Wannado City

Wannado City is a trend-setting children’s entertainment concept designed to inspire kids to live out their dreams in an entertaining and educational manner. It opened last summer at the gigantic Sawgrass Mills in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Upon entering, kids and their parents/grandparents are transported to a 140,000-square-foot realistically designed city – the size of three football fields. Here, they role-play hundreds of professions including firefighter, archaeologist, actor, TV or news reporter, chef, judge, airplane pilot, doctor and many more. Each “kidizen” is initially presented with their first “real” paycheck (paid in Wongas- the official currency of Wannado City ) at which time they quickly learn the value of saving, investing and spending their money. Many rush to open their own bank account, while others cash-in their first cheque and spend it on entertainment, theater tickets and even rides at the Wannado City Fair. When the Wongas run out, the kids employ themselves within Wannado City to earn more. Many try out their medical skills in the hospital and dentist’s office, while others don flight uniforms and practiced flying skills by way of flight simulators located in an authentic DC-9 jet. Aspiring actors head for the Wannado City Theater, movie and television studios while others select careers in beauty and fashion, paleontology and criminal justice. Unlike any other metropolis in America, Wannado City is a complete city created from the point of view of its kidizens. The entertainment park features multiple venues including pint-sized fire and police stations, a hospital, circus, theater, television studio, fashion house, dance club and newspaper-all designed to inspire kids ages four to 11 to play grown-up and live out their dreams. If your kids are 10 or over, you can actually leave them unaccompanied while you shop. And you’ll have no problem reconnecting with your party thanks to the WannaFinder locator bracelet. Kiosks throughout the park allow you to track your group members in real-time.

Wannado City has already begun working with schools, educational groups and other organizations to develop age-appropriate curriculum that meets state educational standards. Wannado City is open Monday to Friday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and weekends (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Admission is $27.95 for kids, $15.95 for grownups over 14 while children under three are admitted free. Wannado City has been launched by Wannado Entertainment, an entertainment company whose vision is to empower kids through the creation of reality-based, interactive properties that entertain and educate.

For more information on Wannado City go to (http://www.wannadocity.com)

Walt Disney

Prior to my most recent trip, I had been to Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista , Florida four times. But it had been at least 15 years since my previous visit to the world’s number one vacation destination.

Finding a place to stay is the first and perhaps most important decision you must make. The neighboring community of Kissimmee (www.FloridaKiss.com) provides guests with a wide variety of lodging options: national chain hotels and motels, condos, villas, suites, private vacation homes, campgrounds, and time-share units. Nearly 45,000 area-lodging options are priced to satisfy any travel budget, from budget-conscious families to luxury suites. The Radisson Resort Orlando-Celebration ( www.radisson.com/orlando-celebration), for instance, is such a terrific choice for families that you might be tempted to stick around this picturesque venue and skip some time at Disney. The hotel has 718 well appointed guest rooms, double and king bed options, high speed internet access, 20 acres of lavishly landscaped grounds, a giant free-form pool with waterslide and waterfall, a heated pool, two outdoor spas, a children’s pool and playground, a fitness center with sauna, a sand-based volleyball court, two lighted tennis courts, a full service restaurant, on-site Pizza Hut pizza, a 50’s style diner and deli, a snack bar, sports lounge, gift shop, game room, and laundry facilities. Located only 1.5 miles from Disney, the hotel provides free transportation to the Disney theme parks, Sea World and Universal Studios. Kids eat free while those aged 18 and under can stay in their parents room at no cost.

For families traveling together, this place is just perfect. A family consisting of two grandparents, two parents and their kids can be accommodated perfectly. When making reservations, ask for this neat configuration: one king, one “sea” room for the kids and another with two double beds. The kids will go wild in the “sea” room, which feature bunk bed, thematic tables, chairs and games.

The stylish and recently remodeled guest rooms and suites at the hotel are richly appointed with custom crafted Italian furniture and luxurious marble and granite bathrooms. Just recently, notes director of sales and marketing Steve Crist , the hotel introduced an entertainment director who is providing activities for families and children.

