s theatre industry pushes the envelope with cutting-edge performances in historic and state-of-the-art stages. The Chicago Theatre Goodman, LaSalle Bank, Cadillac Palace, Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and the Ford Center have made visiting downtown a must for theatre lovers. Distinctive theaters can also be found throughout Chicago neighborhoods. Theater’s like the Steppenwolf and The Second City, all weave themselves into Chicago neighborhoods solidifying Chicago’s reputation as a world-class theater destination. Until I visited Chicago for the first time, I always thought one had to travel to New York City to see true Broadway productions. Was I wrong! There’s no place like the Windy City”… Wicked, the Broadway musical phenomenon telling the untold story of the Witches of Oz, continues casting a spell on Chicago in an unprecedented open-ended run at the Ford Center (24 W. Randolph St., Chicago). The dedicated Chicago company opened in June 2005 and remains the most ‘Popular’ show in all of Oz; Even more remarkable, though, is the show’s status as a landmark destination for visitors and tourists – nearly 50 percent of Wicked’s audience in Chicago travels from outside the metropolitan area to see the hit musical. Planning a complete Windy City Wicked getaway is easier than a click of the heels with these tips and resources. Tickets range in price from $25 to $90 and should be purchased several weeks in advance. The Broadway In Chicago ticket line is (312) 902-1400 or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Current and up-to-date ticket information is available at www.wickedthemusical.com/chicago/tickets

DINING OUT:
How lucky could I get than to find Chicago’s most popular restaurant right next door to my hotel. When I booked our room at the Homewood Suites I had no idea that Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab was seconds away at 60 East Grand. The franchise was originally established by businessman Joe Weiss in Miami Beach over 90 years ago. In 2000, Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab™ opened its doors in Chicago. This Chicago Joe’s builds upon the grand tradition that began in Miami Beach, and adds a uniquely urban twist to the experience. The stone crab claws with mustard sauce are a signature dish of course, and Joe’s bone-in signature filet mignon is exceptional. Joe’s also features an extensive selection of seafood, flown in fresh daily. The stone crab bisque is not to be missed. Ditto for the parmesan crusted Alaskan halibut. Add one of Joe’s famous side dishes, like hashed brown potatoes or roasted sweet corn and finish with a slice of the justifiably famous key lime pie, cherry pie with jubilee sauce or Boston cream pie. Mix it with an elegant and sophisticated atmosphere, a bustling bar scene and impeccably dressed, tuxedo-clad waiter staff such as our phenomenal server Oz, and you’ve got the makings of a new legend. A children’s menu by the way, has a number of choices, all for $6.95. Go to www.icon.com/joes to learn more about this “must” dining experience.

MUSEUMS:
Chicago is world-renowned for its diverse collection of museums, which explore a variety of subjects including Chicago history, art, African-American culture, astronomy, natural history and much more. Those visiting Chicago should plan on spending time at Chicago’s Museum Campus. The scenic park conveniently joins the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, the Shedd Aquarium/Oceanarium, and the Field Museum of Natural History with easy access to all three locations. The John G. Shedd Aquarium (www.sheddaquarium.org), a non-profit institution dedicated to public education and conservation, is known as “The World’s Aquarium.” Beautifully situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, the facility houses nearly 22,000 aquatic animals representing some 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world. The galleries in the original aquarium contain a wide variety of freshwater and saltwater exhibits while the 90,000-gallon Caribbean Reef is home to more than 250 tropical Caribbean reef animals including sharks, eel, a sea turtle and a host of colorful fish. Meanwhile, the marine mammal pavilion features beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Alaska sea otters and harbor seals in a dramatic re-creation of a Pacific Northwest coastal environment. Wild Reef is the Shedd Aquarium’s newest exhibit. Guests have the opportunity to explore a Philippine coral reef – the most diverse underwater ecosystem in the world. They are able to come face-to-face with more than 25 sharks and enjoy the beauty of corals in the largest public display of live corals in the Midwest. Adults and children alike get a glimpse of island life through this multi-sensory, interactive exhibit. The exhibit’s 26 interconnected habitats – totaling more than 750,000 gallons of water – are housed in a new $45 million underground wing. The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends, selected holidays and weekdays.

