I was provided with the opportunity to tour the Skydeck Chicago before hours with an optional audio tour device and participate a photo session to facilitate my review. All thoughts are 100% honest and my own.
I’m typically afraid of heights, but did just fine at the Skydeck Chicago observation deck located in the Willis Tower (also referred to as the Sears Tower).
This trip to Chicago along with seven North Iowa Bloggers in partnership with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce commemorated my sixth visit. During grade school, I first visited Chicago with my family and have faint memories of the Willis Tower. I was enamoured with the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and wanted to lean against the observation deck windows just like he and his friends did. You can find a guide to the Chicago locations featured in the film here here. Back then, the glass ledges didn’t exist, for they were built in 2009. You can just make them out gazing at the building from a distance.
Currently, the Willis Tower is the highest observation deck open to the public in the United States and receives more visitors than the Hancock. It’s the eighth tallest building in the world, tallest building in Chicago, and home to the American Airlines corporate headquarters. According to this recent New York Times article, the Blackstone Group recently purchased the Willis Tower in March 2015 for $1.3 billion. The Blackstone Group’s Global Head actually grew up in the Highland Park area of Chicago. This article notes that the building sits 20% vacant and adds that the Blackstone Group plans to spend $150 million to renovate the tower’s retail space and Skydeck.
The John Hancock Building ranks as Chicago’s fourth tallest and their observation deck is now known as 360° Chicago. It looks like the Hancock is remodeling and has added some sort of tilting glass observation box feature. Jake and I visited the Hancock in 2010 before this was added. The Hancock also features a cafe and bar on the observatory floor and a restaurant called the Signature Room on the 95th floor.
The Skydeck staff invited us to visit before their official opening hour on a Friday. The weather became stormy in the afternoon, but we enjoyed a beautiful morning. Since there was no one in line, we quickly moved through security and took the elevator up to the 103rd floor. Our ears popped.
In between the front entrance and elevator to the Skydeck, we walked by what appeared to be exhibits and theater presentation people could view as they waited in line. I’m guessing that the line can grow rather long, hence the waiting space and option to purchase a FASTPASS.
We took advantage of the empty Skydeck by admiring all of the views and stepping onto the ledges. I found the glass ledges less scary than I had anticipated.
The glass booths provided fun places to take photos. Many selfies were taken.
A photo station run by a staff member is located in one of the glass ledges. The photographer this morning provided our group with a photo session.
Soon after we finished taking photos, a huge group of grade schoolers entered the SkyDeck. I’m guessing the Willis is a popular destination for field trips. I learned that the Victoria’s Secret Pink apparel line is still a thing!
Let’s talk pricing: A regular adult pass costs $19.50 and a FASTPASS, which allows guests to bypass the exhibits and theater presentation, costs $45. There’s also a day/night ticket package and reduced ticket pricing for children ages 3-11, except for FASTPASSES. Children under three receive free admission. For an additional $5.50, you can purchase an audio tour device that looks like an old school flip phone. One side of the device displays pictures and text. The audio tour provides some Chicago history and helps you identify 20 locations from the Skydeck.
Finally, you’ll find nice bathrooms and a gift shop located on the Skydeck and a larger gift shop upon exiting.
All in all, I enjoyed my time on the Skydeck, despite my fear of heights. When I travel on my own, I usually stay close to the ground, but if observation decks are your thing and you want to walk in the foot steps of Ferris Bueller, check out the glass ledges at the Willis. In case you’re curious, the Skydeck and Hancock observation decks are similarly priced. Before you visit the Skydeck, keep in mind that it’s a popular tourist attraction. Depending on when you visit and whether many school groups are present, anticipate possibly waiting in line for a while before reaching the elevator to the top. We were very lucky to visit before the opening hour and have the whole Skydeck to ourselves.
Thank you Skydeck Chicago for your generosity and warm welcome.
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