Monthly Archives: March 2014

Chicago Sea Dog Boat Cruise on Groupon

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Free McDonald’s Coffee Today until April 13th

McDonald’s is offering a free 12oz coffee during breakfast hours.  From 6am – 10:30am enjoy that free cup!

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Friday Fun Photo – March 28


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Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier

We visited the Chicago Flower and Garden Show in March held at Navy Pier.  To be fair I had heard from a few people that it was not really worth a visit.  But I was looking for anything that would remind me of spring. It has been such a long cold winter and I really wanted to see some flowers.  What I thought the FLOWER and GARDEN show would encompass is not what was really exhibited.   Maybe call it the Chicago Landscaping show?

Tickets were $17 on the weekday, $19 on the weekend and children 4-12 were $5 each.  The show ran for two weeks toward the end of March.  I had heard on the radio that tickets were only $10 each if you visited Friday or Saturday nights after 5pm on the last weekend.  I didn’t want to pay full price for something I was iffy on to begin with.

We walked to Navy pier from our hotel a little after 6pm, the nice walk was a little over a mile.  The weather was warm and there were lots of people out walking toward the lakefront.  Seemed like a good sign and it got me in the spring mood!

We arrived to one open ticket window with no wait.  (In fact there were very few people in the general area.)  For $20 we had our admission to the show!  Up the escalator to the 2nd floor show area.



This is the entrance to the show…




There were several display areas.




A floral artist area



Lots of interesting landscape ideas






And several backyard options.




And beautiful displays…

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But the real flowers to be seen for were for sale in the market place. Bummer!


These shovels were interesting.



I did see some unusual things, like a waterfall table.





I was hoping for more flower displays.



Maybe new flower varieties, or some hybrids. Anything flower related!



IF you want to visit I would recommend weekend nights. As you can see by the pictures there were very few people around.  It took us about an hour and half to leisurely see everything there was offered.  Really, if I had spent $19 a person I would have been very disappointed.  I did not expect alot going in but I expected to see flower information.



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We had a Suite Stay at the Radisson Blu Chicago

Our latest stay at the Radisson Blu Chicago was in a suite.  To say Daughter was happy was an understatement, she was running around taking more pictures than I was. (I think she even emailed some to her friends.)  It was very spacious in the couch area and there was also a large desk to work at.

The suite opens to this view


Daughter wanted to sleep on the couch instead of sharing the king bed. (And then she had her own tv for the night even though we watched the same show.)


The bathroom entry is from the bedroom. Great if there is just you and your honey, awkward if your kids or someone else travels with you.  And there is not a bedroom door if that is important for your privacy.


I do love the bathroom. I have said it before but I love to soak in the tub and I love the colors they used on the room.  Tub on the left, toilet and shower on the right. Image


The king size bed took up most of the room but with a separate seating area its not an issue. The balcony entrance is also from the bedroom area.


The view from our room was looking out toward Millennium Park. I love the views this hotel offers!


And back toward Lake Michigan, this room has a very large balcony.


And the coffee maker with our welcome gift.


We were also given access to the business lounge for evening snacks and breakfast in the morning.  That area was busier than our last visits so I did not take any pictures up there.

We ate dinner at Filini in the hotel.  Our booth seating was nice but a bit dark. I ordered the Fettuccine and it was outstanding!  Not the heavy cream dish that is served elsewhere. And the poached egg on top was a interesting mix, I am going to try the dish at home for the family.  Daughter ate the kids Homemade Penne Pasta, she loved it.  Dinner was served with a mix of breads on our table.  Our server was very attentive and helpful with the ordering. Everything was delicious and we will definitely eat here again when we stay at the hotel.

It was such a nice warm evening we were able to walk to Navy Pier from the hotel instead of grabbing a cab.  And the hotel is very close to the Millennium Park train station, around a 3 block walk.

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Remember the Club Carlson Stay 3 promo this spring break!

