Tag: travelling with kids

24 Hours In Detroit

 

24 hours in Detroit

 

 

Even though Detroit has a rich music history,  there’s a case to be made that the city’s theme song should be “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett. Indeed, to outsiders like me, Detroit has a perception for being dangerous, unsafe and having a struggling economy. So, with that in mind, I figured a perfect road trip for my family would be to spend 24 hours in Detroit!

Whoa.

Reading that out loud makes it sound like a terrible idea. Anyway, there are actually  plenty of things to do in Detroit with kids, that are safe and fun. During our brief time there, we scratched the surface of Motown’s sights and sounds like a DJ playing a vinyl record on a turntable.  While that probably doesn’t make me qualified to give you and your family a guide of things to do if you’re spending 24 hours in Detroit, it’s too late now. To quote Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on!

 

 WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKENHEARTED LIONS FAN?

 

Detroit is a serious sports town, with professional teams  represented across all four of the North American Big Four leagues. For the family of sports fans, you could base a short road trip to Detroit around attending a Tigers, Lions, Pistons or Red Wings game. This is actually what we did, as we were fortunate enough to check out an NFL game for free, courtesy of my friends at the Detroit Lions!

 

Ford Field review

 

Now, almost every sporting event that we have been to over the last 10 years has been with a kid who was still in diapers, thus requiring us to bring a diaper bag. To our chagrin, the NFL ain’t about that. They have a  strict clear bag policy  and diaper bags are prohibited. Attempts to find an approved bag beforehand, last minute, were futile, so we Macgyvered a solution:

 

NFL Clear Bag Policy

Our diaper bag for the day.

 

I tried to get clever with it, once we got inside the stadium. I stopped by a merchandise stand, and asked if they could give me a plastic bag. They, not surprisingly, said no, unless I bought something. I promptly purchased an official Detroit Lions clear bag, which I will probably never use again, but made for a nice souvenir.

Of the five people in my family, only B and I would consider ourselves true football fans. As such, the off-field stuff would need to be as on point as the on-field product, to entertain my clan.  While we didn’t partake in any tailgating, we did arrive at Ford Field early, to check out the pre-game festivities. To the Lions’ credit, they did a pretty good job of getting even neutral bystanders like us to buy into the #onepride spirit.  Games were set up, with chances to win Lions swag.  A drumline roamed the stadium, playing some hyped-up jams. A live band rocked out near one of the gates, which had people dancing in the streets.

 

things to do in detroit with kids.

Coincidentally, Martha Reeves, who sang “Dancing In The Streets” with the Vandellas, was even in attendance.

 

Ford Field doesn’t wow you with anything, but everything about the stadium is OK, if that makes sense.  As we wandered around Ford Field, I noticed that the concourses were very wide and spacious. I didn’t worry much about losing my kids in a crowd, as they were always within site.  Guest services was helpful in this regard too, as they provided us wristbands which K and I wrote our contact information and the kids’ names on, for them to wear. Food and drink options were plentiful. The washrooms weren’t disgusting. Our complimentary seats were in the 100 level. Great sight lines, and comfortable enough.

 

 

24 hours in detroit

 

 

I’ve been to  football games before where drunk and belligerent fools made the experience less than family-friendly. Luckily, this wasn’t the case at our Lions game. The crowd was very lively and rawkus, but I didn’t see anyone being too out of control. Well, besides little KJ, I mean. He developed cranky toddleritis, so we had to leave before the game ended. This was for the good, as the Lions ended up losing in last-second, heartbreaking fashion. Beyond that, it was a solid afternoon of pigskin action, and I wouldn’t find checking out a Lions game again, in the future!

 

knocks me off my feet (to sleep)

 

Now, a good chunk of our 24 hours in Detroit was obviously dedicated to the Lions game. However, we still needed a place to rest our heads.  If sports are the purpose of your trip, like ours, Ford Field, Comerica Park (where the Detroit Tigers play) and Little Caesars Arena (home of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons) are located downtown.  As such,  it makes sense to try to stay downtown.

When looking into hotels, I found ones located in downtown Detroit to be a bit on the pricier side.  For the most part, parking was an extra cost, too. The rates were not insignificant at that ($30 and up), especially if in and out privileges weren’t included. If you just plan on taking public transportation/taxis/Ubers around, this isn’t a big deal, of course. For us,  it was potentially a costly issue.

