I’ve lived in the Midwest my entire life and for a time actually in Chicago proper, yet never once did I make it to the famed Sears *ahem* … Willis Tower. “Big deal, it’s a tall building,” I would tell my jaded self. Funny how having kids will make you less jaded.
So it is with this renewed sense of curiosity and two toddlers in tow, that I humbled myself to become a tourist in my own city. (Well technically, not my city anymore, I am after all a Lake County gal.) With a free afternoon to explore Chicago, we felt it was finally time to visit the Skydeck atop the Sears *ahem*… Willis Tower.
Their website advises that the best time to visit is just after opening (10 am in October) or after 5 pm; however, we arrived after 2pm and experienced no lines whatsoever. A Fast Pass for $35 (ouch!) is available for those who want to bypass lines, but fortunately we didn’t need it. These interactive digital floor displays on the path to the elevators did slow us down a bit though.
Meant to keep antsy tourists in line entertained while they wait, my kids couldn’t resist them. The displays situate you above a Chicago landmark, then shoot you up 103 floors above them for an aerial view. It’s activated by an elevator button, and what toddler can resist an elevator button?
For the literate members of your party, there are other displays to keep you busy while waiting in line as well as a 9-minute movie telling the story of the structure. As we were lucky enough to not have any lines, we sped our way through. Ok, so maybe I am still a little bit jaded.
The Skydeck also houses more Chicago exhibits up top along with the required gift shop. I like to think I have a healthy respect for history, but who can bother to read a placard when they can look at this…
For those of you with older children, be sure to visit the For Kids page on the Skydeck website for fun facts, quizzes, coloring pages and even a scavenger hunt to help them get excited for your big ascent.
And let’s get down to brass tacks: If you choose to drive downtown it will probably suck. Even if the expressway gods smile down upon you, loop traffic is never kind, parking is crazy expensive, and sometimes the garages are full. To bypass this headache, take the Metra Train in. As Genevieve attests, it’s a fun experience with the kids in and of itself.
So not only is parking expensive, but admission is pricey as well. For our family of four, we paid $45, even with the baby being free. The entire experience lasted about an hour, and that’s with skipping most of the exhibits and the free movie. Your time spent will greatly differ depending on how long your own line is and your own children’s attention spans.
Willis Tower is located in the heart of the Loop and Chicago’s business area, a bit of a hike (at least for toddlers) from all the tourism and family-friendliness of River North and the Magnificent Mile. When dealing with crowds, nap times, hungry bellies, and unpredictable bladders, a trip to the Skydeck can eat up more of the day than you may care to and leave you cut-off from other family-friendly Chicago attractions and dining options.
So it begs the question, “Is it really worth it just for a view?” The jaded Chicagoan in me says it’s not. But, if you’re a parent who truly savors those times when your child’s eyes widen at the sight of something new, then it’s different. To be able to see your little people take in just how big the world is, and then watch them step out confidently to claim their space in it – well that’s just priceless.
233 S. Wacker Dr.
(driving directions input 232 S. Franklin St. on GPS or online)
Enter Skydeck on Jackson Blvd. (south side of building)
(312) 875-9696Open 365 Days a Year
April – September 9am-10pm
(also available online)Adults 12 & Up $17.00
Youth 3-11 $11.00
Children 3 and under Free
Tower Self Park
211 W. Adams