...but this time with the kids. This past week was spring break and in the interest of saving vacation days and money, we decided not to take a big trip. We did want to do SOMEthing as a family, though, so we decided it was time to take the kids to Chicago. Lincoln decided that Wednesday would work well for him, so he cleared his calendar and took the day off. Let me just say, he picked the PERFECT day. It was sunny and warm- close to eighty degrees. We could not have ordered better weather for the last day of March.
We left the house at about 8:15 and drove to the Cumberland Station park and ride. It took us some time to figure out exactly how much money to put on our transit cards to have sufficient passage for a family of seven. Once the attendant had helped us figure it out, we discovered we needed some change. Renie was also desperate for potty break #1 of the day. I waited at the station with the other kids while Lincoln and Renie walked to a nearby grocery store for change and a potty. While we waited, I suggested the kids try to jump the cars as they passed below us on the interstate. This kept them quite entertained for the 15 minutes until Lincoln returned.
We finally got our passage paid and headed down to the platform. The kids were pretty excited about riding the train and i was actually glad we had to wait a few minutes so they could really enjoy the anticipation and excitement. Jesse, who is obsessed with trains, was very excited once we were on. Devon just kept asking me when it would go underground. Once we did go sub-terrainean, he realized it wasn't so exciting after all to just see the black walls passing. Then he kept asking me when it would go up high again.
We got off the train downtown and transferred to a bus for the remainder of the trip.
I think the kids, at least Kennedy and Julia, may have actually liked the bus better. The idea of driving down the street, UNbuckled, and STANDING was thrilling to them. Even if there were ten seats open, the girls preferred to stand and hold a strap.
The bus dropped us off right in front of our destination, Shedd Aquarium. We corralled our crew and headed to the entrance, only to discover a line that wove back and forth through the large lobby, then stretched out the door, down the steps through the tent, and across the concrete to a little behind where I was standing when I took this picture.
I had not anticipated this at all. It was nearing 1:00, the kids hadn't eaten lunch, they were already tiring from the excitement of the train and bus, and we had at least a solid hour of line-waiting ahead of us. We had discovered before we came that it would be cheaper for us to purchase a family membership for the year than it would be to purchase a single day pass for each of us. The kids and I held our spot in line while Lincoln went to ask someone if we could go through the door to the right labeled Membership, if we were planning to purchase a membership that day. Luckily we could. We walked right up the steps, in the door, through the lobby to the membership desk where there were about three people ahead of us in line, and within 15 minutes of arriving, we were stuffing our jackets in a locker and making potty stop #2. I can't even begin to tell you what a relief it was to skip that line!
The aquarium tour began and I was worried we were in for a rough day. It was pretty crowded and so hot in there I thought I was going to pass out. The kids were having trouble finding a viewing spot at the galleries and complaining of the heat. My backpack was making my back sweaty and I was stressing about losing my wandering Renie in the crowd. Of course, stressing made me even warmer and I was beginning to feel like I couldn't breathe. We decided that if we left the Amazon River section, the temperature might feel less like the Amazon River climate. We ducked out of there and found immediate relief.
The rest of the day was much like any aquarium tour, with a few highlights along the way like:
The penguin play area:
The kids had a lot of fun here, dressing up like penguins and playing around. It was impossible to get a picture of all my kids, in costume and in the frame. Every time I heard the attendant say something like, "Let's not climb up there, OK? That's kind of high." Or, "Penguins slide head first, but children slide feet first, OK?" I knew Renie was close by.
This dolphin/beluga whale/sea lion/red-tailed hawk/penguin show got mixed reviews from our family. It was very theatrical, with the trainers in costume, people being carried across the water by cable,
music, movie screen. But to me, it seemed like lots of smoke and mirrors to make up for a pretty lame animal show. I mean, I know it's not Seaworld, but I felt like the animals' participation was overshadowed and it wasn't very intimate. The trainers never talked (at least, not so we could hear them) so it was hard to tell what the animals were doing. The sea lion was in the show for approximately 1 minute.
The red-tailed hawk just flew across the water a couple times, the penguins walked in front of the bleachers one time and a few people got to pet them.
But the thing I thought was the lamest, was the "Trainer for a Day" portion of the program. They picked a young girl ( probably 11 or 12) from the audience to be the trainer for a day. She was given a "magical pendant" and flown across the water in a boat. She got to help give commands to the animals and otherwise participate in the entire program. They made a big deal out of giving her a pair of rubber boots to wear and and acting like they were telling her where to stand and and what to do. Yet it was painfully obvious that she was part of the show and not a randomly selected child. I mean, to the point that my eight year old picked up on it.
The rest of the family ranged in their reviews from "it was OK' to "That was really cool."
We grabbed lunch in a little cafe at the aquarium. Lunch itself was nothing to write home about, but the tables were set up around the underwater viewing area of the dolphin tank. It was pretty fun to watch the dolphins from underwater. They were doing a show so we were able to see it from both above (Fantasea) and below.
This was the last viewing area we visited and it was my favorite of the day. It was a huge tank with a very large viewing area, colorful fish, not many people, and cool air.
Most of my pictures of fish are grainy and/or blurry because you are not allowed to use a flash when photographing the fish.
This was a cool spot where the viewing area was mostly under your feet. There were some rays swimming around down there.
A Staring Contest:
We came out of the aquarium to lovely warm weather. We took some pictures and enjoyed the day a bit before catching the bus back to the train and riding the train back to our parked car.
That's Navy Pier across the little bay from where we are. We'll have to make a summer trip there...
I am happy to say we managed to navigate downtown Chicago and public transportation without losing even one of our five children. I'd say that was a successful day! It was a long, exhausting day, and we arrived home about 10pm. Next Chicago trip will be Legoland and dinner at Medieval Times.