Monday, October 30, 2017

Activity: Ultimate Ninjas

As winter approaches, it is good to have some indoor activity options for your kids and play dates that do not involve your home being torn apart by stir crazy kids. 

This is where Ultimate Ninjas comes in.

The space is basically a training ground to prepare you for the TV Show American Ninja Warrior

Sure sure, the space offers great opportunities for birthday parties, classes, and camps, but who knows how long you may have to wait for an invitation to Susie's party....never fear, they also have open play times!


  • There is something for everyone - there was a wide variety age group of kids and everyone was having a blast. There are short lines for the favorite activities and all the kids we saw were incredibly respectful and patient with each other.
  • There is a strict age requirement of six years old. We learned this the hard way.  
  • Only kids are allowed in the equipment area, parents are asked to linger on the outer rim.
  • There are cubbies for coats/hats and a small vending machine with drinks and snacks.
  • The facility is clean and well-maintained.

Cost Savings: 
You can sign up for one or two hours of open play.
We purchased one hour and it was perfect - very reasonably priced (however, check the site for costs).

The Chicago location is near California/Montrose in the Albany Park Neighborhood.

  • CTA Brown Line (Fransico Stop) is a 10 min walk.
  • Parking in the area isn't too bad (but have Spot Hero available just in case).

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Kids had a blast and we will be using this heavily over the cold months ahead! Perfect for getting friends together! (Parents also give 5 stars!)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Activity: Chicago Transportation for Kids

With so many great ways to get around and enjoy Chicago, you shouldn't only flag a taxi!

Below is a quick run-down of our tested transit options in the city, in hopes you will try some of these yourself (in alpha order):

Chicago Transit Authority (Bus/Train CTA)
Reasons to try:
Kids love public transportation - there is so much to see!  Especially trains - Why not test out the real thing, taking the El (train) a few stops next time you are in town?  The elevated trains are great, because you can get a bird's eye view of the city below and even come eye level with some of the best murals in the loop!

Fares are low (and free for kids under 7), and the stops are close to parks, restaurants, and so much more...

Double Decker Bus Tours
Reasons to try:
The tour gives a great overview of the downtown area for tourists (and these locals!), with the option to hop on and off throughout the day(s). They will point out good tourist destinations, interesting building information, and popular museums and restaurants to try.

Even as "seasoned locals," my kids really liked this tour. They loved being on top, surrounded by the buildings and hearing about the Chicago Fire & other fun facts.

The two most popular double decker bus tours in Chicago are the Big Bus and Chicago Trolley. The one we tried was Big Bus, so my notes are specific to that company.

  • The company offers a variety of cost options, based on the route and number of days selected. 
  • The most important factor to your experience is the tour guide. If you don't enjoy their style, get off the bus and wait for the next one. Buses come frequently - usually every 10-15 min. 
    • Shout out to our guide Lance-Romance from the Southside - he was the best!
  • If the bus is full up top, spots tend to open up at these stops: 
    • Museum Campus (Shedd), Water Tower, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Willis Tower
    • It may be worth a few stops sitting on the lower level for first dibs on the spots when they open.
  • If planning to visit Willis Tower, the best plan is to arrive before they open to avoid long waits, thus truncating the rest of your day. 

Horse & Carriage Ride
Reasons to try:
This is a unique ride around a small radius of downtown, including John Hancock, Water Tower, and the Lake. Longer tours can be arranged, but not sure it is worth the time or cost.  My boys enjoyed it (though embarrassingly, their favorite part was the horse relieving itself), but started to get antsy near the end.

  • There are various options for tours: 20 minutes was good for us on the city/lake tour.
  • Purchasing rides onsite are cash only. 
  • You can purchase online tickets, but will still have to wait in line and horses may not come if too hot/cold.

Reasons to try:
Such a fun, unique experience!  The boys loved it - it was a fun way to get somewhere and feel the wind in our hair!

  • Rickshaws can be found all around the city at popular tourist destinations (there is a large number staged at Willis Tower, Navy Pier, etc...)
  • Locals can even hop on after a concert or festival - your very own designated driver!

Boat Tours
Reasons to try:
These are one of my favorite ways to enjoy the city in the summer.  There are so many options for boat tours: River tour, Lake tour, fast, or slow - you will find something to meet your needs. Great views along the river.