Have you taken advantage of the Club Carlson stay 3 promo that is going on until April 13?  Sign up here….

This is a great promo to use on spring break because its 3 nights, not 3 stays.  So if you stay 3 nights at the Country Inn and Suites at Universal in Florida, the Park Plaza in Bloomington or our favorite Radisson Blu in Chicago you get the bonus points.


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Save money, ride the train.


Another way to save money is to ride the train into Chicago.  To most people that means Amtrak, but for us its the Northern Indiana Commuter train instead.

Taking the commuter train saves miles on my car, gas I don’t have to purchase and best of all I don’t have to pay to park in Chicago.  And as an added bonus my child rides free with me on the weekend.  (One child 13 and under rides free with an adult.)  We like to drive to stations with large parking lots, like Carrol Ave in Michigan City,  Dune Park or the East Chicago stations.  The station parking is free and cars can be left overnight with no issue.

Tickets are purchased from a ticket vending machine in the station, if you pay cash on the train often they charge a small surcharge.  And tickets are 1 way.  (So if you get off at the Museum campus for Shedd Aquarium and then come home the next day from Millennium park the fares will be  a little bit different.) Usually when I exit the train on my way into Chicago I purchase my return ticket. Then I am not stuck in a long line when its time to leave Chicago,  I already have my ticket.

The train has comfortable bus like seats for two or three travelers to sit together depending on the car you are in.  If you need to sit 3 wide keep walking thru the train to get to the seating you need for your group.  Some seats face backwards, if that bothers you avoid those.

The train has racks above the seats for luggage, shopping purchases or even throw your coat up there.  Often the train is full so please do not expect to put your items on the empty seat next to you.  The conductor will come around and tell you to move the items off the seat.

Currently on the weekend from Dune Park to Millennium Park I pay $7.25 each way.  With daughter riding free its much cheaper than $35 a day to park plus any tolls on the highway.

Here are the most used train stops:

To get downtown ride to Millennium Park, the last stop of the train.

To go to Shedd, Field Museum or Alder Planetarium get off at Museum Campus/ 11th St .

To go to the Art Institute get off at Van Buren station.

To go to the Museum of Science and Industry get off at 57th St station.



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Beach Break – Nature Trail at South Padre Convention Center

We took a beach break by walking the nature trail from the South Padre Convention Center. (7355 Padre Blvd, South Padre Island, TX) I had to convince daughter she would see something cool as all she wanted to do was boogie board at the beach.

This was the something cool I wanted to show her, she told me we could have just driven by it. Oh the start of the teenage years, looking forward to them so!


Its Whaling Wall #53. We parked right near it and walked along the side of the property to the nature walks. Free to park and walk around the bay side trails/ boardwalk.There is a little garden behind the conference center and these trails take off from the driveway to the left of the conference center.

For some reason there were tons of butterfly in these bushes next to the boardwalk.



We saw a duck who keep hiding when we walked by.


And this crazy duck kept sitting on the rails…



We took in the scenery.



It took us around half an hour to walk the boardwalk trails, look for fish in the water and take a few pictures.



This boardwalk is located next door to the South Padre Birding Center. From the looks of things they used to share the boardwalk trail. In several spots it looks like they put up new boardwalk trail right next to the conference center trail. They charge $5 a person to walk their boardwalk thru the same shrubs and backwaters to the bay. Same bay and 99% the same trail, I wasn’t going to pay $15 for that same experience that took about half an hour.  During birding season you will see more but in early June it was fun to walk and see the local birds.

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Not such a great idea of mine or aka the day the trail ended

By now you know I like to do fun things that are cheap/free on vacation.  I also like to show our daughter the local area and how it differs from where we live.  And getting off the road and taking a hike is usually a fun way to do this. We have in the past loved our hike around Mount Rainier and we hike in our local state parks.  I searched around and found the Santa Ana wildlife refuge near Alamo, Texas.

