Monday, August 20, 2012

Tips for Visiting SkyDeck Chicago with Kids

A few weeks ago, I wrote a guest post about a visit to SkyDeck Chicago over at the Go Big or Go Home blog. What better place for a post about the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, right?

Located at the top of the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, SkyDeck Chicago has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Windy City. The addition of a glass sky ledge that extends a few feet off the side of the building separates this from your ordinary observation deck.

But it's not the easiest place to visit, especially with young kids, so here are a few tips.

1.) Go early. Always a good bet, but at SkyDeck Chicago, it could literally make or break your trip. We went around 2 p.m. on a Saturday, and it took us well over 2 hours to visit, which mostly involved standing in long lines. (We only spent about 15 minutes at the top.) This place gets busy fast, and with limited room on elevators to shepherd you up and down, crowds form quickly. If you're visiting with young kids, I suggest you either get there right when it opens or skip it altogether. It's just too much waiting in line for little ones. If you're unsure, the staff at the building entrance can give you approximate wait times.

Insider tip: From now until September 1, on Saturday mornings it opens at 8 a.m. If your kids are like mine, they're up anyway and you're stuck in your hotel room trying to keep them quiet. Why not travel 103 stories up instead?

2.) Wait for a clear day. If you have the luxury of several flexible days in Chicago, go when it's clear so that you get the best view possible. It was overcast for our visit and it hampered our view a bit (still pretty stunning, though, don't you think?).

3.) Purchase a Chicago CityPASS.* Not only will you save big on admission (assuming you're planning to see a few other popular attractions in the city, like the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago), but you can also bypass the ticket line at SkyDeck Chicago. I really can't say enough about the benefits of a CityPASS when touring Chicago.*

4.) Bring an extra camera for your kids. Once you get to the top, there's not much to do beyond admiring the view and taking pictures. For adults and older kids, that thrill is enough. But little kids might not appreciate this as much, so an activity like allowing them to take pictures even if it's just with a cheap disposable camera, would amp up the fun factor.

5.) Be brave. Stepping out on the glass sky ledge is not for the faint of heart.

But it sure is fun to see everything looking so small down below.

I'll be honest, SkyDeck Chicago isn't the sort of attraction my family is normally drawn to, but since we were traveling without Big Arrow and had a little more freedom because Little Arrow still has no opinion on such things, I figured it was a good time to check it out.

While the crowds were certainly not my cup of tea, it's a lot more educational than I imagined, with informative interactive displays throughout your journey to the top, including a 10-minute video that will teach you so much about Chicago's unique history.

Much like the elevator ride up, admission is steep, especially without the discount from a Chicago CityPASS.* Chicago has so much to offer that is much more my speed, like amazing museums and cool urban parks, so I likely won't plan a return trip to the SkyDeck anytime soon. But all in all, it was worth a one-time ride to the top.

Have you been to the SkyDeck? I'd love to know what you think!

If You Visit:
SkyDeck Chicago
233 S. Wacker Dr. (But enter Willis Tower via Jackson Blvd., which is the south side of building.)
Tickets: Adults are $17.50, kids 3-11 are $11. Under 3 are free.
Hours vary throughout the year. A printable visit guide is available here.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels, as well as Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

*Affiliate link.


  1. I'll probably pee my pants when I step out on the glass ledge but that would make such a memorable moment!

    I have to admit, I'd never have the patience to stand in line that long so I'd definitely plan to visit first thing in the morning.

    I LOVE the Citypass! We used one in NYC and it saved money and wait times.

  2. It can just never be the Willis Tower for me. It's the Sears Tower People! I'm glad you had a good time after waiting in line for so long.

  3. We went last summer when we were in Chicago. It wasnt part of our plan; we went there last minute. We went about 4:30 on a Thursday adn didnt have to wait much at all.

    My 3 yo didnt think much of it but my 7 yo loved it.

    Theglass ledge was busy but still really fun! It was a great memory. :)

  4. Whooee, that is a steep admission price, but glad to know it's included in the CityPass! My heart started racing just looking at the photo of the glass sky must have been a rush ;-)

  5. I visited the Sears Tower years ago on a business trip. It was a foggy day, but I went up anyway so I could say I did. I saw nothing, but it wasn't crowded. That was my last visit to Chicago, but I'd love to return with my kids and do it right.

  6. Same rules could definitely apply to the Empire State Building and Seattle Space Needle. I love everyone of your tips. Because as you know you are my your kids are my kids Indiana twins ;-) High heights, great views on a clear day (why would you go to the top of the Space Needle when it is stuck in a cloud) and the possibility of long lines always make an interesting adventure for the under 3 crowd.

  7. OMG; the photo looking down past your flip flop just gave me chills. I really don't think I could do it! I'm so glad you wrote about it for us on "Go BIG or Go Home!"