Once you are settled in at the hotel, get ready for the time of your life at Disney. My most important piece of advice is to be organized. One day is never sufficient to see a single park, but it’s likely you will be forced to follow such a schedule. So get there early, grab a guide map and take at least five minutes to plot your strategy. Immediately find out where you can get a Fastpass, a superb feature which cuts your waiting time on the most popular attractions in each park. Look for the “FP” symbol and head to the attraction where you will find the Fastpass kiosk. A sign up above will tell you what time you can return, minus the lineup once you insert each admission ticket from your party into the automatic machine and receive Fastpass tickets. You usually have to let an hour pass before you can try for a Fastpass elsewhere.

Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom represents true Disney, so make this your first destination. Seven happy lands transport guests to worlds of fantasy, adventure and wonder at Magic Kingdom . Nestled on the shores of the picturesque Seven Seas Lagoon, from the moment guests step through the Magic Kingdom turnstiles they enter a storybook realm filled with Disney characters at every turn, classic attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, and dazzling entertainment such as “Cinderellabration,” “SpectroMagic,” “Share a Dream Come True” and “Wishes.” Arranged in a circular layout with the golden spires of Cinderella Castle towering over the center, the seven lands of the Magic Kingdom are Main Street, U.S.A., a re-creation of a bustling thoroughfare in early 20th century America, complete with horse-drawn trolley and vintage barbershop. Major attractions include the Walt Disney World Railroad, a vintage steam engine that provides a scenic trip around the park with stops in Frontierland and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Adventureland is an exotic land of jungles and wild animals. Major attractions include Pirates of the Caribbean , a rollicking buccaneer boat ride; Jungle Cruise, a tongue-in-cheek trek down the world’s most famous rivers; and The Enchanted Tiki Room — Under New Management, which puts a humorous spin on Disney’s first attraction to feature the three-dimensional storytelling of Audio-Animatronics. Frontierland brings you tall tales of the Wild West as cowboys and miners roam. Major attractions include Splash Mountain , a zip-a-dee-doo-dah log ride in search of Br’er Rabbit’s “laughing place”; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a roller coaster ride through towering mesas and an unstable mine; and Country Bear Jamboree, a raucous revue of singing bears.

At Liberty Square you can step back to the age of colonial America in this land honoring the country’s early heritage. Major attractions include the Haunted Mansion, a gothic manor containing a host of family-friendly frights from 999 happy haunts; and the Hall of Presidents, a stirring Audio-Animatronics® salute to the United States’ chief executives and the struggles that built America. Fantasyland features fairy tales springing from storybook pages in a whimsical land of castles, princesses and flying elephants. Major attractions include the amazing Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a 3-D “sym-funny” of Disney music and characters presented in cutting-edge computer animation; The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which sends guests on a gentle journey through the Hundred Acre Wood; and Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel, a beautifully preserved merry-go-round of mighty steeds. Mickey’s Toontown Fair features Mickey, Minnie and the gang live in this quaint country neighborhood. Major attractions include The Barnstormer, a kid-friendly roller coaster that zooms through Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm; and Mickey’s Country House, a walk-through tour of the famous mouse’s house where guests have an opportunity to meet Mickey privately. Then there is Tomorrowland, where you will leap forward into the future in this neon-lit land of rocket ships and aliens. Major attractions include Stitch’s Great Escape! a close encounter with the naughty alien of “Lilo & Stitch,” Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, a whirling interactive battle against Evil Emperor Zurg; and Space Mountain, a high-speed roller coaster ride through the cosmos.

