After spending our first day enjoying the Shedd Aquarium and an amazing deep-dish pizza, my son and I were ready to tackle our second day in Chicago. We ate breakfast across the street and then checked out of the Thompson Hotel, walking the few blocks to our next hotel: The Talbott. We were able to check-in early, dropping our bags and heading out for the day. Earlier, I’d taken a quick walk to grab an early coffee at Starbucks. There is one just down the block from the Thompson, and it offers two floors of seating and a second counter in the upstairs section. You can also sit out on the balcony with a view of the street.

Chicago is quiet on a Sunday morning.

I had a list of what we hoped to see during our visit, but by the time we finished our first day, I realized we were going to fall short. There is simply too much to see in Chicago. Our second day agenda included: the Adler Planetarium, Navy Pier, and cruising the river through the city. Heading to the beach in the evening was also penciled in, but that didn’t end up happening. My son and I were simply too exhausted by that point.

High Hopes for the Adler Planetarium

We headed to the Adler Planetarium with great anticipation. My son loves astronauts and all things space, in addition to all things airplane and aviation. I’m not sure what he is going to end up doing when he is older, but it’d be cool if he sticks with his current desire to be a pilot. To hope to be an astronaut is to shoot for the moon. But who knows. Maybe space tourism will be a thing by then and Virgin Galactic will be hiring pilots.

We were visiting during the first weekend of the month, so this meant I was able to use my Bank of America card for one free entry through the Museums on Us program. This is the first time I have been able to use the benefit. All I had to do was flash my Merrill+ card and ask about the Bank of America free admission.

What wasn’t expected was how good of a deal we got. The ticket agent gave us both free tickets, which is more than the published benefit of the Museums on Us program. I only expected my entry fee to be covered. We scored on the shows as well. The Adler Planetarium has a several different shows throughout the day, and each cost extra. You can buy combo tickets for some savings, but since we weren’t actually paying for the shows now, it’d be full price for each. Still fine, considering we now had free entry.

I asked to buy tickets for two different shows: Imagine the Moon and Planet Nine. We ended up only paying for one. The guy apparently had tickets printed for one of the shows already (no idea why), and offered those to us for free. All said and done, I paid $18 for one show, $9 each for the two of us. Everything together should have cost $59!

An Amazing Astronomic Experience

The Adler Planetarium is divided into a few different sections. The first exhibits focus on the moon missions and landings, centering around Jim Lovell’s life. From building rockets as a kid through his time as an astronaut, he still inspires young people today. I enjoyed the information and exhibits that takes you through his life, including the fateful Apollo 13 mission. It’s still a miracle that Lovell, Swigert and Haise resourcefully solved their critical emergency, successfully returning home.

At 11:30 AM we enjoyed “Imagine the Moon” in the dome-shaped Grainger Sky Theater. Interesting note: you’ll be cut off completely from cell service. But looking at your phone would spoil the experience entirely. You jut get to sit back and gaze up at the “sky” all around you. I highly suggest picking at least one of the theater experiences during your visit. 

The Planet Nine show we watched in the Definiti Theater was absolutely fascinating. You might be thinking it’s about Pluto, our former ninth planet that got demoted. But it isn’t. And I shall not spoil it. If you’re visiting Chicago in the near future, head by the Adler Planetarium and watch it for yourself. 

Other sections of the museum include a set of exhibits focused on each of the planets of our solar system, as well as the exploration thereof. There is even more downstairs, but we were barely able to touch it. If you’re into astronomy, the Adler Planetarium is worth most of a day.

It was hard to part ourselves from the wonder of astronomy. My son and I were both enjoying ourselves immensely, but we had to move on. There was still more Chicago to see!

Exploring Navy Pier

From the Adler Planetarium we raced to the Water Taxi stop near the aquarium, barely catching the next departure for Navy Pier. The wind was intense coming off of Lake Michigan, but the slight chill (in summer…who would have thought?) wasn’t enough to keep us from enjoying the lovely Chicago skyline.

Arrival at Navy Pier was an abrupt change. I almost turned us around and hopped right back on the boat. If you’re into tourist traps, Navy Pier has to be among the best. With overpriced food, souvenir shops, and weekend crowds I’d prefer to avoid, it’s not exactly the sort of place I’m drawn to. We grabbed lunch, though, as this was already overdue. 

The rides were an enjoyment for my son, which made everything worth it. A fear of heights (his, not mine) kept us from the Ferris wheel. He settled for the carousel and lighthouse. Tickets cost $9 for the double feature. 

The Chicago Children’s Museum was another option on the list for the afternoon, but this would have taken up most of the rest of our day. It was already pushing 3:00, and we probably would have stayed all the way through 7:00 PM, which is the weekend closing time. We’ll catch it on another trip, perhaps.

Highlight: River Cruise

Our Shoreline Sightseeing ticket included not just transport to Navy Pier, but also up the river to the Union Station/Willis Tower stop. This was the Chicago experience I’d been waiting for. I love cities, and I also love water cruises, making this the perfect combination.

When it’s completed, the Vista Tower will be a cool addition to the skyline. I love the design and look of the zig-zag, three tier building. The condo tower will be the third tallest in the city once it is completed.

There is simply no better way to see the city. Rather than dodging pedestrians while trying to gaze up at the structures above, we could just sit and take everything in. Passing under the bridges was especially cool, as the boat clearance is minimal. I was sad when we had to get off at the Willis Tower.

Our visit to Chicago wouldn’t have been complete without a ride on the “L”. We’d already been riding the red line south to the Loop, but this line is underground. We needed to ride the elevated loop through the city. This is another great way to see the downtown area.

Hopping off near River North, we made our way back to the Talbott by foot down the Magnificent Mile. The shopping district was bustling on the Sunday afternoon.

Concluding Day Two

I’ve a newfound appreciation for Cuban cuisine, entirely due to one restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia that I like to enjoy when I’m in town for work. I found a spot a short way from our hotel, and we headed there for dinner. Definitely not as good as the awesome food Estela makes at Cuban Island, but still decent. Plantains and rice were a taste of home for my Costa Rican kid. 

The plan was to head to the beach afterwards, but it was already pushing 7:30 PM, and we’d have a long day the next day. We’d pay the lakeshore a visit during our final few hours in Chicago before catching the train to Kalamazoo and finishing the trip by car to Detroit.