By Bethany Parker
My 10-year-old asked for a trip to the science museum for his birthday last month. He also asked for a working robot, fireworks, a Corvette, his own motorcycle, a job at Ruler Foods, a Nintendo DS with 100 games and various other impossibilities.
The museum, however, we could do. I’m a sucker for any reason to visit a museum. So I loaded up the vehicle with a weekend’s worth of food – this is, by the way, a LOT MORE FOOD than it was two years ago when we did a weekend trip out of town like this – and headed up to Chicago for some fun at the Museum of Science and Industry.
I opted to drop some very serious cash on a hotel right across from Grant Park. I knew going into this that it meant also paying to park at the hotel, and that in order to walk away from the weekend with anything left in my wallet at all we wouldn’t be purchasing souvenirs, eating more than one or two meals outside of our hotel room or doing anything that cost money other than the hotel, and it was worth the tradeoff.
The hotel had a great pool for us to shake off the three-hour road trip (made in the absolute pouring rain and miles upon miles of road construction) that first night, and then to relax after a loooong day at the museum on Saturday. And Grant Park is a lot of fun to wander around in to kill time or to just hang out, with great photo ops and a lot of cool stuff to do and to watch.
Once we checked into the hotel, we drove to the museum, which took about 15 minutes. After a terribly long wait at the ticket counter, I ended up buying a household museum membership. It wasn’t much more than the entry fee for all four of us and now we have an excuse to go back to the Field Museum, The Art Institute, the Shedd Aquarium, and a lot of other places outside of Chicago as well. And with the membership, onsite parking is free. Without it, it’s $22. We ended up doing three special exhibits/tours, and without these the cost for entry would have been a good bit less.
The museum is much larger than I remember, and there are so many hidden small exhibits to experience tucked away behind and to the side of the larger, main activities. We spent the bulk of our time in the main Science Storm area and transportation zones – if you haven’t ever seen the model train layout they have there, it’s worth the trip just for that — and enjoyed the U Boat tour and accompanying exhibits and videos the most of our three special exhibits.
We walked and walked and walked and walked until we were so tired we couldn’t take another step or read one more information sign. We were just done. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed so much information in a six-hour time span and we only scratched the surface.
The return trip to the hotel was just as easy as getting there. A perk of our hotel’s location was its proximity to very good pizza, which we followed with an hour at the hotel pool. On Sunday, we walked across Grant Park to the Museum Campus and wandered just past the Adler Planetarium where we found … a beach! To my embarrassment I realized my midwesternized children had never swam at a beach of any sort, so even though we had no towels, weren’t wearing swimwear, and ended the hour terribly sunburned, they can now say that they swam in Lake Michigan.
This was an expensive and rather spur of the moment trip, not the most well-planned out event I’ve executed (see the above paragraph where my children swam fully clothed in Lake Michigan). We could have easily done the museum in one day and saved the expense of the hotel and all the food and extras, but I wanted to make it a weekend deal. If you want to make a day trip to the museum, or spend a bit longer and hang out in Chicago for a few days, here are my suggestions to help you stay sane:
1. Buy tickets online in advance whenever possible. I didn’t do this because of the last-minute nature of the trip and because I left all of our electronic devices at home. But if you do this it will save you a lot of time waiting in line for tickets.
2. Bring food. Lots of food. I filled a large plastic storage container with all manner of snack and real food and brought it back completely empty. We only had to eat out twice, once at the museum and once for dinner.
3. Bring food to the museum, it’s allowed. Or leave it in a cooler in your car and take a long lunch break. The museum food court is unbelievably expensive and a sensory overload environment.
4. Bring a small box of toys and books for the kids to play with at the hotel. This one is self explanatory.
5. You can’t get a roll-away bed in a room with two double beds as it’s against Chicago fire code. If you need to separate your 14-, 10- and 8-year-olds, consider bringing a sleeping bag or small air mattress. Otherwise, things might get a little interesting at bedtime.