We ended up staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Allen Park, Michigan, which is a 15 minute drive in the southwest direction from downtown Detroit.  The room was about half the price of similarly rated rooms near Ford Field, plus free parking.  This seemed to be typical of most hotels located outside of downtown, either in surrounding neighbourhoods or bordering cities. Speaking of that….

WHAT’S GOIN’ ON (in detroit)?

 

downtown detroit

 

Look, man, there’s no way to sugarcoat it.  Detroit is known for being a violent, unsafe city. When looking up hotels, I did do location research, too, to see what the crime vibe was like. I’m not trying to perpetuate any stereotypes. I’m just saying, in my case, a van with Canadian license plates, not in Canada, just screams tourist. This can be a petty criminal’s dream in any city with unreputable areas. It’s a good idea to be cognisant of these areas.

 

 

stop! in the name of the love of sightseeing!

 

When driving through, and walking around, downtown Detroit, the efforts to revitalize this neighbourhood were noticeable. Contemporary looking buildings are numerous, and beautiful artwork dots the streets.  While the weather was too rainy for them on our visit, the Detroit Riverfront  and Campus Meritus Park looked like fun places to take the family for some outdoor quality time.  There were many theatres and concert venues downtown, too, which I guess is to be expected from a city with a rich music history like Motown.

 

 

 

Once you start to venture outside of downtown, things in the city start to look more….gritty, for lack of a better term. Some of the more popular tourist spots are sprinkled all over the town, which allows you to see the grittiness up close.  If you only have 24 hours in Detroit, hitting up at least one of the tourist attractions really is a must, though.

For example, music lovers will appreciate a trip to Hitsville, USA, to check out the Motown Museum.  For hardcore and casual art enthusiasts,  the Detroit Institute Of the Arts and its huge collection is what’s up.   In our case, my friends at Visit Detroit hooked us up with complimentary tickets to The Henry Ford, so we had the pleasure of checking that place out.

The Henry Ford is the brainchild of, you guessed it, Henry Ford. It’s located in Dearborn, Michigan and is a huge indoor/outdoor museum complex, with the overriding theme of it being a tribute to Americana. The campus is home to the Henry Ford Museum Of Innovation, Greenfield Village, the Ford Rouge Factory and a giant 4K screen. We focused our attention on the artifacts, exhibits and memorabilia of the Henry Ford Museum. There were lots of hands on activities, and things to climb on/in, which was great, in term of keeping B, J and KJ engaged. The amount of cool, eye-opening stuff to be seen was impressive.

 

the henry ford museum

The Kennedy Presidential Limousine.

 

 

the henry ford museum

Paper Planes weren’t M.IA. in this exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.

 

 

I do wish that we explored Greenfield Village (which features, among many highlights, one of Thomas Edison’s lab), but weather and timing did not permit this. Regardless, The Henry Ford was awesome. Just be sure to budget a fair chunk of your 24 hours in Detroit there accordingly, if you go.

 

 

the henry ford museum

 

One other comment. On the way back to Canada, my kids really got a kick out of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The whole ‘being underwater to cross the border’ aspect was pretty neat (though not recommended for any claustrophobes).

 

TAKEOUT, OR SIGN, SEALED, DELIVERED?

 

If you’re like me,  your knowledge of Detroit cuisine consists of Little Caesars Pizza and Eminen’s mom’s spaghetti.  You probably aren’t like me, however. Anyhoo, Detroit’s food scene is quite dynamic. On the one hand, the rejuvenated downtown core is littered with trendy, hip restaurants. On the other hand, Motor City is still a blue collar town, and the dining options tend to reflect this.

One thing that my family and I were confused about  was why there were so many Coney Island restaurants, as we had never heard of them before. Turns out that these are a  Detroit staple, and the Coney dog is one of the city’s signature foods. Detroiters love these pseudo-gourmet hot dogs the same way that my fellow Hamiltonians love Tim Horton’s coffee, apparently.   Alas, I was not able to convince my family to indulge in one of these Detroit delicacies, as tasty as the sounded.

 

you heard it through the grapevine

 

downtown detroit

Note: this is not a grapevine.

