For years, my friend, Mary Ann, and I talked about going on a “crazy road trip.” What we really want to do is drive Route 66. My friend, Neill, wants to go too. We haven’t figured out the particulars yet, but if we take all the kids, we’ll have to get a big ol’ Partridge Family bus, which actually could be pretty fun. I think I’ll look into that. I wonder if anyone rents Partridge Family buses? (And before you think I’m wrong there, “buses” IS the plural form of “bus”. “Busses” would be the plural form of “buss,” which means a kiss.)
Three years ago, Mary Ann and I loaded up her three kids and my one kid in a Ford Expedition, and we took a different crazy road trip, saving Route 66 for another time. It was a kid-friendly, casual clothing road trip…totally about seeing Americana. I’ve written before about the fun we had on the first two legs of the trip, and here is Part 3. Every part of the trip was exciting and fun. Every part of it was not perfect, but sometimes, that’s what makes the best memories.
In my post a few weeks ago about Part 2 of our epic road trip, I told you we made it to Chicago safely. We made it there in pouring rain, but we must have brought the sunshine with us, because the rain stopped soon thereafter.
We had only planned to be in Chicago for roughly 36 hours, so we hit the ground running. We checked into the hotel, and as I said in Part 2, our room looked out on the John Hancock Center, making it easy to find our way back from anywhere in the city!
We stayed at the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile…not a luxury hotel, but perfect for a family stay, as every room in the hotel is a suite. It is conveniently located near good restaurants, Lake Michigan, tourist spots, and luxury shopping (which we were not doing on this trip). To see the website for the Hilton Suites Magnificent Mile, click here. The rates were good, and the staff was incredibly helpful. I wrote one of my most raving TripAdvisor reviews about this hotel, because the employees there are helpful, courteous, and friendly. You can see my review and the manager’s response here. (Scroll down to my review, titled “Wowed by the service!”)
We let the valet take the car (he came down the street in the rain to get it when I waved to him) and had the bellman bring everything up to our suite, and then set out on our first adventure in the city. After traveling all day, we had four hungry kids on our hands. Since this trip was casual, we needed to go somewhere that would welcome us casually dressed and with four kids in tow.
The concierge recommended Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen on Walton Street, which was just a few blocks from the hotel…an opportunity to stretch our legs after being in the car all day. The food was good, and the atmosphere was perfect for our motley crew. Located in the Magnificent Mile area, this restaurant was most accommodating for us. If you’re in Chicago and looking for a casual dinner place in the Magnificent Mile area, this could be the place for you. See their website here. Mary Ann had the Tennessee Hot Chicken and said it was “OK,” but I had the Backyard Burger and thought it was fantastic. Even more special was the service. Our waiter, Taylor, took the time to write down the kids menu for us, since there wasn’t one available. We would definitely return with kids!
We turned in early that night, but the next day, we wanted to cram in as much activity as possible, because it was the only full day we had in Chicago.
We got up and starting securing reservations/tickets for the things we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to see as much as possible in one day, so we opted for an architectural tour by boat, a two hour bus tour of downtown, and a visit to the top of the John Hancock Center.
Everything started great. Our first order of business was the architectural tour by boat. We all loved it. Not only did if offer beautiful views of the city, but it also offered an opportunity for the kids (and adults) to see how the system of locks works from the river to and from Lake Michigan…fascinating for all of us. We highly recommend this tour, which you can book here.
Going through the lock
After disembarking, we made our way to the nearest restaurant with a menu we liked. That restaurant was Sweetwater Tavern and Grille on Michigan Avenue…kid friendly. We all tried fried cheese curds for the first time there. Surprisingly, I had never had them, even though I’d spent a lot of time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 80s and early 90s. We unanimously declared them delicious! We also ordered beignets, and these two gulf coast girls who grew up eating beignets gave them two thumbs up! You can check out the Sweetwater website here. To try fried cheese curds in the Charlotte area, you can visit Culver’s just off Carowinds Boulevard in Fort Mill. Check out their website here. If you decide to visit, go on an empty stomach and try their Butterburger and fries too. Then, top it all off with their frozen custard or a shake…all delicious.
Cheese curds at Culver’s
After lunch, the bus tour took us on another architectural expedition…all very impressive in downtown Chicago. We purchased tickets and boarded the bus tour very close to the boat dock. Anyone can point you in the right direction. We visited the world-famous bean and Navy Pier before heading up to the John Hancock Center. The observatory there is now called 360 CHICAGO and offers breathtaking views of the city and Lake Michigan. When we were there, the TILT, an added attraction at the top of the center, wasn’t working, but we loved all the photo ops we had. This is a must-do, and if TILT is in working order while you’re there, you have to do it too. Check out the website and purchase tickets here.
And this is when things got wonky….Mary Ann wanted Garrett’s Chicago-Style Popcorn, which I hear is amazing but I didn’t want to stand in line (over an hour!) for popcorn. You can see their website here. I knew my daughter wanted to visit Sprinkles for some cupcakes (click here) while we were there, so we split up, and Mary Ann took her kids to Garrett’s while we went to Sprinkles. We had planned to meet up for dinner, but my daughter wanted to go to Dylan’s Candy Bar and Cafe, while Mary Ann had a special place in mind for some Chicago-Style pizza.
In the midst of all this, Mary Ann’s daughter broke her flip flop and had to have new ones. Fortunately, when that happened, my daughter and I were in a cab headed for Dylan’s. We missed out on that “fun.” Since the American Girl Store was nearby, Mary Ann went there and paid a terrible sum for some flip flops for her daughter. It has been three years since this trip, but I feel pretty sure Mary Ann is still making her daughter wear those flip flops to get her money’s worth out of them…never mind that half her foot hangs off the back of them now!
So, while Mary Ann and family picked up a Chicago-Style pizza and brought it back to our suite, Milly and I enjoyed Chicago-style hot dogs at Dylan’s. She also ordered a mocktail called the Pink Cloud Lemonade…fun presentation and delicious! You can see their website and menu here. I should probably thank Mary Ann for letting me try the Chicago-style pizza and the popcorn after we got back to the hotel.
After a crazy busy day, it was time to pack up and turn in. We had another busy day ahead of us.
The next morning, we got up, checked out, and started our drive to Sandusky, Ohio, where we would be meeting friends from Columbus, Ohio, at Great Wolf Lodge. Of course, Mary Ann and I can’t drive straight through. We absolutely could not drive through South Bend, Indiana, without stopping in at Notre Dame. While there, we visited the stadium for some photos and shopped in the campus bookstore. We also got some photos with “the dome.” If you’re a Notre Dame fan, you won’t like this: we also pretended to take photos with the “girlfriend” of former Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o. See below. She’s standing between us…haha. Also, it was a road trip, so we were wearing comfortable attire…don’t judge.
Upon leaving South Bend, we traveled a little north, just so the kids could say they’d been to Michigan, and then we continued on to Sandusky, where my friend, Jennifer, and her daughter were waiting for us at Great Wolf Lodge! For information about Great Wolf Lodge Sandusky, click here. It doesn’t get any more kid-friendly than Great Wolf Lodge, and fortunately for us, they also have a bar!
Great Wolf Lodge was the perfect place for us to relax for the night before our big trip home. The kids all played in the water park, and the moms all relaxed next to the outdoor pool.
The next morning, we were homeward bound…but we took a little detour to a small town in Pennsylvania…for a funny reason. Read about that later in the final post about the road trip…coming up soon.
We highly recommend a trip to Chicago with your family. Our stay was so brief, it was just a teaser, but we will be going back.
Maybe one day we will make that Route 66 trip too. Know anyone with a Partridge Family bus?
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