Greeted by friendly staff as we checked in to Air New Zealand's newly refurbished lounge prior to our flight we were treated to a range of delicious food and drinks. Coffee promptly delivered after ordering with the ipad self-service system. Sleek design which is open and spacious yet offering enough privacy to unwind before flight.
This design theme continues as we stepped on board our 777-300 wide body aircraft to Auckland. Operating 3 cabins - business, premium economy and economy. Business class set out with the inverted seat pattern to offer every seat an aisle access and fully lie flat seats. I was struck mostly by how much bigger the seats in premium economy were. Leather seats set out in a spacious 2-3-2 configuration provide much more width (19.3 inch) and pitch (41 inch) than I had envisioned.
Transferring through Auckland Airport to our next flight was a breeze and we were soon stepping on board the new Dreamliner to Chicago, Air NZ’s newest direct route. This flight operates 3 times a week with seats available in business, premium economy and economy. Economy also has the added benefit of Air New Zealand's SkyCouch which is well worth the upgrade, especially if you are travelling with kids!
15 hours later we landed in the Windy City (which isn’t windy at all) of Chicago. Our hotel of choice was The Viceroy, located in the upscale neighbourhood known as the Gold Coast. With its stately homes and high rise apartment buildings it proved as a great base to further explore this enigmatic city. The Viceroy Chicago is housed in a 120 year old, art deco building with a rooftop pool & bar offering city skyline and lake Michigan views. Boutique style accommodation provide spacious, well appointed, retro chic décor giving us everything you would expect from a 5 star accommodation.
After a quick nespresso (offered in room amenity) we were ready to hit the town (surprisingly I know after such a long flight!!) We headed to Chicago’s most famous steak house, Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse, known for their larger than life steaks and old school hospitality (all male waiters.) After dinner we continued on to yet another famous location, this time known for its music - Kingston Mines, the largest and oldest operating Blues club in Chicago.
After a refreshing sleep and hearty breakfast at the Pancake House located steps from the hotel, our first day in Chicago started with enjoying the panoramic views of the city from Sky Deck Chicago. Buzzing up the 103 floors in less than 60 seconds you definitely feel on top of the world. If you’re game you can step out onto the “Ledge”, a glassed in platform hanging out over the city skyline of Chicago. A great way to gain a birds eye view of the city and structure a plan on best how to fit everything in!
A stop at the Chicago Theatre we were guided through a building steeped in history on the daily tour operating at midday from the lobby. Next, time for lunch at Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta on the Chicago Loop for Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza. Invented in Chicago this pizza is more like a pie by Australian standards with toppings piling up inches in the deep pan.
Our afternoon was spent on Segways exploring the city with Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours. As a complete Segway novice it didn’t take long to gain confidence with the instruction and pre tour Segway practice with our friendly guide. We then scooted out to explore Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain before buzzing back though Michigan Avenue famous for its outdoor art installations, statues and monuments on our 2 hour tour.
After a much deserved break from too much fun we ventured back to our hotel to get ready for our visit to yet another icon The Green Mill. Heaving with people even on a Thursday night we found ourselves a booth and a couple of drinks to sit back and enjoy the tunes from the 30’s and 40’s jazz era while watching couples of all capabilities dance the night away in what used to be the club of choice for the infamous Al Capone.
To commence our second day we started with a visit to the historic hotel – Palmer House. Built by Potter Palmer for his wife Bertha back in 1871, only to burn down 13 days later and be rebuilt again as the most luxurious hotel of its time. Operating the first ever elevators not only does the hotel boast it’s proud history of architectural feats but also the long stream of past presidents, performers and authors (Oscar Wilde stayed here). A timeless hotel with the walls adorned with original paintings from Monet (Bertha and he were friends) it definitely has the wow factor to impress as you enter the lobby with the most amazing ceiling fresco. Rooms (all 1641 of them) are well appointed and offer a glimpse into the past while giving the guest all the modern conveniences they are accustomed to.
To continue on with the art them of the day we walked to the nearby Art Institute of Chicago, passing past the Historic Route 66 Sign for a quick phot opportunity. Across the road we entered and were greeted by our guide for our tour of one of the oldest and largest art museums in the USA. Soaking up all the information our guide was divulging upon us we visited the institutes American art wing, modern & contemporary wing & impressionist wing. A full day could easily be spent here and highly recommend the Public Tour. Alternatively you can do a self-guided tour with headsets available to give you the insight into the numerous masterpieces curated by the gallery.