Other Chicago museums include the Chicago History Museum (the city’s oldest cultural institution), McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum (Chicago’s newest museum), the Museum of Science and Industry, the DuSable Museum of African-American History, the Art Institute of Chicago (one of the world’s leading art museums), the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

ATTRACTIONS:
In addition to world-renowned museums, Chicago is home to a variety of spectacular attractions. The Chicago Cultural Center is described as a “neo-classical masterpiece” that features two art-glass domes and glittering mosaic walls. The many galleries in the Cultural Center exhibit contemporary art from around town and works from around the world. Navy Pier is the city’s lakefront playground and the state’s most popular attraction, offering visitors a unique blend of family-oriented attractions. This famed attraction boasts the 150-foot high Ferris wheel, a musical carousel, the Chicago Children’s Museum, Wave Swinger ride in Pier Park, a 3-D Time Escape ride, a variety of restaurants and the famed Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Chicago’s newest global icon is Millennium Park which opened in 2004. The 24.5 acre park has instantly become a world-class attraction and a Chicago landmark. It contains an outdoor performing arts pavilion, indoor year-round theatre, restaurant, ice-skating rink, contemporary garden, public art, fountains, promenade area for special events, landscaped walkways and green spaces. Other Chicago attractions not to miss include Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park, the Hancock Observatory and the Sears Tower Skydeck.

Chicago also has some amazing beaches right in the city. I would strongly recommend North Beach right on Lakeshore Boulevard. Park across the street at the Lincoln Zoo. You can then take an elevated sky-walk towards the sand and warm water of Lake Michigan. Full concession stands and washroom facilities are available.

AMUSEMENT PARK:
Six Flags Great America http://www.sixflags.com/greatAmerica is located in Gurnee, Illinois, half way between Chicago and Milwaukee. The 31 year old park, which is open May through October, boasts eight themed sections, a 13-acre water park called Hurricane Harbor, three specially themed children’s areas, and various other forms of entertainment. There are 13 roller-coasters, including everything from traditional woodies to a bone-rattling hyper-coaster. Altogether there are over 75 rides and attractions. If you purchase a special flash pass, you will have the benefit of not waiting very long in line for some of the more popular rides.

This year the park introduced the action-packed original stunt show, “Operation SpyGirl,” from the creator of the popular TV show, “24.” It takes place in the 3,500-seat Southwest Amphitheatre. Visitors get to witness “Operation SpyGirl’s” heroine save the world in 24 minutes at the conclusion of a dramatic storyline featuring a series of twists, turns, and action sequences. Spy Girl battles against both a ticking clock and the evil arch- villain Max Condor in her attempt to save the world. And a new Wiggle’s World area has very young children wiggling along to rides and shows based on the popular TV program. Younger kids will also enjoy Looney Tunes National Park with rides, shows, and a huge interactive play center designed for them.

In the 1,450-seat Grand Music Hall you can see “Show Stopping,” an all-new show celebrating popular music genres like country, rock, pop, and R&B. Featuring four lead vocalists and 10 backup vocalists and dancers, this 40 minute music spectacular will rock your socks off with the latest American music hits and never-before-heard musical compilations.

The Bugs Bunny talk show includes all of the rabbit’s Looney Tunes pals n the 1,300-seat Theatre Royale, located in the Mardi Gras section of the park. The young and young at heart will be blown away at the Pictorium. Special 3D glasses and a 96 by 72-foot movie screen, the largest of its kind in the world, help bring Marvin the Martian in the 3rd Dimension to life! Featuring favorite Looney Tunes characters Marvin the Martian and Daffy Duck, this show runs several times daily. Be sure to stick around after the show to meet Marvin the Martian. Guests get a little education with their entertainment at the all new “Serpent Safari Animal Show.” This show takes place in the Southwest Territory section of the park at the Serpent Safari Stage where you can meet one-of-a-kind reptiles and other animals in an interactive environment. When you pass through the Mardi Gras section of the park, be sure and check out Manny B and the Rhythm Nights. For six years running, this live band has been rocking on an outdoor stage for guests who stop by to sing and dance along with the music.

One performance no guest will want to miss is the daily “Celebrate the Joy Parade.” This all new, main street-style parade, winds through the County Fair section of the park. Featuring over 20 performers and several dance stops, some lucky park guests will also have the chance to participate as honourary grand marshals. No day at Six Flags Great America would be complete without taking in the award-winning Bugs Bunny’s Starlight Spectacular parade featuring an amazing pyrotechnics show. The show kicks off in Hometown Square with “Jumpin’ Jammin Jubilee,” a fifteen-minute pre-show with live performers who lead the floats along the parade route. Guests can view several live performances along the parade route, which ends in the Mardi Gras section of the park.

