Airbnb vs. hotels – Which is really better?

Cover: Airbnb in Boulder, Colorado
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Now that Airbnb has moved beyond finding a place to crash in someone’s spare bedroom (sure, you can still do that, but a large inventory of entire homes or apartments are also available), it has become a more mainstream lodging option for both vacationing and business travelers.
Airbnb website Airbnb website

With houses and condos ranging from simple to luxury, Airbnb, and other home rental services, provide a great option for individuals, couples, and families seeking more than a standard hotel room stay.

The phenomenal growth of Airbnb

Despite the hype that has surrounded Airbnb since they entered and took over the short-term rental market, the concept of renting someone’s home for a short-term stay is nothing new.

We began renting houses and apartments through the VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) not long after it was formed in 1996. From ski condos in Aspen to a large house overlooking Orient Bay in St. Martin, we typically found a VRBO rental more convenient for stays longer than a couple of days.

Numerous other alternative accommodations providers entered the space along the way and, as acquisitions were beginning to shape the market, two guys in San Francisco who needed rent money decided to rent out air mattresses on their floor in 2007. It worked, so they built a website to match hosts with renters. They picked up another founder and some VC and investor money along the way, and by 2014, Airbnb had a $10 billion valuation. Impressive.

Airbnb founders Airbnb founders

During the same period of time, we had migrated back to staying in hotels. We’d never tried out Airbnb, so when we recently spent a week in Boulder, Colorado, we decided to give it a spin.

Airbnb by the numbers Airbnb by the numbers Source: Airbnb website

Our Boulder Airbnb experience

The Airbnb website offers three accommodation types: Entire home/apt, a private room or a shared room. While Airbnb’s roots may be with the shared experience, we tend to value privacy quite a bit and immediately hit the entire home/apt. We were only a few days out from our desired stay dates, but quite a few interesting selections were available.

Browsing for Boulder Airbnb accommodations Browsing for Boulder Airbnb accommodations

One that caught our eye was a well-decorated and obviously well cared for townhouse in Boulder that was walking distance to Pearl Street and rented for $212 per night for our desired four nights (prices vary by booking dates). A quick comparison of hotel rates put it around the same price as a room at the Westin in Westminster, which is about 20 minutes away, or a standard room at the Best Western Plus or the Basecamp, which are both in Boulder.

However, the recently renovated townhouse provided a much-improved living space versus the hotel rooms, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, 1 1/2 baths, a patio downstairs, an upstairs deck, and a good-sized living room. For a four-night stay, the extra space was undoubtedly a plus. Finally, we wanted to stay within Boulder and the hotel choices in the city are limited and generally more expensive.

The photos were plentiful and good, the description was detailed and, while the “house rules” were somewhat lengthy, we felt they represented a quality standard set by the owner and we viewed that as a good thing. It also had a 5-star rating by over 90 past visitors.

AirBNB Boulder townhouse kitchen Airbnb Boulder townhouse kitchen Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On our arrival date, the owner and our host, Sandy, met us at the townhouse and gave us an overview of the property. The townhouse was exactly as depicted on the Airbnb website and located in a quiet area near a park and hiking trails.

The entire home was spotless. The kitchen had stainless appliances, high-quality cookware, and dish ware, and was fully stocked, including an assortment of coffee and teas.

Airbnb Boulder townhouse living area Airbnb Boulder townhouse living area Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The living area was comfortable and good size, with a couch, a couple of chairs, a flat panel TV, and access to a patio facing a wooded open space.

Airbnb Boulder townhouse bedroom Airbnb Boulder townhouse bedroom Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Upstairs were two bedrooms and an awesome spa-like shower. One of the bedrooms had a balcony and in the bathroom, a cabinet contained “Just in case you forgot something” essentials, ranging from shampoo to toothpaste and more. Our host, Sandy, manages the townhouse extremely professionally and overall our stay was a very good value.

Airbnb Boulder townhouse Airbnb Boulder townhouse “Just in case you forgot something” stash Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

So, which is better? Renting a place on Airbnb or going with the tried and true hotel room?

Just as there are great hotels and horrible ones, there are great Airbnb rentals and others that have resulted in some horror stories. We had a friend traveling in Europe that drove to his Airbnb, looked at it, and never got out of his car, opting to sleep in his vehicle versus even go inside.

We’ve had similar reactions to hotels over the years – especially with photos that may have been enhanced beyond recognition or appear to be of another property or you arrive and discover the neighborhood is on the iffy side.

