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Monday, January 11, 2016

Chicago, Illinois / Shedd Aquarium, Transportation, Shopping, Navy Pier, Restaurants and Bars

December 2015 - January 2016

Following is information about our experiences at some of the places we visited while in Chicago. Please let me know if you have questions or want further information.

taken at Shedd Aquarium 12/31/2015

Shedd Aquarium

This was our first visit to Shedd Aquarium, and I wanted to find out the hours and pricing beforehand. It was almost impossible to find the cost of a basic ticket. Any search I did for Shedd Aquarium ticket information relentlessly promoted City Pass, Membership, and other experience/combination passes. I finally found what I was looking for: general admission tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children. General admission includes Caribbean Reef, Waters of the World, and Amazon Rising. The information on the website talks about skipping the lines by purchasing advance tickets, and general admission tickets were not available for advance purchase. Another way to try and promote purchasing a package!

We visited with general admission tickets, so all of the photos I am sharing are from the three main exhibits. More photos from these exhibits can be seen in the Shedd Aquarium Facebook album. Not having an advance ticket, did not necessitate us having to wait in any lines. Read on for details.

bird eating spider in Amazon Rising

We arrived at Shedd Aquarium about 15 minutes before the doors opened at 9:00 a.m. We observed a center covered walkway to the entrance, and there was a man standing in front of the door on the far right. The door on the left was an exit door. There were no signs designating whether one entrance was for advance tickets, or guests needing to purchase tickets. We chatted with the man who had been waiting when we arrived. He said that he had purchased his tickets, and needed to pick them up at Will Call. He said the center door was for customers that needed to purchase tickets, so we waited by the center door. 

anaconda snake in Amazon Rising
When the doors opened at 9:00 a.m. (and, not a second before, even though it was below freezing, and there were more than 50 people waiting in both lines), we entered, and went straight to the ticket purchasing line. The line of guests waiting at the Will Call window, who had purchased advance tickets, was longer than the line to purchase tickets. If you enter with a purse or any kind of bag, you will be delayed a bit longer at the entrance while a security agent searches your bag.

Waters of the World
When we made our purchase, the agent tried to convince us to upgrade from general admission, and we politely declined. We spent a little over 1½ hours in the aquarium visiting the three areas included with general admission. I imagine this time could easily be longer when the aquarium is crowded. Because we were some of the first visitors to enter the exhibits, we did not need to wait to view them and take photos. Additionally, some of the add-on package shows started at 10:00 and 10:30, so visitors were being called out for shows while we continued to view the exhibits. 

Caribbean Reef
General admission was perfect for us, since we did not want to spend the entire day at the aquarium. We would have been interested in a minimal addition to general admission if there had been something for a reasonable price. The smallest package we found was Shedd Pass for $30.95. Shedd Pass only included three additional exhibits to the three that we were visiting for $8. And, it included the option to purchase shows for $5 each. I thought $22.95 more to see double what we were going to see for $8 was a ridiculous increase. I suppose it all depends how much time you want to spend at the aquarium, and what you want to see.

Caribbean Reef

Public transportation - getting around Chicago

We were staying at the Homewood Suites on Grand Ave., so when we visited Shedd Aquarium, we took the CTA Red Line subway from Grand Ave. to Roosevelt Rd. If you look up this route online using the addresses, the results will have you get off the subway and then take a bus (or two, depending on the time of day), because there is a bus stop near Shedd Aquarium. We are walkers, so we preferred the direct trip to Roosevelt Rd., and then walking just a little over ½ mile to the aquarium. If you take the subway to Roosevelt Rd., and it is cold out, I suggest turning left/east before going upstairs to the outside from the station. If you go straight ahead or veer right after getting off the subway, you will come out on the west side of State St., rather than between State St. and Wabash Ave. We purchased the all-day fare for $10 at the machine in the subway, because there was a $1 processing fee for each individual fare when purchasing less.

When we arrived in Chicago, and when we departed, we walked the 1½ miles between Union Station and Homewood Suites. The sidewalks were clear, and people walking around Chicago with wheeled luggage is not unusual. We only had one small roller bag, and a laptop bag that slid over the handle of the roller bag.

