Archives for category: Chicago

 

Not too long ago, we had the opportunity to take a quick trip to Austin, Texas on the same weekend as the Austin City Limits festival. The bad news: we had the kids in tow.  Austin City Limits (ACL) is billed as an “End of the Summer” music festival which takes place in Zilker Park, the Central Park of Austin.  Drawing acts from around the world, it ranks as one of the top music festivals in the nation.  Being from Chicago, I had visions of Lallapalooza-size crowds and not the most kid-friendly atmosphere (i.e. drunks wandering the streets). However, despite its unofficially tag line to “Keep Austin Weird” we were pleasantly surprised to find lots of kid-friendly (and adult-interesting) activities.

We were lucky enough to stay with family in the area saving us both money and lending their local know-how to the trip, but if you aren’t that lucky, hotels are plentiful, but book in advance, especially if there is a festival in town.  The downtown Austin area had all the major chain hotels while many boutique hotels can be found in South Austin.

The South Congress Area, located just past Lady Bird Lake, named for the former First Lady, is a great spot to get a flavor for the local people who are working hard to keep the unique, artsy vibe to one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S.  This area’s great mix of unique restaurants, boutiques, and independent shops kept not only the adults happy, but also the kids.

You can smell the leather of Allens Boots a store-front away and this huge store is filled with every type of cowboy boot imaginable, including ones emblazoned with the orange T of the University of Texas.  Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, there are plenty of family-friendly eating options including Home Slice Pizza, where they give the kids pizza dough to play with while waiting for their food.  Once you’ve filled up on pizza, be sure to check out the Big Top Candy Store, an old-school candy store filled with nostalgic, old time candy favorites and unique candy from Texas and beyond.

During the warmer months, the largest urban population of Mexican Free-Tailed bats hang out under the Ann Richard’s Bridge.  Around dusk, these bats leave the bridge to feed for the evening.   While normally this sounds like an area to avoid while 750,000 bats coming flying out of one spot, visitors and locals alike swarm to the spot to watch the bats take flight every night.  You can take a boat tour which cruises Lady  Bird Lake until they take off and then position themselves directly under the bridge (BTW, bats stink!) or watch from above on the bridge.

For history buffs, the Bob Bullock State History Museum is just a few blocks from the state capitol and tells the story of Texas from the Native Americans to today.  Also scattered around the city are signs of the city’s revolutionary past, which laid the groundwork for this city’s independent spirit. Replicas of the “Come and Take It” cannon which figured prominently in the Texas war of independence from Mexico and the “Come and Take It” flag depicting the cannon, the Lone Star and slogan, appear all over the city’s shops and galleries.

While we never made it to the ACL grounds, there was plenty to keep us busy and enough to hope for another trip to Austin soon.  The independent cowboy spirit mixed with an artist’s soul makes Austin the perfect place for everyone in your travel party.

To book your trip to Austin or for more information, contact your favorite travel agent at Favorite Place Travel or call 404.409.4174.

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I was a reluctant cruiser. After years of traveling through the US and Europe “independently,” setting our own schedule, stopping when we want to stop, eating when we want to eat, left me with a bias against cruises.  Someone else having control of my schedule just isn’t my thing, I’d tell friends and clients alike. But earlier this year, our family was made an offer we couldn’t refuse and next thing we knew, we were booking our cabin on a Spring Break cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Dream.

We boarded the ship on Monday leaving Port Canaveral for our first stop in Nassau.  The ship’s lobby was gorgeous, very old Hollywood glamour, with a glass chandelier handmade in Italy, open ceilings and a touch of Disney with a bronze Admiral Donald Duck greeting passengers as they board.

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Others had told me that the ships weren’t overly “Disneyfied” and that was true.  Certainly Disney was present in its décor, but subtly so.  The biggest Disney characteristic was in the service provided on board.  The staff was accommodating beyond words. Our wait staff, Gilbert and Christina, who remained with us every night despite rotating through the onboard restaurants, entertained the children along with providing impeccable wait service.  The spa esthetician was the best I’ve experienced.

My husband found the workings of the ship itself fascinating.  Never having travelled on such a large vessel, watching the crew “park” and secure the ship, was amazing itself.  Watching the ship approach Nassau from our verandah, first a lighthouse, than a slip of land, then the massive Atlantis complex raised excitement from everyone.  However, the most excitement for the day was swimming with the dolphins at the Blue Lagoon, one of ship excursions. After an hour with the dolphins and a few more spent snorkeling in the crystal blue lagoon, we were well on our way to becoming cruise converts.  Going to dinner and a show then waking up in Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island, made us fully converted.

