Hotel, John Hancock Observatory, Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, the Field Museum of Natural History, Buckingham Fountain/Sears Tower, the Art Institute of Chicago, Second City, the Museum of Science and Industry, Lake Michigan cruises
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By James Glasbergen
In Chicago we stayed at a hotel near the Magnificent Mile, which was only a 15 minute walk to Navy Pier. Upon check-in, we went to our room to discover only one bed and a bathtub instead of 2 beds and a roll-in shower like I requested. I had e-mailed the hotel a couple months earlier to ensure that I could get a room with a roll-in shower and 2 beds that had plenty of space under it for a lift. After checking with the front desk, they were able to immediately switch us to a different room that had 2 beds and a roll-in shower. However, there were still 2 problems. First, the roll-in shower was the worst excuse for a roll-in shower I have ever seen. There was a good 3 to 4 inch lip that the chair had to go over to get in to the shower (, ), which meant there was no way a chair could simply roll in to the shower. It had to be lifted in. Fortunately I had a strong attendant with me.
The second problem was that there was no space underneath either bed. They had solid frames. This was frustrating because they specifically told me in an e-mail that there was plenty of space underneath the bed to accommodate a hoyer lift. I complained to the manager about this and even showed him the e-mail, and he apologized and said that every bed in the hotel had solid frames. He also said that unfortunately some reservationists just try to sell the business rather than the service. This meant that I was going to have to sleep on a roll-away bed. Unfortunately, we discovered that there was not enough space underneath the roll-away bed for a hoyer lift either, so the hotel manager brought the hotel engineer up to figure out a solution. After a bit of looking around, they discovered a room on a different floor that had 2 beds () with space underneath them and the same crummy roll-in shower, so we were in luck. We switched rooms again, and our third room of the night turned out be the one I had originally requested. So, in the end it turned out well. The room was huge (). The hotel staff was also very helpful. In fact, the manager gave us 2 free complimentary breakfast coupons for the hotel restaurant for the inconvenience of having to switching rooms twice.
After checking in, we walked over to the John Hancock Center and bought tickets to go up to the Observatory on the 94th floor. There was hardly any lineup at all to go up, although it was 8 o'clock at night. The observatory provided a great view of the city.
The next morning we went over to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play the Phillies. We had ordered tickets a couple months earlier. We also bought a parking pass at the same time that we ordered tickets. This was very important because Wrigley Field is in a residential area and parking is extremely limited. There was plenty of wheelchair parking though, as long as you reserve it in advance. Our seats for the game were the best I have ever had anywhere. We were 11 rows directly behind home plate. It was a great game too as we saw Sammy Sosa hit a home run and the Cubs come from behind in the bottom of the 9th to win the game. The only disappointing part of the game came when my friend dropped a foul ball that was hit right to him (narrowly missing my head I might add!). Someone else ended up with the ball. He'll never live that down. Even the fans were getting on his case with shouts of "butterfingers!" Nothin' like a game at Wrigley!
Following the Cubs game, we immediately got in our car and headed over to Comiskey Park to catch the White Sox and Twins play at night. Comiskey Park also had plenty of wheelchair parking near the stadium. You could either buy a parking ticket at the same time you ordered the baseball tickets, or just pay cash when you showed up at the game. Comiskey Park was very accessible as you could wheel around the whole stadium. However, like most new stadiums, you won't find wheelchair seating very close to the field. It was quite far up. You can't beat the older stadiums when it comes to great wheelchair seating. Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and the Oakland Coliseum are still the best stadiums I have ever been to when it comes to wheelchair seating.
The next day we got up and drove over to the Field Museum of Natural History. There were 7 or 8 free parking spaces on the west side of the Field Museum. However, you had to be there early in the morning to get one of those. Otherwise, there was a cash lot on the east side of the museum. The Field Museum was one of the highlights of Chicago for me. I loved it. The two highlights of the museum in my opinion were the Ancient Egypt exhibit and Sue, the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found. Sue is 67 million years and her skeleton is 90 percent complete. It was very impressive to look at. The Ancient Egypt exhibit was also amazing as 23 mummies were on display, some of them unwrapped.