There are a lot of new things to explore here. At “Cinderellabration,” Disney’s most beloved princesses gather for Cinderella’s glittering coronation ceremony in this lavish daily stage show adapted from a popular production at Tokyo Disneyland. Stitch’s Great Escape is set before the events of Walt Disney Pictures’ animated comedy “Lilo & Stitch.” This fun new Tomorrowland attraction showcases the pandemonium caused by the mischievous “Experiment 626” — a.k.a. Stitch — at the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center . “Mickey’s PhilharMagic” involves moments and music from classic Disney animated films through widescreen 3-D . In “Wishes” the voice of Jiminy Cricket narrates a story-in-the-sky fireworks spectacular about making wishes come true — the biggest, boldest pyrotechnics display ever presented at Magic Kingdom . And in Share a Dream Come True” Mickey Mouse leads a fanciful daily parade of larger-than-life snow globes, Disney characters and live performers from Frontierland to Main Street, U.S.A., in a celebration of Disney animation.


Epcot was always one of my favorite stops. This is where can you travel to four continents, soar over the richly diverse landscape of the Golden State, take a rocket ride to Mars, explore land and sea adventures, experience future technologies today and journey into your imagination. Recognized as Disney’s celebration of human achievement and discovery, Epcot features Future World and World Showcase. The former is a high-energy, high-tech land where guests interact with exhibits, visit a home of the future, thrill to the pulse-racing liftoff of Mission: SPACE, and experience Soarin,’ an exhilarating aerial adventure that immerses guests in a multi-sensory experience, complete with sights, sounds, scents and the caress of warm breezes. The latter includes a world of multi-cultural enchantment, featuring marketplaces bustling with international flavour and a dazzling display of countries that transports guests through the magical worlds of 11 nations with just a few steps.

There’s something new around every corner at Epcot, including “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth,” a thunderous fireworks spectacular like no other. Family fun continues at “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” “Ellen’s Energy Adventure,” “Turtle Talk With Crush” and Innoventions. Epcot is the site for one-of-a-kind world entertainment and special events, including the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, one of the world’s largest outdoor festivals of its kind; Epcot International Food and Wine Festival; and Epcot Summer Series, featuring world-renowned live entertainment.

From toddlers to teens, “Epcot kids” will discover hands-on activities, high-tech adventure and thrills at every turn. In World Showcase, young guests can create their own Epcot souvenirs at the park’s Kidcot Funstops. Craftsmen teach the budding artisans how to create a one-of-a-kind mask or a musical instrument using their own magical touch. Want to meet your favorite Disney character? At World Showcase, you might spot Mickey and his friends at The American Adventure, Belle and the Beast at France , Snow White in Germany (home to a miniature train and village), or Jasmine and Aladdin in Morocco . You may even see the whole gang coming your way in a double-decker bus ready for a sing-along.

The Disney Princesses — Belle, Jasmine, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Ariel, Alice and Mulan — are special guests at Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway . The World Showcase eatery, inspired by the famous 14th century Castle Akershus in the city of Oslo , Norway , is the perfect setting for a “royal” breakfast, lunch or dinner. Make reservations through 407/WDW-DINE. In Future World, kids can make friends with Crush, an animated sea turtle that chats with them at The Living Seas, or explore their imaginations with Figment at the Imagination! pavilion. Soarin’ gives Epcot guests a bird’s-eye view of California with a breathtaking glide over the majestic natural wonders and varied terrain of the Golden State . Epcot’s newest attraction is an exciting, wind-in-your-hair adventure above towering redwoods, picturesque snow-capped mountains, expansive sun-kissed deserts and the crashing waves of the Pacific coast. Soarin’ is located at The Land presented by Nestlé USA .

Mission : SPACE is considered Disney’s most thrilling attraction ever, now taking cadets into deep space. Located in Future World, Mission : SPACE uses the same technology created by NASA to train their astronauts. The result is a heart-pounding liftoff and spectacular trip through space sure to bring guests back for more. Thanks to Disney’s FASTPASS, featured at Soarin’, Mission : SPACE, Maelstrom, Living with the Land and “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” kids and their parents can reduce wait time and enjoy more time in the park — and there’s no additional charge.