Which is where reviews are incredibly helpful. Just like hotel reviews, Airbnb reviews are a critical part of the vetting process. A property with numerous reviews praising the host and verifying the accuracy of the listing sets your mind at ease when you hit the book it button.

But, back to the initial question – which is better, an Airbnb or a hotel? Assuming both the Airbnb and the hotel are equal in quality and location, it gets down to needs, desires, and preferences.

The pros of Airbnb

Space. Specifically speaking of renting an entire house or condo, an Airbnb property almost always is more spacious than staying at a hotel – even with a suite. The exception to this is an extended stay hotel or say, a Hyatt House, which generally is apartment-like in most locations.

Kitchen. Even if you are staying somewhere for a few days, it can be nice to warm up the previous night’s dinner’s leftovers in a microwave or oven and to eat from real plates and with silverware versus the plastic takeaway variety. For longer stays, having the option to prepare a meal at home can save time and is a nice break from eating in a restaurant every meal.

Laundry. While the rental described above did not have a washer and dryer, many do. Following our stay with Sandy, we rented another Airbnb and it was great to do the laundry throughout our stay so we didn’t return home with loads of dirty clothes.

Privacy. While the level of privacy obviously differs by location, overall, staying in an Airbnb condo or private home allows for more privacy than found in a hotel.

Live like a local. As most Airbnbs are located in residential areas, a stay provides more of an experience of what life is like in the community.

Price – especially for a group. If two hotel rooms are needed and the group is willing to share the common areas, the price of a two bedroom Airbnb is almost always going to be less than two comparable quality hotel rooms.

The pros of a hotel

Predictability. Sure locations vary somewhat, but a hotel chain is fairly predictable. Within the brand, hotel styles may vary, but the level that can be expected is normally the same and, with a large chain, the description, photos, and amenities described are usually somewhat accurate.

Amenities and services. If you like to visit the spa, take a dip in the pool, head to the bar for a nightcap, or dine in a restaurant without venturing out, a hotel definitely has the advantage for extra services provided.

Less coordination and interaction. There’s a social aspect to Airbnb not present at a hotel – which some love and others may find bothersome. With a hotel, you head to the desk, give them a credit card, get your key and move on to your room. Checking in at an Airbnb typically requires meeting the owner at a specific time to have them explain the property, its rules, and its quirks. It requires coordination with your schedule and interaction with the host.

The cons of an Airbnb

House rules. Each owner sets the rules for their property – some are lengthy, some are brief. Examples include not wearing shoes on the carpet, taking the trash out before you leave, and no parties. The rules are present in the listing before you book, so make sure they are something you can adhere to before renting.

Short stays may not be possible. Most owners have minimum stays of two or three days. Given the entire home must be cleaned after each guest and there isn’t a staff of maids roaming from room to room, it is understandable why owners set minimum stay requirements. Additionally, the meeting and rules process is a bit cumbersome for one night.

Deposits. Some of the listings we considered – and didn’t rent – required security deposits. While it is understandable that an owner wants to protect their property, requiring a high deposit for short stay is also risky for the renter. For example, a nice, not stunning, house in Boulder required a $2000 deposit for a three-night stay where the rent was about $200 per night. What if the owner turned out to be a jerk and makes a claim against the deposit for no reason? Yes, Airbnb mediates, but that’s quite a bit of risk and hassle for a stay – and not one you have at a hotel.

Cleaning and administrative fees. In addition to the nightly rent, most owners charge a cleaning fee, which typically ranges from $100-$250. Obviously, the shorter the stay the more this adds to the per night rate. Additionally, Airbnb charges an administrative or service fee. The amount of the fee is displayed before the reservation is confirmed. According to Airbnb… “guest service fees are typically 6-12% but can be higher or lower depending on the specifics of the reservation. The higher the subtotal, the lower the percentage so you can save money when booking large reservations.”

Staying in someone’s home can be a bit weird. While some Airbnbs are run solely for rental purposes, like Sandy’s described above, most are homes, where the owners live. Their art, décor, photographs, and smells may permeate throughout.

The cons of a hotel

Lack of personality. It goes hand in hand with the first pro listed for the hotel, predictability. With consistency comes an element of routine, cookie cutter and a lack of personality.

