Today, I’m honoured to have my client, Christine Fay, write of her family’s experience with her daughter’s fifth birthday party in Chicago, staying at a Vision 2000 Virtuoso partner (and also, our Four Seasons preferred partner), the Ritz Carlton Chicago, a Four Seasons hotel.
I’d put a series of Q&A’s to Christine. She very kindly shared details. Enjoy the post, and the fantastic pictures!
There were a number of reasons we chose Chicago for Emma’s 5th birthday. Each of the girls in our family has gotten an American girl doll for their 5th birthday; and to mark the occasion, we decided to go to the store to make getting the doll a very special event. The cafe at the American Girl Store in Chicago offers a birthday party package which is really quite amazing, and is truly is any girl’s dream. The cafe itself is completely pink, with the party starting off with little finger foods, followed by entrees that are mostly kid friendly and nut free (they did have a few entrees for moms as well) -which was great since one of the guests has a severe peanut allergy. After all the food is cleared, they brought the prettiest pink cake and ice cream. The dolls sit with the girls (and I have heard there is also a place for them in the washroom – which all the cousins were fascinated with). If someone comes to the restaurant without a doll, they provide a doll so no one feels left out. We all had a great time, and I don’t think the kids stopped laughing, talking, and smiling the entire time.
The reason we chose the Chicago store is that Chicago is an easily accessible city (since it is an airport hub, most cities can fly direct) and my brother lives nearby. Because of that, my sister, my brother, and their families were also able to come to Chicago, and we spent the weekend together, which was truly special. In addition, Chicago is a fantastic city with so much to offer both in terms of dining, art, and entertainment, in a very relaxed environment with a lot of open spaces. It is also one of the most amazing cities in terms of open art exhibits and architecture.
2. Has she been a fan of American Girls for long?
Emma has been a huge fan of American Girls since her cousin had her birthday party at the AMG Chicago store 2 years ago. Since then, she has brought up her AMG birthday over and over.
3. How was the proximity of the AG store and the hotel?
We decided to stay at the Ritz Carlton Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel since it was in the same building as the AMG store. It was one of the best experiences we have ever had. In fact, I believe it has now spoiled us to any other hotel (but more about that below). You could access the store through the hotel so if the weather is bad, there was no need to go outside. This was extremely helpful since Emma needed to double check different items in the store on a fairly regular basis. In addition, the AMG is only one store in an 8 story mall that is also accessible from the hotel (that said, when you are in the hotel, you would never guess that there was a huge mall just an elevator ride away). There are also great outdoor spaces just steps away from the hotel. There is a double playground just outside the main lobby, a rubberized public outdoor running track one block away, and the beach is just a few blocks past that. Emma and I were also able to go for early morning walks down Michigan Avenue, and enjoy the great outdoor art instalments in Millennium park.
Even in the hotel lobby there was a lot for Emma to do. First, for parents that get up early with their kids (and other adults who choose to wake early), the hotel sets out a complimentary hot beverage station with tea, coffee, and a Nespresso machine. The hotel lobby is completely open and very bright (so the restaurant is open to the lobby, as well as the main seating areas). This allowed Emma to play at the fountain while I read, and had my coffee (or if Emma finished eating before us at the restaurant, she could sit near the fountain while Bob and I ate). Around the corner from the main lobby is a Koi pond that Emma also loved. The front desk gives little packets of fish food for the Koi pond, and little packages of pennies for wishing at the fountain.
4. Did the hotel arrange anything special for the birthday girl?
Although the staff did extra things for Emma for her birthday, they go to great lengths to make every child feel special. From the moment we arrived at the hotel, the staff addressed our daughter by name, were interested in hearing about the various activities she was involved in, and remembered activities she had done. When we first arrived and gave our name, they immediately addressed our daughter by name, brought out a red wagon full of toys for her to choose from, and brought out a balloon in the colour she was dressed in. They also set up a special gift of an American girl store bed in the hotel room for when we arrived -which was one of the biggest surprises. We had a small one bedroom suite, and the living room would convert into Emma’s room at night so she considered it her room. It also had 2 bathrooms, and one of them had special products just for Emma (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, conditioner) including a special Ritz bathrobe in her size. There is also a movie library where you can borrow as many movies as you want – but there were so many activities, we did not have time for that.
After relaxing for a short while, Emma and I went down to the Ritz kitchen where Emma and about 5 other children got to make cookies with the head pastry chef. She told the pastry chef that she would like to be one as well when she grows up, and he took Emma and I on a tour of the Ritz kitchens (I don’t think Emma will forget that one). Once the cookies were cut out and baked, they were sent up to our room with icing and sprinkles to decorate (this is in addition to the milk and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies they bring to the room).
The hotel also sent up a beautiful fresh fruit plate since we travelled through Sheila’s agency. What struck us most about the hotel was the staff. Although we have stayed in some beautiful hotels, the staff at the Ritz Carlton Chicago (which is a Four Seasons hotel), goes the extra distance to make it feel like a home away from home.
5. Did you find there was plenty for the birthday girl to do, as well as keep mom and dad entertained?
Outside of all of the events around the AMG, and the fun we had exploring the hotel and the neighbourhood, Chicago has so much to offer that we found it challenging trying to choose. We briefly went to the pier that is very family friendly (like an old fashioned amusement park), my brother and his wife took their two girls to a world class opera performance. There is a 360 degree Broadway theatre that at the time was showing Peter Pan that was hard not to go to (but we ran out of time). What we chose to do was to go to the Shed aquarium and have a one on one with a penguin (truly a once in a lifetime experience). They have a program that introduces the public to various aquatic which they do both to bring awareness to the public of different issues facing the various species housed at their facility as well as to get the animals used to various people so that different aquarium staff will be able to treat them (basically to help socialize them). In addition to the penguin program for slightly older children they have a one-on-one with a beluga whale. The experience took most of the day, with the kids first going through the aquarium, followed by a meet and greet with the penguin that each participant had the chance to interact with. We finished off our visit by seeing Happy Feet in 4D (something definitely to experience).
6. If there was one thing you’d change, what would it be?
I have to say, the only thing I would change is the length of time that we stayed. We had such a great time that if the hotel had accommodations, we would have stayed for an extra 3 days. This is pretty unusual for us when travelling with Emma, because usually, after a few days, we are pretty tired from being away from home and our routine.
7. What is the best memory you’re taking away from the trip?
For me, the best memory is how much Emma loved it. By the end, she asked if she could live in Chicago (at the hotel, of course – which the hotel accommodates in its other tower – and you could be neighbours with Oprah). People are so friendly in Chicago that they would stop Emma on the street to say “hi,” and to talk about the AMG doll they had when they were young (or that their children or grandchildren had).
8. Would you recommend the trip to other parents?
I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone, especially for those families looking for a more urban vacation but also want to relax. It is a trip that my family will be taking again.