Chicago “Staycation” Offers Family-Friendly Fun

The kids’ favorite part of a weekend in Chicago? “The hotel! The hotel’s fitness center!” Weekending in downtown Chicago with small children sounds overwhelming, but a kids’ suite hotel stay and a family-friendly itinerary ensure a safe, fun, and memorable vacation. Swissôtel Chicago’s kids’ suites are like a sky-high family apartment, with a cozy master bedroom and bathroom, spacious common area and bathroom, and a separate but adjoining bedroom and bathroom for the littles. Plenty of full-wall windows provide a panorama of the Windy City, with views of Buckingham Fountain, the Chicago River, Pritzker Pavilion, Maggie Daley Park, and Navy Pier.

The suite’s shared rooms and kids’ wing are equipped with age-appropriate toys, games, and art supplies to engage and entertain without even needing to turn on the TV. The teepee tent provides a snug hideaway and place to house stuffed animals along for the trip. A giggle-filled game of Twister, marker doodling on fresh paper, birds’-eye boat-watching, and exercising in the huge, clean, and upscale Penthouse Fitness Center—you can enjoy the city without ever leaving Swissôtel!

Eventually you’ll need to eat, though, and if room service isn’t your preference, you have plenty of dining options near the hotel. Eggy’s diner at the Chicago-Benton Place location is a 5-minute walk from Swissôtel across a beautifully landscaped park and serves home-cooked breakfast and lunch, coffee and tea, and bar drinks. Milkshakes, fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies, chocolate-chip pancakes, waffles, biscuits and gravy, crepes, skillets, sandwiches, and soups are among the delicious options for feeding a range of tastes. Crayons and a coloring sheet of cute food characters make waiting time seem fast.

Chicago’s one-of-a-kind spy-themed dining experience at the SafeHouse is a 15-minute walk from Swissôtel down the Magnificent Mile to River North. The Red Door at 60 E. Ontario is the entry point to spy headquarters, where you start in a non-descript office and either whisper the correct password to Moneypenny, the front office “secretary,” or engage in an amusing test to gain clearance. Upon entering the underground restaurant and Interpol Bar, you can make your way through dimly lit rooms to explore spy memorabilia, discover secret rooms, complete a checklist of secret agent duties, climb through a sewer pipe labeled “DANGER,” and email goofy selfies from the photo booth.

Silly surprises like one-way mirrors and alarms await in the bathrooms, and kids and adults alike can play with futuristic tech gadgets and create their own agent names. In-character waitstaff check with “Command” regarding food allergy inquiries and provide junior agents with top-secret disguises (sticky-backed fuzzy mustaches) upon request. Reasonably priced fare includes A License to Kill Mac & Cheese, “007” Layer Salad, Mission Impossible burgers, Camp Stanley Nachos, and Russian Finger Potatoes. Junior Spies can request meals like Goldfingers chicken nuggets, Carmen Cortez mac & cheese, or an Uncle Machete chopped taco salad. Make your escape by dialing a secret code in the hidden phone booth, dodge the maze of red lasers in the dark hallway, slap your agent nametag on the wall, and make your discreet exit back onto the city street.  

To head from dinner toward an evening at Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower, ride the scenic water taxi from the north side of the river at Michigan Avenue to the Ogilvie/Union Station stop, followed by a short walk, or call for a 13-minute Lyft drive. The winding, museum-tour walk to get to the elevator bank displays an artful collection of exhibitions, facts and figures about Chicago, and fantastic photo opportunities—an El simulation with vibrating seats and city scenes sliding by the window; a giant, plastic Chicago-style hot dog and deep-dish pizza to rest on; jazz, Oprah, The Second City, Wrigley Field, Cadillac Palace Theatre, and iconic city scene backdrops to pose in front of. A speedy ride in the elevator (1,600 feet per minute) shoots you up to the skyscraper’s viewing level.

The highest observation deck in the U.S., the Skydeck Ledge juts out over four feet from the 103rd floor—a breathtaking 1,353 feet above the Chicago River and Wacker Drive. View the city below with confidence, knowing that the Ledge can withstand four tons of pressure, hold 10,000 lbs, and is seamlessly constructed using three layers of half-inch thick laminated glass. Groups of guests are given a timed five minutes to step into one of the Ledge booths and take in the view, jump, do handstands, yoga poses—however they want to spend their time in the sky. Some feedback from kids who were initially wary of traveling up so high included, “We’re in the air, we’re super-secure, and we’re looking down 100 stories. It was a cool experience!” and “Well, that was awesome, and I totally don’t regret going on it!” A 1.5-mile Lyft ride or walk brings you back to Swissôtel.

From Swissôtel to the massive Chicago Park District play area, Maggie Daley Park, is a 7-minute walk. The largest free activity is the Play Garden, a series of interconnected, imaginative play spaces integrating landscaping with the sculptures and structures. The Sea area features a large-scale ship and lighthouse tower with ladders, slides, talking tubes, and lookout scopes. The Watering Hole’s animal-themed splash pad includes a shady area with a bench for parents. A Harbor boat play zone, Enchanted Forest sensory exploration pathway, and Wave Lawn of rolling topography and sloped hills offer varied equipment and opportunities to engage all senses and stimulate imagination. Slide Crater’s giant suspension bridge slung between two towers is thrilling to run across while trying to keep your footing. Experience slides of all sizes and formations in this area (although the metal variety can be HOT in the summer sun!). Talk through tubes with others around the structure, rotate knobs to spin giant wheels, and be the lookout at the viewing scopes.

Other free areas include the tennis courts, picnic groves, Cancer Survivors’ Garden, and skating ribbon (rollerblades and Micro scooters are available to rent if you don’t bring your own equipment). For a fee and no reservations needed, visitors of any age can scale the Climbing Wall (shoes, helmet, and harness rental is offered), and kids aged 4-8 can even take a 15-minute climbing lesson with an instructor to assist them. Mini golf and a bungee jump are available for a fee. Conveniently located by the skating ribbon, the Rink Café food truck sells hot dogs, burgers, giant pretzels, ice cream, and other refreshments to enjoy under shady umbrellas.

For an energetic, colorful, laughter-filled theater experience, bring the kids to the Blue Man Group at the Briar Street Theatre in the Lakeview neighborhood. While you wait for the show to begin, a scrolling marquee featuring jokes and ridiculous facts sets the tone for the event, warms up the crowd, and encourages audience participation. Through a series of comedic, surprising, awkward, and artful vignettes and instrumental songs involving PVC pipes, paints, lights, water, glow sticks, cereal, remastered instruments, and drums, the talented Blue Man Group cast opens an otherworldly dimension of sensory entertainment that enthralls and mesmerizes. Audience members in the front few rows don rain ponchos as protection from the show’s shower of water droplets, food, and paint. Several individuals were also singled out to participate in the show—on stage or from their seats—in “we’re laughing with you, not at you” situations. There is truly no comparison for this unique performance, and remembering those expressive, endearing blue faces will keep you smiling long after the lights go up.

Back at Swissôtel, the family can order refreshing drinks or nightcaps from the lobby bar and bring them upstairs to the suite, relaxing together in the living area to wind down for the night. A leisurely round of Pictionary or Connect Four or a warm shower under the rainfall showerhead brings an end to the eventful excursion in the city. Watch out the windows as Chicago dims its lights and rests up for a new day ahead.   

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