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Advice for Zoological Attractions in Chicago

Discussion in 'United States' started by LaughingDove, 3 Aug 2019.

  1. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

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    Hi everyone,

    I'm currently working at the University of Illinois in the town of Champaign-Urbana. I've been here for five weeks now with just under seven more weeks still to go, and I've decided it's about time I try and visit some sites of zoological interest in my nearest big city: Chicago.

    I've booked two day trips on the Amtrak train to Chicago for two Saturdays in this month. It's about a 3 hour train ride each way but I'll be leaving early and returning late so should be in Chicago roughly 9AM-8PM (arrival and departure times from the station).

    I definitely want to visit the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo. How would you suggest arranging those four places into two days? Was thinking a whole day for the Brookfield Zoo and try to do all three of the others in a single day? And also any suggestions/comments/things to look out for would also be appreciated.

    Also should I book a third day trip to Chicago? Are there any other places that anyone would suggest visiting, including anywhere to see wild animals/birding that I can get to on public transport?

    Also if anyone knows anywhere else of interest I can get to from Champaign, IL by public transport I would also be interested. I'm considering the coach to St Louis but that would have to be an overnight trip. Indianapolis is also possible as an overnight trip by coach. While I'm working here I'm completely busy every week day but I have free weekends where I could go somewhere interesting.
     
  2. JOSEPH E KOSIEK

    JOSEPH E KOSIEK Member

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    Three days
     
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  3. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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  4. jayjds2

    jayjds2 Well-Known Member

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    I just returned home from a trip to Chicago myself. Here’s some approximations:

    Brookfield Zoo - I spent about 5 and a half hours, but for a number of reasons I was moving at a slow pace and I had to backtrack quite a few times, so if you move at a reasonable pace it could be done in 5, probably less.

    Field Museum - I did this the same day as the Lincoln Park Zoo, and arrived at 2:00. They close at 5:00, and I unfortunately did not see the entire museum. However, I had ample time to see all things animal/fossil related (half of the main and upper levels, scattered animals in the ground level). Traffic from LPZ was bad and I moved around that collection rather slowly as well but the two could be done in the same day.

    Lincoln Park Zoo - I arrived just before the zoo opened and left 3 and a half hours later. A lot of time was spent backtracking between two buildings for photos of rarities (and attempting to find white-lined tanager, a lifer, in the bird house - that took a while!) but the zoo could be done in 2.5 hours.

    Shedd Aquarium - easily the facility that needs the most time, I arrived just after 9:00 and left around 4:00. It could be done a little faster, I think.

    LPZ, Field, and Shedd are the closest to each other (in fact the latter two are literally next door to each other). If you move at a fast pace, the three could be done in one day, but I wouldn’t recommend it - it’s difficult to get between the zoo and the other facilities. Field would be an easy pair for either. Brookfield is a good bit farther away and probably not as easy for you to get to. I think if you moved really quickly you could do Lincoln Park and Brookfield in a day (as the latter has longer open hours).

    So it could be done, but I would break off something into a third day to give yourself ample time at each place.
     
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  5. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    I am very famililar with the Chicago zoos, and if you send me a PM I can give you more advice than I will post here.

    Brookfield takes all day. Two areas of the zoo (the Hamill Family Play Zoo and the Hamill Family Wild Encounters) cost extra, and if added Brookfield takes slightly longer than a day. On weekends parts of the zoo are open late and can allow to see these attractions with the rest of the zoo in a single day (if you don't care about the butterfly house).

    Field Museum takes as long as you want it to. I usually spend slightly less than a day here, just looking at the incredible taxidermy and fossil collections. You can use the spare time to sight see around the city.

    Shedd takes all day as well. Arrive at opening and you will leave at closing. Make sure to buy your tickets online ahead of time to avoid a 2-5 hour line.

    LPZ takes roughly half a day. There is also a facility called the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (a kind of zoo/natural history museum hybrid) that is maybe a 5-10 minute walk from LPZ that can take up the rest of the day. Otherwise Lincoln Park is a great birding spot. (Somewhat annoyingly, rare waterfowl turn up quite frequently in the zoo ponds stocked with exotic waterfowl. If you you know the collection well enough, you can usually pick one or two out).
     
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  6. pachyderm pro

    pachyderm pro Well-Known Member

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    Hello, LaughingDove.

    The Brookfield Zoo is a substantial, large facility. It will certainly need a day to itself and I recommend at least five or six hours to see everything properly. Highlights are Habitat Africa! The Forest (African Forest area featuring okapi, elephant shrew, pangolins, two species of duiker, a few reptiles, red-billed hornbills and red river hogs), The Living Coast (Themed after a Peruvian coastline starting with deep sea exhibits with rays and medium sized fish, building up to a coral reef with leopard sharks, moray eels and more fish, then approaching the shore with Humboldt penguins and free flying ice terns), and Great Bear Wilderness (Northwest themed area with rotational bear exhibits, a large bison paddock with a bridge, a bald eagle aviary, and a spectacular wolf habitat).

