Our girls were really excited when they heard we were headed for the Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest. I was a bit wary. I knew friends who took their younger kids down to Navy Pier, but I wasn’t sure our teens would have as much fun. They are in that “too cool” to be with the parents phase. Still, we headed down on a Friday evening to experience the 170,000 feet of rides and activities.
We’re one of those families that look up the best decorated houses and drive around looking at the lights, so we were barely in the door when we started pointing at the decorations. As soon as you enter Festival Hall, there are several Christmas trees decorated by local organizations. The Batman/Superman tree revived an ongoing debate about who was the better super hero.
Our girls immediately moved towards the Zero Gravity. We watched them spin around at higher and higher speeds as they rotated so they were practically horizontal. They laughed so hard they could hardly catch their breath. They ran from the Zero Gravity and wanted to head to the Hot Chocolate spinning cups, but we took a detour to the train ride. As teens they thought they were too old for the train ride, but we prevailed. The train cars are small, so we separated into different cars. It was an adorable trip through a winter village filled with packages to be mailed and Santa’s lists. The winter scene had live performers, which seemed to delight the younger children.
We all went on the Hot Chocolate spinning cups. We didn’t sit in the right places, though. Both girls wanted the red cups, so we were on opposite sides of the ride. We couldn’t see each other, so we couldn’t see how fast the other cup was spinning. It’s always fun to see other family members having fun. Three of us went in the same car for the Tilt ‘A Whirl. We had that thing spinning around and around, causing us to laugh so hard we could hardly breath.
There was a lot of laughing at the Fifth Third Winter Wonderland. We laughed as our girls took the hockey stick at the Chicago Blackhawks slap shot attraction. The Tony Esposito backdrop had nothing to worry about as the girls hit the balls towards the target. We didn’t get on the ice rink. It was pretty crowded, so we stood by watching others skate for a minute.
While our teenagers were spinning and tilting, there were also a lot of activities for younger children. There were several different slides, a carousel, an indoor Ferris wheel and climbing walls. The young kids scaled the climbing walls, hitting the top bell with glee while we watched. Our girls thought about going up the climbing wall, but all that spinning seemed to wear out their enthusiasm for climbing.
The Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderland website offers tips for making your visit a fun event. In addition to buying tickets in advance (at a discount too) and packing lightly, I’d recommend leaving your coats in the car. There is a coat check, so that is an option. In most cases, though, we saw a family member carrying all the coats while someone else went from attraction to attraction with the children. It will be cold walking from the parking lot into Navy Pier, but everyone will warm up quickly as they walk to Festival Hall and enjoy the attractions.
In addition, plan to stop for a snack. There is a big area where you can purchase everything from hot chocolate to hot dogs to popcorn. We forced our girls to take a break after a few rides just to keep them from overdoing it. No one has fun when the kids are tired and hungry. If you plan for a snack when planning your day, it gives everyone a few minutes to recharge for the next activities.
Finally, try to go during an “off” time. Friday evening seems to be a good time to attend if the weekend is your only option. There were enough people to make it festive without any long lines. People who have attended on the weekends during what might be called prime time (think Saturday or Sunday afternoons) tell me that they had long waits for every attraction. If you visit just at the event opens, or go after dinner, the lines might be more manageable.
Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderland is locate in Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. The newly renovated Navy Pier has gone from tourist tacky to sleek and sophisticated. Be sure to take the time to walk through the renovated building to see why Navy Pier is one of the most visited Illinois attractions.
For the complete Fifth Third Winter Wonderland calendar, including ticket information and attraction information, please visit https://navypier.com/winter-wonderfest/admission-and-hours/#tips.
Shari writes about life with twins at Two Times The Fun. Image courtesy of Navy Pier.
Disclosure: I did attend as part of a media event. My words and opinions are my own.
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