No community immersion. If you want to truly understand a community, you have to experience the culture – not pass through it on a walking tour or drive by it on a sightseeing bus. Granted, not everyone needs or wants to really understand a place in-depth. But, if you do, it is difficult to do so while staying in a hotel.


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

Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas

Dallas CityPASS: Save some cash when exploring Big D

Cover photo: Downtown Dallas at sunset
Photo: Greg K Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


We visit Dallas multiple times each year and, on a visit a few months ago, we found ourselves discussing how much it has changed in the past ten years. The downtown, West End, Victory Park and uptown areas have nearly grown together, with dozens of new high rises, commercial districts, parks, and museums now in the area.

Dallas CityPASS attraction: Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Dallas CityPASS attraction: Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull , Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the biggest additions came in 2012 with the opening of the beautiful Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Victory Park. The museum joins many other top Dallas attractions, from iconic destinations, such as the Sixth Floor Museum and Reunion Tower, to long-term spots of tranquility and beauty, such as the Dallas Arboretum.

Dallas CityPASS: Save some cash when exploring Big D
Dallas CityPASS: Save some cash when exploring Big D
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Deciding we would like to spend a day reacquainting ourselves with the city where we lived for nearly two decades, we paid Dallas CityPASS a visit to develop an agenda for a day of exploring Big D.

Save some cash with Dallas CityPASS

Dynamic Earth Hall, Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas
Dynamic Earth Hall, Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you are new to CityPASS, here’s how it works. CityPASS offers discounted admission to popular attractions in numerous cities across the U.S. Each CityPASS booklet contains pre-paid vouchers for the attractions, which don’t have to be used in any specific order, just sometime within 9 days of their first use. CityPASS booklets can be purchased online or at the ticket offices of any of the attractions.

We first tried out CityPASS in Chicago and, since then, we have recommended it to all of our traveling friends. CityPASS saves time and money and is simple to purchase and use.

The CityPASS attraction choices in Dallas (and their individual admission fees) include:

  • Perot Museum of Nature & Science ($27 – general admission $19 + one film $9)
  • Reunion Tower GeoDeck ($16 general admission)
  • The Sixth Floor Museum ($16 general admission) OR the Dallas Zoo ($15 general admission)
  • Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden($15 general admission) OR George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum($17 general admission)
Flowers at Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Flowers at Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Purchasing each of the attractions individually totals $73 – $76. The Dallas CityPASS booklet price is $46. That’s a savings of $27 – $30 per adult or about 40%.

For the optional attractions, we selected the Sixth Floor and the Dallas Arboretum.  If you have the time and can’t decide on the attractions that require a choice, there’s a coupon in the back of the CityPASS booklet for a discount on regular admission to those attractions you didn’t select to visit using the CityPASS voucher.

Sunset view toward Ft Worth from Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Sunset view toward Ft Worth from Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Exploring Dallas with CityPASS

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located near the Dallas Arts District in Victory Park, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science has 11 permanent exhibit halls to explore. From hands-on interactive displays to a 3D theater, the museum has something of interest for all. Visitors can discover the wonders of Earth, marvel at gems and minerals, ponder what it means to be human, and explore fossil finds in the Life Then and Now Hall.

Dallas CityPASS includes general admission to the museum and entry to a 3D film.

Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Life Then and Now Hall
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Life Then and Now Hall
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Reunion Tower Geo-Deck

Taking in the sunset view at Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Taking in the sunset view at Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

An iconic part of the Dallas skyline, Reunion Tower is one of the most recognized structures in Dallas

The Geo-Deck is located on one of three floors in the Reunion Tower “ball” and offers unobstructed 360° views of the DFW area. Free telescopes are available on the outdoor deck and zoom cameras are provided on the inner deck.

Dallas CityPASS attraction: Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas
Dallas CityPASS attraction: Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The tower is also home to two restaurants. The rotating Cloud Nine Café on the floor above the Geo-Deck offers lunch and is open for private events at other times. On the top floor of the ball, Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck serves drinks, appetizers, and dinner in the evening with Dallas skyline passing by as a backdrop as the restaurant rotates. We visited Five Sixty early evening for some great social hour drinks and food, then headed down to the Geo-Deck for sunset shots at dusk.

The Dallas CityPass booklet includes general admission access to the Geo-Deck. The last elevator up the tower is 30 minutes before closing. A Day/Night upgrade is also available for an additional $5, allowing two visits within 24 hours.

Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media
Downtown Dallas at sunset from Reunion Tower
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza or the Dallas Zoo

Dallas CityPASS attraction: Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, Texas
Dallas CityPASS attraction: Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We had not toured the Sixth Floor Museum for decades, so we decided to pay it a visit versus the Dallas Zoo. That said, we’ve been to the Dallas Zoo, a wonderful place for a family visit, which dates back to 1888, and is the largest zoo in Texas.

Entrance to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Entrance to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located in the building that housed the former Texas School Book Depository, the Sixth Floor Museum has numerous historical documents and artifacts relating to the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

View from window directly above the Oswald perch at The Sixth Floor Museum
View from window directly above the Oswald perch at The Sixth Floor Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The sixth floor, where Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle was found, is home to the museum’s main exhibit, John F. Kennedy and the Memory of a Nation. Special exhibits can be found on the seventh floor and the museum’s gift shop is located on the first floor. Photography is not allowed on the sixth floor but is permitted on the seventh floor.

Dallas CityPASS provides museum entry and includes an audio guide.

Exhibits on the seventh floor of The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Exhibits on the seventh floor of The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Sixth Floor Museum exhibits, Dallas, Texas
Sixth Floor Museum exhibits, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden or the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Duelberg Sage, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Duelberg Sage, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next selection on the Dallas CityPASS agenda is a choice between the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden or a visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Quiet morning at the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden
Quiet morning at the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We opted for a morning at one of the prettiest spots in Dallas, the Dallas Arboretum. With 66 serene, beautiful acres on the southwest shore of White Rock Lake, a quiet morning at the Arboretum was just too enticing to pass up.

Rabbit at Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Rabbit at Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visitors are treated to vibrant displays of seasonal color as they stroll the tranquil paths that wind through expansive lawns and meticulously maintained gardens. With 19 named gardens, allow plenty of time for a visit. The Arboretum has several dining options available or visitors can bring a picnic or order food to go and enjoy their meal on the grounds.

CityPASS includes general admission and the Hoffman Family Gift Store offers 10% off your purchase to CityPASS holders.

CityPASS attraction: Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
CityPASS attraction: Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Should you get a Dallas CityPASS?

While Dallas attractions aren’t as expensive as those found in some large cities, you still save $27-$30 per adult and that’s enough to enjoy a nice dinner with the savings. CityPASS is easy to use – purchase ahead of time online or at the first attraction – and you are good to go. The booklet is good for 9 days following the first use, so you have plenty of time to get to the four attractions you select.

Want to know more? Find out all the details on the Dallas CityPASS website.


Disclosure & Disclaimer: We received complimentary Dallas CityPASS booklets 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.

A great way to get around in Dallas: DART train in downtown Dallas
A great way to get around in Dallas: DART train in downtown Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Powell-Mark Cable Car

CityPASS San Francisco: Cut the cost of San Francisco travel

Cover: San Francisco Powell and Market cable car
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


We visit San Francisco every few months and, while it has a firm grasp on the #1 spot as our favorite city in the United States, it is expensive. When overnight hotel parking runs $50, a couple of martinis $30, and a bowl of soup $10, a chance to save some money without compromising on the experience is always welcomed.

CityPASS San Francisco
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Having discovered CityPASS while in Chicago, which saved us both time and money, we now begin destination planning with CityPASS at the same time we book the hotel and other travel arrangements. While CityPASS always saves on top museums and attractions, in San Francisco, there’s another really big advantage – CityPASS includes a week’s worth of Muni transportation, including riding the cable cars.

Saving 49% (or more) with CityPASS San Francisco

CityPASS calculates the savings for each city by taking the regular price of a ticket if you purchased it at the attraction, adding all the tickets provided together, and subtracting the cost of the CityPASS booklet. For San Francisco, that works out as…

  • A 7-day cable car and MUNI pass – $40
  • California Academy of Sciences – $34.95
  • Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure – $30
  • A choice of the Exploratorium at $29.95 or the de Young Museum at $10
  • A choice of the Monterey Bay Aquarium at $49.95 or the Aquarium of the Bay at $29.95

The CityPASS booklet runs $94. If you go to all of the highest priced attractions, it would cost $184.85, so that’s a 49% savings. Even when you choose the least expensive options, as we did, it is still a 35% savings over purchasing the attractions individually at the regular price. However, a single one-way cable car ride is $7 and it costs $2.25 for one Muni bus or rail fare, so you can imagine how fast the CityPASS savings rack up versus just hitting the streets and hopping on and off cable cars and buses as you work your way around San Francisco.

