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January 8th, 2014

  • Author: Melisa Wells

Chicago Insider Secrets

Being a Chicago native (and the author of a Chicago family travel guide!), I have experienced countless sights, sounds, and tastes all over the city—the entire city—and suburbs. That said, everybody knows that the Loop has the highest concentration of entertainment and dining options per square mile in the Chicagoland area.

Whether you’re a local who wants to take a little staycation or a tourist on vacation, the Loop is where you want to be in order to make the most of your time. Staying at a hotel on South Michigan Avenue, specifically the Essex Inn, is a great idea for several reasons:

  1. You are SUPER close—walking distance, or a quick cab right in the deep winter—to famous attractions like the Museum Campus (home of the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and the Adler Planetarium), Grant Park, Millennium Park, and the Art Institute.
  2. You are VERY close—still within walking distance in good weather—to the Magnificent Mile if you want to do some shopping or experience some fantastic restaurants and, at the north end, the original Water Tower and the John Hancock Observatory.
  3. If you have somewhere else to go in the downtown area that requires a longer cab ride, like the Museum of Science and Industry or Ed Debevic’s? You’re still less than ten minutes away!
  4. The Essex Inn is much more reasonably priced than hotels closer to the Gold Coast, which allows you to spend what you save on FUN. (They also have an attached parking garage with discounted overnight parking for guests—with in and out privileges!)
  5. If you’re staying in the winter, you can enjoy the indoor pool at the Essex Inn, where it’s balmy all year ‘round!
  6. I love the special deals offered by the Essex Inn that allow you to “stay and play”. Packages include a room for two and tickets to local attractions like Blue Man Group, the Art Institute, the Shedd Aquarium, and lots of other options.

Now that I’ve provided you with some “public information”, I have some insider secrets for you: there are all kinds of free things to do in the city of Chicago. Whenever I recommend activities to visiting friends, I provide a mix of “famous” and “not widely known”. Here are some of my Free Favorites, all indoors and within walking distance of the Essex Inn:

  1. The Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.) building was the city’s original library. The books have been moved to the Harold Washington Library but the gorgeous glass, mother-of-pearl, and stone mosaics (along with the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome) bring in lots of beauty-appreciating visitors every year.
  2. The Chicago Model City (224 South Michigan Ave.) is an up-to-date, 320-square-foot, three-dimensional model of the city, created by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It’s a great way to see the city in a different way.
  3. Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s) on State Street (111 N. State St.) is home to the iconic Great Clocks, the Burnham Fountain, and the Tiffany Ceiling, which is the largest unbroken example of Tiffany Favrile glass in the world, and SO worth the trip. (Make sure to look at it from the ground floor and then take the elevators to the 5th floor to see it up close!)

These are just three examples; there are so many more! No matter how you plan to spend your time in Chicago, the Essex Inn is the perfect home base for your adventures.

Melisa Wells
Co-Producer at LTYM Chicago:
National LTYM New Cities Mentor:
Social Media Researcher:
Find me on Twitter @melisalw

Disclosure: Complimentary accommodations were provided in order to provide feedback on our visit. All comments, photos and opinions are my own.

December 2nd, 2013

  • Author: Nicole Brady, Bettendorf, Iowa

Friendly Staff, Convenient Location and a Lifeguard on Duty

After living in Los Angeles for so many years, small town life can get a bit… well… boring. With the investment of a few hours in the car, we can break up the monotony even if for only a weekend.

Chicago is our big city of preference. It’s only a few hours away and has everything we could want for entertainment. All the major sports are represented, theatre and concerts, conferences and trade-shows, museums of all types and shopping, shopping, shopping.

Whenever we go, we make the most of our time and plan things for the entire day. We often end up getting a hotel for at least one night. This particular trip was focused on the kids beginning with a morning at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair followed by a trip to one of the museums.


Essex Inn outside view


The Essex Inn on South Michigan Avenue had just what we needed: an overnight package designed with the kids in mind. We reserved the Kids Rule package which includes accommodations for four in one of their family suites, a choice of passes to select family attractions and a welcome bag for the kids.

When we were done with the toy and game fair, we headed over to the hotel to see if our room was ready. Check-in was 4 but we arrived earlier than anticipated: shortly after lunch. Although our room wasn’t ready, they had our VIP passes to Shedd Aquarium right at the desk. The friendly staff parked our vehicle, stored our bags and requested a rush on our room so it would be available whenever we decided to return.

Shedd Aquarium is a short 15 minute walk away with the majority of it on a lovely pathway.  Admission into Shedd Aquarium is NOT cheap but it is well worth it.  The show is excellent and the exhibits are breathtaking. Seriously… look at the jelly fish! Aren’t they so pretty?!

Jellyfish at the Shedd Aquarium


The passes we received with our package included all the exhibits and shows, excluding the 4D movie.  If we were to factor OUT the passes because we would have purchased them anyhow, that leaves the net cost of our hotel room far less than any other hotel we’ve looked into downtown.

While at the aquarium, I was notified that our room was ready so after we had seen everything we wanted, we headed back to the hotel to finish checking in. My kids were excited to each receive a welcome back filled with snacks and other goodies – each with a different game and snack than the other.

Kids welcome bag


As for me – I was thrilled to see that the kids’ room was separate from where we would be sleeping. Those nice comfy, cozy beds you see in that picture are in a room adjacent to where the parents sleep.

