Chicago Family Visit – John Hancock Center and the Navy Pier

Genie Davis December 9, 2010 1 Comment

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In the mid-western United States, Chicago Illinois is the go-to destination for exciting urban activities. The largest city in Illinois, Chicago has plenty of sights to see, the beaches of Lake Michigan, some grand hotels, and a bustling environment combined with a comfortable, family-friendly aesthetic even in its upscale restaurants. Maybe it’s a heartland thing, but our kids were always welcomed with open arms. This lovely city with its bucolic water ways and interesting architecture is a great family destination no matter what part of the globe you’re coming from.

Chicago Illinois City View

Chicago is a great city to explore from the ground or the top of John Hancock Center.

We stayed at the  Palmer House Hilton Hotel. This period gem is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in the country. Kids are free; cribs for wee ones and child-care services are available. The indoor pool is a great place for the kids to unwind after a day of sightseeing, no matter how windy the weather is in what’s aptly known as “the windy city.” An aside: our first windy experience was when my daughter’s hat blew off in a gust as we climbed out of a cab from the airport. The amused hotel bellman caught it in a flash and teased us about the errant cap for the rest of our stay.

Along with the friendly staff, what we liked best about this grande dame hotel was having a second bathroom in our room – yes, that’s right, two bathrooms, one bedroom. Great for families. We also liked having a DVD player in the room.

While we didn’t stay there ourselves, friends have also recommended the Raphael which features spacious suite accommodations in a smaller scale hotel near Michigan Avenue.

John Hancock Tower Chicago

The Hancock Tower is an impressive part of the Chicago skyline.

Once tucked into our hotel, we decided on tackling the tallest sight in Chicago first. The John Hancock Center is a dominant force in Chicago’s skyline, and is the twelfth tallest building in the world topping out at one hundred floors. The observation deck offers an expansive view of the city and is a great orientation to the city itself. Completed in 1969, it has a unique, tapered construction that’s sleek and imposing from the ground. Once inside, wow, those views! My six and seven year old daughters enjoyed the specialized “kids tour” that they could do at their own pace.

Lakeshore Drive and Miracle Mile spread out before you. On a clear day you really do feel as if you could see forever as the sights you’re taking in spread across four states Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois. A night scape view is lovely, but day time affords a beautiful look at Lake Michigan. Our kids really enjoyed the audio enhancement of a specially edited kid’s listening tour. They learned a lot and were able to point out many of the sights to us when we were back on the ground. An audio tour is included in all admission prices. We extended our viewing enjoyment with some cookies and tea at the Lavazza Espression café. The full, light menu also includes a bevy of Italian coffees for adults in need of an upscale caffeine fix.

Beyond the view, the Hancock Center also displays murals depicting Chicago’s history; its construction out of marshland, the Great Fire of 1871, the White Sox scandal, the World’s Fair. And, the high speed elevators that whisk you up and down in seconds were a lot of fun. No long lag time getting from the bottom to the top of the tower.

Ready for some fun on the ground? Then it’s time to check out the Navy Pier. Like Hancock Center, the Navy Pier is a well regarded Chicago attraction on every visitor’s must-see list. This is a lakefront attraction for all ages, with fifty plus acres of lovely gardens and outdoor space, shops, restaurants, and the hundred and fifty foot Ferris wheel we enjoyed watching from Hancock Center’s observation deck before riding it ourselves for seven blissful minutes. Built in 1916 to service ship transport and recreation, the pier was used by the military through World War II, used as a college campus after that, and rebuilt in the early 1990′s to become one of Chicago’s most-seen attractions.

Chicago Navy Pier Ferris Wheel

A view of the Ferris Wheel, a great family attraction on the Navy Pier.

We loved the carousel with its lovely historical paintings of the pier itself. The kids also enjoyed the miniature golf course with a Chicago theme located just under the Ferris Wheel. The Chicago Children’s Museum is also located here on the pier, and it’s a great attraction for small travelers. We found the charming exhibits best for those under age seven. Exhibits allow you to play fire fighter; experience an Alice in Wonderland-like urban garden space called Big Back Yard; and explore the world of dinosaurs.

Better for us was the Funhouse Maze. We loved getting lost in the mirror maze, tripping over our own feet in the Spinning Tunnel, and stomping out the Chicago fire. This self paced, maze experience takes you through interactive games, supplies narration about the history of the city, and lots of laughs while you try to figure out which was is up and out.

After the maze we went for a little art – stained glass art. The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows displays one hundred and fifty stained-glass windows, and is the only museum in the US displaying exclusively stained glass windows. Most of the beautiful art work on display were originally a part of Chicago area buildings, and offer a lovely insight into Chicago’s cultural and ethnic history. The kids will love the way the light passes through the beautiful glass divided thematically into Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary areas. Gorgeous Tiffany glass works are well represented.

Also at the pier: outdoor performance stages where nationally known acts perform free from May to October; lake front boat tours, and many restaurants and shops.

With these two top tourist draws – Hancock Center and the Navy Pier – fully experienced, we moved on to other parts of the windy city. I’ll take you along with us in another blog; but if you’re taking a short trip with plenty of family fun in mind, these two attractions alone will yield plenty of pleasure for your children and you.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

Tags: , Reviews, Travel Excursions
One Comments to “Chicago Family Visit – John Hancock Center and the Navy Pier”
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