Moving on from the Art Institute we spent the afternoon on our free Chicago Greeter Tour of Millennium Park. By registering at least 10 days prior (they are busy), Greeter visits as they are known are operated by enthusiastic volunteers and totally customisable on what part of Chicago you most want to see. With our Tour of Millennium Park our Greeter first met us in the Chicago Cultural Centre to show us it’s two beautiful stained glass domes before stepping across the road the Millennium Park. The park hosts free music events in the summer of an evening along with open air cinemas. Filled with all sorts of gatherings it is a lively town square with a difference. The most notable of attractions here is the Cloud Gate structure affectionately called “The Bean” by locals. The sculpture reflects the skyline of Chicago in its mirrored appearance while visitors try to get the best selfie picture.
Another night, another show to attend. This city really doesn’t sleep with all the clubs, bars, music venues, theatre performances (Broadway shows have their pre performances here) there is so much to see and do! We went to a late night improv show (starting at 11pm) at the Second City. Having never attended an improv show before I was totally in hysterics during the 60 minutes of witty humour and highly recommend.
Day three was focusing primarily on Chicago’s architecture. A quick trip up to another observation tower, this time 360 Chicago and Tilt. Instead of standing on a glass platform at height over Chicago to get your kicks you can tilt outward from the John Hancock building, 1000ft over Magnificent Mile!
Chicago is a city of firsts and you soon learn how it’s history has shaped how most of our cities operate today. With its uplifting architecture you soon realize why it is regarded as “the most beautiful city in the world” as it is absolutely astounding! To experience the history and appreciate all these man made beauties we set out on the Chicago Foundation’s Architectural River Cruise. Named in the top 10 tours of the USA this was a definite highlight to my time in Chicago. The 75 minute cruise along the Chicago River educates you on the history of Chicago and how it was rebuilt after the Chicago fires. Our expert guide informed us on the varied architectural wonders as we wound our way down the river. Noting that the first high rise was designed by a native Chicagoan after the fires with its steel frame, buildings from here on could only go up as you gaze in wonderment at so many unique and beautiful buildings.
To finish off our day we geared up our tastebuds to discover a local foodie paradise in Chicago’s West Loop on the Chicago Food Planet’s – Gateway to the West Loop Food Tour. With its chequered history this neighbourhood is now well known as the hottest place in cuisine and also the home of Facebook, Google and where Harpo Studios (Opera) used to be based. Offering a great insight into the neighbourhood (used to be a rough meatpacking district) our guide introduced us to some of the best restaurants and food I have experienced. Catering for palates the West Loop is definitely the place to go for foodies. If you don’t do the Food Tour I really recommend venturing here as it houses the best restaurants in Chicago.
Restaurants recommended are;
Bonci Pizza - Rome-based Italian import selling scissor-cut slices featuring distinctive toppings, sold by weight.
161 N Sangamon St, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
Kuma's Corner - Owners Mike and Rick combined three of their favorite things: burgers, beer and metal. Their ethos is simple: Support Your Community. Eat Beef. Band Your Head.
852 W Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
Nonna's & Formento's - Owner John Ross and Executive Chef Todd Stein bring a sense of warmth, family and unforgettable food that is reminiscent of Sunday family dinners at Ross' grandma's house.
925 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607, USA
Cemitas Puebla- Family owned restaurant specializing in traditional Poblano foods, using recipes that can be traced back to Tony Anteliz’s family in Puebla, Mexico
817 W Fulton Market
While in town your stay wouldn’t be complete without seeing either a hockey or basketball game. We watched the Chicago Bulls play at the United Centre for a great sporting experience filled with entertainment and what you would expect from a sporting arena.
For our last day in Chicago we were treated to a unique gospel experience at the House of Blues. The Gospel brunch included local talent performing both traditional and contemporary songs. Before and during the show there is the endless buffet of food and complimentary mimosas! Don’t miss the signature chicken and waffles which are more delicious than you would expect. Dance it all off as you wave your napkins in the air throughout the highly energetic and engaging performance.
Overall the time spent in Chicago was a whirlwind and you could easily spend 4-5 days here whether it be connecting through to another destination or as a stay in its own right. The easy accessibility with the direct flight on Air New Zealand will increase numbers to this fabulous city as word gets out on how truly special it is.