I can't believe I'm actually writing this so soon after our trip - I do have a record to uphold. The last big vacation we took was the cruise in 2010, and it took me a whole year to blog about it! My scrapbooking time frame is even slower! So let's get this show started, shall we?
In case you missed it, we just took a trip to Chicago. We planned to take a big vacation this year since we've only been taking small weekends to the beach or mountains since the cruise. We were saving our pennies so we wouldn't have to finance the vacation like our previous big ones, and finally at the end of this summer we were ready to pull the trigger and book it!
Why Chicago? When I worked on this map project, pinning places we have been together and apart, we realized that other than a brief Thanksgiving trip to Dallas, the middle of the country was looking a little bare - there were no pins for either of us between Ohio and Salt Lake City! So we knew this trip would be to somewhere in the middle of the country. We threw around ideas like the Twin Cities; a road trip to see some oddities in the Midwest, like the literal middle of the country; and Nashville, though that one seemed to East Coast and safe.
So we landed on Chicago. Once we were 95% sure that would be our destination, we started asking for recommendations for hotels, attractions, restaurants, and those recommendations pretty much planned our trip for us! I didn't do much independent research on what to do while we were there other than taking ideas from friends and coworkers, which is so unlike me! I analyze the crap out of stuff like that, and rarely go anywhere without an agenda, even if it only exists loosely in my head. So this was a refreshing change.
I trolled the internets for a few weeks trying to get the cheapest plane tickets, but hesitated 1 day too long, which cost us about $200. Still well under budget, but clicking Submit on that transaction hurt my heart a little! :( When it came to a hotel, I looked at a TON of them, after getting recommendations, and had a hard time choosing between them! There are so many hotels in the heart of downtown, surrounding the Magnificent Mile, which is where the best shopping and food is, and eventually I said to Nate, "Please pick a hotel for me, I can't choose," and he found the Allerton Hotel. My only real criteria was less than $250 a night (normally I'd balk at that amount, but that's cheap for summer in Chicago) and close to or on Michigan Avenue. Done!
Both the airline tickets and hotel weren't booked until 2 weeks before we were set to leave. Another first for me! Who am I? Where is Kristen?
From all of the recommendations, I created a Pinterest board, Second City, where I pinned pretty much everything people suggested. I'm trying to think whether there was anything suggested that we just weren't into, and can't think of an example...
To clarify - when I say we didn't have an agenda, we didn't just wander aimlessly around. I couldn't handle that. Like, ever. We, we had a list of must-do's and nice-to-do's from the Pinterest board, but every day we woke up and figured out a few attractions and restaurants that were in the same area of town or on the same bus route. This method kept things casual enough that we didn't feel any pressure to rush through anything - we took breaks when we were tired, we took side trips when we saw something cool, and slept in/stayed up late as we pleased.
The GoChicago Card helped us execute this method! At first I thought it was a scam slash too good to be true, but I couldn't find anything on the internets saying it wasn't legit, so I took the plunge! It's a pre-paid card you can buy, valid for 3, 5, or 7 days, and with the purchase of the card you've already bought tickets to 26 attractions in the city, plus cut-the-line passes to most! I compared the list of attractions included to the ones that had been recommended to us, and it was a close enough match to realize that math worked out in our favor. As long as we made sure to visit x number of the attractions on the list, it was so worth it!
Once we had purchased the GoChicago cards, our only expenses while we were there were food, souvenirs, and bus fares. We decided not to take cabs while were were there in favor of acting like locals, so we picked up 7-day unlimited CTA passes for $23 each at Walgreen's, which more than paid for themselves - $2.25 per fare per person, even though it doesn't matter how long you're on the bus, can add up! The buses were hybrids, drivers always friendly, and there was no yucky exhaust smoke - very clean for a big city!
As far as Chicago's reputation for being dangerous, I didn't see it. Obviously we were in the middle of Tourist Central and in a good neighborhood, but I never felt unsafe or out of place. The locals were friendly, chatting me up at the bus stop about schedules and such like I lived there. Apparently one night there were 37 murders and residents were calling for Rahm Emanuel to step his shit up, but the news the night before had all been about puppies and sunshine.
I'm going to write individual posts for each day, but here's a brief preview (I know you're waiting with bated breath):
- Day 1: Lincoln Park Zoo, John Hancock Observatory
- Day 2:
SearsWillis Tower, Daley Center, Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park, Chicago River Architecture Tour, fireworks from Navy Pier
- Day 3: Shedd Aquarium, Skyline Lake Tour, Navy Pier ferris wheel
- Day 4: Chicago Trolley Tour, Water Tower Place
- Day 5: Museum of Science and Industry
- Day 6: John Hughes pilgrimage