After the brutal winter, it’s time to enjoy Chicago and all the area has to offer while the sun is shining and the cool breeze from Lake Michigan makes for a fun afternoon or weekend. Guest blogger, John Garcia from ABC-7, wrote about his week with our daughters. Hopefully, you’ll get a few ideas and be inspired to jump in the car and explore all the area has to offer…
Summer vacation. The words to mind happy memories of warm sun, and plenty of family fun. But where to go? There are so many options! I’ve done the driving trips where I’m in the car for hours with the kids going to places like Wisconsin Dells, Michigan City, St. Louis, Nashville and even Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Not to take anything away from those places – we’ve had some wonderful vacations there over the years – but as I thought about how to enjoy my recent vacation with my four kids, it occurred to me that there is so much to do in the area that they rarely do or see, that I really don’t need to spend hours in the car or at the airport, or a fortune on hotel rooms and air fare. That’s clearly why someone coined the term ‘staycation.’
All it takes is a little planning. Normally, that’s not my strong suit. Nevertheless, I started forming ideas of what my four young girls would enjoy a few weeks before, and pared down the list to what I thought would be their favorites. Being a single dad, I felt a little pressure to make sure the kids had a memorable time. And I have to say, I think I came up with some winners! Here is a day-by-day look at our top choices:
Since the kids got out of school on Thursday the week before, and they spend much more time at their mother’s home than mine, I figured we would ease into the vacation mode. Sunday would be a good day to stay pretty close to home and get comfortable being together as a family unit. So we invited a few friends over for a barbeque and let the kids and their friends have the run of the back yard. Between their bikes, toys, play sets and trampoline, they have lots to do right at home, and it’s good to let them get a chance to do some of those things without the early bed times that come during the school year. They took full advantage, and stayed up well past their usual bed time. But after a full day of playing, they were pretty exhausted, and slept well!
We stayed home on Monday because of a wake I needed to attend that evening, but the girls took it upon themselves to try to earn some spending money for the vacation by opening up a lemonade stand. I believe they made about $15, though it probably cost me about $25 in product.
By Tuesday, we were ready to hit the road! We packed up the car and picked up Grandma for the trip north to Gurnee and Key Lime Cove! What would summer be without spending some time at a water park? We have been to quite a few of them in the area, and I have to say I like Key Lime Cove the best for the variety of activities for the kids. There are tons of water slides and activities for the littlest ones up to the adults. That’s why Grandma volunteered to come along, to help watch them as they pulled me in different directions to one of the slides or the lazy river or another attraction. It’s a really safe, clean park with lots of life guards keeping a watchful eye, which is important to parents with several kids to keep track of!
But it’s also a blast. My six year old couldn’t get enough of the giant ‘bowl’ slide that sends you swirling around a bowl before plunging into the hole in the bottom of the bowl and into another tunnel that dumps you into a pool at the end. We did that together several times on a two-person tube. The eight and nine year olds were big enough to go down some of the other slides by themselves, while my five year old had the run of the smaller slides in the middle of the park. We stayed the night at the hotel, and got to enjoy the park for two full days. Of course, when they needed a break from the water activities, they were more than happy to go to the arcade with tons of interactive games located just outside the door to the water area. My kids were in heaven and didn’t want to leave!
I finally convinced them to go by explaining we had more fun in store for our next adventure. We were headed downtown to see some of the sights in Chicago! You know, it’s that place with all the skyscrapers next to a big lake where I go to work every day? Yeah, well they also have some pretty fun stuff to do there! One of the best is the Lincoln Park Zoo. That was our first stop. As most parents are already aware, it’s a real gem for the city. Not only is it a great zoo with a huge variety of animals and activities, but it’s free! We spent the night at my brother’s home, and then enjoyed some beach time before heading to our next destination that afternoon.
A friend invited us to his place in Twin Lakes Wisconsin, literally less than a mile over the Wisconsin/Illinois border. The girls all got a chance to catch a fish, and go tubing, both for the first time! Twin Lakes is a nice, small town just south of Lake Geneva, but less ‘touristy.’ In other words, other than my friends, I don’t believe you are apt to run into a bunch of Chicago people there!
Finally, on Saturday, we did what the girls have been asking to do since last summer. We went to Santa’s Village Azoosment Park in East Dundee! This park a lot of history. My parents used to take me and my brothers there as a kid. It has been updated quite a bit since those days, with lots of great rides for younger kids, as well as lots of live animals to interact with. I still can’t believe they were willing to let a zookeeper put a six-foot python on their laps. There are also characters in costume roaming the grounds, including the Jolly Big Guy himself. Yes, you can even stop in and visit with Santa for a few minutes.
We were there when the gates opened at 11am and stayed five hours, but we could have easily doubled that. The kids didn’t want to leave! Eventually we had to go back home through and reflect on a wonderful week. We never left the Chicago area, never drove further than an hour, and still managed to have an action-packed vacation by basically staying home!