I would be remiss to not mention the Oceaneer’s Club and Oceaneer’s Lab, the kids clubs for the younger kids onboard.  Our children chose to go for an hour or so each day after dinner.  During that time, my husband and I explored the ship’s adult areas.  My personal favorite was the swanky champagne lounge, complete with pink and silver décor and a bubble fixture and corset bar. While I think my husband probably preferred the sports bar, what was clear is that there was plenty to do without children on board.

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Perhaps the highlight of the trip, however, was Castaway Cay.  The morning began with the Castaway Cay 5K, crossing the island at my slow and other passengers much faster pace.  After the run, the beach provided plenty to do, from lounging to in-ocean waterslides and ropes area. The island itself has large family beach areas and adult beach area, bike trails and designated snorkeling areas.   Despite the cruise being completely booked, the island never felt crowded or cramped.  Snorkeling equipment and floats are available for rent.  Our favorite activities were swimming with the stingrays and snorkeling searching for the sunken “treasure” off the beach.

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After 5 days onboard, I must admit that never once did I tire of having the schedule set for us.  There were dozens of activities scheduled each day, but we never once felt pressured to do any of them. They were options, not requirements.  As the person who typically makes the plans on vacations, it was refreshing to not have to worry about where we were going to dinner or what we were doing on a particular day.  Would I want to cruise for every vacation? Probably not. Will I do it again? Absolutely.

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To book your trip or for more information, contact your favorite travel agent at Favorite Place Travel or call 404.409.4174.

Favorite Place Travel

Christmastime in the City

Chicago is a fantastic city. It’s New York without the graffiti. We’ve got nice people (mostly) and great food, not to mention the lakefront and the best skyline in the world. Yes, I’m biased, but it’s totally true.  Nonetheless, winter is not usually thought of as the best time for a visit to our fair city. Normally, I’d agree that our winter weather is not ideal. However, Christmastime is pure magic and definitely not to be missed.

The Macy’s store on State Street becomes a holiday wonderland starting the weekend before Thanksgiving.  The animated holiday windows line State Street illustrating the history of Christmas at the store from the early 1900s. On the 5th the iconic Walnut Room on the 7th for a reservation to eat by the tree or go one floor up and check out the viewing area.

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If a more casual meal is more to your liking, the Christkindlmarket (German Christmas market) two blocks west in Daley Plaza is a highlight for both locals and tourists alike. Along with the best bratwurst this side of Germany, authentic German Christmas market stalls serve up potato pancakes, Glühwein, and German beer. Pick up a “passport” for the kids at the Holiday Hub in the pedway level of Block 37. They can get it stamped at each booth while you shop the authentic German goods, many from Bavarian retailers, like Christmas queen Kathe Wohlfhart. The market is especially magical at night when it sparkles with the 100th anniversary official city Christmas tree and Santa’s workshop.

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Back on Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park houses an outdoor skating rink and caroling at the Beanevery Friday. For a Christmas splurge, order a Cloudgate Martini at the Tavern at the Park.  For a mere $212, your pear infused vodka and Champagne martini comes in a silver rimmed glass with a Tiffany sterling silver bean necklace in a little blue box as a garnish!

North on Michigan Avenue leads you down the Magnificent Mile to the one of the finest shopping streets in the nation. Little girls shouldn’t miss the largest American Girl store in Water Tower Place and its Christmas windows, while everyone will love dessert at the Hershey Store, Ghiradelli’s or Sprinkles cupcakes.  Santa and Mrs. Claus reside at the top of the Hancock Building where the views can’t be matched.

If museums are more your cup of tea, head south on Michigan Avenue from Millennium Park to the Art Institute. Its treasure hunt, this year on December 8, has patrons hunting through halls, while you can build your own gingerbread house on December 14. Its wreath-sporting lions are a 60-year tradition for the museum. Further south at the Museum campus on Lakeshore Drive and 12th Street, Shedd Aquarium puts on its Holiday Fantasea show, while the Adler Planetarium hosts the Season of Wonder Winter Sky show.

The Museum of Science and Industry takes on a Disney theme this holiday season as it hosts the Treasures of Walt Disney Archives exhibit.  This exhibit features never-before-seen Disney memorabilia, from Capt. Jack Sparrow’s costume to dolls from It’s a Small World. The Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibits have the 45 foot Grand Tree surrounded by more than 50 smaller ethnic themed trees.

If by now you aren’t exhausted, you can cap off your evening at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoolights.  More than 2 million lights create colorful displays among the Zoo’s exhibits, while kids can enjoy free holiday crafts, ice sculpting and train rides. Best of all, it’s FREE!

While an average temperature of 40 degrees in December may not be beach weather, don’t let a chill in the air knock Chicago off your winter vacation list. The Christmas spirit lives in Chicago.

To book your trip or for more information, contact your travel agent at sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com or sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com or call Susan at 708.479.4693 or Stacey at 404.409.4174.

Favorite Place Travel