See snow sculptures. Ice skate, Explore an ice village with illuminated caves or a Nordic village with downhill and cross-country skiing. Put Wisconsin and Michigan on the travel excursion list to catch these events and ideas before winter ends.
Ice castle kingdom
Stay at Geneva National Resort and Club’s The Ridge in Lake Geneva, WI where guests can now explore an illuminated ice kingdom complete with caves, fountains and frozen slides. Opened Jan. 22, 2022. The Ridge guests get the best available tickets to the ice kingdom, including the difficult-to-get Saturday times.
Call ahead about tickets if driving over to Lake Geneva and not staying at Geneva National. Current expectation is that it will remain open through February depending on the weather. The resort also features ice skating, cross-country skiing and fine dining.
Walk around and judge for yourself amazing snow sculptures created by 15 state teams from across the county at the US National Snow Sculpting Championship in Lake Geneva.
Held Wednesday when snow arrives through Saturday for the judging, the annual Snow Sculpting Championship takes place at Riviera Plaza and flat Iron Park during the city’s Winterfest, Feb. 2-6, 2022.
Wisconsin Team 2 of Sculptora Borealis won with “Inoculation” last year and Florida’s Less Latitutde, more attitude,” took second with “the Power of the Mind’s Eye.”
Winterfest also includes ice sculptures and entertainment. For more information visit Winterfest 2022.
Downhill ski at award-winning Crystal Mountain that controls snow quality with its own machines, has good cross-country trails and an excellent ski school. Located in Thomsonville, MI, Crystal Mountain is a scenic, Nordic style resort village with several accommodation choices, spa and large, indoor pool.
They start work midweek when snow is delivered to their stations in the Riviera Plaza , 812 Wrigley Drive abutting Geneva Lake (Yes, that is the lake’s name).
The teams sculpt their creations through Friday night to be ready for the judging after the “tools down” bell at 11 a.m. Saturday. Visitors can vote for the People’s Choice Award, Saturday until 2 p.m.
The snow sculptures are amazing but also stay to see ice sculptures in town. Youngsters may want to stop at a children’s tent at 201 Wrigley Dr. in Flat Iron Park where there are games and the Boy Scouts are selling cider donuts and hot dogs.
There are several inns and resorts that turn a Lake Geneva visit into a getaway.
Visitors who stay over Saturday will want to see the free Laser Light Show on the ski slopes of the Grand Geneva Resort, just south of the downtown at WI7036 Grand Geneva Way.
The light show goes from 8:30 to 10 p.m. For more information call (312) 218-3848 or visit Laser fusion shows. The resort is kid friendly and also has a good spa.
You likely have heard that a hoard of college kids invade South Padre Island during their Spring Break. But the rest of the year this narrow strip of land at the far southern edge of Texas is a perfect vacation spot for girls’ getaways, couples, families and retirees looking for a new destination.
Picture blue-green water to sooth the soul, glistening sand for a sunrise walk, terrific Mai Tais, Martinis and Margaritas to sip at sunset and yummy seafood for lunch and dinner.
For a change of pace there are cruises to see bottlenose dolphins, kite boarding to move with the breeze and sand castle building lessons to find your inner architect.
All those experiences (except for the kite boarding which maybe I’ll try next time) made my really brief visit to South Padre Island (often referred to as SoPadre), a memorable vacation.
I had heard of the destination but what spurred me to visit this fall was United Airline’s decision to fly from Chicago nonstop to the Brownsville International Airport on Saturdays. The airport is a mere 30 minute drive or shuttle ride away.
After arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn which has an airport shuttle, the first thing I did was step out onto the patio to inhale the warm air and collapse on a chair to gaze at the pool, greenery and gulf. Time out really means something on South Padre.
Second, was to don a bathing suit (unpacking could wait), dip a toe into the pool, relax in a cabana then begin to think about dinner. Vacationing on the Gulf of Mexico is a chance to indulge in shrimp, crab, scallops, oysters and fresh fish.
But what surprised me after three days of trying different, preparations for lunch and dinner at different restaurants was how good the food is on the island and Port Isabel which is just across Laguna Madre Bay.
Pier 19 had a terrific shrimp basket. Pirates Landing had a wonderful shrimp and oyster po’boy. I learned not to judge by appearance. The elongated shacks that make up Pier 19 attract the locals and the commercial looking Pirates Landing has good shrimp and salads.
