Make Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier your family’s Chicago holiday tradition

When flurries begin to flit through the air and the smell of spiced pumpkin lattes wafts from every street-corner Starbucks, holiday spirit is palpable. What better way to encourage holiday cheer and spend some quality family time than to head over to Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest?

Whether you have 10-year-old itching to try the Wind Glider, a ride mimicking parasailing, or a 4-year-old looking for some pint-sized rides, there is something for the whole family at this annual wintry wonderland.

Inflatable slides, the carousel and the junior Ferris wheel provide appropriate thrills for younger children. Make sure your kids don’t miss out on the Cookie Cottage, where they can decorate their own holiday cookie. Even stroller moms and their mini-tag-alongs can experience the holiday cheer at the pier with roaming and photo-ready holiday characters.

If you’re looking for activities for the entire family to do together, there’s always the popular indoor skating rink or the entertainment stage, which offers interactive shows filled with songs, dancers, comedy and jugglers.

Be forewarned: the festival is a favorite tradition of many area families, so the heavy crowds and foot-traffic may prove to be too much for little ones. If possible, avoid the crowds by visiting around 2:30 p.m. weekdays, right after school groups have left, or Sundays at noon when Winter WonderFest opens for the day.

To save some time waiting in line, Delores Robinson of Navy Pier suggests buying wristbands for ride entry beforehand. Although admission to the festival is free, an unlimited-ride wristband is $15 and $19 for a wristband that includes entry to the indoor skating rink. For families on a budget, keep checking the Navy Pier website for special discount days or coupons.

At year’s end, Winter WonderFest goes out with a bang with lots of dancing, music and fireworks at the New Year’s Eve Bash on Dec. 31.

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