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I traveled to Chicago with a friend last month, and the admission fees to some of the top attractions really seemed daunting. Between the two of us, it looked like we were going to have to spend nearly $500 just to see a handful of museums!
As you know, traveling with a wheelchair is already expensive. We have to reserve accessible hotels, ride in ADA taxis, rent mobility equipment, purchase travel insurance, etc. Those costs add up, and adding the cost of activities and food can really make accessible travel inaccessible.
Chicago CityPASS saved the trip for me and my friend, with two complimentary attractions passes. For just $98, you can purchase a CityPASS of your own and save more than $100 off the cost of admission to 5 of the Windy City’s “must-see” attractions. That’s a 53% discount!
Here are the 5 things I saw with my CityPASS:
Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
The Willis Tower was built in 1973 and is a 108-story, 1,451-foot skyscraper in downtown Chicago. Known by most as the Sears Tower, it reigned as the world’s tallest building for 25 years, until it was overtaken by the Petronas Twin Towers in 1998. It is currently the second tallest building in the United States, behind One World Trade Center.
Tourists can visit the top of the tower at Skydeck Chicago, an observation deck on the 103rd floor. The Skydeck is wheelchair accessible. Added in 2009, “The Ledge” is the most talked about feature of the Skydeck. Three glass boxes extend four feet from the side of the building, allow visitors to capture some incredible photos while standing on glass over Wacker Drive.
Although you may be apprehensive about taking a heavy wheelchair into a glass box 1,353 feet above the street below, it is safe! The glass floor can support approximately 5 tons of weight and no one has fallen through yet. It was a pretty neat experience, and I would do it again.
There is more the Skydeck than The Ledge, though. 360 degree views of the Chicago skyline await, and they are exceptional on a clear day.
Because the weather was great, I rolled up to one of the wheelchair accessible viewing telescopes to gain a better view of the city and skyline below. It also made for a great Instagram photo, captured by my good friend Cliff.
With the CityPASS, I was able to experience the Skydeck, its famous glass boxes and incredible views of Downtown Chicago. CityPASS holders are entitled to express “Fast Pass” entry and get to skip the long waiting lines. Without CityPASS, general admission for adults is $22.00 and “Fast Pass” entry costs $49.00.
The John G. Shedd Aquarium is a Chicago landmark, founded in 1930 and located on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. It is located on Museum Campus Chicago, within walking distance of other CityPASS attractions like the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and the Art Institute of Chicago.
A special wheelchair accessible entrance in located on the side of the building. Signs on the museum campus will direct you to that entrance. On the day of my visit, the ticket booth downstairs was extremely busy, so we were directed upstairs to check-in with our CityPASS.
We exchanged the ticket in our passbooks for the actual museum ticket, and selected a 4-D movie showing time. Every ticket includes a pass to view one of the 4-D films being shown in the aquarium’s theater – we chose Coastal Predators. This was a great film of about 15 minutes – I highly recommend it! Wheelchair accessible seats and parking spaces are located at the rear of the theater.
The Shedd Aquarium is one of the largest in the country. The total volume of its tanks is approximately 5 million gallons of water. These tanks hold 32,000 animals, comprised of 1,200 species of marine life. The animals are diverse, and make up exhibits including “Amazon Rising,” “Caribbean Reef,” “Polar Play Zone,” “Waters of the World” and “Wild Reef,” among others.
Art Institute of Chicago
In 2014, TripAdvisor ranked the Art Institute of Chicago as the #1 museum in the world. While I wouldn’t go that far, it is certainly a top 25 museum – if you are a lover of art. The museum was founded in 1879, and has inhabited its current building since 1893 – making it one of the oldest in the United States.
The Art Institute’s permanent collection of more than 300,000 works encompasses all time periods and mediums. The largest and most celebrated collections include African and Indian Art of the Americas; American Art; Ancient and Byzantine; European Painting and Sculpture; Photography; and Textiles.
One of the most popular paintings on display is Grant Wood’s American Gothic. This was my first time seeing it, and I was surprised that the work was produced on such a small canvas. I had expected it to be substantially bigger. Other notable works include Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Van Gogh’s The Bedroom and Paul Gauguin’s Day of the God. There are also beautiful pieces by Henry Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Rembrandt, among many others.
General admission to the museum is priced at $25, and a fast pass is $35. The Chicago CityPASS includes fast pass admission, which will allow you to skip all of the lines!
The CityPASS gives travelers the ability to choose admission to the Adler Planetarium, in lieu of the Art Institute. Obviously, I chose the art museum, but but the Planetarium is also a great experience. It’s up to you to decide!
Field Museum of Natural History
The Field Museum of Natural History traces its own history to the Columbian Exposition of 1893. The museum’s present structure was built in 1921 and is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Although the Classical Revival museum architecture is stunning, the real treasures are inside. The permanent collections are diverse and include Ancient Americas, DNA Discovery Center, Grainger Hall of Gems, Inside Ancient Egypt, Mammals of Africa, Mammals of Asia and Underground Adventure, among others.
The most popular exhibit at the Field Museum is Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex. Sue is the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton fossil ever found. Approximately 85% of the skeleton is intact and on display, and they measure 40 feet by 12 feet as currently assembled.
Another spectacular exhibit, though temporary, is China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors, on display through January 8, 2017. The museum received many of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s terra-cotta warriors, dating from the 3rd century B.C., on loan from Chinese museums. It is truly an incredible exhibit that you will not want to miss.
The museum and its exhibits are wheelchair accessible, and different floors can be reached via elevator.
Admission to the Field Museum is $38 for adults. You can save money on this admission fee if you purchase the CityPASS.
Ready for another observatory? 360 CHICAGO, formerly the John Hancock Observatory, is located on the 98th floor of the John Hancock Building in Downtown Chicago. The John Hancock Center is located o Michigan Avenue, just a few blocks away from Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
The views from 360 CHICAGO are more impressive than those from the Willis Tower, due to the building’s closer proximity to the great lake.
The first (or left) image above depicts the (sort of) open air balcony on the observation level. A window screen allows air to pass through into this portion of the viewing platform. It’s a nice way to take in the city below, if even for a few moments.
The second (or right) image above is a picture of the beautiful Chicago skyline, through one of the glass windows of the deck. The weather was unfortunately rather poor and cloudy when I visited, so make sure to hold out for good weather.
360 CHICAGO is wheelchair accessible, and the elevator ride to the top is quick. CityPASS holders receive express entry and are able to skip the occasionally long lines to purchase tickets and access the elevator. Without the CityPASS, admission costs $20 for adults.
The CityPASS gives travelers the ability to choose admission to the Museum of Science and Industry, in lieu of 360 CHICAGO. Obviously, I chose the observation deck, but MOSI is also a great experience.
I was grateful for the opportunity to take a Chicago CityPASS out for a spin. The pass provides access to many of the most popular attractions in the city, including a few that are an absolute must-see.
If you’d like to purchase a CityPASS and save money on your vacation, click here. With CityPASS, you’ll be able to see everything that interests you, and keep more money in your pocket! It’s a win-win situation for everyone!