Pier 19 was also well placed to take an Osprey nature and dolphin cruise on Laguna Madre Bay. Watching dolphins slip in and out of view was fun but the crew also emptied a net into a tank so that passengers could see and touch what was swimming in the bay. While waiting to board it was fun to watch the kite boarding on the other side of the pier.
Kites, period, are popular in the South Padre area.. B&S Kites is worth stopping just to say OMG when seeing their huge, wonderful shapes hanging from the ceiling. It’s also fun to watch people try to control these large kites on the beach.
What looks deceptively easier is building a sand castle worth of Disneyland. Playing in the sand isn’t just for kids on South Padre. Sand castle lessons are actually advertised on the island’s tourism site.
A group of us staying at the Hilton booked a sand castle lesson with “Sandy Feet,” an expert sand sculptor who used common silverware tools. We learned you don’t have to be among the kindergarten set to enjoy creating a sand castle.
What fun and a good way to work up an appetite for dinner! I had already enjoyed red snapper at Sea Ranch so went for sophisticated dining at South Padre’s new, upscale F&B SPI (Food and Beverage South Padre Island). Both restaurants have terrific seafood appetizers and fresh fish. But I also loved the desserts (which I never order when home) at F&B.
Before returning to Chicago, I had to visit the island’s famed Sea Turtle Inc. sanctuary. So the next day I heard an excellent talk and saw some rehabilitated turtles swimming in tanks. To see Allison and Gerry, two Atlantic sea turtles, visit the center’s web cam.
South Padre Island is a major turtle protection and rehabilitation area. Alerts go out when baby turtles that their moms buried in the sand for protection start hatching and are guided into the gulf by staff and volunteers.
The island also has a bird center and sanctuary which is interesting to walk during spring and fall migrations but has birds landing all year round.
Also nice all rear round are the island’s wonderful sunsets.
When Chicago’s winter gets going that’s the time to head to the Morton Arboretum for an indoor miniature train exhibit and an outdoor husky sledding event or to the Chicago Botanic Garden to breath moist air in its greenhouses or enjoy Asian orchids.
An Enchanted Railroad is zipping around at family-friendly height at the Morton Arboretum now through Feb. 19, 2018. Viewing is ticketed so if at the Arboretum during those days stop at the Visitor Center Desk to get a timed ticket. The event is weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Or go over to the Arboretum Jan. 27-28 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to see Husky Heroes. Siberian dogs will be pulling sleds and posing for pictures. Demos are typically 11:30 a.m., 12:45, 2 and 3:15 p.m. Also visit Adopt a Husky.
The Morton Arboretum is at 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle. For other information call (630) 968-0074 and visit Morton Arb.
Chicago Botanic Garden
A favorite place for people in the know who can’t fly to warmer climes is the desert or one of the other greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Others dress for the outdoors and exercise by exploring the Botanic Garden’s paths.
However, orchid lovers will likely be heading there beginning Feb. 10 to see 10,000 of those exotic plants in the Asian Orchid Show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The show goes through March 25, 2018. For a special treat plan on Orchids After Hours on Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. For tickets and more information visit CBG Orchid. Or go to Chicago Botanic Garden and call (847) 835-5440 (or 6801)
The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe.
Work off holiday treats by ice skating. Or simply enjoy the outdoors gliding around a rink to a waltz or holiday music. The City of Chicago, its park district and The Park at Wrigley Field have ice rinks that are fun to skate. All you need to bring are your skates or rent them there.
Look below the Bean (Cloud Gate) sculpture on the Michigan Avenue level between Washington and Madison Streets to join skaters on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, free of charge. Ice skate rental is $12 Monday-Thursday, $14 Friday-Sunday and holidays.
Open through March 4, 2018, the rink’s regular hours: Mondays–Thursday, noon–8 p.m., Fridays, noon–10 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 11am), Saturdays (Nov. 18–Jan. 6), 10 a.m.–10 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.), Saturdays (Jan. 13–Mar. 3), 10 a.m.–9 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.) and Sundays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. (ice skating lesson at 9 a.m.)
Look on north side of Millennium Park at 337 E. Randolph St. to find the Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon. It really curves like a ribbon. Admission is free. Skate rental and regular hours are the same as McCormick Ice Rink except Sundays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Holiday Hours: Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Christmas Day, Dec.25, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., New Year’s Eve, Dec.31, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. (During the holiday break, the Skating Ribbon will be open from 10:00 am – 10:00 pm, except for above dates).