The theme park operates daily until September 3 and then reverts to weekends until October 28 with the conclusion of Halloween Fright Fest.

SHOPPING:
A visit to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without a shopping spree. Shopping in Chicago began on State Street (that great street!) with the opening of the original Marshall Field’s Department store in 1852. Today, the former Field’s flagship store is known as Macy’s on State Street and shoppers will find an outstanding selection of men’s and women’s apparel, an extensive housewares department, several fine restaurants, a food court and a visitor center. State Street is also home to another famous Chicago department store, Carson Pirie Scott, where customers are drawn into the entrance of the store by the ornate ironwork designed by Chicago architect Louis Sullivan in 1899. A shopping spree must include a visit to the famed “Magnificent Mile,” which runs along Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to the Chicago River. Amidst department store giants such as Marshall Field’s, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, are hundreds of specialty shops and boutiques offering goods from around the world. Oak Street, just west of Michigan Avenue, is a boutique shopper’s dream. An abundance of shopping can also be found at Westfield North Bridge, Water Tower Place, the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops, Chicago Place Shopping Center, Navy Pier and “The Shops at the Mart” located at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

ARCHITECTURE:
Visitors from around the world come to Chicago, the birthplace of the modern building, to admire its architectural marvels. From historic landmark buildings to contemporary technological masterpieces, Chicago is built of the unique and innovative designs that have shaped American architecture. The city is a living museum of architecture thanks to the work of such greats as Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Helmut Jahn and hundreds of others. Chicago is home to the world’s first skyscraper designed by William Le Baron Jenney in 1885. Although the Home Insurance Building no longer stands, today Chicago is also home to three of the world’s 10 tallest buildings including the Sears Tower, which opened in 1974. Other city landmark buildings include the Chicago Cultural Center – completed in 1897 in the Beaux Arts style, Adler and Sullivan’s 1889 Auditorium Building, and the Art Deco era Chicago Board of Trade Building, designed by Holabird and Root in 1929.

WHERE TO STAY:
When you are going to Chicago for an extended stay of 10 nights like we did you want to stay somewhere comfortable, affordable and conveniently located. Enter the Homewood Suites www.homewoodsuiteschicago.com, right in the heart of downtown at 40 East Grand Avenue. Staying at the Homewood Suites Downtown Chicago will be the easiest decision you’ll ever make. The guest suite accommodations are just seconds away from the Chicago Loop area and other business districts.

Guests of this Homewood Suites hotel can overlook Chicago’s well known architecture while enjoying the daily complimentary Suite Start hot breakfast or the Welcome Home reception featuring a complimentary light meal and beverages Monday through Thursday evenings. The breakfast is really something special. What is most appreciated by guests is the fact the hotel encourages you to take food back to your room by providing styrofoam containers.

The spacious two room suites at the Homewood Suites by Hilton are designed with comfortable accommodations for both business and leisure travelers staying for a few days or a few weeks. Guests are well taken care of with the fully equipped kitchens complete with refrigerators, microwave ovens, stove top burners and cooking utensils. A dishwasher is also provided; however, the Suite-keepers insist on doing the dishes. A large Jewel and Osco grocery store is a mere block and a half away, making it easy to stock the fridge regularly.

All guest rooms come with high-speed Internet access and a two-line phone with voicemail.Guests can pamper themselves in the indoor pool, located in the 19th floor with panoramic views of the beautiful Windy City or workout in the cardiovascular fitness center.

Recent renovations included new carpet installation and hardwood floors in all guest rooms, the addition of 32 inch flat screen Hi-Def LCD TVs in the living quarters in addition to classic art displays featuring historical sights and attractions of the Windy City. The final phase focused on the “Home Improvement” of their suite accommodations to include new furniture in both the living and sleeping areas. The “Distinctly Homewood” bedding package includes Serta Sweet Dream mattresses, upgraded linens with duvet cover, down comforter and an assortment of pillows to add to your comforts of home.

If you are coming with your car, the hotel offers valet parking with unlimited in and out privileges. Ask for valet manager Rod, one of the friendliest guys you will ever meet who makes a habit of remembering every client’s name. You need not to worry about your valuables as they offer a safety deposit box for your safekeeping. You will love the room service that the hotel offers while the laundry/valet service and coin laundry services keeps your clothes clean.

For more information call 312-644-2222.

For more information on Chicago go to http://www.choosechicago.com