CityPASS Chicago: A must for any Chicago visit

Cover: CityPASS Chicago
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull

If you are planning a vacation to Chicago, whether for a weekend getaway or a week of sightseeing, CityPASS will save you money and make your time in the Windy City far more enjoyable.

Unfamiliar with CityPASS ticket booklets, as we were not so long ago? They are booklets of prepaid admission tickets to the top attractions in 12 North American cities that save you as much as 53% of the admission price and have you speeding through the fast lane into museums, observations decks, and more.

Save time and money with CityPASS Chicago

Hit the fast lane

I didn’t feel guilty (ok, maybe just a little) as we walked past hundreds of people waiting to get into Willis Tower in Chicago. And the Art Institute. And… well you get the idea.

I am a museum junky. Show me an observation deck and I am there. But, I hate lines. CityPASS to the rescue. This little book gets you into the best attractions in Chicago without standing in the general admission line and, in a city where the major attractions have lines out the door and around the block, that’s a very cool thing.

So, CityPASS saves you time but, does it really save you money?

51% savings with CityPASS Chicago

Visit the CityPASS website or go to one of the attractions and pick up a booklet in person – same price, no worries. I bought ours while standing in a line that would have been over a 3-hour wait to get to the top of Willis Tower. I had the voucher sent via text to my phone, we ducked under the rope and into the CityPASS queue, which was empty, and we were in the elevator and on our way to the observation deck.

About this point, my Cool Adventures partner asked me how much that just cost us. I smiled and said I’d just saved us $200.

How, pray tell? CityPASS includes:

  • Willis Tower Skydeck – Adult FastPass admission $49
  • The Field Museum – Adult admission $35 (Non-blockbuster pass with VIP line access)
  • Shedd Aquarium – Adult admission $40.95 (Shedd Pass at $30.95 plus 2 exhibits $5/each, but without ExpressPass entry, which CityPASS Chicago includes. The Shedd Express Pass at $54.95 has additional shows that are not included with CityPASS Chicago)
  • Choice of 360 Chicago  – Adult FastPass admission $40 or the Museum of Science and Industry – Adult admission Explorer 1 package w/o VIP entry $27
  • Choice of Art Institute of Chicago – Adult FastPass admission $35 or Adler Planetarium – $34.95 All Access Pass

We ended up selecting 360 Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago, making the value of the attractions we visited over the weekend $197.95. CityPass Chicago is $98 – a 51% savings from purchasing the tickets individually from the attractions. Times two – that was a $199.90 savings.

CityPASS Chicago Attractions

We’ll go through the attractions in the order we visited them, but there is no required itinerary with CityPASS. You simply show up within 9 days of the first use, show your booklet to hop in the fast lane, and they take the appropriate ticket at the admissions counter. If you want to do attend something like a special exhibit that isn’t included, you can pay the fee at the attraction.

Willis Tower

CityPASS Chicago attraction: Skydeck Chicago, Willis Tower
CityPASS attraction: Skydeck Chicago, Willis Tower
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

I still call it Sears Tower, but Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower is an absolute must visit location. Chicago is such a beautiful city and viewing it from the top of the Western Hemisphere’s second tallest building is the only way to do so.

Entry with CityPass lets you skip the line, and, when arriving at the Skydeck, experience 360° views of the city and step out onto The Ledge – one of four glass floor balconies 103 stories over the streets of Chicago.

The Field Museum

CityPASS Chicago attraction: The Field Museum
CityPASS attraction: The Field Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The only thing better than going to the Field Museum is going to the Field in the VIP line.

Walking into the museum, Sue the world’s largest, most complete T. rex greets you, welcoming you to explore the 26 million artifacts collected over more than a century by the museum. Our CityPASS admission included an All-Access Pass, which provides viewing of one 3-D film. We chose the Galapagos 3D, knowing we were headed to the Galapagos islands exactly four weeks later – what a great preview!

Shedd Aquarium

CityPASS Chicago attraction: Shedd Aquarium
CityPASS attraction: Shedd Aquarium
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to 32,000 aquatic animals, Shedd Aquarium houses more than 1,500 species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world.

Again, VIP entry whisks you into the aquatic world where beluga whales swim by inches away, penguins frolic in the Polar Play Zone, and the dolphins dart through the air. CityPASS includes access to the Waters of the World galleries, Amazon Rising, Wild Reef, Abbott Oceanarium, Polar Play Zone, Amphibians special exhibit, Stingray Touch (May to October), and choice of one 4-D Experience.

Art Institute of Chicago

CityPASS attractions: Art Institute of Chicago
CityPASS attraction: Art Institute of Chicago
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Reaching the point where selections had to be made, our first decision was between the Art Institute of Chicago and Adler Planetarium.

CityPASS Chicago attraction: Adler Planetarium
CityPASS attraction: Adler Planetarium
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We selected the Art Institute. One of our top two favorite art museums in the world (the other is Musée d’Orsay in Paris), the Art Institute houses a fabulous collection of more than 300,000 works of art, including some of the greatest impressionist paintings and contemporary works in the world.

Once again, we zoomed into the museum via the FastPass lane and our entry included an audio tour. An example of a venue with a special exhibit we wished to view, we purchased the $5 add-on tickets to Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit, which was phenomenal.

360 Chicago

CityPASS Chicago attraction: 360 Chicago
CityPASS attraction: 360 Chicago
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On Sunday afternoon we had to make a big decision. Our final admission was either for the Museum of Science and Industry, which we love but have visited several times previously, or to 360 Chicago, the observatory at the John Hancock building.

We decided an evening viewing Chicago from 1000 feet up would be a good way to end our weekend and opted for 360 Chicago. It had started to rain before we arrived at the John Hancock building and, while our entry included Express admission, there wasn’t anyone there. They warned us that visibility was low, but 360 Chicago has a bar and we couldn’t think of a better place to have a drink. After about an hour, the clouds began to clear and we finished off our visit to the Windy City with magnificent views of Chicago below us.

The bottom line

We saved hours of time that would have been spent standing in line and saved $200 with CityPASS during our Chicago weekend. If you only plan to visit two or three attractions, it pays for itself, and with four and five, you have big savings.

Learn more on the CityPASS Chicago website.

Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclosure & disclaimer: We received no compensation for this review. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.