It's hard to have a bad time in Chicago, no matter how old you are. For youngsters, there's one of the largest science museums in the United States and miles of lakefront swimming. For shopaholics, the Windy City has stores to rival Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue. Of course, there's the blues, and all those Southside clubs billing some of the best guitar and harmonica players. And who could forget a stroll through Grant Park, a visit to a comedy troupe, or Division Street -- Chicago's own version of Bourbon Street. Now, all you have to do is get yourself there. Here are some affordable ways how.
The official Chicago Tourism Guide, 877 Chicago (tel. 877/CHICAGO; www.877chicago.com), is offering up hotel deals, weekend immersion packages and information on events, visitor services, transportation, discounts and hotels. Top events listed this summer include Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Chicago: 2006, the traveling Tutankhamun exhibit at the famous Field Museum, a Leonardo Da Vinci show at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Broadway hit Wicked, and a Lizard exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium featuring a live Komodo dragon.
While all these are bona-fide pleasers, the Yo-Yo Ma Silk Road show is a celebration of the ancient Silk Road trade route which traces its origins back to 100 B.C. Yo-Yo Ma educates visitors on the history of the route as well as its impact on world trade and cultural sharing. Ma also puts to music the sounds of the Silk Road, attempting to show the trade routes impact on global music. A year long in length, this exhibit has local and internationally known musicians playing venues all over the city. For more information on events, some of which are outdoors and free, see the official site for the project at www.silkroadproject.org.
Travel deals to Chicago are also available through the 877 site with tickets to comedy clubs and other sightseeing excursions available at lower prices. The "Immersion Weekends" give travelers a chance to go in-depth into a certain Chicago activity. From July 7 to July 9, for example, an immersion weekend titled "Green Chicago" tours Chicago's greener pastures showing visitors how city's stay lush and green, how they maintain and build more parks, and how urban centers try to improve and clean the quality of air. Costing $304 per person, the Green Chicago Immersion Package includes two nights accommodations at Chicago's prestigious Essex Inn, a welcome reception, tour of the Center for Green Technology, access to the rooftop garden and beehive at Chicago's City Hall, an outside dinner at Orso's in Chicago Old Town, admission to a concert and film at Grant Park celebrating the music and filming Sergei Eisenstein's "The Battleship Potemkin," a tour of Millennium Park, and all hotel taxes. The hotel is close to the Miracle Mile shopping area, and it has a huge rooftop pool. Another Immersion Weekend taking place from August 4 to 6, 2006, revolves around the Chicago waterfront with a tall ships festival.
Travelocity (tel. 888/872-8356; www.travelocity.com) remains one of the best sites for affordable air/land inclusive trips from United States city to city. From Atlanta, a weekend to Chicago with airfare and hotel starts at $313 per person. Departures are on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with returns available till Monday. The least expensive trips depart Atlanta on Saturday and return Monday. The Friday to Sunday leg costs $333 per person. Accommodations include some of Chicago's grandest downtown hotels such as the Intercontinental Hotel (add $17), the majestic Fairmont Chicago (add $30), and the raucous Hard Rock (add $136). A similar weekend trip from Dallas starts at $388.
Once in Chicago, you really should eat at the Wiener's Circle (tel. 773/477-7444), a world-famous Chicago hot dog hut with a dog that comes with more toppings than you can count on one hand. This shack also comes with allegedly the finest cheese fries in Chicago. Best of all, these dogs are flame broiled, not just steamed or grilled, and come in a poppy seed bun. The "joint," and this is a joint, is open late night for a midnight (or later) snack. A hot dog and French fries will still cost you less than $6.
Another important cultural stop is Second City (tel. 312/337-3992; http://secondcity.com/?id=theatres/chicago), a Chicago comedy and cultural institution since 1959 that was the starting points for John Belushi, Bill Murray and Mike Myers. Famous for its theatre and comedy, Chicago has some of the best new talent around. Tickets for a weekend performance in mid-July cost $24 for both the 8pm and 11pm show. Midweek tickets cost $12 to $18 dollars depending on the show and day of the week.
For discounted admittance to Chicago's main attractions, a Go Chicago Card (tel. 800/887-9103; www.gochicagocard.com) gives the card holder unlimited admission (you can go to any attraction as many times as you want) for however long the pass is valid. There's even a sale now for the card itself. Until June 22, you can save 10 percent on 3, 5, 7 day passes. A guidebook comes with a card purchase. All the top attractions including the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Sears Tower, and several restaurants are included in the Go Chicago Card's savings program. Regularly $119 for a three-day pass, the sales price comes to $107 for an adult card. For kids, the price is slashed from $89 to $80. There's also a vacation package available that includes a Go Card in its price. Available through December 31, 2006, a night at the Palmer House Hilton with a two-day Go Card comes to $219 per person and a night at the Chicago Hilton with the two-day card costs $179.
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