 

When it comes to visiting Motown,  the city isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation.  Not once did I feel like myself or my family where in any imminent danger during our 24 hours in Detroit.  Just take the usual precautions that you would, when going to any major city, and you should be alright.  I got the impression that it is slowly improving, one neighbourhood at a time. It’s truly a proud, unique place, and while living there may be a different story, I enjoyed our brief time in town.

 

 

24 hours in detroit

Until the next one, peace out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 Hours In Chicago

 

24 hours in Chicago

 

They say that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  Now, I haven’t planned anything with a mouse lately (or ever), but I have with my family,  and, to paraphrase Lizzo:

why plans great til they gotta be great?

For example, we recently got to spend 24 hours in Chicago. Having never been to The Windy City before, I had a rough itinerary in mind for us, to maximize our time. I then envisioned coming back and telling y’all about our adventures. Luxurious shopping sprees along the Magnificent Mile. Family photos in front of iconic Chicago landmarks like the Bean and the Michael Jordan statue. Self indulgent visits to the locations of my favorite rapper’s childhood home (Kanye West) and the house where my favorite TV show is filmed in (Shameless).  Scenes recreated throughout Chi-Town with the kids from my favorite 80s movie (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Potentially, it would be an epic Chicago day tour.

Believe it or not, our 24 hours in Chicago did not go as I thought that it would.  At all.  Here’s how it went down, to the best of my recollection:

9:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast, as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip.  Planned to then make the almost two hour drive to Chicago afterwards. Arrived at the market, and realized that most of the vendors did not open up shop until 10:00AM. Sat outside the market in our van until then.

10:00AM – Stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market to grab some breakfast as part of the final stop on our Milwaukee trip. It had started to rain heavily while we were waiting outside.  We got our food to go, and then headed to Chicago in some occasionally torrential downpours, surrounded by dangerously driving transport trucks. It’s a white knuckle drive.

11:00AM – Realized that the forecast in Chicago calls for rain all day.  Realized that we’ll have to call an audible on most of the potential destinations on my agenda. Touring around in the rain with three small, soggy kids is a recipe for a sucktacular trip.

11:50AM – Arrived at our first destination, Water Tower Place, to go the American Girl Store, a giant doll store that J had been excited about visiting for months. Upon arrival, discovered that affordable parking in downtown Chicago is harder to find than Steve Bartman’s whereabouts.  Some of the parking signage is harder to decipher than the Bulls’ old triangle offense. Proceeded to drive around aimlessly, looking for a reasonable, understandable parking spot.

12:20PM – Finally find a meter parking spot about two blocks away from Water Tower Place. Walked to the American Girl Store.

12:20AM – Kidding. It only felt like I spent 12 hours at the American Girl Store. We were actually there for an hour, with J loving every minute. If you’ve ever wanted to take your doll to a hair salon, or get your kid the same outfit as their doll,  then this is the place for you, by the way.

24 hours in chicago

 

1:20PM –  The rain kiboshed the shopping spree along the Magnificent Mile. Well, the rain, and the price tags at some of the high end shops. Instead, we walked through Water Tower Place and went to Macy’s. It had eight floors in it, and clearance sections galore, perfect for Canadians like us looking to ball out on a budget.  Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for toddlers like KJ to run around the store like Walter Payton, and to play hide and seek by himself in the clothing racks.

chicago day tour

KJ still made time to pose with J in front of this giant Lego statue, though.

2:10PM – Back to the car, to make our way to an actual iconic Chicago landmark – the Skydeck at Willis Tower (courtesy of tickets from my good friends at the Skydeck. Thanks again, guys!).  It’s about a 12 minute drive, to get there from where we were.

2:50PM – Finally find a parking spot after some difficulties, same reasons as before. We are basically closer to Water Tower Place than Willis Tower. We are at a confusingly worded meter, as well.  From it, I conclude that we have until 4:00pm to park there, before Oprah Winfrey would come to take our car away, and give it to a member of a studio audience.  My conclusion is most likely not even close to being correct. Regardless, we gotta book it to, and through, the Skydeck.