CityPASS San Francisco attractions

7-day Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport

CityPASS attraction: Powell-Market Cable Car
CityPASS attraction: Powell-Market Cable Car
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on an iconic cable car. Invented in San Francisco in 1873 by Andrew Smith Hallidie, the beloved cable cars are both an attraction and a means of transportation and San Francisco has three lines…

  • California Street Cable Car Line, which runs east/west from Van Ness Avenue to the Financial District
  • Powell-Hyde, which transports passengers back and forth from Ghiradelli Square to Market Street
  • Powell-Mason, which runs between Fisherman’s Wharf and Market Street.

The F Line of streetcars also travel along the Embarcadero from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro District. For the rest of the city, a network of Muni buses, light rail vehicles, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, and electric trolley coaches get you where you want to go.

CityPASS includes a seven-day Muni pass, so once you’ve exchanged your CityPASS voucher for a CityPASS booklet, simply show the booklet as you enter any cable car, streetcar or other Muni method of transportation and have a seat.

CityPASS attraction: Streetcars
CityPASS attraction: Streetcars
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

California Academy of Sciences

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Steinhart Aquarium
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Steinhart Aquarium
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to nearly 40,000 animals, the California Academy of Sciences is a museum, an aquarium, a planetarium and it even has a rainforest. As you climb the ramp of the glass-enclosed four-story rainforest, butterflies and birds fly, frogs chirp and huge fish swim below. Other museum highlights include the Steinhart Aquarium, a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, the African Hall, the Foucault pendulum, the world’s deepest indoor living coral reef, the Shake House earthquake simulator, a colony of African penguins, and an 87-foot-long blue whale skeleton.

The CityPASS booklet includes general admission to all of the California Academy of Sciences exhibits. The museum was the first attraction we visited, but the CityPASS booklet vouchers don’t have to be used in any specific order, just sometime within 9 days of their first use.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Osher Rainforest
CityPASS attraction: California Academy of Sciences, Osher Rainforest
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’s no better way to experience the City by the Bay than to head out on the bay on a cruise. CityPASS has a couple of Blue & Gold Cruise Adventures options – a one-hour bay cruise or a spin around the bay aboard the RocketBoat, a thirty-minute speedboat thrill ride.

We opted for the bay cruise, which leaves from Pier 39, sails to the Golden Gate Bridge, then turns back and passes by Alcatraz, before heading back into port. The narrated ride is a wonderful way to view and photograph the San Francisco skyline, the waterfront, the Rock, and the Golden Gate up close and underneath. The Blue & Gold Cruise Adventures are large and have both indoor and outdoor seating. Reservations are not taken; simply present the CityPASS voucher at theBlue & Gold Cruise ticket booth at Pier 39, select the time of the cruise, and you receive a boarding pass for the cruise.

Exploratorium or de Young Museum

CityPASS San Francisco: The de Young Museum
CityPASS: The de Young Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next option was to visit either the Exploratorium or the de Young Museum. We opted for the de Young, as the Exploratorium was closed on Mondays, the day we had scheduled for Embarcadero & Fisherman’s Wharf activities.

The de Young, which is located directly across from the California Academy of Sciences, is a beautiful museum and CityPASS admission also includes access to Hamon Tower at the Young, as well as entrance to the Legion of Honor at Lincoln Park. Together, the two museums form the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, home to one of the largest art collections in California.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: de Young Museum
CityPASS attraction: de Young Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The de Young’s collections include over 27,000 works of art with American art from the 17th to the 21st centuries, photography, paintings, costumes, textiles, and art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Also located at the Young, Hamon Observation Tower offers 360-degree views of San Francisco. The Legion of Honor showcases over 124,000 works of art and is well-known for its European collections of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Hamon Observation Tower at de Young Museum
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Hamon Observation Tower at de Young Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

What did we miss? The Exploratorium, which is located at Pier 15 and is a place of exploration – as the name would imply – and home to the glass-and-steel Bay Observatory and numerous science, art, and human perception exhibits. If you have the time, here’s how you can experience both the de Young and the Exploratorium for only a few more dollars. In the back of the CityPASS booklet, there’s a page labeled, “CityPASS Coupon” with a heading “Why choose one attraction when you can see both?” The Exploratorium is regularly priced $29.95, so use the CityPASS voucher for that attraction. Admission to the de Young is only $10 – a bargain because it is a stunning museum. But, with the coupon page, you get $2 off, so it’s only $8.