Chicago restaurants and bars

We had lunch one day at American Craft Kitchen and Bar inside the Hyatt Regency. The food was good quality, although the service was not what I am used to receiving at a Hyatt. I had the half portion Vegan Whole Wheat Pasta, which was delicious and a generous serving size. My husband had one of the burgers, which he said was merely okay. One reason we chose this restaurant was because I wanted to use my last 4,000 Hyatt points for $20 off our meal. I have not been traveling like I used to, and there are no Hyatt restaurants near our home. The server was only able to process 2,000 of my points, even after trying twice with the manager's assistance. I do not know if this was an error by the restaurant or Hyatt corporate. I tried to contact Hyatt during the visit and afterward. After this visit, Hyatt told me via email that my points are there to use; however, so far, they have not responded again, explaining how I can now get my points (since I am no longer near a Hyatt), or why I was not able to use them that day.

We had lunch in the Staytion Market and Bar inside the Renaissance hotel. The food quality and pricing was good. Again, the service was lacking. Our server did not even wipe down our table from previous guests when she cleared the table! We had been told to go ahead and sit down. We had Fish Tacos and a Club Sandwich.

Happy Hour menu - beer choices at Rock Bottom Brewery

One of the few bars we found with Happy Hour pricing was Rock Bottom Brewery. We had beverages at the bar - good value, good service, good beer!

We tried to visit Stout Barrel House and Galley; however, it was so packed with barely any standing room on Friday afternoon, that we ended up at Kerryman Irish Bar and Restaurant instead. Guinness was on Happy Hour special that Friday; however, when we got the check, we learned that did not include Guinness Nitro. I thought the service at Kerryman's was good, although my husband was not too happy about the misleading Happy Hour information. He said it reminded him of what he calls "the bait and switch" at one of our local breweries - The Hopcat in Grand Rapids.

We had planned to have dinner at Patron's Hacienda after Kerryman's. After we walked there, we discovered they had changed their decision to be open for dinner New Year's Day, and the restaurant was not open. I had contacted them a few days before our visit, and they had said they would be open for dinner. Later, I learned they had changed their minds about opening for dinner.

We had dinner in the bar area at Season's 52, which is one of my favorite restaurants. This was our first visit to the Chicago restaurant, and the service was lousy. We never saw our server except when she served our beverages and food, and then when she brought our check. We had requested a table in the bar because we knew that Season's 52 offered Happy Hour beverage and menu pricing in the bar. I am not sure if they assigned us a server from the dining room or what the problem was. The restaurant and bar were not busy during our visit. It seemed like our Chicago dining experiences were not going well. Fortunately, the only time that we needed something during our meal, I was able to walk over and get what we needed from the bartender.

Navy Pier, shopping, misc.

We walked to Navy Pier from Homewood Suites, which is about one mile one-way. We walked back along the water - River East Art Center Promenade. This was the first time we had been to Navy Pier in a few years, and several more restaurants had opened inside since our last visit. We observed signs stating, "A Reimaged Navy Pier," and this statement is also on the website. We had thought the entire pier was going to be taken up by the Winter Wonderfest at the time of our visit, so we were not sure if we would be able to go inside, since we were not attending the festival. The winter festival was only in a portion of the pier. We were able to walk through the inside of the building at 9:00 a.m. before many of the shops had opened for the day. Once inside, we observed an open Starbucks and some minor activity in other restaurants.

We did not do any shopping in Chicago, other than to buy champagne glasses for New Year's Eve at Bed Bath & Beyond around the corner from our hotel. Water Tower Place is just over ½ mile from the Homewood Suites on Grand Ave., and the route is easily walkable. We observed the trolley running, although we did not check the schedule or cost. The Shops at North Bridge are located directly across Grand Ave. from Homewood Suites.

We thought the Homewood Suites on Grand Ave. was a great location for many Chicago activities, and I imagine we will choose the same area next time we visit Chicago. Please feel free to share this post for other Chicago travelers!