5 jolly Santa experiences for Chicago kids

Looking at the calendar, it feels crazy to be thinking about Christmas. But Santa Claus is coming to town – and in some cases, he’s already arrived! And unlike in our childhoods, when visiting Santa usually amounted to a loooong wait in a crowded shopping mall for a quick pic with the jolly elf, today’s Santa experiences have a lot more to offer. Here are five unique ways to get your ho-ho-ho on this holiday season.

Augment yourself

Waiting in line to see Santa can pretty much guarantee your kiddos a spot on the Naughty List. But at Santa HQ at Fashion Outlets of Chicago, the line is half the fun. Kids can find out if they’re Naughty or Nice, take (s)elfies to create a fun video, and check out Santa’s Observatory, complete with hands-on controls. Before you go, download the free Elf-Vision app, which brings the whole experience to life thanks to augmented reality (there are also tablets on hand). And for grown-ups who are HGTV addicts (guilty as charged), you’ll love spotting those cute Property Bros and your bestie Joanna Gaines throughout the HGTV-sponsored space. Through Dec. 24.

Dream big

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and … Po? You never know who you’ll encounter at Dreamworks’ Adventure to Santa at Oakbrook Center. Past years have featured Shrek and Donkey leading the rocket-powered sleigh ride, but this year Po and his kung-fu friends take the [virtual] reins. Kids will love the interactive games (“Naughty or Nice” snowballs, anyone?), not to mention the breathtaking simulated sleigh ride. And while your time with St. Nick won’t exactly be long, it will be private – so the kids can talk to Santa with ease and smile big for the pictures. Through Dec. 24.

Take in the view

You may never know what it’s like to fly in Santa’s sleigh, but this view from 95 floors up has got to be pretty close. Take in the Hancock Building’s stunning vistas while enjoying a festive buffet – complete with a hot chocolate bar (marshmallows for all!) – at The Signature Room’s Brunch with Santa. Once the kids have whispered their wishes to the Big Guy, they’ll also enjoy cookie decorating, face painting and a balloon artist, in addition to a reindeer’s-eye view of our fair city. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 26.

Suite memories

You might think Santa’s hotel of choice would be the Holiday Inn, but it turns out it’s actually Chicago’s luxurious Swissotel, where there’s a Santa Suite set up just for him. While you might not see Santa himself in the decked halls of the Presidential Suite, you will spot evidence of his presence, like his iconic red suits, shiny black boots and half-smoked pipe. Santa’s magical pals, from The Tooth Fairy to Father Time, get their own tributes, too. Kids can take an elf-led tour of the suite, write letters to Santa and even take home an early gift. 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Dec. 3 and 10; 1-4 p.m. Dec. 17.

Prehistoric holidays

This year’s Breakfast with Santa and SUE at The Field Museum is members-only, but the chance to celebrate dinos in December just might make that membership you’ve been considering worth it. The morning includes a buffet breakfast and holiday crafts, not to mention a T-riffic photo op with SUE the T.rex and her jolly friend. And while you’re there, check out the brand new Grainger Science Hub, a hands-on space for small scientists to explore. 9 and 10 a.m. Dec. 10 and 17.

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