Monday, February 20, 2012

Chicago? Yes or No

I have the opportunity to visit Chicago next weekend for 4 days / 3 nights (Feb 29-Mar 3). Eric is going to a conference and I'm trying to decide if I and the kids should come along with him. We went a few years ago when I was pregnant with Dio. This time, though, I'll have 3 little kids in tow. This time of year, the weather can be very spotty and so I can't plan on doing outside activities such as going to the zoo. Eric will be pretty busy with his conference, so most of the day and some evenings I'll be on my own with the kids.

Reasons why I want to go:
  • Be together as a family and do some fun things together when Eric has time
  • Hotel has a pool! Of course, I don't think I can bring all 3 kids by myself, since 2 of the 3 can't swim... so I'd have to go when Eric is available to help. Maybe I could do it with Inga in a sling, but I think she'd be throwing herself out trying to get in the water.
  • Lots of fun (but $$$$) things to do, such as the Aquarium, the natural history museum, Navy Pier, art museums, etc. I'll probably only go to one of these because of the cost.
  • It's a fairly easy train ride to get there, and the kids would love riding the train

Reasons why I'm hesitant to go
  • I'll be mostly on my own with 3 kids. Dio can function without a nap, but Inga cannot. This might throw a wrench in what we can reasonably do during the day. And if Inga is napping, where do the rest of us go? Sit in the hallway outside our hotel room for 2 hours? 
  • No kitchen, no microwave, just a mini fridge. So I'll have to prepare all our meals in advance and bring them with me. I'm too cheap to eat out for that long and with that many people. We might eat out once total. 
  • What do I do at night after I get the kids to bed? Again, I can't even watch TV in the room or go on the computer, because Inga is a light sleeper. So basically I'd have to go to bed at 7:30 pm.
  • Overall hassle factor hauling around kids, food, diapers, etc

Anyway, I can also go up for just part of the time. But I just don't know if it's worth it this time of the year when it might be really icky outside and we only have one hotel room for the 5 of us. So tell me, Chicago-ites, should I go? What could I do in downtown Chicago (or anywhere else accessible by public transportation) with 3 little kids in tow? Are there any cool birth/breastfeeding events going on in Chicago Feb 29th - Mar 3rd?


  1. I don't know anything about Chicago, but I also have a light sleeper who could not function without a nap. When we were traveling quite a bit, a few of the hotels we stayed in had closets that would fit a pack-n-play. One fit wonderfully and the others required a little jerry-rigging. If the crib didn't fit in the closet, we laid out blankets on the floor of the closet, removed everything else, and let her sleep in there. Of course the first time we did that she wasn't walking yet, and the second time she was old enough (almost 2) to understand that this was her bed for the night, but it worked for us. Just an idea. Good luck!

  2. I'll probably jinx it but weather has been really mild and decent so far here in Chicago with temps mostly in its 40's (very unusual actually).

    If that remains you could go to Lincoln park zoo (free entry), they do have a few indoor exhibits to warm up (the monkey house is rather new and nice).
    Shedd aquarium is fun (and if the weather is decent meaning no rain/snow), I'd even be willing to meet you there at 9.00am and get you and the kids in (I have a family membership).

    What Zari & Dio would surely enjoy is the Children's Museum at Navy Pier. I take my 1yr old and my 3yr old there on a regular basis and it is fun for older kids as well.

    There is an indoor play center called Fantasy Kingdom (, about a 7 minute walk from the train. Not too fancy or big or amazing but the kids will have a good time there.

    Chicago Public Park district has some open play for some indoor play areas at their parks which are free, however I do not know much about most of those (just the one close to me which is nice but very small). Maybe you can google some info on the parks.

    One place our family LOVES is the Swedish American Museum. It is a little walk from the train station but doable (drawback is that the train station does NOT have an elevator though!!!), we walk it every time but there also is a bus from the train station going there. They have a children's floor called Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration and it is so much fun for them! Rates are very affordable ($4 for adults, $3 children 2& up). It is not very well known but worth a trip.

    Others things you could consider is Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Museum of Science of Industry which are also fun for kids to discover.

    Assume you have booked the hotel. What might be worth considering is vacation rental apartments. They are most often not more expensive than hotel rooms and you have one or two separate bedrooms (thus can stay up) and kitchen which saves you some money if you cook yourself.