Aquarium of the Bay or Monterey Bay Aquarium

CityPASS San Francisco: Aquarium of the Bay
CityPASS San Francisco: Aquarium of the Bay
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next choice is either the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 in San Francisco or the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, which is a couple of hours away. We love Monterey, and if you have the opportunity to add on a day or two to your San Francisco visit, the Monterey Bay Aquarium should definitely be on your agenda.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Aquarium of the Bay
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Aquarium of the Bay
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

However, if you want to stay in the city, Aquarium Bay is awesome. Visitors walk through 300 feet of clear tunnels while viewing over 20,000 marine animals native to the San Francisco Bay area. Sharks and rays swim overhead and inches from you in the tunnels – it feels like you are diving or snorkeling, but without getting wet! At the Touch the Bay exhibit, you can touch sharks, rays and sea stars and then watch the river otters play. A very cool place to visit, the CityPASS booklet provides general admission entrance to the aquarium.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Monterey Bay Aquarium
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Monterey Bay Aquarium
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

CityPASS San Francisco – Is it worth it?

Always a fan of CityPASS for saving money, in San Francisco it makes even more sense because of the 7 day Muni pass. A 7 day Muni pass is $40 so that only leaves $54 in admission fees to break even. If you plan to do at least two of the more expensive attractions, like a bay cruise, you should definitely look into getting a CityPASS.

Where do you get a CityPASS San Francisco?

You can purchase a CityPASS voucher on the CityPASS website that can be exchanged for a booklet at any of the attractions, you can have the CityPASS booklet mailed to you or you can purchase a CityPASS booklet at any of the attractions when you visit.


Disclosure & disclaimer: We received complimentary CityPASS San Francisco booklets 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.

CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Cable Car rides
CityPASS San Francisco attraction: Cable Car rides
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Miami, Florida

Travel tip: Finding the best last minute hotel deals website or app

Finding the best last minute hotel deals website or app, Miami, Florida
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Do last minute hotel deals websites always have the best deal? Sure they say they do, but does one really have the best deal?

Recently a last minute adjustment to our itinerary caused us to find ourselves in need of a hotel for two nights in Miami, so I quickly began searching for the best deal on a hotel. I set some criteria and then shopped five hotel discount sites to compare rates. Here’s how it went…

The comparison criteria

For our two nights in Miami, we set a maximum of $160 per night base rate that we were willing to pay for a hotel in the Miami Beach area. Knowing the devil is also in the details, in addition to the night rate, I checked out parking, resort fees, and any other fees or freebies.

The hotel discount websites and apps

I’d heard quite a bit about HotelTonight, but never used them, so I decided to select five hotels on HotelTonight and check their rates against other discount hotel websites. For each hotel, I compared the rates directly on the hotel’s website and also on Expedia, Hipmunk, JetSetter, Priceline and RocketMiles. While on the other websites, I also briefly looked to see if they had any offers that looked like a better deal than the first five.

Expedia and Priceline are fairly well known and I generally drop by their sites when shopping for rooms. Hipmunk was founded in 2010 and compares posted prices on multiple travel websites.

After being purchased by TripAdvisor in 2013, Jetsetter transformed from an invitation-only community to a discount travel website. Jetsetter also features limited-time sales that last 5-14 days until sold out in addition to their regular listings.

Rocketmiles is owned by Priceline, offers airline rewards with bookings, and can be a great way to pick up significant points. Last November, we spent three days in Puerto Rico at a luxury resort, picking up 16,000 Rapid Rewards points in the process – enough to put us over the top for a companion pass for this year and also enough points for a free long distance flight on Southwest.

Are there more last minute hotel deals website or apps? Absolutely – and I have a long list at the bottom of this article – but, for time’s sake, when shopping for a hotel, I generally check three to five sites to compare rates and go with those results.

HotelTonight

HotelTonight is an app for iOS and Android (you can’t book on their desktop website) that connects people that need a hotel room within the next week to hotels offering discounts on unsold rooms. Scrolling through the Miami Beach offerings on the HotelTonight app on my iPhone, using the criteria outlined above, the best deals appeared to be:

Riviera South Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $143, showing a discount from $223 per night
  • The good and the bad: Not on the beach, has a rooftop pool. Stay includes beach access, use of beach chairs, free WiFi, nightly cocktails, free airport shuttle
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $35 per night
  • Resort fee: $18 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $156, Hipmunk $216, Not listed on JetSetter, Not on Priceline, Rocketmiles $163 + 3,000 RapidReward points
  • Rate is shown on the Riviera South Beach website for the same dates: $146.70 per night

Best deal for Riviera South Beach: HotelTonight at $143 – total of $196 per night with parking and resort fee.