Spaceship Earth is Future World’s landmark adventure. Dramatic scenes in the attraction and its post show depict life in the 21st century’s Global Neighbourhood. With narration by actor Jeremy Irons and an impressive musical score, guests experience a time-travel journey from the beginning of time to the electronic age. Soarin’ takes guests on an exhilarating aerial journey over California , with a bird’s-eye view and an extraordinary sensation of free flight. Using stunning cinematic artistry and Imagineering-developed motion-based technology, the experience is intensified with sweeping winds and the fragrance of orange blossoms and pine trees. Mission : SPACE presented by HP offers guests a one-of-a-kind simulated space adventure — from heart-pounding liftoff to the weightlessness of outer space. Test Track, presented by General Motors, invites guests to buckle up and brace themselves for the longest and fastest ride ever in Vacation Kingdom history. Universe of Energy features “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” with Ellen DeGeneres, Jamie Lee Curtis and Bill Nye the Science Guy. DeGeneres plays a woman who dreams she’s on the popular game show “Jeopardy!” As part of the show, guests venture into a re-creation of the primeval world complete with moving, roaring, life-size dinosaurs. Imagination! presented by Kodak includes Journey Into Imagination with Figment, featuring the playful purple dragon demonstrating the power of imagination; ImageWorks-The Kodak “What If?” Labs; and the 3-D sensation “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.”

The Land, presented by Nestle USA, features Soarin'(our fast pass told us to come back in five hours and we returned to no lineup and an experience I won’t soon forget); the motion picture “Circle of Life,” an environmental fable starring several characters from “The Lion King”; and the Living with the Land boat ride through greenhouses of the future. The Living Seas includes the world’s largest saltwater aquarium, featuring a two-story viewing area of a coral reef filled with colourful marine life, and “Turtle Talk With Crush,” a real-time animated character that talks, plays and jokes with guests. Innoventions, a dazzling showcase where guests can be among the first to experience the technologies of today that will shape their lives tomorrow. Wonders of Life, now operating seasonally, features Body Wars, a flight-simulator thrill ride through the human body, and a variety of shows and activities celebrating human life.

Across World Showcase Lagoon, 11 nations display authentic wares, ethnic cuisine, shows, entertainment and architecture representing their cultures. World Showcase ambassadors come from across the globe to represent their homelands. As part of the show, holidays and festivals are commemorated by the ambassadors in ways they would be celebrated “back home,” allowing Epcot guests to join in these international celebrations. Even the landscaping changes from country to country around the 1.3-mile promenade. Clockwise around the promenade you have Mexico, with an authentic marketplace, lively Mariachi bands and a boat ride through Mexican history; Norway, where guests embark on a voyage through time beginning in a 10th century Viking village; China, with unique live entertainment and a Circle-Vision 360 film, “Reflections of China,” that showcases past and present China and takes guests to seven cities around the country; Germany transports guests with authentic surroundings inspired by towns along the Rhine and in Bavaria; Italy, romance and beauty featured in a reproduction Doge’s Palace of Venice; The American Adventure showcases important moments in U.S. history; Japan, featuring spectacular gardens and outdoor entertainment; Morocco, where 19 Moroccan artisans spent months re-creating the intricate, colorful tile masterpieces of this North African country; France, the setting for fresh bakeries, beautiful shops and gardens, artists and an enchanting film tour through its cities and countryside; United Kingdom, with lovely flower gardens, cobbled streets and corner pub; and Canada, with entertainment by a bagpipe band and a Circle-Vision 360 film through some of Canada’s most picturesque regions.

Animal Kingdom

This was my first time visiting Animal Kingdom. Conquer a forbidden mountain guarded by a mysterious yeti. Travel back in time — way back — to a world of ferocious dinosaurs. Surround yourself with the music and magic of a Broadway-caliber performance in the “Festival of the Lion King” show. Hop aboard a real safari and explore the wilds of Africa . Ride raging rapids through a threatened rainforest, or marvel at tigers, fruit bats and other creatures amid the ruins of an ancient Asian village.

