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Shedd Aquarium

A Girl's Getaway Mini-Vacation in our Hometown of Chicago!

May 13, 2013 Chicago

The exterior of a building

Like most everyone, my life is filled with lot of things to do from work to kids to household chores.

I actually travel extensively around the country for my job giving advice and tips about family vacations. So, how do I relax? By taking a much needed vacation with my own family. Vacations are wonderful because it gives you time to really connect with the family. There are no meetings, school and sport schedules or rush, rush, rush.

The only problem is with all these schedules, where do you find the time to take that long, wonderful vacation?

I couldn’t find the time to take a “real vacation” so that is when I decided to take a “mini-vacation” and where better than in my hometown of Chicago? When on a vacation, we all seem to hit up certain iconic sites in a new city. But, unless relatives are coming in from out of town, I always forget to be a tourist in my own city! So, I decided to plan a “girl’s getaway weekend”! I planned this getaway not with my “mom friends”, but with my little girls, ages 10 and 8 and my sister and niece, age 7.

THE JW MARRIOT – beautifully appointed family-friendly hotel located in the heart of downtown

After we had packed up and picked the girls up from school, we headed downtown to the JW Marriott, located right in the heart of the city. Now, I’ve been to Marriott’s before, but I have to say that I was absolutely blown away by the JW Marriott. It was not only beautiful, but the level of service was unbelievable. I felt like I walked into one of the most luxurious hotels in Chicago yet the hotel was also super family friendly. When we walked in, we were greeted with a warm welcome and in the lobby the girls saw beautiful glass jars filled with water and fresh fruit. The kids got to fill glasses with this refreshing drink and the bellmen just smiled on. No one was worried about kids touching things. In fact, they encouraged it.

When we got to our rooms, the spaces were so relaxing and modern. I have stayed in many nice hotels in Chicago and I have to say this was top of the line in terms of accommodations. The girls loved the rooms with their view of the Willis Tower. We stayed in a suite with a dividing door for all 5 of us girls. This was great because we were all together but still had our own space. Plus, there was a living room in between where we could all chat and talk about our day. But, the biggest surprise was the bathroom. The JW Marriott suites have the biggest bathtub I have ever seen in a hotel…. especially in a city hotel. This was one splurge that was definitely worth it!

The Peninsula Lobby for Dinner – yes, it is kid-friendly!

After the excitement of discovering the hotel, we headed off to dinner but had to decide where to go that the moms would love and feel relaxed but also was kid friendly. A good suggestion came from an acquaintance to try the 5 star Peninsula Hotel for dinner. Now, I know what you are thinking. A 5 star hotel kid friendly?! However, the key was to have dinner in the lobby of the Peninsula. Not only was it a beautiful setting but it was a warm and comfortable atmosphere. As we arrived, we heard a quartet playing on a balcony overlooking the lobby. I was a bit worried that it might be classical music and might have the girls bored but I didn’t say anything, hoping they might take a liking to classical. However, all of a sudden as we sat down, my daughter said, “Mommy they are playing Kelly Clarkson. It’s Blown Away”. They loved it and started mouthing the words. Every classical song was a pop song in disguise. The parents loved it because it was a string quartet and the kids loved that it was “their music”. The food was excellent and after eating dinner, the server surprised us and told us about the dessert table. Our girls eyes and mouths were wide open as they saw the 20 foot plus long table filled with the most beautiful little pastries and cakes. It was a kid’s dream and a mom’s too! 

After a wonderful night at The Peninsula, we headed back to dreamland rested our heads on down-filled pillows at the JW Marriott dreaming about our adventure on Saturday in Chicago.

Breakfast at the JW Marriott’s Il Fortino restaurant – eclectic breakfast dishes and big orders of pancakes

We woke up to a beautiful sunny spring day! We had breakfast at the hotel’s Il Fortino. The Il Fortino had huge portions for breakfast. The girls all split the pancakes but my sister and I opted for something different, as the Il Fortino is known for twists on breakfast fare. They didn’t disappoint!