    If I come up with something else, I'll let you know. Have no ideas about any seminars as I am not in the industry.

  3. CL, I'd love to take you up on your offer for the aquarium. (Crossing my fingers that it's nice out!) Anyway why don't you send me an email and we can get in touch when/if I end up going.

  4. As much as I would also like to just throw caution to the wind in the name of adventure.... I wouldn't go. That's just a lot to handle mostly by yourself and you can always go again when the kids are older, naps and sleeptime aren't as much of an issue, and they will all enjoy more and remember more.

  5. Will Inga nap in a stroller? That could let you guys have a bit more flexibility. Do you have someone you trust that you could bring along to wrangle kids or someone in the Chicago area who could watch Inga during naptime? Sometimes hotels have babysitters on call that are vetted. It's not cheap but it might be cheaper than planning a whole separate vacation another time?

  6. The Notebart museum is also on the same campus as Lincoln Park. At least in the summer it's an easy walk between the two.

  7. My kids love the children's museum (Charlie climbed the big ship's nest probably 20 times, which was great for getting out energy), I'd also second the Lincoln Park Zoo. The Art Institute also has a children's room with art puzzles, books and art video games and it's free. We've also enjoyed quiet and warm time at the beautiful Harold Washington branch of the public library. Will intact nap in the stroller? We take our stroller and a carrier so we can put tired kids (sometimes two at a time) in there and when they're out of it I put baby in there for occasional naps (admittedly he was at a very different stage). We went and got groceries at trader Joe's midway. Jared ended up skipping a lot of his conference which I was glad about. Don't t know if that's an option for Eric. Hope you have fun if you decide to go.

  8. If you are interested in MOSI, I saw and purchased these hugely discounted tix on ebay. You can pick them up from the seller in Chicago or they will send them.

    Good luck! We live just outside Chicago and go all the time. We rarely stay overnight with the kids, though.

  9. Do you have any museum memberships that get you reciprocal entry to Chicago museums for free? Or does your local library have museum memberships to check out?

    What about springing for a suite over a regular room so the kids can sleep undesired while you're awake?

    Do you have access to a hot pad? Bring it with and use that to cook. We lived in a hotl for two weeks last summer and cooked on a hot plate only eating out twice.

    Ask the front desk to remove all minibar items so kids don't accidentally open them.

    For the pool, get a life vest that buckles around the crotch for Dio. He'll float and be able to swim on his own while you handle inga. My two non swimmers did this twice a day at our hotel pool. Get a floaty sitting raft for inga so she doesn't have to stay on you and she can explore within your reach.

  10. We did this when my husband had conferences in Boston - I only have two kids though, and they were a little older (3 & 6; 4 & 7).

    I got a CityPass so we could go to a lot of museums much less inexpensively - I never felt like we had to go for the whooOOooOle day either, b/c it was so much cheaper. I don't think that probably fits your needs this time, but might be something to consider another time.

    I second the suggestion to bring life jacket(s) - that's what we did the first year when neither child swam well. Maybe you can borrow from someone if you don't have one. It made it a lot more fun for all of us.

    Would it be possible to bring a crockpot? You could have crockpot oatmeal in the morning; stew or whatever for supper. We only went out to eat for dinner - I baked bread and brought bagels & cream cheese & fruit for breakfast; sandwiches & veggies for lunch; and then most of the dinners were around ~$15 as my husband wasn't eating with us and we ate as cheaply as possible & had easy snacks at night if we were still hungry. If I were doing it again, I would check out the grocery stores better - they might have some hot take-out food that's cheaper than a restaurant but easier than making yourself.

  11. I used to live in Chicago, just moved to AZ this past fall. All my friends have said the weather has been pretty cooperative this winter. There is this website: that offers anything and everything for free in Chicago, there might be some things in there. With 3 children by yourself, that is a bit of a challenge getting around the city. The 'L' (public transportation) is great with kids, as children under the age of 5 are free. There is a great coffee place off the Addison Brown line stop that has an indoor you can buy something to eat or drink and your children can play...I do not remember the name, I can find it for you. Also, just down the street is an outdoor play area, that is right next to the trains, so your kids can play and watch trains go by. That area is great for little ones. There is also a library, which might be having reading events. I also belonged to a great non-denominational spiritual community that has a wonderful childrens program on Sundays for the little ones while the parents go to service. Its called Bodhi Spiritual Center (

    There is also a year round farmers Market that is at the south end of lincoln park, you can get there by bus from downtown.

