Chicago had us hooked. We just had to return after our 5-day visit in August barely scratched the city’s surface.
CityPASS invited us to try their discount booklet and it just so happened to cover all the indoor Chicago attractions we wanted to see in chilly December.
As an added bonus, my sister from Australia met us in Chicago. We had raved about the Windy City so much she decided to fly in and make the trek across the US with us to New York. Plus I’d take any excuse to visit Chicago Skydeck again.
What Is It?
Long before we teamed up with CityPASS we were already big fans, having used the Southern California CityPASS in 2012. So we were excited to see what savings could be found in Chicago.
The discount booklet’s benefits are clearly shown on their website. A CityPASS for Adults (online) costs US$96 (verses US$207.95 separately) and a child costs US$79 (verses US$174.90 separately). This gives you access to 5 attractions, saving 54% ($111.95 per adult and $95.90 per child)!
Of course these savings only add up if you visit all 5 attractions. But I calculated benefits kicked in once we had done 3 or more activities. We wanted to do all of them! With the Shedd Aquarium costing almost US$42 per adult and the Chicago Skydeck at US$49, you have almost made your money back completely making the other 3 attractions practically free.
3 More Things To Do In Chicago With Kids
Chicago has a reputation to hibernate in winter, but there’s still so much family fun to be had by just staying indoors. So without further ado, here are our 3 more things to do in Chicago with kids in winter.
The CityPASS provides a full ticket which includes: priority entry to Waters of the World galleries, Amazon Rising, Wild Reef, Abbott Oceanarium, Polar Play Zone, Special Exhibit and Stingray Touch (May to October), plus your choice of a 4-D Experience.
The Shedd Aquarium is beautifully nestled along Lake Michigan. It was a little hard to reach via public transport and with the 5 of us trying to avoid the cold; we opted for an Uber XL for door-to-door convenience.
This is a very large aquarium with over 32,000 animals so allocate at least 3 hours for meandering and admiring all the marine life. This Chicago landmark opened in 1930 and at one time was the largest aquarium in the world.
Our favourite feature was the Oceanarium, a vast, bright hall with views of the lake outside. We spent a lot of time watching trainers with the Beluga whales, gleefully admiring the jumping dolphins and clapping at the waddling penguins.
I also loved the Wild Reef. It was the first time I’ve seen a natural-style wave motion replicated in a man-made aquarium.
If you asked my kids they would probably tell you watching the SpongeBob 4-D movie was their highlight, complete with beach-inspired scents, floating bubbles and moving seats.
Fun fact: The oldest fish in the aquarium is an Australian lungfish at around 86 years old and arrived in 1933 from Sydney.
Tip: if your winter jackets are too bulky to carry around, look for the lockers near the front entrance which are only $0.50 (for a small one).
Our CityPASS got us in the fast lane and we bypassed the regular ticketing queue. It included access to all the permanent and ticketed exhibitions, plus a 3-D film.
The Field Museum is Chicago’s natural history museum, much like it’s well-known counterparts in London and New York, on the same grand scale. In fact it’s one of the largest museums of its kind in the world, and received firm “awesome” ratings from each family member. If I were to guess a location for a sequel to the movie, A Night At The Museum, this would be it.
The museum’s iconic highlight stands proud in the main hall near the entrance. Sue, the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil in the world, towers at 13 feet high and 42 feet long and believed to be around 67 million years old.
My favourite exhibit was also the Lions of Tsavo in the Mammals of Africa section. While the kids squealed and giggled their way through the Underground Adventure. The exhibit convinced them they had shrunk down smaller than the size of an ant as we explored a unique perspective of life beneath the soil.
Take the time to examine the map and plan out your stay as there is a lot to do – probably more than you could fit into 1 day. With over 2 million visitors each year, I’d recommend visiting on a weekday (and try to avoid school holidays if you can).
3. Adler Planetarium
Our CityPASS included VIP access to our choice of all available shows, all exhibitions and the Atwood Sphere Experience.
We first noticed the beautiful domed roof of the Adler Planetarium on our hop-on-hop-off tour. Prominently positioned at the end of South Lakeshore, surrounded on 3 sides by water, and one of the best views of the Chicago skyline.
Founded in 1930, Adler is America’s first planetarium. It holds 3 full-sized theatres, extensive space science exhibitions, and a significant collection of antique scientific instruments. It also boasts one of the only public urban observatories where you can see planets, stars and galaxies up close.
During our visit we checked out quite a few of the shows, but the “Destination Solar System” inside the Grainger Sky Theatre was our favourite.
Make sure you allocate a lot of time for the planetarium. Spread over multiple levels with hands-on kids sections and almost endless exhibits, there’s plenty for kids of all ages and adults as well.
If the planetarium is not your kettle of fish then you can use your CityPASS to visit the Art Institute of Chicago instead.
What Else Does The CityPASS include?
You can also use the Chicago CityPASS for fast pass admission to the Chicago Skydeck, where we had one of our most amazing experiences in the last 4 years.
If you plan on visiting more than 2 of the above attractions in Chicago then I’d recommend saving money and time with CityPASS. You can buy online here with quick postage to your door. Best of all, if you’re taking a longer break in Chicago, you’ve got up to 9 days to use the CityPASS (from the first redemption) so there’s no rush.
For more savings tips, check out how we put the CityPASS to use in New York City (coming soon…).
Where To Stay...
Our favourite Airbnb was booked so we opted for Embassy Suites, right in the heart of Chicago. Fabulous location, fun happy hour every day and plenty of space for the 5 of us. Highly recommend! Check out our review.
How To Get Around...
Public transport it pretty great in Chicago, but can be pricey for a family. Consider trying Uber or Lyft to save money and to get direct from point to point. You can get a Lyft ride credit here.