Separate kids room at the Essex Inn

Did you catch that? A different room.  With a different TV. With a door that closes. They have their own privacy (and early bedtime followed by cartoons in the morning) while parents have a bed, TV, fridge and coffee pot in the room attached to the entrance door.

Our day was pretty exhausting but we were still tossing around the idea of heading to the Magnificent Mile to go shopping. The American Girl store was our destination of choice and someplace that has eluded us on prior visits.

Of course, we did have to worry about the parade and other festive activities happening that we forgot about.  Because of the street closures, the closest the driver would be able to get us to where we needed to be was a few blocks. In the frigid cold (and following a 15 minute walk from the Shedd), we opted to just hang out at the hotel.  The American Girl store will have to wait for our next trip.

The hotel offers a beautiful view, a nice restaurant, a sizeable fitness area and a rooftop pool.  The fitness area included free weights, various machines and TVs to help pass your time.

Chicago hotel with fitness center

While deemed “rooftop” pool, it isn’t open to the cold winter air. It’s in an atrium area adjacent to the fitness room and boasts a cozy sauna. The Essex Inn offers one thing that really stood out: a lifeguard on duty. Of all the hotels we’ve ever stayed at in various cities, I can honestly say I have never seen a lifeguard on duty at one. There’s always a sign that says something akin to “swim at your own risk”.

Rooftop pool

After a good night’s sleep, we opted to cash in our “One Free Child’s Breakfast with the Purchase of an Adult Breakfast” tickets that came with our package. We had looked at the menu the night before and the kids’ menu alone made me want to dine there. I couldn’t get past the Chocolate Hazelnut French Toast and Chocolate Hazelnut Crepes. Whether the kids planned on ordering them or not, they were getting one of those so I could have a bite.

While we received a paper menu, I just loved the posted menu. It was a giant blackboard that covered one of the walls.

Brasserie grill menu on a blackboard

There were a lot of choices that sounded fantastic for breakfast; I opted for savory crepes. The plate didn’t look huge but it was extremely filling and delicious.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crepes at the Brasserie Grill inside Essex Inn

Following our great breakfast, we checked out and headed home. Overall, our stay was excellent with only a few hiccups that were no big deal. Every staff member we encountered was extremely friendly and helpful, including one of the cleaning staff who overheard us trying to decide whether to grab a Coke from one machine or a Pepsi from the machine on the floor below.  We’ll certainly be looking at the other packages at The Essex Inn when we’re ready to make another trip to Chicago!

Oh yeah… In case you’re wondering, our 10 year old daughter ordered the Chocolate Hazelnut French Toast and yes, I did steal a bite.  It was to-die for. She wants to come back just for THAT!

Disclosure: Complimentary accommodations were provided in order to provide feedback on our visit. All comments, photos and opinions are my own.

Nicole Brady
Social Media Mom & Publisher at

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November 20th, 2013

  • Author: Miss Lori

The Inn – The Key To The City & My Heart

The key to a great vacation is going somewhere your children will never have a reason to say those dreaded words, “I’m bored.” The key to a great vacation is staying somewhere that has room for everyone in your family to lay their heads comfortably. The key to a great vacation is finding a hotel that meets all of  your needs; parking, eating, sleeping, playing, relaxing. You will find all of the keys you need for a great vacation at the Essex Inn Chicago, because there they specialize in giving guests the key to the city with every reservation. That’s exactly what my children and I experienced during our stay recently. From the moment we arrived to the minute we checked out our every need was met. We valeted our car, checked in for our reservation, explored our 2 room, three bed family suite, dipped several toes in the full size-rooftop pool, sweat mightily in the sauna, ran a mile or two in the fitness center, sampled French cuisine in the Brasserie by LM restaurant and nurtured our curiosity at two separate museums in the city. Oh yes, not only had Essex Inn Chicago given us the keys to a great vacation, but they gave us the keys to a fabulous family memory as well.

Thank you Essex Inn Chicago. You now have the key to my family’s heart.

Miss Lori's family vacation at the Essex Inn Chicago

The Essex Inn Chicago is the key to the city


Miss Lori

Disclosure: Some or all of the products or services mentioned were provided to Miss Lori free of charge. Nevertheless, her opinions are expressly her own.

Miss Lori can be found at and now on with her new blog SMILING On With Miss Lori. You can also see her Activating to Be Great at Miss Lori’s CAMPUS on YoutubeFacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramTOUT and LinkedIn.

August 6th, 2013

  • Author:
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Enjoyable Mini-cation

Today was my last day at the Essex Inn. Check out was at 11am, and it was back to work! Overall, I had a very enjoyable stay at the hotel. Some highlights included the location – everything within walking distance; the friendly staff – great recommendations and customer service; comfortable bed; and beautiful view from my room – Grant Park, Lake Michigan, and the Museum Campus.

Another highlight was the package options that Essex Inn offers. My shopping package included a $50 MasterCard Gift Card (treated myself to some new dresses), a premier booklet with offers to shops along The Magnificent Mile, a delicious 3 course meal and the hotel restaurant and 2 drink vouchers. All for an affordable price – it was a great deal for a weekend or mid-week getaway.

I would highly recommend Essex Inn and I look forward to my next stay with them!



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