Sunday, February 26, 2012

A day in Chicago: Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum

I am a big fan of Chicago. I love going into the city with my family. There is always somewhere new to eat and something fun to do. Taking the whole family into the city can get a little pricey though. I am a frugal mommy who loves to look for deals! Chicago does something fabulous that I can get on board with… free days!

The Art Institute of Chicago

21st - 23rd
27th - 29th

2012 Illinois Resident Discount Days
February:, 22, 23, 27, 28
June: 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22
September: 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25
October: 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30
November: 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27

February: 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
March: 5
April: 19
May: 23
June: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11 September: 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28
October: 1, 2, 3 November: 5
December: 3
February: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
March: 7, 14

On certain days throughout the year Chicago museums, institutes, and aquariums offer Illinois Residents free days. My family and I love to take advantage of these free days. This year we have already had the chance to visit the Museum of Science and Industry. We had such a great time that we knew a return trip to other establishments in Chicago was a must!
My husband and I packed up both of the kids and went to Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum for the day. I knew that I did not want to deal with a stroller on this particular trip since we were not really packing a lunch or toys for entertaining the kids. Instead I decided to give my new ERGOBaby Carrier a try.

We parked in a parking garage and walked to Shedd Aquarium. I guess I have gotten spoiled by parking garages that connect to buildings, because I was unprepared for battling the cold winds while trekking from the parking garage to the aquarium or the museum. So if you are visiting either of these destinations and parking on site, be prepared for the weather- you will be walking outdoors to get to the buildings.  

We got to Shedd Aquarium right when they opened {NOTE: All adults must show proof of residency in Illinois in order to get free admission on free days – I left my purse in the car in the parking garage.} Please be aware that free days do not include the special exhibits, those are extra. Since we did not want to walk around and hold out coats we took advantage of the lockers available {Lockers cost $1-2 in quarters and can hold three to four coats}. We walked around looking at all of the fish and the sea horses and the huge snake!

I was so happy that I decided to baby wear this time around. The first time we visited Shedd Aquarium we did so with only one child and a stroller. Since most of the display windows are higher up we constantly had to pick up and carry our child. Once picked up he did not want to be put down in the stroller again. It was a nightmare the first time around. This time I wore my infant carrier and walked around comfortably with my baby snuggled close. He was able to see everything without any problem and was very interested in everything.

Although I enjoy going to Aquariums I felt that Shedd aquarium was really dark. Some of the display windows were difficult to view and although I loved the Caribbean Reef, I did not feel like there was a lot to look at. This might have to do with the fact that we did not buy any of the extra exhibits {General Admission as of 02/22/2012: $8 adult $6 child; The Total Experience Pass as of 02/22/2012: $34.95 adult $25.95 child}. The general admission for Illinois discount days includes Waters of the World, Amazon Rising, and the Caribbean Reef. All else is extra. All of this can be seen on the first floor and can be viewed in about an hour or two.

Once we did our lap of the Aquarium we headed over to the Field Museum to enjoy their free day as well. We ventured outside and braved the cold winds in order to cross the street to get to the Field Museum! There was so much to see and do that we simply did not have time for it all. We checked out coats {$2.50 a coat} and headed in to see the dinosaur bones.

First things first, for any mother with a little boy the very first stop you must make needs to be Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sue is huge and fabulous. There was a very nice museum employee who let us touch a replica T-Rex tooth and hold fossilized dino poop. My boys were in heaven! After Sue we toured the Evolving Planet exhibit and got to see a variety of dinosaurs. My children did not want to leave this magical dinosaur wonderland.

We ate at the McDonalds located inside the Field Museum and then went to check out a mummy, some African animals, and the Crown Family PlayLab. The mummy scared the beejesus out of my toddler and was a quick in and out for us, but the PlayLab was a fun little excursion that ended up lasting much longer than expected. There were costumes to try on, a pueblo to play in, and fossils to dig up. This was completely free to participate in and was a real treat for the kids! In desperate need of a nap we headed for home mid afternoon and made fantastic time on the highway. The children both slept the entire way home and I even caught a few zzz’s too!

I love to visit museums and aquariums. I think it is a great way to spend a day with the family and a great way to educate and enrich my children. I come from an educational family. My father is a Superintendent {former business manager and former high school teacher} and my mother is a retired school librarian {former elementary teacher}. I grew up going on tours of historic homes, visiting museums, and taking trips to aquariums and zoos. I love that I am so close to Chicago and all of the activities available in and around the city. I am thrilled that I am able to expose my children to these cultural attractions.

Although I would happily spend another day with my children at the Field Museum, I don’t think that I would revisit Shedd Aquarium. If I am going to go to a museum, zoo, or aquarium I expect to be able to visit all of the major exhibits without being charged extra. If there is a special exhibit that is only there for a short period of time or a show that is offered I am all right with there being an additional charge to participate in said show or exhibit. To only be able to see 3 out of 7 exhibits {not including the optional shows} does not make me want to go back for more. I understand that this was a free day and that general admission on regular days does include a couple more exhibits, but I was not overly impressed with this aquarium. It is worth going to at least once simply to see the Caribbean Reef which is amazing and has been filmed in movies such as Contagion.

I think that my favorite Aquarium is the one in New Orleans; it is light and bright and there is so much to see and do. Do you have a favorite museum or aquarium? If so, what made that attraction stand out?


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