    I recommend doing the field museum and Shedd in the same day as they are in very close proximity of one another and will only take a few hours each to tour. I highly suggest doing Shedd first as the line to get in can and will become astronomically long. Highlights at Shedd include Amazon Rising (Amazon exhibit with callimicos, an anaconda, caiman, electric eel, freshwater stingray and a great selection of large fish), Wild Reef (Deep sea exhibit with all sorts of corals, fish and large sharks), and the Oceanarium (Large tanks for belugas and dolphins, as well as sea otters and sea lions. Also has a beautiful view of Lake Michigan).

    Lincoln Park may be much smaller than most zoos, but I absolutely recommend that it has come quite a long way in recent years. It deserves its own day so it won’t have to be rushed, I would say give it at least three or four hours at the zoo and then explore some of the city that same day. Highlights at Lincoln Park include The Center For African Apes (A brilliant set of exhibits for gorillas and chimps), The Macaque Forest (Large exhibit for Japanese macaques) and African Journey (Large indoor exhibits for pygmy hippos, dwarf crocs, diana monkeys, spoonbills, meerkats, aardvarks, klipspringers and smaller birds. Outdoor yards for giraffe and zebras, black rhinos, red river hogs and painted dogs).

    Overall, have a great stay at the city of big shoulders! It would be great to hear your thoughts on the local zoos.
     
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  7. Daktari JG

    Daktari JG Well-Known Member

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    Other possibilities : Milwaukee, Louisville Cinncinnati Dayton Ft Wayne Columbus those are all
    a few hours more travel (by car Not sure by Amtrak)
     
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  8. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the info everyone. Much appreciated. Sounds like a third day is needed to do the city justice. So I'm thinking one day for Brookfield Zoo, one day for Shedd Aquarium+Field Museum and one more day for Lincoln Park+Nature Museum? (Which I'll probably book for early September)

    The Shedd Aquarium+Field Museum day will definitely be tight for time but if I do Shedd Aquarium in the morning and make the Lincoln Park day later I could add a re-visit to the field museum with LPZ if I really want to. Also since my train back only leaves at 8PM I will have a couple of hours in the evening of each day to get dinner/look around a bit anyway.

    I'm certainly very excited to see the Chicago collections and report back with my thoughts!
     
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  9. Imperator Furiosa

    Imperator Furiosa Well-Known Member

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    Milwaukee is probably the only of those you could get to via Amtrak, it's an hour train ride from Union Station to Milwaukee Intermodial. Louisville and Cincinnati are both over 7 hours of travel via Amtrak (and Louisville involves a bus transfer). Dayton, Fort Wayne, and Columbus have no service from Union Station. If you have time Milwaukee is worth checking out for the zoo and museum, both are pretty cool.
     
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  10. drill

    drill Well-Known Member

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    I have often seen Yellowthroats at Peggy Notebaert's boardwalk. There are also a number of wild Black-crowned night herons on the zoo grounds.
     
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  11. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    It is impossible to visit LPZ during the warm months of year and not drown in Black-crowned Night-Herons.
     
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  12. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

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    Milwaukee does seem like an interesting option that I hadn't previously. considered Will have to look into whether that's possible for a weekend trip.
     
  13. LaughingDove

    LaughingDove Well-Known Member

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    Also was wondering if anyone knew of any discounts or anything like that available for tickets to any of the Chicago. Obviously aquariums in particular are always going to be expensive but they're all quite pricey.

    I assume it's also cheaper and/or faster to get in if you buy tickets online in advance too?
     
  14. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    I don't think it's any cheaper, but you can avoid the 2-5 hour line by doing so.
     
  15. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    How was the trip?
     
  16. pachyderm pro

    pachyderm pro Well-Known Member

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    Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 5.39.29 PM.png
     
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  17. amur leopard

    amur leopard Well-Known Member

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    I'm also very interested to hear how it went because I am planning a similar trip to Chicago (among other zoo trips to Columbus, Detroit, Toledo, Cincinnati, St Louis, Kansas City and Omaha). However, I am wondering whether I need 4 or 5 days in Chicago (given I also want to see the rest of the city). :)
     
  18. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    If you just want to see Chicago's big three zoos (Lincoln Park, Shedd, Brookfield) that's three days by itself (Lincoln Park doesn't take all day but the others do). You can do some sightseeing on the same day as Lincoln Park, or you could visit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. If you wanted to do the Field Museum, that's another full day by itself.
     
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  19. SwampDonkey

    SwampDonkey Well-Known Member

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    RE, the Field Museum - did they ever update the signage? When I was there around 2010 they still had signage that showed maps or talked about the "Soviet Union" or similar places that are no longer around.
     
  20. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    The museum is a big place, I don't know about that sign in particular. The museum has a lot of recent renovations, though, and with them they have updated a lot of old signs.