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With shopping deals and Christmas cheer that include a Magnificent Mile full of holiday lights and gifts, Chicago is a prime time winter vacation hotspot for nearby Midwesterners and global tourists who want a glimpse of one of the world's grandest cities. The past manufacturing hub of a growing America and still a center of the world's grain trade, Chicago was the site of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (aka the Chicago World's Fair) where the greatest architects of the day designed exhibits for each of the world's great nations. The city is still filled with museums, stadiums, universities, and 29 miles of lakefront property, 15 miles of beaches and 18 miles of bike paths. Whether you're inside or out -- even during the cold winter months -- Chicago will keep you busy for more than a long weekend.

United Airlines (tel. 800/241-6522; www.united.com) has specials into the city starting at $198 from Boston, $208 from Denver, and $178 from New York. Prices are for round-trip travel with a purchase deadline of November 28, 2005. A seven-day advance purchase is required on all travel. If you're reading this from continents outside of North America, some decent international fares run like this: round-trip from Buenos Aires starts at $930, $570 from Frankfurt, $810 from Shanghai and $260 from Toronto. Security taxes and departure fees are additional.

Chicagoans know it's cold, and they have a good sense of humor about it. So much so in fact, they even have a festival for it. "Chicago Winter Delights: It's A Cool Place" happens over the holidays and from January 6 to February 27, 2006. The giant joint promotion supported by the Chicago Board of Toursim, the mayor's office, American Express, the city's cultural affairs office and other Chicago offices in support of travel to the Windy City, draws tourists from all over the world and nearby suburbanites looking to spend the weekend in the city, take in a cultural event and enjoy the great seats reserved for package purchasers.

In conjunction with the festival, packages to the city are available at www.877chicago.com/winter_packages.html or by calling 877-CHICAGO (244-02246). For January and February, twenty-six downtown hotels will be turned into cultural centers for weekend travel experiences. Each theme will celebrate the different events, sports teams, museum exhibits, food, and musical highlights relevant to the city's great rhythm and blues history. Included in the price of most packages are accommodations, tickets to the cultural event associated with the hotel package theme and usually an added gift or bonus.

For hockey fans looking to visit Chicago and catch a Black Hawks game, a Chicago sports package with accommodations at the Sutton Place Hotel, a four-star property, comes with "great" seats for a Blackhawks game, an autographed souvenir from a member of the team, a boxed meal and a guided tour for the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Prices for this deal start at $376 for a one-night stay. Prices increase based on the type of room with choices between a deluxe lakefront room or a suite. This particular package is for a Sunday night game beginning at 6pm on January 22, 2006.

For a stay at one of Chicago's finest hotels, the "Dancing at the Drake" deal includes an overnight stay at the Drake Hotel. The most elegant old school hotel built in 1920 with over 500 rooms, the Drake has grand ballrooms, bars fit for turn-of-the-century robber barons and industrialists and fine restaurants. This specific package, which takes place January 27 and 28, 2006, includes accommodations, a ballroom dancing lesson, entertainment by Chicago Drake mainstays Nancy Hays and the Robert Benson Orchestra, and a full buffet dinner. The total cost of this deal comes to $293 dollars per night with everything included.

See www.877chicago.com for details and all the packages included in this very special citywide promotion.