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Should I take my kids to Skydeck Chicago?





With family in town over the weekend, we had a list of possible activities. We picked Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower for a few reasons. It was near the train station so a group of 6 could easily travel there on foot. It was on the bucket list of "one day" attractions that our family occasionally discusses. None of us had ever done the Ledge. 

I'll try to be as honest in my report as I can, but I'll say upfront that nobody in our group hated it. But we nearly all came away frustrated and confused by some of the less guest-friendly moments. 

When we arrived at the train station around 10am we took our time and casually walked over to the tower. The river walk was pleasant even if the temperatures were starting to climb and the day was hazy. When we made our way to the entrance lobby and headed down the elevators to the line. 

There were 1-2 signs stating that our wait would be approximately 60 minutes for basic admission tickets. A couple of comments about that--I think it probably understated that overall wait to get to the top. This ended up being a relatively short wait compared to later in the afternoon as we were leaving and the line for tickets would stretch out into the street, down the block, and around the corner. We estimate those visitors were waiting 3+ hours. Not fun. 

The queue to get tickets snakes through a room with a few trivia computers and the walls are covered in Willis Tower facts. They're interesting. But they hardly qualify as entertainment. Beware that there is a security process here. You'll be asked to go through metal detectors and bags will go through on a belt similar to the airport. It's a "hurry up and wait" experience as you make it from one section of line to the next. The next area is set up for the obiquitous photo opportunity where "professional" photographers offer to snap your group as you wait. There will also be a photo opportunity at the top on the Ledge, if you'd like. I dislike this forced, awkward trend at tourist attractions. Especially when they've taken every small scale destination and tried to make it feel like it's the event of a lifetime for you. Maybe it is for your family. Maybe I'd feel differently if the family photo were included in the admission price? 

If you've been suckered convinced to pay double and get the Fast Pass admission, you're taken immediately to the entry kiosk to scan your tickets. This isn't the most organized as the line for security sort of dumps you into the photo area and Fast Pass guests, City Pass guests, etc. are being called through the mob of people waiting for the line to move. There has to be a better way to do crowd control here. If you're with the masses, you wait for one of 3 (three) ticket windows. If you're really lucky, more than one may be open. 

The next room is essentially the holding area for a 10 minute movie. The movie itself--when it's your turn--is actually quite good. My 5 year old said so. It tells the history of the engineering and building with lots of nods to architectural importance. The waiting room for the movie features facts about Chicago, famous landmarks, famous Chicagoans, etc.. Again, there's nothing amazing here. It's fairly up to date but not super hands-on and could easily have a kids area for building with blocks or something to keep the littlest occupied. 

After the movie, there's another line. (!) Only two elevators go up to the Skydeck and those same two elevators take you back down. Each ride is about 90 seconds so you do the math. I'll warn you now--the line to get back down at the top is daunting. It's probably curled around the entire floor and that's not the Ledge line. Again, no communication and failures of crowd control leave lots to be desired. 

You're finally there on the 103rd floor! And it's pretty cool up there. Does it outweigh everything else I'm mentioning is the key question though. The views are, indeed, spectacular. The Ledge looks a lot scarier than it actually is. Pretty fun to snap a photo hanging in midair. There's a small gift shop up there and some special Ferris Bueller items if you're a fan of the film. Also, they have a 30th anniversary display with mannequins dressed in the costumes leaning against the glass. Even as crowded as it was we had space at the railings to view the city. 

After your ride back down to the lobby, the attraction spits you into the typical gift store with some food options. The souvenirs are not horrible, but naturally overpriced and you've already spent $22 (at minimum) to get in and spend time waiting. 

The basic critique from our family was this...you know that line is going to be there so why not DO something with it? Make it more high tech. Entertain people. Make it interactive. Tell people how long it will be! It's not so much that the tower visit was a disappointment, but that the ways to improve and give guests their money's worth are so obvious. The employees were never what I'd go so far as to call "rude" but they certainly could be more warm and welcoming. They could be stationed to answer questions and offer assistance. In short, the whole thing needs some customer service help. 

Are the views from the top worth the extra cash or wait in line? Let's put it this way, it's not something any of us would be doing again soon. It was neat for what it is but there are better ways to spend your time and money in Chicago. I'd recommend going elsewhere, especially if you have young children, but hopefully the full review will let you know what you're in for if you do choose to go. 

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