Chicago CityPASS – Is it worth buying when visiting Chicago?

There are no shortage of things to do in Chicago with kids. In fact, Chicago has become one of our favourite cities in the USA to visit because it was so family-friendly.

However to get the most of your first visit to Chicago takes a lot of research and planning.  During this planning phase you will no doubt come across numerous forums like we did asking the same question – is it worth getting a Chicago CityPASS?

As this was our first time in Chicago and we were planning on visiting the city’s most popular museums and attractions, then a CityPASS should in theory make visiting the top sights in the city much more affordable especially with the exchange rate (GBP TO USD) getting worse each week.

Having previously used a CityPASS when we visited New York and Houston, we knew that on each occasion our CityPASS had saved us money.

In this article I will explain how we found using the Chicago CityPASS during our visit to Chicago and more importantly if it did save us any money.

Here is our experience using the Chicago CityPASS .

What is the Chicago CityPASS

The Chicago CityPASS is a pre-paid entrance pass into some of Chicago’s most popular attractions including Skydeck Museum at the Willis Tower (was the Sears Tower), Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science & Industry, 360 Chicago and the Field Museum at a discounted price – potentially saving you 50% – so in theory it should help you make some significant savings using the pass.

As well as potentially saving you money it also offers other benefits including skipping the line at some of the attractions like the 360 Chicago Observation Deck which is really important especially during peak visitor periods– after all waiting for over an hour in a queue with kids is no fun!

How much does a CityPASS cost?

The current price of one adult Chicago CityPASS ticket is £88.54 and for children (3-11) its £72.97.

It’s worth adding up the cost of the attractions that you plan to visit to see if getting a Chicago CityPASS is beneficial to you, but we found that the pass paid for itself after visiting just three of the attractions, as we visited all five attractions our savings were 50% of what we would have paid at the attraction.

What we liked about the CityPASS was that it provided us with ideas of places to visit that we would have typically have overlooked. One prime example of this was the Musuem of Science and Industry, which is by far one of the best Science museums that we have ever visited.

What is included?

The Chicago CityPASS includes entry into five of Chicago’s most popular visitor attractions.

Three of the attractions are already chosen for you and I have included the cost of entry for a family of four (2 adults and 2 children ages 8 and 11) next to each attraction.

Skydeck Chicago

Cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $180.00
At the city’s most famous landmark Willis Tower (originally known as the Sears Tower) is the skydeck on the 103rd floor at the top of the Western Hemisphere’s second tallest building. During our visit we learnt that although the new One World Trade Center in New York is now the tallest building, its only because of its spire on the top.

The Willis Tower and the Skydeck is the tallest viewing platform in the Western Hemisphere so the 360 degree views of the skyline of Chicago, the coastline and its neighbourhoods are amazing. On a clear day like when we visited we were able to see neighbouring states Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The highlight of our visit to the Skydeck was ‘The Ledge’ – I would highly recommend you try this once in a lifetime experience, I did and am really scared of heights!

There are four 4 ft glass floor balconies 1.5 inches thick that extend 1600 feet above the city below, I was so scared but the children had no such fear – look away if you have a fear of heights.

We didn’t use the bonus visit that comes with the CityPASS but it’s great if you wanted to see the iconic Chicago skyline at sunset or at night which is spectacular from ground level so from 1,050 feet it must be breathtaking.

Tip – Arrive 20 minutes before the doors open to miss the long queues that build up and once at the top head straight for the Skydeck.

Shedd Aquarium

Cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $139.80

This is one of the most impressive and largest aquariums that you will visit, home to over 30,000 different species of marine life from all over the world, it’s also one of the oldest aquariums – opening in 1930.

The Caribbean Reef offers 360 degree views of marine life including stingrays, sharks, colourful fish and sea turtles. Our favourite was at the Abbott Oceanarium home to dolphins and Beluga whales.

Tip – Make sure that you book your free tickets to the aquatic show when you arrive.

Field Museum

Cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $138.00

It would take at least a full day to fully explore all of the 17 permanent exhibitions in this cavernous museum and it’s a must visit when in Chicago.

