July 6, 2006


 Getting behind the scenes at Wrigley Field

Chicago’s Wrigley Field Stadium Tour brought to life the rich history of one of America’s most famous (and oldest) Major League Baseball parks.

The 90-minute tour is a must for Chicago Cubs fans and gives you about as much access as you could expect of a facility such as Wrigley Field, and that appealed strongly to both my son and I. While it would be OK for any age, it is best-suited for older kids or adults. There is significant walking involved, in both protected and outdoor areas. Tour dates are limited throughout the season to Cubs away dates, and they do sell out. The $20 ticket price goes to benefit the Cubs’ charitable organization Cubs Care.

The tour kicked off in seats behind home plate, where our guide briefed us on the origins of the park and the early days of the Cubs. After that, we slowly made our way up and around Wrigley Field. We stopped on a deck overlooking the famous Wrigley Field sign. We sat in one of the luxury boxes, then on to the radio and TV broadcasting booths (you only get a quick glimpse through a window in the door), winding up that leg of the tour in the press box.

Next we worked our way toward the visiting team’s clubhouse. Questions are welcomed on the tour, and the group of about 45 had plenty. My son and I both enjoyed the clubhouse, which normally is off limits to the general public. You could see everything from snacks in the fridge to the training room. We continued to the bleachers, where we sat in center field to hear bleacher and scoreboard history.

That last portion of the tour was like a cherry on a hot fudge sundae. Down we headed to the Cubs clubhouse. What a treat. Though the clubhouse was roped off because the lockers were filled with players’ uniforms and belongings, we were able to go part way in and hear from clubhouse personnel. If you wanted to see where the Cubs hang out before and after games, the tour gives you a first-hand answer.

Finally, we took the short walk to the field and into the Cubs dugout—a real Kodak moment. (Pictures are allowed on all points of the tour, and my digital camera got a workout.) We sat on the dugout bench, drank from the dugout water fountain, got to hang out along the wall behind home plate and check out the visitors’ dugout. Ropes keep you off the grass, but getting a player’s-eye view was something I’ll never forget.

Parking around Wrigley Field was plentiful since the Cubs did not have a home game, but the stadium is easily accessible via Red Line trains from downtown Chicago. The day was easy, fun and most of all, provided unlimited shared memories for mother and son. Cindy Jacobson

 Jazzin’ at the Shedd

The Shedd Aquarium’s summer concert series, “Jazzin’ at the Shedd,” is marketed to families. But with its cocktail party atmosphere, it’s really much more adult- than kid-oriented. That doesn’t mean you should stay home, however. The big reason to take your kids to “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” is the chance to see the terrific aquarium for less money and without a crowd blocking the view of the littlest visitors.

The kickoff event last Thursday featured a jazz trio performing in the acoustically imperfect main lobby while the main event, another jazz trio, Detour, was outside on the deck. The smooth sounds of jazz against the backdrop of the beautiful Chicago skyline provided a wonderful atmosphere, but it felt more like a corporate after-hours party than a fun-for-the-family event. The vast majority of the crowd was adults dressed for a night on the town, cocktail in hand. It took my wife and me, along with our son, Collin, 13, and daughter, Rebecca, 10, about five minutes to realize the main attraction for us was inside the aquarium, not out on the terrace.

The Shedd is an excellent aquarium that I highly recommend for families. Every turn provides you with another “now that’s cool” moment. From brightly-colored blue and lime-green poisonous frogs to a giant eel and sea turtles, the kids (and adults) could not be more fascinated.

I should also mention that there was this soft-shell, spiney-nosed turtle that needed a time out. He definitely was not playing in an appropriate manner and relentlessly attacked the other turtles and fish in the exhibit. On my way out, I reported the ill-tempered creature to guest services, and they knew exactly which turtle I was talking about. I think he’s had a few timeouts before.

The main benefits of bringing your family to “Jazzin’” are cost and convenience. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children, 3-11, which includes the outdoor concert, Wild Reef exhibit and the attractions on the first floor. For an additional $6 each, you also can get into the “Lizards and the Komodo King” and the Oceanarium. This all-access pass normally costs $23 for adults and $16 for children-$7 more per adult and $2 more per child.

And there were no crowds inside the aquarium since most of the adults were outside listening to the music. We felt as though we were getting a private showing.

But there’s a tradeoff.  The interactive exhibits featuring aquarium staff were not open and the Wild Reef and Oceanarium close at 8 p.m. sharp. (This was not well publicized and we missed the Wild Reef exhibit completely.)

Quick tip: Eat before you come. Food prices at the Shedd are approaching major league baseball benchmarks.

Parking at the nearby Museum Campus lots range from $8-$16 on typical nights, but can shoot up to $35 for special events. Demonstrating great patience (and cheapness), we found metered parking on Solidarity Drive between the Shedd and the Adler Planetarium. Larry McIntyre

“Jazzin’ at the Shedd.” 5-10 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 27. $10, $8 ages 3-11, $6 more for all-inclusive pass. Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago. (312) 939-2438. www.sheddaquarium.org.

Kids Eat Chicago

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