3:00-3:40PM –  the Skydeck was not busy, so we were in, up (a 90 second elevator ride!) and enjoying the 1300 plus feet lookout in short fashion. It really was amazing up there. Spectacular views of the city. Tried to take some pics for da ‘Gram, none of which end up making the cut. For example, here’s a family shot of us on the Skydeck Ledge glass floor.  If I look scared, it’s because I was scared. If our family looks short-handed, it’s because B didn’t want to come on the Ledge, for the picture. If KJ looks like he’s so hungry that he had to eat his shirt, it’s because he probably was.

Skydeck Ledge

Tried to get the kids to pose like Ferris, Sloane and Cam did in Ferris Buehller. Realized that they hadn’t seen the movie, and didn’t know what I was talking about. Settled for this shot:

 

24 hours in chicago

In the spirit of the Toronto Raptors’ championship and “We The North”, here is “He The North”, as in I’m way up in sky, rocking a Raps’ hat:

skydeck ledge

I’m sorry, peeps, I’m really not very creative.

 

3:45PM – Time to rush back to the car. At one point, instead of running, KJ dropped and starting doing push ups.

3:54PM –  Noticed KJ crossing a bridge, with some of Chicago’s majestic skyscrapers in the background, would make for a cute pic. Say cheese, little man!

chicago day tour

Thanks, white van, for the photobomb.

3:59PM – No sign of Oprah, so our car is safe. With rain pouring down, we decided to go to our hotel, The Willows Hotel, located near the Wrigleyville area of the city.  On the way, a rain-drenched Wrigley Field field was not in the cards, so I did the next best thing – walked around the stadium and took some mediocre pictures!

24 hours in chicago

chicago day tour

wrigley field tour

The rain is temporary, but the stupid look on my face will last forever.

 

5:00PM – Arrived at The Willows Hotel. It’s a lovely, smaller, boutique hotel, with an old, old school (think 19th century) feel. B will make repeated comments about how he can’t believe the TVs are so new in such a classic building.

6:00PM – The hotel is in a nice, quiet neighbourhood, so we decided to go for a walk.  We end up in a clearance section at a T.J. Maxx, because we are apparently all about discounted stuff from department stores which aren’t in Canada. I have this convo with KJ there:

KJ – I miss you!

Me – You can’t miss me. You’re right beside me.

*KJ runs away, runs back*

KJ – I miss you!

I should also mention that, throughout these 24 hours in Chicago, B had been complaining about a headache. The poor kid kept freaking himself out, and escalating his symptoms via incorrect self-diagnosis.  It started off in the morning as the slightest of headaches. Later, it increased to it hurting only when he shook his head violently, as if he was headbanging (note: B had never headbanged before in his life).  By the time that we are in T.J. Maxx, he is essentially sulking around the place, thinking that he needs a brain transplant.

6:30PM – K had looked up restaurants in the area, so we start to head out to decent sounding one.

6:32PM – K looked up reviews of said restaurant, and read that the owner was allegedly openly racist. We walk to a different dining establishment (in the rain, of course).

8:00PM – After dinner, we walk to get dessert/breakfast, from Stan’s Donuts.

Stan's Donuts Chicago

What? They were really good. That’s all.

8:25PM – Back to the hotel.  Yes, I realize that this seems early to call it a night for someone who wanted to maximize their 24 hours in Chicago. However, we were tired. Plus B had ‘inceptioned’ me, by planting seeds of doubt in my head about the crime rate in the city (“Hey dad, are we going to get shot in Chicago?“). Tapping out and enjoying the safety of our comfy hotel seemed like a good call.

6:00AM-7:00AM – Pack up, get some continental breakfast to go with our donuts, and check out of the hotel, so we can make the 8ish hour long drive home.

7:00AM – 7:30AM – We followed the Waze App, to guide us. The route that we take is very scenic, along the outskirts of the city.  Between the skyline and architecture, it’s beautiful looking, in the distance.

24 hours in chicago

7:30AM – We get led to the “Chicago Skyway”, which is a toll road. We pay $5 US to use it.

7:38AM – Waze leads us off of the Skyway, and onto another road. Huh? That’s it?!  I immediately want my $5 US back.

We continued our way out of Chi-Town, until it was nothing but a recent memory. 24 hours in Chicago, done just like that.

Hopefully, a return trip will be in order, in the future, and hopefully, things will go as planned, too.

But, you know what they say about the best laid plans, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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