    There is also a museum pass
    that you can visit 5 different attractions for a low old are you children? you would have to buy another one for children ages 3-11, but if they are younger, I believe they are free. That would give you all things to do and variety, while your hubby is at his conference.

    In regards to food, fresh fruit and veggies. Can you make quinoa ahead of time? I just made a great dinner a couple nights ago, that were quinoa burgers, they are SO easy and they travel/hold up really well. They could be snacks, lunch or dinner for your fam. Are you staying Downtown? The Hatfield Library is also downtown, and that is one of the largest libraries in the states...they have an awesome childrens area on the 2nd or 3rd fl. Its off of State/Van Buren I believe, which is at the south end of the loop. Let me know if you have any other questions. I used to take care of kids while I lived in Chicago, so I can keep thinking of other things.

    my email is, feel free to email me with any other questions!

  12. I think the Shedd Aquarium gives discounted entry rates if you have a student or teacher id badge. We went when my son was 5 months, and he loved looking at the turtles and other fish! We (the adults) loved the dolphins and beluga whales. Another option is to just buy a metro pass and ride through the city to see the different buildings. Cheaper than taking a taxi and easier than walking everywhere with young children!

  13. Oh, there is also 2 Trader Joes stores in the downtown areas. They offer great food and snacks for a very low price if you have not heard of them. Taking a crock-pot might not be a bad idea, you can get the meal together beforehand, and make it the night before or during the day while you are out and about.

  14. As much as I love Chicago, I'd probably vote no all things considered; but if you go, you may be able to go "on the cheap".

    You may be able to get a family membership at a local museum, that is reciprocal at the Shedd Aquarium and/or Field Museum, or other attractions. I'm living in NM right now, and one of my friends just did this. Their family has an annual membership at a local attraction that was reciprocal for a couple of different Chicago places. The money she saved there (just for the 3 of them) by being able to get in free or half-price more than covered what she had paid here. Obviously, you'll have to see what is available in your area that has a reciprocal agreement (and there may be nothing), but if there is, that's at least a possibility.

  15. I was a child in Chicago! I don't remember how much everything cost, of course, but I will never forget all the incredibly wonderful things we did when I was little! The aquarium there is the best I've ever seen, the Museum of Science and Industry is a fantastic hands-on museum for kids, and my whole family attributes the Field Museum to my lifelong love of science. The Children's Museum was our standard rainy Saturday activity - I think we had annual passes. ;)

    It's very possible to eat out fairly inexpensively. For one thing, Chicago is ALL about the pizza, and it's really good pizza, too! If you get away from downtown, you can find excellent pizza practically everywhere that isn't terribly pricey. Chinatown has incredible food as well. If it's still there, the Three Happinesses Restaurant does dim sum on weekend mornings, which is ideal kid food - it comes immediately and is all in small, easily divisible, finger-foody portions.

    It will definitely cost more than a weekend at home, though. I guess what it comes down to is not whether it would be a good experience for your kids (it would!), but whether the cost is feasible, and you're the only person who can determine that. :)

  16. As a Chicago native, I say go.

    But when I make a decision like this, I do a little thought experiment. In my mind, I imagine myself saying, "Oh, I'm so glad I went to Chicago," and "Oh, I'm so glad we stayed home." And whichever one feels most "right" is the one I do. It might sound really corny, but that's how I work.

  17. I'm a Chicagoan. The weather here has been pretty nice this winter. The Lincoln Park area is your best bet. The zoo is free, the nature museum is there, and there's parks for the kids to just play at. Most of the museums in Chicago, while awesome, are also really expensive. I'm not sure how much you are willing to pay for entrance fees.

    If possible, try to take the buses over the El. Many El stations have no elevators/escalators, and require climbing up and down steep and narrow staircases.

    Have fun if you decide to go!

  18. If you do decide to go, you might think about getting a membership to the Indiana State Museum. It has reciprocity agreements with many of the Chicago (including the Adler Planetarium, Chicago Children's Museum, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry--info here, and at $60 for a family membership, it's cheaper than admission to any of those places for your family.

  19. Just send you an e-mail.


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