Expedition Everest, featuring screaming coaster-like thrills up, down and through a towering mountain full of amazing effects, is the latest adventure awaiting guests at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Laid out in a classic hub-and-spoke Disney style, this newest and fourth major theme park at Disney first welcomes guests into The Oasis, a lush gateway to adventure populated by deer, anteaters, tree kangaroos and other animals. The park’s fun-filled lands radiate from the centrally located Discovery Island, where The Tree of Life park icon towers 145 feet above guests and houses the hilarious 3-D film and special effects attraction, “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” From there, guests can explore Asia, featuring the new Expedition Everest, a white-knuckle adventure into the unknown world of a mystical yeti; Kali River Rapids, a white-water raft adventure; Maharajah Jungle Trek with tigers, gibbons, Komodo dragons and other creatures; and “Flights of Wonder,” an exotic bird show. Africa is home to Kilimanjaro Safaris, Harambe village, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Wildlife Express steam train. DinoLand U.S.A. , with Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama! “mini-land” featuring Primeval Whirl and TriceraTop Spin, the DINOSAUR thrill ride, The Bone yard excavation play area and Cretaceous Trail. Camp Minnie-Mickey , with the “Festival of the Lion King” stage show, Pocahontas in the “Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends” stage show, and Disney character meet-and-greet pavilions featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and other favorites.

A mountain range is peaking in Asia at Expedition Everest. Explorers encounter surprises aboard a runaway train adventure that combines coaster-like thrills with an encounter of the hairy kind. The story of yeti as protector of the sacred mountain is told throughout the mythical village rich with Himalayan culture and tradition. Kali River Rapids is a white-water rafting expedition in the land of Asia . Guests are launched on 12-person rafts into the turbulent Chakranadi River for a wet journey of twists, turns and fiery adventure. A surprise awaits around every turn, including an abrupt drop into racing, splashing waters.

Asia ‘s other main attraction, Maharajah Jungle Trek, is a breathtaking journey through the lush home of myriad animal and bird species. In this rainforest environment, Nepal , India , Thailand and Indonesia all are represented through architecture, animal carvings and ruins scattered throughout the village. The exotic animals are visible from the top of a parapet, through a stand of bamboo and from a bridge that stands amid the ruins near an old herb garden.

“Flights of Wonder,” a humorous show highlighting the beauty and diversity of birds at Caravan Stage outdoor amphitheatre, is also a part of Asia . The setting for “Flights of Wonder” is a crumbling Asian town where macaws, ibis, pelicans and other birds emerge from their alcoves to soar overhead. Which birds show off on any given day is part of the surprise, but all birds are being taught to show off their natural talent, not “do tricks.” Trainers demonstrate how birds respond to special audio or visual clues, how they hunt and eat. “Flights of Wonder” is one of many shows and demonstrations in Disney’s Animal Kingdom designed to entertain while inspiring guests to a greater awareness of animals and what threatens them around the world. Bugs are another matter. They may not shake the earth, but they know how to shake up an audience in “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” at The Tree of Life Theatre. With advanced 3-D and Audio-Animatronics technology combined with surprising special effects, this insect adventure leaves guests laughing and screaming for more. The magical music of the Disney classic “The Lion King” combines with dance, acrobatics and elaborate staging and costuming to inspire one of the theme park’s most talked-about shows, “Festival of the Lion King” at Camp Minnie-Mickey.

At the heart of DinoLand U.S.A., guests discover DINOSAUR, where they board time-traveling vehicles to zoom back 65 million years on a twisting, lurching journey to save the last dinosaur from extinction before the crash of a fiery asteroid. A busy paleontological “dig,” The Boneyard, provides plenty of fun activity for children as they climb, crawl and slide throughout the well-preserved skeletons of triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex. Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama! captures the essence of a campy roadside fair. Guests can take a spin on Primeval Whirl, a fun-filled family coaster, or TriceraTop Spin, a playful open-air, toy-top attraction. Old-fashioned amusement games round out the fun. From the thrilling era of the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago, Disney guests can travel on to an African savannah of today, where rare and wonderful creatures such as black rhinos, hippos, African elephants and lions roam openly. On Kilimanjaro Safaris, passengers experience a true African safari in vehicles that bounce over rutted roads, ford through pools of hippos and pass herds of zebra, giraffe, gazelle, elephants and other animals. We attempted to Fast Pass this attraction, but chose to wait in line for 50 minutes rather than return in four hours.

