I took the fastest elevator I'd ever been on, with my father-in-law and son, only to "meet" David Schwimmer on the 94th floor...
By now you know my story: July 2009, 8000 km road trip, 3 generations, 1 van. I took along 10 cameras and 40 rolls of film. We passed through 10 American states and 3 Canadian provinces, but we spent the most money in Chicago…
Traveling with 3 generations can be tricky. Especially when you’re trying to efficiently see as much as possible while also trying to avoid causing crankiness of the in-laws or children (um, just kidding mom). So, when we found ourselves near the base of the Hancock Tower at the end of the Magnificent Mile, we decided that we would forgo our plans to ascend the Sears Tower the next day.
The John Hancock Tower was built in 1969, and at that time was the tallest building in the USA – if you didn’t count anything in New York. The Hancock Observatory is located on the 94th floor, and I was told that the dedicated elevator is one of the fastest anywhere, rising at a speed of over 20 miles per hour.
We paid our $25 (just for me and minidirklancer!) to ride to the top and look around. When we got to the top we were handed headsets and a small touchscreen device which would be our tour guide for the duration. This device might have been the coolest part (not counting the spectacular view). There were numbers affixed to the windows all around the observatory, and when you entered that number in your gadget, David Schwimmer (of ‘Friends’ fame) regales you with interesting trivia and tidbits about the immense and distant views you are trying to comprehend. (Of course, nothing at the Hancock Observatory makes any mention of ‘Friends’, you’re supposed to think Schwimmer is so well known because of his work as the Lookingglass Theatre company. Yeah right, Ross) Even more awesome was the fact that there was a “Kids’” option for the tour, so minidirklancer wasn’t bored by the technical trivia and ‘grown-up’ (aka: boring) humour that the rest of us enjoyed.
A unique feature of Chicago is the amount of lakefront and beaches that haven’t been spoiled by industrial development like so many other waterfront cities. If you want to see this from a fantastic height, choose the Hancock Observatory over the Sears (Willis) Tower. It’s taller, but not as close to the water.
One part of the observatory is open to the outside air. That part kind of freaked me out a little.
There is also a trendy little restaurant and obligatory “photos-of-me-and-my-family-at-the-tourist-attraction” sales. I saved my money for a beer at the cafe at the base of the tower afterwards instead.