From there we drove downtown and parked in a parking garage near the Art Institute of Chicago. We walked over to Buckingham Fountain and snapped a few pictures before walking down to the Sears Tower. There was a huge line of people waiting to go up to the observatory, and they announced that it would be a 45 minute wait. Not for us though! One of the Sears Tower employees saw me and immediately escorted us to the front of the line. That's what I love about America, wheelchairs hardly ever wait in line for anything! I felt a little guilty skipping past 7 or 8 rows of tired people, but I sure wasn't complaining. The view from the Sears Tower was amazing, better than the view from the John Hancock Observatory.
After the Sears Tower we walked back to the Art Institute. They had free admission on Tuesdays. For anyone who enjoys art, you could probably spend a whole day there as there were 3 buildings with a huge variety of art. However, us novices were simply interested in taking a stroll through the museum and checking out some of the older art. It was really cool to see many famous paintings by artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, and Picasso.
At night we went to Second City. I had ordered tickets the week before. They did not have special wheelchair seating, but they did like to know if you were in a wheelchair so they could be prepared and sit you at an appropriate table. There was also an alternate entrance as the main entrance was not accessible.
We started our last full day in Chicago by driving to the Museum of Science and Industry. There was plenty of wheelchair parking in the underground garage. I must admit, I found the museum extremely boring. A lot of the museum's attractions were very interactive and would be difficult for many people in wheelchairs to participate in. Some were not accessible at all. Plus, I am not a science buff in any way. I knew this before we went though. My main reason for going was to see the Titanic exhibit which was at the museum for a limited time. This exhibit was great. Apparently it was the largest exhibit of Titanic artifacts in the world. There were also recreations of several of the rooms on the Titanic, including the grand staircase.
Following the Museum of Science and Industry, we drove back to our hotel and then walked down to Navy Pier. We immediately bought tickets for a one hour cruise that took us down the Chicago River past the Sears Tower and pointed out many of the interesting buildings along the way.
Next, we bought tickets for the half hour Lake Michigan cruise. I had e-mailed the company a few weeks earlier to ask if the boat cruises were accessible, and they assured me that they were. However, when we arrived near the boat, a representative immediately approached me and apologetically told me that I could not take the Lake Michigan cruise because the ramp was too narrow and not strong enough to support my electric wheelchair. I did not really agree with him because I could see the ramp and it looked to me like it was worth a try, but there wasn't much I could say. He was extremely apologetic and I immediately got a refund. I was a little disappointed, but we decided to walk to the end of the pier to see if there were any other companies that had an accessible boat and a similar tour. We got to the last boat at the end of the pier, and it turned out to be a similiar boat offering the same 30 minute Lake Michigan cruise. We asked if it was accessible and we told them what just happened at the other end of the pier. After conferring with the captain, they didn't see the harm in at least trying to get me aboard, and they were more than happy to help out. The ramp was the same type of one used for the other boat, and it turned out to be no problem at all. The cruise was a fairly worthwhile 30 minute ride along the waterfront.
Following the cruise, we rushed over to the Hard Rock Cafe to have a quick supper. We wanted to be back at Navy Pier in time for the free fireworks display which occurred every Wednesday and Saturday during the summer. Unfortunately, we were late getting back and we only caught the tail end of the fireworks. It was rather busy at the Hard Rock so we had to wait for 15 minutes to be seated. When one of the waiters noticed us waiting, he immediately came over and began apologizing. He seated us right away and explained that it was Hard Rock policy that a person arriving in a wheelchair automatically gets the next available table, so we should not have been put on the waiting list. Something to remember for the future!
That was about it for our trip to Chicago. We had a great time. Fortunately we were able to see everything we wanted to see in just 3 days. However, for those who want to see in depth everything there is to see at the Field Museum, the Art Institute, and the Museum of Science and Industry in addition to the other Chicago attractions, 5 or 6 days would be much better.
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