When inside you have to check out SUE, the largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered and have a selfie with the huge Titanosaur. Other highlights include being able to walk into the ancient Egyptian tomb.

You also have the choice between the following attractions

Adler Planetarium

Cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $90.00

A short walk along the coastline from the Shedd Aquarium is the Adler Planetarium, which we also used on our CityPASS. This was the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere and its exterior is just as impressive as the amazing space exhibits inside.

Make sure you don’t miss the Sky Theatre show, which is projected on the 68ft dome of the historic Zeiss planetarium, where we took an interactive space mission around our solar system.

Tip – Make sure to take a photo of the magnificent Chicago skyline from the coastal path from the Planetarium to the Shedd Aquarium – it offers one of the best views of the skyline.

The alternative choice to the Planetarium on the CityPASS is the

Art Institute of Chicago

Cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $70.00

This iconic museum is guarded by its iconic lions by its grand stone steps – perfect for kids to take their selfies before you step inside where you can view 260,000 works of art from across the globe ranging from Monet to Vincent van Gogh.

Our kids recognised the museum from the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and inside you might recognise many of the art scenes featured in the film. There are also special art exhibits such as Andy Warhol who was exhibiting during our visit.

Kids will enjoy the Thorne Miniature rooms which are little dollhouse rooms that are decorated with European and American furniture from the 13th century to the 1930’s.

Your final selection is between the Museum of Science and Industry or 360 Chicago

Museum of Science and Industry

Cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $61.80

We have visited lots of world class museums across the world but the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is one of the very best. It’s such an incredible museum that has something for all the family.

One of our favourite areas was at Science Storms where the girls got to walk inside a 40ft tornado and a giant Tesla coil that produces lightening.

Other highlights not to miss include the coal mine, the German WWII submarine and kids will love the Toymaker 3000, it’s not every day you get to create your own toy. There is so much to see and do with over 800 exhibits, so expect to spend the majority of the day here.

360 Chicago

Cost for 2 adults and 2 children is $74.00

At the 100-storey John Hancock Center, was one of our favourite memories from our trip to Chicago. Although not as tall as the Willis Tower, this building is much more distinctive. Once on the 94th floor you have to experience ‘Tilt’ – Chicago’s tallest thrill ride (there is an additional $7 dollar charge for this).

As you hold onto the window bars, the actual window pane tilts you out 1000ft above Michigan Avenue. Tilt is the first of its kind in the world, and something you will not experience at any other skyscraper and we loved it. The viewing deck also provides some of the best 360 degree views of Chicago’s skyline and Lake Michigan.

Best place to purchase a CityPASS ?

We found that the cheapest and most convenient place to purchase the Chicago CityPASS was on their website, although you can sometimes find deals on Groupon.

Once purchased the mobile passes are ready to use for up to 12 months from the date of purchase.

Your CityPASS is activated once you have visited your first attraction and you have up to 9 days to use the pass.

Did we save money getting the pass?

For us the total cost of the attractions that we were able to visit was $609.60 (which is equivalent to £474.35 based on 1 United States Dollar equals 0.77 Pound sterling)
The total cost for four Chicago CityPASS was £323.02 so you can see that we made a significant saving getting the pass.

However, to get the biggest savings you have to plan to visit all five of the attractions like we did.

Is a Chicago CityPASS worth getting?

For first time visitors to Chicago I would highly recommend looking into purchasing a CityPASS especially if you plan on visiting more than three of the above attractions. It allowed us to budget before we even got to Chicago and more importantly help us save on entrance fees for attractions.

Another hidden financial benefit of the Chicago CityPASS are the special offers that came with the pass. An example of which is the behind the scenes tour at the Shedd Aquarium – using your CityPASS this was only $20.00 compared to $59.95 if you booked this online at the Shedd Aquarium website.

As I mentioned earlier in the article, we like using a CityPASS as it provides a ready made itinerary as many of the top attractions in Chicago are included which we found really useful.

Comparing it to other passes, what we liked about the CityPASS was that you don’t have to rush to see the attractions within a limited time frame as you have 9 days to use a CityPASS, so it’s perfect if you are spending several days in Chicago like we did.

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