At the end of the 20-minute safari, visitors can follow Pangani Forest Exploration Trail into an Eden-like world of streams and splashing waterfalls. Pangani Forest is home to a troop of endangered lowland gorillas. Hippos — viewed from under water — meerkats and tropical birds live along the shady walking trail. For an up-close look at more of the real animals inhabiting Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests can board the Wildlife Express steam train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. An interactive backstage look at how the park’s animals are kept happy and healthy, Rafiki’s Planet Watch features: Animal Cam, with a peek into animal care areas; hands-on displays for the opportunity to participate in conservation and species-survival efforts; and The Affection Section, where guests can meet and pet small domestic animals such as goats and sheep. A wondrous audio experience transports guests into a threatened rainforest.

Animals have played an important part in Disney stories from the earliest Mickey Mouse films to the “True-Life Adventures” television series in the 1950s to “The Lion King” in feature motion pictures.

And a few more tips: reserve some time in your schedule to spend a night at Downtown Disney, featuring blocks of shops full of delights from music to memorabilia. There’s plenty of food and activities. Finally, consider the park hopper option when purchasing your ticket. It allows you to see more than one park on a single day. With Disney’s superb in-house and free transportation system this is a task made much easier.

For more information on Walt Disney go to http://disneyworld.disney.go.com


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.

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. Theaters 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, continue 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

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 unique 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.

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. on 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.

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 skywalk towards the sand and warm water of Lake Michigan. Full concession stands and washroom facilities are available.

Six Flags Great America http://www.sixflags.com/greatAmerica is located in Gurnee, Illinois, halfway 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.

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.

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.

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

Coral Gables

When vacationing in South Florida, it is always nice to explore new destinations. Such was the case for my family recently when we spent some quality time in the city of Coral Gables (www.citybeautiful.net), home to 175 multinationals, 26 consulates and trade offices and more than 30 fine art galleries. Known as the Fine Dining Capital of South Florida, it has the highest concentration of live theater in Miami-Dade County.

Growth in the commercial sector has brought a wealth of new activities to the area, including nighttime entertainment, live music, casual and fine dining, and new retail options. The city is home to many historic landmarks as well as 22 parks, 33 public tennis courts, two public golf courses, and other first-class recreation amenities. Among them: are the largest tropical botanical garden in the continental United States, a spring-fed grotto swimming pool made of native coral rock with underwater caves, tree-lined bike paths and walking trails, and more. Also located in the heart of Coral Gables is the University of Miami, one of only 29 private research universities in the nation, educating nearly 15,000 students a year from every state and more than 100 countries.

Coral Gables is indeed the place to shop. The Village of Merrick Park (www.villageofmerrickpark.com) is where fashion and style come to life, featuring Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom and 115 other world-class retail shops and restaurants. The kids will enjoy this open-air shopping experience. The famed Miracle Mile and its surrounding downtown streets with their European-style outdoor cafes, provide visitors with an enjoyable tropical shopping experience. In terms of the arts, the Actors’ Playhouse (www.actorsplayhouse.org) at the Miracle Theatre offers first-class productions, many suitable for children. In the past, we have seen a Broadway-caliber production of Beauty and the Beast.

Fairchild Tropical Garden is an 83-acre natural preserve on the edge of Coral Gables that offers something for everyone. There are guided walking tours, tram tours, and special seasonal events. Matheson Hammock Park is known worldwide for its beautiful flora and fauna. Coral Gables is an art lover’s paradise. The city is home to dozens of art galleries. Visitors can also ride the new vintage-style, hybrid electric trolleys – a free and convenient way to move around the shopping and entertainment destinations in downtown Coral Gables.