We have taken Architectural tours on both the Wendella Boat Tour and Chicago's First Lady.  Both are great experiences with amazing views of the city and great information.
  • Docents are volunteers from the Chicago Architectural Foundation with a true passion and knowledge of Chicago
  • Tours are along the river, and some take in the lake and even some with the fireworks! 
  • There are so many boat tours and they depart from Navy Pier, the Riverwalk, or near the Wrigley Building. Make sure you know where you are heading to avoid confusion!

Chicago Water Taxi
Reasons to try:
Kids love a water taxi!  And so do we! It's such a fun, relaxing way to get around the city - with stops along the river and lake. Not the fastest way to travel, but one of our favorites.

  • Many stops are not ADA (so beware if bringing or using a stroller)
  • Another water taxi option is Shoreline


Other / Misc:
You know kids also love regular taxis / Ubers - though it does make it strange when the kids start walking to other people's cars and fully expecting to get inside (and have had to stop them from jiggling the car door handles).

Did I miss your favorite?  If so, leave it in the comments!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Activity: Chicago Harold Washington Children's Library (Thomas Hughes Children's Library)

If you haven't been to the newly renovated Children's Library at the beautiful Harold Washington Library Center, you are missing out!  Not only is the library itself historical* and gorgeous enough to host weddings and high-end events, it now has a state-of-the-art, hands on Thomas Hughes Children's Library.

The creators developed many different areas for children to experience, complete with nooks for crafts, Legos, Magna Tiles, blocks, and so much more. The seating is kid-sized is plentiful and even comfortable for adults (we tested it to make sure) and kids can crawl through or sit in cubby holes throughout the space.

The library often hosts events for the community (real animals are being brought in!  Will there be a Library Lion? One can only hope...): check out their current listing here. You can even schedule a tour of the building!

Some great aspects of the Children's Library:

  • Entryway: showcases projects and crafts with the current theme (super hero)
  • Puppet Area: for kids to grab from a large variety of puppets and put on their own play.
  • Pillars: place sticky notes around the theme (who is your super hero? What power would you have?)
  • Activities: so many activity nooks!
  • Books and DVDs: as far as the eye can see! So many great options for kids and parents to borrow and enjoy.
  • Computer Stations: several throughout the room for playing and exploring.
  • Slick checkout machines
  • Two Studios - Large, glass-enclosed rooms, maybe for private events or classes
  • The library also hosts a MakerLab, YOUmedia (for High Schoolers), Building Tours, and Special Collections focused on Chicago.

Look at all this comfy seating!
Cost Savings: FREE!!

South Loop
Accessible by El (basically every color line), bus .
As street parking is limited, there are a few garage options as well.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
We had a blast and were only able to pull the kids away from there was the promise to watch a new (borrowed from the library) movie!

My 6 year old showed us how to use this.

*The Harold Washington Library was opened in 1991 as the Chicago Public Library's main library, named after the cities first African American Mayor and is the largest public library building in the world!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Road Trip: Six Flags Great America (Gurnee, IL)

Our family had a great experience at our first (family) trip to Six Flags!

Rides are restricted by height, so ensure your shortest family member is a min of 36" or you will be paying a lot of money for very little to do.

Main Height Breakdowns:
36" Height - Access to:
  • All the kiddie rides (think sitting in a car that follows a pre-set path; planes that circle).
    • Located in County Fair Kidzopolis & Hometown Square
  • 2 roller coasters: The Whizzer and Little Dipper (our small guy loved both)
  • Roaring Rapids & Yankee Clipper/Log Rides

42" Height - Access to all of the above and:
  • Justice League - 4D Laser Game
  • Demon - upside down roller coaster
  • The Dark Knight - completely dark indoor coaster (note: scared my 6yo and a nearby older child)

48" Height - All of the above and:
  • 12 additional coasters/water rides, including The Joker, Goliath, and Giant Drop

54" Height - Everything, including:
  • Batman
  • X flight
  • Superman

  • The park opens earlier than stated on the website, so arrive early for great parking and faster admittance.
  • Upon entry, beeline for the rides you most want to experience - no line; no wait! Most likely you will be able to ride it a few times without a wait.
  • We arrived when the park opened, and made it until 6pm before we tired out. Didn't even make it to Hurricane Harbor.
  • We came dressed in our swim suits, as there are splash pads and water rides in the normal park. We were glad we did.  Our kids did not enjoy roaring rapids or the yankee clipper (which was sad for the parents).
  • Food in the park is expensive, and many smart folks leave the park and eat in their car.