Skate in The Park at Wrigley, the public entertainment area that abuts Wrigley Field at 3637 N. Clark St. Opened Nov. 24, the 8,000 sq. foot ice rink will be open daily through Feb. 25, 2018. Entry is $5 ages 13 and older. Skate rental is $10.
If there during the holidays stop at the Christkindle Market that opened this year for the first time in the Park at Wrigley.
Chicago Park District
The park district operates several ice rinks. Its outdoor Warren Ice Rink at 6601 N. Western Ave. is already open as is the Maggie daley Skating Ribbon and the McFetridge Ice Rink which is indoors at 3843 N. California Ave.. Other rinks open in December depending on weather conditions.
All of a sudden the long weekend that includes Presidents’ Day, the third Monday of February when schools and banks are close, is only a few days away.
What would have been a good time to fly south for a short, sunny break is likely going to be too difficult to book now. Airline flights and hotel rooms in places such as south Florida are typically at a premium that weekend, if still available.
However, instead of playing the “should-have” game, think of the weekend as a fun opportunity. The following suggestions work anywhere even though the examples given are for the Chicago area.
Take a “staycation”
Nowadays all hotels have a fitness center so that would no longer be a deciding point on where to take your weekend vacation. Think about what you most want to do. Shop? Visit museums? See art and architecture? Go to the theater? Do it all?
Next, how important is a pool? Few downtown Chicago hotels have pools but some have indoor lap pools. Even fewer have a pool where children can swim all year round.
You can keep the bathing suits in the suitcase you planned for a trip south if spending the weekend at The Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent (Shopping) Mile. It not only has a pool, it is historic and large. The spa and fitness area is now a part of the hotel pool area.
The hotel is nicely placed for a “staycation.” Walk north from the hotel for Michigan Avenue shops. Walk south and cross the Chicago River a few blocks to Millennium Park for ice skating and “Cloud Gate” better known as “The Bean.” A little further south is the Art Institute of Chicago. You are in a great spot to appreciate downtown art and architecture.
Cross Michigan Avenue from the hotel to take a bus to the Museum Campus’ Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium at the south end of Grant Park. All of February is free general admission for Illinois residents at the Field. Presidents’ Day, Feb. 20, is free admission to the Adler Planetarium and the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park.
The city is at you doorstep when you take a “staycation” downtown. Enjoy
Binge on Oscar nominated movies
Get a jump start on Oscar night, Feb. 26, 2017 by seeing the nominated movies at your local theater.
For the kids there are the animated features: “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” The Red Turtle” and “Zootopia.”
Best Picture nominees are: “Arrival,” “Fences,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Hell or High Water,” “Hidden Figures,” “La La Land, ”Lion,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight.” Most theaters offer advance tickets. The AMC theaters at Northbrook Court were recently remodeled with really comfortable seats and a bar to get drinks and food.
Or settle in with popcorn or pizza at home as you check Netflix or On Demand for past Oscar winners. Some are oldies. Others are just goodies.
Make a penguin and cupcake play date with friends
Go to a zoo or aquarium then forget the diet and splurge on cupcakes at places you’ve been meaning to try.
Snap pictures of gorgeous snow sculptures. Relive Groundhog Day. Imagine yourself behind the wheel of a sharp new vehicle. All three possibilities will brighten February days. So, post the one you love on the calendar.
Walk the sites where Harold Ramis’ popular “Groundhog Day” film was shot in Woodstock, IL. The town is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the filming there from Feb. 1 through Feb. 5. But it will likely be celebrating again next year to mark the movie’s 25th anniversary of when it was released in 1993.
Co-written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, the film has Pittsburg TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) trying to cover Groundhog Day when he gets stuck in a time warp.
Also starring Andie MacDowell as news producer Rita Hanson and Chris Elliott as cameraman Larry, the movie supposedly takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. However, with the exception of a couple of opening and highway shots to set a sense of place, it really was filmed in the cute, countryside town of Woodstock. Ramis had been searching for a site within a day’s drive of his Winnetka home.
The film site tour and showings of the movie are free. If you go early enough (7 a.m.) on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, you can see how Woodstock Willie reacts when he comes out of his tree trunk home. Pray for clouds so he doesn’t see his shadow. No shadow would mean an early spring if you believe this animal’s behavior predicts the weather.
CAS, the annual big introduction to what will officially be out for 2018, features about 1,000 vehicles and draws thousands of visitors.