They offered an observation tower and canopy walk.  I don’t do heights but this would be right up my daughters alley.  She loves that type of thing. We drove from South Padre the night before to the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Weslaco to fulfill the stay two get 1 night promo.  The plan was to arrive early before it became too hot to walk around.

We arrived at the park around 8:30am and it was hot already! We paid our $3 for our car and received our wrist bands.  I didn’t pay alot of notice, I figured they wanted to know we paid. We went to the bathroom before our walk and noticed MANY signs about reporting people to border patrol.  They were on the mirror, on the back of the stall doors, and on the door back outside.  We got the message, and it was I think the same number on our blue wristbands.  We set off to see wildlife and experience nature!

Here we are all fresh and ready to go!


We saw wildlife!


To be fair Texas was in a drought state, everything seemed to be very dry. I however did not expect things to look like other southern states, somehow I thought it would look different.  We could have been in Florida for alot of these pictures with the moss in the trees.  The trails were nice and wide, easy to walk.


It was hot and I was a gross sweaty mess when we found the canopy walk. I don’t do heights so I sent the family up without me.

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This was their view and they were not impressed by it. I was secretly glad I didn’t go up there for that!


At this point the walk a trail thing has been a huge fail.  We were hot, sweaty and disappointed.  We saw 1 rabbit and a butterfly the size of a paper plate about took out my child, but that was it.  (Happened so fast I didn’t even get a picture.) The little lake was pretty much dried up so nothing to see there.   I had to redeem this and quick!

I asked if daughter wanted to see the Rio Grand and maybe Mexico from the trail. She wanted to see the cemetery and there was a trail on the map that would make the loop around to do both.

We set off on our adventure to see the shore of Mexico.  I was really trying to salvage this hike, it was really hot even at 9:30am.


We had a nice wide path to follow, remember the wrist bands. They seemed to patrol this pretty often with a vehicle that we never saw.  And there was the Rio Grande.


Daughter found a couple of paths that went down to the river. And there is Mexico on the other side.  The hike was looking successful, we had seen Mexico and were off the to cemetery next!  And then in our path lay this…


And behind it was this odd landslide or washout. Either way the trail was not passable.


I was beyond irritated.  We had talked to people, they put wristbands on us but said nothing. We were in the visitor center and you couldn’t hang a sign, you couldn’t verbally tell me that Vireo trail was closed?  I wanted to call the number on my wrist and complain but I wasn’t sure who exactly that called!  They could have put a sign up when we turned down the trail by the river, anything!!!!!

So we are hot, sweaty, mad and walking back a over a mile in the same direction we had already walked.  The cemetery was not going to happen, it was over a mile in the other direction and I was melting.

This was the prettiest thing we saw on our hike.


We went back over the levee to our car, figured out how to change my shirt without flashing people and turned on the air conditioning.  Now we laugh about the trail to no-where and its turned into a family joke. But at the time I wanted my $3 back.  That cheap adventure was a major disappointment at every turn.

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Snow Days Festival at Navy Pier

I love to do free things whenever possible. Sometimes we hike, spend the day on the beach or go to a festival. Rarely the free event is a flop but more often than not it ends up being something we enjoyed.  This was one we all enjoyed on our weekend to Chicago.

Navy Pier puts on a Snow Days festival in February.  The majority of the festival was in the park in front of Navy Pier. There you could find the snow sculptures, snow board trial for little kids and snow painting.  Inside we saw penguins from Shedd Aquarium.

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It was amazing to see the detail the teams put into their work.


This one was my daughters favorite.


And we had to try our hand at snow painting. I thought there would be a cost or we would need to make a donation. Nope, FREE!


Halfway thru the sculptures we went inside to warm up and check out the penguins.  The kids loved seeing them waddle around.


We finished our free afternoon with lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp using my free birthday award.  A great way to spend a cheap day in the city.

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