Look at this smart family!!
Cost Savings:
There are typically ways to save on ticket prices, so make sure to check online.

Kid's Jury: 4 stars
Had a great time. Would like it more if costs were lower for kids that can't do many of the rides :) Only complaint.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Annual Event: Chicago Dragon Boat Races

If you are wondering the best weekend to experience Chicago's Chinatown, my vote is the weekend of the Chicago Dragon Boat Races for Literacy.  We attend this every year and enjoy the races and overall ambience.

It's a great day to see the races and tour the Chinatown neighborhood! Just steps away is the Joy Yee restaurant for lunch, dinner, or try one of their huge smoothies!

If you missed the races this year, there is still plenty to see and do while in Chinatown.

< Enormous smoothie list equals the size of the smoothies. 

  • Located on the River, at Ping Tom Memorial Park.
  • The park has a nice playground and beautiful green space with Chinese-themed paths and bridges.
  • Cultural Performances take place throughout the day
  • Includes food trucks, neighborhood vendors/sponsors, and kids' activities
Cost Savings:

Access to the area is great: Red Line Cermak/Chinatown Stop; Numerous bus routes; and even the Chicago Water Taxi!

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Every year is fun

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Activity: Chicago Architecture Foundation | Read & Build

Was thrilled to tag-a-long on a school field trip to the Chicago Architecture Foundation Read & Build : Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.

It was a blast for both the kids and chaperones - we highly recommend it for families to attend!

The CAF did a great job with the kids; read well, interacting with the kids throughout the story; and then kids were able to build with blocks and create their own tractor.


  • The whole activity was well themed, with the book really getting kids excited to build and create.
  • The highlight was the model version of Chicago in the lobby -- the kids loved pointing out the river, John Hancock, Willis Tower, Soldier Field, and looking for their school.
  • The Read & Build program curriculum changes each month.

Cost Savings:

Downtown/Loop - close to a variety of public transportation
224 South Michigan Avenue

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
It was great - we'll be doing it again!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Activity: Little Diner's Crew

If you like to try new restaurants, and struggle with how to involve your kids, then The Little Diner's Crew is for you!

The Little Diner's Crew is a new concept, providing a unique dining experience for kids and parents. As their site states, they hope to expose kids "to different types of foods...and learn about where their food comes from -- and how it's prepared."

We tested it out with our 6 year old and had a great time. The restaurant we visited (The Spanish Square) had a 3 course meal, a kitchen tour, kid-friendly Sangria (as mom enjoyed an adult version...or two), and even a little take home bag with a recipe to make your own (kid-friendly) Sangria at home!

How it works:

  1. Become a Member - information found here 
    • Membership fees are annual and only purchased for the kid participants.
    • Members receive a little passport booklet to get "stamped" at each restaurant.
  2. View the site for upcoming date and restaurant options.
  3. Pay online and have a great time!
    • Prices vary based on the restaurant / cuisine selected.


  • The owners couldn't be nicer or more welcoming (or more patient with my inquiries).
  • Kids are seated at one table; parents at another.
  • Cuisine is adjusted for kids palettes (ie, at the Indian Restaurant, they dialed down the spice, etc)
  • The estimated timeframe of our restaurant was two hours, which felt a bit daunting. Although I took along some Spain themed activities just in case, we didn't need them at all! The kids were entertained by the hosts, rating cards, and other activities.
    • Personal note: I did force my son to enjoy my fun facts on Spain when driving home, because, shoot, I put in the effort.
Cost Savings
Membership fee is discounted for more than one child.

Varies with each venue throughout the city.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
I am thrilled this exists and can't wait for our family to eat our way through Chicago (and the global cuisine)!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Activity: The Kids' Table

We had the opportunity to enjoy a night at The Kids' Table, and had a great time! The Kids' Table is a cooking school with hands on experience specifically for kids and families, complete with kid-sized cheese graters, choppers, and whisks!  Who doesn't love mini cooking utensils?

All the kids (ages 4-8) were engaged and took part in prepping three aspects of our meal: stuffed pasta shells, pasta sauce, garlic bread, and strawberry pie.

This was our second visit and it is so fun to witness the children's' independence and participation in cooking.

To sign up for a class, visit their website to view availability and associated menu. They collect dietary restrictions as well, should this be a need!