For more information on Coral Gables go to http://www.coralgables.com


My family and I recently ended up spending some time in the Village of Lisle, a 45-minute drive from downtown Chicago, when friends of ours invited us to join them in nearby Naperville. A quick search of the Lisle Park District website (www.lisleparkdistrict.org) brought Sea Lion Aquatic Park to my attention. I must say this ranks as the single best water facility I have ever experienced. The 25-yard six-lane lap pool is the pride and joy of the Sea Lion Swim Team. It features a raised spectator deck that also serves as the adult deck during open swim hours. Sea Lion Park features two fast, steep body flume slides and two drop slides. In order to ride the slides, patrons must be at least 40 inches tall. The Teen Leisure Pool is designed for teens ages 12 and up. This pool is located in the center of the waterpark so that teens have access to all the interactive water features. As for the Baby Pool & Sand Play, these areas feature age-appropriate, interactive water play areas for children ages 5 and under. Stroller parking is conveniently located nearby. Meanwhile, the vortex pool is designed as a mini-lazy river. The gentle current in this feature is therapeutic for muscles and joints and provides resistance during water aerobics. The unique splash aquatic playground has several interactive water games and sprays suitable for all ages. There is a zero-depth pool that leads into the vortex and lap pools and is a great place to relax or play. Finally, leave some time to relax in the outdoor jacuzzi. The facility has an exceptional lifeguard service and an ample supply of comfortable lawn chairs to relax on. For more information, call 630-964-3410 or email info@lisleparkdistrict.org

DINING: Lisle Park District’s River Bend Golf Club at 5900 S. Route 53 is rated one of the top three nine-hole courses in the state of Illinois. This beautifully manicured course features nine holes of bent grass tees, greens and fairways. The links-style layout features scenic wetland areas with water coming into play on eight out of nine holes. The par 36 design plays up to 3,500 yards and has three sets of tees to accommodate all ability levels. After a long golf outing or a day at the pool, you can relax afterward watch sports on the flat-screen TV, and enjoy a beverage and meal at The View Restaurant & Bar in the clubhouse. Our group of seven dined there. Not only did we marvel at the wonderful service, but the menu had something for everybody notably the kids who had plenty of choices ranging in price from $2 to $5.49. The $4.99 tossed house salad is big enough to feed four people. Their burgers, soups, sandwiches, pasta and house specialties such as tilapia and New York strips come highly recommended. For details log on to www.riverbendgolfclub.org or call 630-968-1920.

WHERE TO STAY: Our friends stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Naperville (1820 Abriter Court) and spoke very highly about the accommodations. Always fresh, clean and bright, the newly renovated 83 guest rooms and 22 executive suites include a well-lit work desk, remote-controlled TV with cable and pay-per-view movies, individual climate control, a separate vanity area with hairdryer and free local phone calls. Coffee makers are in all the suites. Expanded complimentary continental breakfast buffet, indoor pool, spa, fitness room, boardroom, same-day dry cleaning as well as an in-house guest laundry room add to your convenient location for business or pleasure. Try this link: http://www.marriott.com/hotels/fact-sheet/travel/chifn-fairfield-inn-and-suites-chicago-naperville.

SHOPPING: The Lisle area offers limitless shopping opportunities that include neighborhood shopping as well as indoor and outdoor malls. There are many shopping options available in Lisle for bakery, hair and nails, flowers, banking, insurance, eye care, printing and copying, dry cleaning, upholstery, jewelry and fitness. College Square is a unique neighborhood shopping center located in Lisle, offering shopping, food, and family and business services. Meanwhile, downtown Naperville offers the best of both worlds: unique family-owned shops like The Artist Works, Anderson’s Bookshop, Deborah Jean, and the City Meat Market, as well as fine anchor stores like Ann Taylor, Eddie Bauer, Barnes & Noble, Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn and The Gap.