Chicago - the final day & our tips
After our morning spent downtown and at the Sears Tower, we headed out to Navy Pier and for a final boat trip. Navy Pier is always crowded it seems and it's not somewhere we'd choose to spend alot of time, but there's alot to see and do. So here are a few travellers tips for Chi-town. You absolutely do not need a car if you are anywhere near the downtown area. Parking is extortionate, there's alot of traffic and Chicago is not a big city to walk or CTA around. CTA = Chicago Transportation Authority and they run buses and trains everywhere in all directions. Buy a CTA Pass online or on arrival, we got a 7-day one and saved a fortune on cab fares or parking. The buses are clean, excellently routed, easy to navigate and constant, covering the whole city. Whilst on Navy Pier we visited the free Stained Glass museum, and saw some gorgeous examples, including Tiffany of which we are both big fans. Our next tip would be to buy a 'Go Chicago' card for all the attractions. We got a 5-day one that cost us $260 but saved us about $200 in entry fees, but you can get them for any number of days. It includes all the major attractions, 6 different boat tours, many bus tours, store discounts and an excellent 'skip the line' feature for the top 5 attractions. This last feature especially was great at the Sears, Hancock and Aquarium, where the lines were long and it was hot. There is a very nice botanical greenhouse on Navy Pier, that we found to be a real oasis of quiet from the crowds and noise. Then we headed off on our final boat trip, the Skyline tour, a perfect way to end our holiday and catch the breeze on a hot day. Here's the 'Tall Ship Windy' pirate tour which we had included, but never made it to this time, but a very picturesque sight. Plan where you want to go ahead of time, but be prepared to be flexible dependant on weather and weariness. There's just so much to see, that you really need to have a hit list and then go with the flow of what's best each day dependant on the above. Things we would recommend you do: take the Architectural River Cruise first as it really helps you get your bearings; Millenium Park is a must see; get out on Lake Michigan in a boat for stunning views; get to the Shedd Aquarium; go up the Hancock Tower day and night which we much preferred to the Sears. Walk as much as you can everywhere, it's the best way to see the city and soak up the atmosphere. Chicago is exceptionally clean around all the sights, you feel safe and the locals are friendly and proud of their city. We got chatting to many of them on the bus (another reason to use it) and they were always keen to give us tips or advice. The options for eating out are numerous, but we also found it very helpful having a hotel room with a fridge and microwave, as sometimes you're just too tired to eat out. But you can find any type of food you fancy in this town and it's all pretty good. We ended our Navy Pier tour with a round of minature golf under the Ferris wheel, and some great views across the lake. One of the things 'the city' does in Chicago, is keep it spotlessly clean and have planted areas in many places. On the Magnifient Mile there are minature gardens laid into the sidewalk! We ate at one of the cities most popular restaurants on our final night, the Grand Lux Cafe, which happened to be right opposite our hotel. Our concierge gave us his card and not only did we jump the line, but it also got a table overlooking the Magnificent Mile in their rotunda. It's a wonderful restaurant, with great food and some lovely decor and features. But it was still reasonably priced for an entree and a dessert, which were delicious, we paid $70 including tips. Now you know where I got the idea for Red Velvet Cake on his birthday, this man never eats dessert, but he just couldn't resist! We were staying in a very 'nice' neighbourhood, Cartier on the one corner and Burberry on the opposite one. Needless to say, we shopped elsewhere! And finally choose a well positioned hotel, this was ours, just one block off the centre of the Magnificent Mile. It was surrounded by the really high dollar hotels, but shared their excellent location, if not their nightly rate. We booked it as a flight/hotel package through Expedia.com and it cost us $150 a night, as opposed to the advertised room rate of $470 a night! The service we received whilst staying there was first class and very friendly, they just couldn't do enough to help. It was spotlessly clean, our room was large, had a microwave and fridge, complimentary bottled water daily, a very comfortable bed and a nice pool area. We would highly recommend this hotel and will stay again if we return. So that was it, our wonderful holiday to Chicago lived up to all our expectations and exceeded them daily. It is a fabulous city to visit, there's so much to see and do, and we never even made it to a show or jazz club as we were too tired at night. We both loved it's combination of a big bustling city full of culture, with it's beachside location and Lake Michigan really feels like the sea. We definitely hope to get back there sometime to see the Cubbies and return to some, or catch a few more sights.