small customer looks at the dreamy wares at the
American Girl store in Water Tower Place in Chicago.
The balloon pictured is really for sale, for $150.
ó Itís sleek, shiny and sensational.
letís add two more words to describe Chicago for
tourists: darn expensive.
Feb. 1, admission to the Art Institute of Chicago jumped
to $23 for out-of-state visitors. In the past month, a
host of other price hikes that affect tourists have also
taken effect: Museum of Science and Industry ticket prices
rose. The Chicago Transit Authority hiked the price of
passes to ride the L and city buses. Parking prices
downtown jumped. Even the toll on the Chicago Skyway went
has the highest tax burden for travelers in the nation,
even higher than New York and Boston, the Global Business
Travel Association reported last fall, when it compared
citiesí taxes on hotel rooms, car rental and meals.
has 2.7 million residents and 43.6 million visitors a
year. It doesnít need to offer constant cut-rate
attractions. Thatís the power of a popular city.
how can you visit without going broke?
more than 33,000 hotel rooms in the downtown district and
an occupancy rate of only 50 percent in January and 52
percent in February, Chicago hotel prices in winter are
about half of what they are in the summer and fall, when
occupancy can hit over 90 percent. For example, the
weekend of Jan. 25-27, rates before taxes were $139 for
the historic Palmer House Hilton, $135 for the Fairmont
Chicago and $92 for Embassy Suites. Even adding the cityís
steep 16.4 percent per night hotel tax to those prices wonít
break the bank.
like Chicago in winter for other reasons, too.
Psychologically, it seems to have more room. It still is
breathtakingly beautiful on a sunny day. Skating at
Millennium Park is free, and so is clowning around at the
Bean (the shiny Cloud Gate sculpture in the park). If you
can handle the bracing wind off Lake Michigan, strolling
and shopping are relaxing this time of year.
winter, you can still ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier
for $6, or take in the winter views from the John Hancock
Observatory ($17.50) or watch the crowds from a window
seat at the nearby Ghirardelli chocolate shop while
sipping hot cocoa (a bargain at $3.50).
winter, itís easier to get restaurant reservations ó
and Chicago Restaurant Week is running now through Feb.
10. With more than 250 restaurants participating, prices
for a prix fixe menu start at $22 for lunch and $33 or $44
for dinner (for details, see www.eatitupchicago.com).
also a great time for theater. Get discount tickets for
shows during Chicago Theater Week, Feb. 12-17, with dozens
of theaters participating ((www.chicagotheatreweek.com).
winter, you also might score tickets for the hottest show
in the country, "The Book of Mormon," if you are
flexible with your dates or seeking a single seat on
weekends. The musical at the Bank of America Theatre has
been extended through Sept. 8.
I arrived in Chicago in late January, I heard grumbling
from hotel clerks and even transit workers about all the
new price hikes around town. Some affect residents, but
most of the increases seem meanly aimed at tourists. For
cost of a day pass often used by tourists to ride buses
and the L is now $10, a 74 percent hike over the old price
of $5.75. You now need to ride at least five times in one
day to make the pass worthwhile, because individual trips
are $2.25. Prices for seven-day and 30-day passes also
went up Jan. 14.
now $5 to take public transit from OíHare airport to
downtown, up from $2.25.
Institute of Chicago tickets for out-of-state visitors are
now $23 (they were $18). Museum of Science and Industry
tickets for out-of-state visitors are $18 (they were $16).
And there are no more free days for out-of-state visitors
to any Illinois museum ó those were dropped 18 months
now $6.50 per hour to park in the Loop, the highest city
parking meter rate in the nation. Parking near downtown is
now $4 an hour, and neighborhood parking is $2 an hour.
Parking prices rose Jan. 1.
toll for the Chicago Skyway is now $4, up 50 cents.
how can a simple visitor from out of state still enjoy
now. If you have two or fewer people, donít bring a car
to Chicago ó the parking alone costs more than mass
transit or taxis, about $45 to $55 a day, even if you
self-park. Take the train or a bus. Stay with a relative
or friend. Seek out small neighborhood restaurants.
your money for the few things that really matter to you
ó the symphony, a play, a museum, a great jazz club, a
Chicago pizza, an American Girl doll with her very own hot
air balloon, or just a hot cup of cocoa while looking out
at a bustling Magnificent Mile.