In town Feb 11-17, it spreads across McCormick Place but with all those vehicles and visitors the best way to avoid the crowd crush is to go charity preview night.
The show starts off with a dressy charity party, Feb. 10. Its $275 ticket benefits 18 local charities but $222 can be tax deductable as a donation. Expect comp hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, entertainment and celebrities.
Regular tickets are $13 adults, $7 for seniors 62 and older and $7 children ages 7-12. Discounted ticket day is Feb. 15 when women pay $7.
Maybe now that Chicago’s Ice-Age weekend has come and hopefully, gone, we can lace up the skates and twirl to joyful music. Tip: closing dates are important so put them on your calendar. The first skating spot listed is indoors because it is part of a winter fest that leaves after the first full weekend in January. The second is outdoors but its regular hours change to extended holiday times late December except for special days and events.
If you want to skate at the Chicago Blackhawks Indoor Ice Rink among the rides and slides of the Pier’s Winter WonderFest, go by Sunday, Jan, 8, 2017. It all starts to disappear that Monday. Navy Pier is the nearly mile-long entertainment arm sticking out into Lake Michigan from 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.
You have likely passed Rosemont’s mega entertainment complex along the I 294 at I90 near O’Hare International Airport. There is a lot to do there including eating, seeing movies and flying (really) indoors. However, when winter comes there is also Frozemont, an outdoor Chicago Wolves Ice Rink for hockey and free skating. Skate rental is available. Tickets are sold at the rink’s box office. For the address think Monopoly game. It’s 5501 Park Place, Rosemont, IL 60018. Regular hours go through Dec. 23 but open skating has extended hours Christmas Eve and Day, New Year’s Eve and Day, Martin Luther King’s Day and Presidents Day.
As those TV ads say, “wait, there’s more” re ice skating at the MB Financial Park. If anyone in the family follows the Blackhawks, consider getting a ticket to the annual Skate with the Greats, 1 to 5 p.m., Jan. 14, 2017. Sponsored by the Chicago Blackhawk Alumni Association, event proceeds to benefit Chicago area Ronald McDonald House charities. Learn more at skate event.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Families will appreciate the casual, no-pressure-to-show-off skating rink near the red barn at the Farm-in-the-Zoo in Lincoln Park. Admission and skate rental are each $5. Go now to also see ZooLights which continues through Jan. 1, 2017. Come back to skate some more through Feb. 26. You might not want to leave before visiting the new snow monkeys in the MacaQue Forest, the penguins in their new compound or Siku, a new polar bear in the Walter Family Arctic Tundra. The zoo’s parking lot is at 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614 and is on the CTA’s 151 and 156 bus routes.
A fun place to skate is below Cloud Gate (The Bean) at the McCormick Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Take photos (can you skate while doing a selfie?) of the city’s skyline and warm up with hot chocolate from the Park Grill. Don’t worry about not skating at Olympic level. Free skating lessons are offered Friday through Sunday by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events during their Winter Workouts an hour before the rink has opend. Other lessons are available other times and dates Dec. 24, 2016 through Jan. 8, 2017. The rink is open weekdays at noon and weekends at 10 a.m. through March 5, 2017. It’s located in one of those “you can’t miss it’ places because it borders the west side of Millennium Park along Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison Streets. Its formal address is 201 E. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60601. Skating is free. Rentals are $12.
Swirling and curving on the north-east side of Millinneium Park in Chicago Park District’s Maggie Daley Park, is the unusually shaped Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon. Open now through the first week of March, the Ribbon winds through a somewhat rolling, changing “parkscape” that is a fun place to go. Skating is free. Rentals are $12 weekdays and $14 Friday through Sunday and holidays. The park is at 337 E. Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60601.
The city has seven other outdoor ice rinks aside from the Maggie Daley Ribbon. They will stay open through Feb. 20, 2017. To find the location nearest you or one you would like to visit and to see hours and special programs visit CPD.
Peninsula Chicago Sky Rink
You can skate with a city view above Michigan Avenue if eating, using the Spa or staying at the Peninsula Chicago. The upscale hotel has added an ice rink to its Terrace in a romantic setting of pine trees and snowflake lighting. Snack or warm up with hot cider, hot chocolate and other treats. The rink is open through March 1, 2017. Donations of $15 adults and $10 children age 12 and under go to children’s charities.
For other information and rink availability visit Sky Rink and call (312) 337-2888.