When Rob told me that his company would be having their annual conference in Chicago, I purchased a plane ticket without hesitation. I had never been before and have heard nothing but great things about the city from my mom and her coworkers who travel there often for business. The only idea of Chicago I had before researching activities was from one of my all-time favorite shows, Shamless. I understand this was a completely skewed view for several reasons, one being that it is a fictional television show, but I also didn’t see myself spending the 2 full days wondering about the Southside, seeing if I could find that little hangout under the L where all the homeless people live.
One of the first things that kept popping up in my searches was Chicago’s Navy Pier. As soon as I saw the giant Ferris wheel overlooking Lake Michigan with skyline views of the city behind it, I knew I had to go. A lot of my planning had to revolve around Rob’s conference schedule so I figured I could check all of this out the night that we arrive, when he would have to go join his coworkers at a dinner party. By the time we settled in to the hotel and Rob was out the door, it was early evening and I was eager to get out and explore.
We were staying at the Omni Hotel in the heart of the Magnificent Mile which features blocks and blocks of high-end shops and restaurants. I opened my maps app and set the destination to Navy Pier.
I was excited to find out that it would only be about a 20-minute walk. I liked the idea of walking because I would be able to experience the city in an authentic and raw way. I decided to make a cup of coffee in the hotel room before heading out because it was pretty chilly out and I knew a warm cup in my hand would help. I bundled up in my puffy jacket, grabbed my backpack and head out.
They aren’t kidding when they say that Chicago is the windy city. I felt like the gusts were getting trapped between buildings, creating a giant wind tunnel directed at my face. I didn’t really mind though, we’ve had similar weather in VA and I was too distracted by the new sights, sounds and scents that the cold didn’t cross my mind often. My walk showed me the real Chicago. People were on their way home from work or grabbing dinner with friends, and I felt like I was just your everyday Chicagoan going on a walk. I had my music in which made it less awkward to be wandering about alone, but never in my life had I ever been more self-conscious of the fact that my headphones had wires. I swear to Bob that every single person I saw with headphones in, had freakin’ Airpods. Were they giving these things out for free here?
As I neared Navy Pier, the skies had gone dark and the sky opened up to some light rain. Despite the gloomy weather, the area was lit up and as vibrant as ever. I could see the Ferris wheel in the distance behind the Chicago Children’s Museum and the surrounding parks and went their immediately, worried about how much longer they would be open.
I reached the kiosk and paid for my ticket which ended up costing a little over $15. I entered the line and was almost immediately boarded on an empty car. The operators were nice and friendly, and had overhead heat lamps to stay warm. As soon as I scooted into my seat, they closed the door and I started my ascent to the top. The car itself was super spacious—It seemed like you could comfortable fit up to 8 people in there.
I wasn’t even halfway up yet and I was already taken by the views. It was dark outside, but the city lights shone bright through the night and illuminated the sky. I was overwhelmed with the vastness of the Great Lake that reached out like an ocean, as far as I could see. I made it to the top and tried to take some quality photos, but it was difficult because the windows were clouded with rain drops. I eventually gave up trying to get photos so I could soak in the view. I was delighted to find out that we were going around again so I would have a second look. When the ride ended, I left feeling very fulfilled and humbled.
I began my trek back to the hotel and stopped to take one last photo of the city. I had already fallen in love, and it was only night one. I exited through the Children’s Museum’s atrium called the Adler Planetarium which featured a greenroom with sky high trees, dancing ponds and tropical flora throughout. When I left the building, I took one last look back at the Ferris wheel and made my way back to the room to share my experience with Rob.
Though this journey was taken solo, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I was able to experience Navy Pier through my own eyes and was able to take in the view from the top wholeheartedly and without distraction. Whether you are traveling with company or alone, I think Navy Pier should be near the top of your list.