  • You can bring wine to enjoy during your time (the venue will supply glasses).
  • The venue focuses on healthy cooking, so make sure you like the menu (especially for picky eaters)
  • As a part of meal prep, the kids are asked to clean the table and cutting board - was great to see them put to work!
  • The food wasn't loved by (most of) the kids this time -- but maybe that was the fault of the cooks and my kids are not the most refined eaters... :)
We do the Family Dinner option (there are other options) and prices are very reasonable.  When we compare the cost per person, it is less than paying for a sitter, so it is a guilt-free night out with family & friends!

Check the site for specific price information.

  • There are two locations (as of Feb 2017): Wicker Park and Lincoln Park
  • Contact Information
  • We go to the Wicker Park location, and have driven / used street parking (typically free)
Kid's Jury: 5 stars
We will definitely do it again!!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Activity: Brooklyn Boulders (Indoor Rock Climbing)

As the weather cools, it is great to have a place for kids to burn off energy...inside.

Brooklyn Boulders is a large indoor rock climbing facility with a variety of climbing options: bouldering, auto-belay, top-roping, and lead climbing. The facility also includes a workout area, yoga classes, and private party space (with private climbing wall).

First timer tips:

  • The routes on the wall are graded and color-coded. 
  • Bouldering starts at V0 and difficultly increases from there (V1, V2, etc). 
  • Climbing with belays start at 5.7 and get harder the higher the number (5.8, 5.9, 5.10, etc)

I only took our 6 year old, but saw kids of all ages scurring up the walls like little squirrels. My son loved it, but didn't last too long.


  • About 5 auto-belay options -- one is very easy, so a great starting point for new climbers.
  • They offer classes, packages, and membership options.
  • Highly recommend completing the online waiver before arriving at the venue.
  • Have locker rooms, free wifi, and cubbies for guests.
  • Received an email after our visit for a chance to return for $19/person (including gear!).

Cost Savings:

  • $36 includes daily pass ($25/person -- no child discount), plus gear ($11).
  • If climbing during off-peak hours, the daily pass price is reduced to $20/person.
  • See last bullet under noteworthy.
  • Would love to see a discount for kids pricing or a half-day pass rate to make pricing more accessible.

West Loop
While there are a few public transportation options available, we drove and were able to find free street parking pretty easily (there is not a parking area attached to the venue).

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Loved it and would love to go back, if we find discounted rate options.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Suburb Activity: Northbrook Court Pop-ups

During the holidays, we trekked to Northbrook to see a few pop-up activities taking place: Age of the Dinosaurs and The Painted Penguin.

We had a blast! Northbrook is a great little mall with shopping (though we just browsed the LEGO store), movie theater, children's play area, and these two great pop-up stores!

Age of Dinosaurs was small in comparison to the Rosemont Discover the Dinosaurs event. However, it is brighter and more inviting. My younger son did not do well at the larger and darker Rosemont event, but was very comfortable at Age of the Dinosaurs -- there were little dinosaur themed activities and 6 types of dinosaurs, each one moved and the kids loved the dino babies.

The Painted Penguin is a pop-up painting activity - you select an item to paint (from small penguins or letters to medium-sized canvases. They provided all the materials, even a finishing glaze!


  • Age of Dinosaurs: can climb a triceratops and put your head in the T-Rex's mouth
  • Mall App: GGP Mall - provides locations of shops, events, and parking recommendations.

Cost Savings:

  • Each activity was inexpensive.
  • Dinosaurs: $6/ticket
  • Penguin: Varies based on item painted


  • Northbrook
  • Driving is recommended 

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Kids had a good time.
I just wished for better food court style options for lunch.  Drive wasn't too bad!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Activity: Pinstripes $3 Bowling

Pinstripes is an upscale bowling, bocce, and bistro located near Navy Pier. They have great food, good service, and who can beat a $3 bowling deal for kids?

Check here for current deals and discounts, as we took advantage in 2016 (from 10-noon).

They prepare well for the kids, with 6 pound balls, automatic bumpers at their turn, and ball guide, and kids meals. They had a great time.


  • $1 adult beverages
  • $1 Desserts for the kids and each kid's meal includes a bread stick
  • Great lounge furniture and shoe holders; plenty of table space for food and drink
  • Valet does not start until noon. Learned this the hard way (luckily, spot hero is our favorite app)

Cost Savings:

  • Three dollar bowling
  • Discounted drinks and food

Streeterville, near Navy Pier
Several bus routes stop close to the facility.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Great time!