This holiday season, instead of adding some more toys to their overflowing closet brimming with blocks, plushes and everything in between, consider gifting them with an experience that they’ll cherish forever. Whether it’s a family day at a local museum to check out the latest exhibit, here are our favorite experience gifts that’ll last beyond the season.
Who wouldn’t want to escape from brutal Midwest winters (even if only temporarily)? Try gift passes and an overnight stay at a Chicago-area water park. Another plus? The whole family can partake in this getaway gift.
Our recommendation: Kids can burn off energy at Great Wolf Lodge Illinois in Gurnee with non-stop swimming, water action, along with plenty of dry activities such as MagiQuest, arcade, ropes course, bowling and mini golf. Mom and dad can enjoy spa services and full-service restaurants.
For the time-traveler
Are the kids fascinated with how things used to be? Take it back, way back to the Medieval era where chivalry and pageantry exist, along with knights and queens. If your kids are patient and can wait until the summer, snag tickets now to Wisconsin’s Bristol Renaissance Fair for deep discounts.
Our recommendation: Bring the whole family to Medieval Times where you can indulge in a hearty feast (sans utensils) and engage in a thrilling show combined with the pageantry of theater.
For movie lovers
Plenty of movies are coming out this holiday season. (Here are some family-friendly suggestions!) Grab a gift card at any of the movie theaters such as Classic Cinemas, Marcus Cinemas, Regal Cinemas and many smaller local theaters.
Our recommendation: Try CMX Market Cinemas Old Orchard, a completely new VIP movie experience. Think smaller intimate theaters, comfy seats, delicious food made from scratch, and thoughtful touches like a basket to carry your food or Andes mints as you leave the theater. Their gourmet popcorn is a must try!
For sporty wonders
Get your littlest Chicago fans cheering on Chicago’s major and minor league teams with tickets to a game. Pair the tickets with fan gear. Though tickets to see the Bulls or the Blackhawks come with a hefty price tag, there are numerous other local options in town.
Our recommendation: Buy tickets to see the Chicago Wolves play at the Allstate Arena and take advantage of the family-friendly pre-game activities included in your ticket price.
Old Town School of Folk Music
For music lovers
Aspiring Beethovens and wanna-be rock stars will love a gift that exposes them to some of the amazing live music in town or helps them hone their own musical skills. Options include tickets to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Once Upon a Symphony series or concert tickets. You can also pick up a gift certificate for lessons from one of the many local music schools.
Our recommendation: Gift certificates to the Old Town School of Folk Music (with two Chicago locations) can be redeemed for private lessons, group classes, concert tickets or items from the retail shop.
If you’re finding your child always pushing the limit, then consider giving them the gift of an adventure. The smiles plastered on their faces will be no doubt priceless.
Our recommendation: Younger thrill-seekers can zip down roller coasters, bumper cars, and other fun rides at Santa’s Village. Season passes for year round fun, discounts on food and merchandise. Gift cards are also available. For those looking for a more hair-raising experience, give the gift of flight at iFly Indoor Skydiving.
iFly Indoor Skydiving
For curious minds
Particularly for little ones who don’t have much need for new toys, a membership to a local museum or other family-friendly destination is a gift the entire family can enjoy together all year long. Oftentimes, memberships come with perks such as free or discounted parking or admission to special members-only events.
Our recommendation: Museum of Science and Industry‘s family memberships (starting at $195), which includes parking, discounts on tickets to special exhibits, free theater tickets, half-off to nearby Chicago and Wisconsin museums.
For animal lovers
Love animals? Make memories with the whole family and see your favorite animals up close and personal. With a membership, you won’t feel guilty leaving early if you can’t see the entire zoo. To add to the excitement, throw in a stuffie of their favorite animal.
Our recommendation: A day at the zoo is always a great day and an especially fun one at Brookfield Zoo. Gift a family membership that includes parking and attraction tickets. Feel free to bring Grandma and Grandpa since memberships include free guest tickets.
Disney on Ice Presents Mickey’s Road Trip Adventures
For Disney fanatics
Obsessed with Disney but can’t make it to Disney World or Disneyland? Settle for the next best thing and wait for Disney to come to you.
For those brick-obsessed
Obsessed with building without having to worry about stepping on those dreaded bricks? Sure, you can give them Legos for the holidays, but how about Legos all year round with a Lego membership?
Our recommendation: A membership to Legoland Discovery Center Chicago. Members receive unlimited admission, discounts in the coffee shop, parties, and guest tickets, as well as 10 percent off the Lego store.
Brooklyn Boulders Chicago
For those that want to pursue their passions (or find a new one)
Whether your child wants to learn to swim, play an instrument or take up a new sport, gift them a series of lessons to something they’ve always wanted to try. Don’t forget to check out local park districts for new-to-them classes as well. Magic class, anyone?
Our recommendation: Try out rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders Chicago with a day pass, or even the Kids Academy for ages 5-12 on weekdays and weekends. This includes intro to bouldering, roped climbing, stretching, and climbing games.
For those who love surprises
Kids love getting mail, and there are a variety of subscription boxes – from crafts and cooking kits to fashion boxes and STEM building activities – that’ll cater to their unique interests.
Our recommendation: Got book worms at home? Sign up for My Book Box, where kids can get a bundle of picture books, chapter books or young adult books every month.
Great Wolf Lodge Illinois
For those who miss the pool
Chicago is the perfect proximity for some of the best indoor water parks. Plan a family trip to one of our favorites within driving distance.
Our recommendation: Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark at Grand Geneva makes for the perfect weekend getaway when you’re tired of Chicago’s winter.
For those with good taste
What better way to have a special day than having afternoon tea with your little one? Chicago is full of options of places to raise your pinky and drink plenty of tea.
Our recommendation: Windy City Tea at Yorktown Center offers an afternoon tea with a 3-tier tower filled with savories and sweets. It’s the perfect end to a day of shopping with your littles.
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