Family in front of the fish tank Kids staring at the jellyfish Kids staring at picture of jellyfish

The Shedd Aquarium – Beluga whales, dolphins and jellies – all located on the shore of Lake Michigan

After filling up on breakfast, we headed over to the Shedd Aquarium. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, this is one of my girls’ favorite places in Chicago. Our favorite attraction was a tie between the beautiful beluga whale and her baby (so cute) and the jellies….the latest exhibit at the Shedd. The jellies exhibit was so colorful and it amazing to see these unusual creatures up close. Also, it was a great educational experience because we learned about jellies from all over the world! Oh, and we couldn’t forget the sea otters, who loved to play and show off to us from behind the glass.

Buildings sign with lights

Giordano’s for lunch – Good ol’ Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Lunchtime at Giordano’s and their famous deep dish pizza. Before we headed to our next museum, we had to feed our hungry stomachs and what better way to do that than to have a legendary Chicago deep dish pizza. We headed over to Giordano’s located right off Rush Street. Something to keep in mind, Deep Dish Pizza takes about 45-50 minutes to cook, so on advice from a friend, I called ahead and ordered the pizza 40 minutes before we arrived. This is super helpful because kids do not like to wait long for food when they are hungry. And, that said, neither do us adults.

So, within 10 minutes of arriving at Giordano’s, we dug into our deep dish pizza and took a bite out of a Chicago legend! Another tip- order a small thin crust. My 10 year old enjoyed the deep dish but I guess the deep dish must have looked huge to my 8 year old daughter and 7 year old niece. As the minute they saw the deep dish, they wouldn’t even try it (must be the age). Luckily, I had ordered a small thin crust. The younger girls were happy and us parents and my 10 year-old all smiled and thought, “yeah more deep dish for us”!

Valeo sign with a blue lights People at the counter-desk

VALEO SPA – JW Marriott – A customized experience in a serene environment

My sister, Catie and I switched off watching kids at the pool and getting a massage at the Valeo spa in the JW Marriott. I was glad I brought my sister because the kids were happy in the pool and switching off duties worked out perfectly for us to have some much needed “me time”. Catie and I both chose the massage and we were surprised by the level of service provided by the spa. Valeo’s concept is different from any other spa I have ever been to. They really want you to have a customized experience so several days before my spa appointment, they gave me a call and asked me all sorts of questions. As a result, the day I got my massage, I had a masseuse that knew exactly what I wanted, the perfect amount of pressure all complimented by the lovely lavender smells that I love. Only problem was, I didn’t want to leave!

However, dinner was around the corner and I was excited to experience the famous Chicago restaurant started by the legendary Cubs broadcaster, Harry Caray.

Meat and potato on a plate

I have to say that when I arrived at Harry Carey’s I was expecting a nice sit down “burger type of place”, so I was surprised to find white table clothes and steak and seafood on the menu. Of course, they do have hamburgers on the menu, but what I loved most was that is was in a casual atmosphere surrounded by sports memorabilia. So, I could have what I really wanted, which was a really nice sit down dinner, all while keeping the kids happy too. In addition to all the sports memorabilia, the girls loved looking around at all the photos of the celebs that had dined at Harry Caray’s. And, the service, I have to say, was outstanding. I ordered a beautiful Pinot Noir to go with my perfectly prepared steak with a baked potato and sautéed mushrooms. The girls had their kid’s menu and were entertained by all the fun things to see in the restaurant and my sister and I both had a nice glass of vino and a beautiful steak. Needless to say, we were in heaven! As I dined and looked around the restaurant, I got one last surprise. Dutchie Carey, the late Harry Caray’s wife, strolled into the dining room and sat down to dine two tables away from us. Of course, I thought to myself, only in down to earth Chicago would you see Dutchie Carey, a local Chicago celeb, in her own right, dine two tables away from us.

At the end of the meal, it was such a beautiful evening, we decided to take in the city and stroll through the flower lined streets back to the beautifully appointed kid-friendly JW Marriott. What a wonderful “girls getaway” it was. We bonded, we laughed and we enjoyed Chicago like true tourists!

Of course, the girls are already asking, “When can we do it again?”

– Colleen Kelly, Illinois Mile Marker

Thanks to our partners for making this trip possible, including the JW Marriott, the Valeo Spa and CityPASS. Want to follow in Mile Marker Colleen Kelly’s footsteps? Travel the below map!


View Illinois Mile Markers: Chicago Itinerary in a larger map

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