The Hall South Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $149, showing a discount from $234 per night
  • The good and the bad: One block from the ocean, has a pool with cabanas. Rate includes the use of house bikes, fitness center, free wifi. The hotel is under renovation with a construction noise warning.
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $40 per night
  • Resort fee: $22.80 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $189, Hipmunk $189, JetSetter $189, Priceline $189, Not on Rocketmiles
  • Rate is shown directly on the Hall South Beach website for the same dates: $179 best available, $143 with AAA discount

Best deal for The Hall South Beach: The Hall website with AAA discount at $143 – total of $205.80 per night with parking and resort fee

Villa Italia Hotel

  • HotelTonight price: $139, showing a discount from $271 per night
  • The good and the bad: Not on the beach, free WiFi, breakfast buffet included
  • Parking Fee: No self-parking, valet parking $25 per night
  • Resort fee: $12.95 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Hipmunk $236, JetSetter $255, Not on Priceline, Expedia or RocketMiles
  • Rate is shown on Villa Italia Hotel website for dates shown: $231.50 for a room with twin beds, which showed it was the last room available for our dates (the hotel is very small)

Best deal for Villa Italia Hotel: HotelTonight – total of $176.95 per night with parking and resort fee.

Aloft South Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $157, showing a discount from $269 per night
  • The good and the bad: .1 mile from Miami Beach, free WiFi
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $42 per night
  • Resort fee: $23 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $161, Hipmunk $152, Not on JetSetter, Priceline $152,
  • Rate is shown on Aloft South Beach website for dates shown: $143 prepaid rate

Best deal for Aloft South Beach: The Aloft website at $143 with a total of $208 including parking and resort fee.

Hilton Cabana Miami Beach

  • HotelTonight price: $154 showing discount from $239 per night
  • The good and the bad: Direct beach access, pool, fitness center, free WiFi, North Beach vs South Beach
  • Parking fee: No self-parking, valet parking $40 per night
  • Resort fee: $25 per night
  • The price comparison: Rate shown on Expedia $159, Hipmunk $159, Not on JetSetter, Priceline $159,
  • Rate is shown on Hilton website for dates shown: $159, $155 for HHonors members, $131 with AAA discount

Best deal for Hilton Cabana Miami Beach: The Hilton website at $131 AAA rate for a total of $196 including parking and resort fee

Which hotel did we choose?

From an overall financial standpoint, the Villa Italia was the lowest priced at $177 all in. However, we didn’t really want a room with twin beds and because the hotel is so small, we took them at their word with the information they had published on their own website that a twin room was all that was left. The Hall is a lovely hotel in a great location near the Fontainebleau, but the construction noise warning was a bit concerning.

Hilton Cabana, Miami Beach, Florida
Hilton Cabana, Miami Beach, Florida
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media

The other three all came in from $196-$208. Having stayed in South Beach numerous times, we decided on the Hilton Cabana in North Beach at $196. The only one of the five located directly on the ocean, we decided we would prefer to return each evening to the quieter North Beach setting. The Hilton Cabana opened in 2014 and has a contemporary, upscale style with a great bar overlooking the pool and ocean.

Additionally, because I booked direct on the Hilton website, we received HHonors points for our stay and with HHonors gold status, free breakfast each morning at the hotel.

Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach, Florida
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures ©Chasing Light Media

So, does it always pay to book directly on the hotel website?

Absolutely not. But, what the comparison does show is…

  • You always need to compare properties with a fully-loaded cost (i.e., parking, resort fees, WiFi fees, etc.)
  • The “regular price” shown on many discount websites and apps may be the price they charged once when a convention or major event came to town and filled up every room in the city – and, tends to be exaggerated.
  • Searching for deals for hotels in cities can be quite a bit easier than in smaller towns since many times small, independent hotels aren’t listed. An example – when looking for a full month of hotels in Europe last summer during the Tour de France, the selection in small, remote locations was limited or non-existent.
  • Several hotel brands have recently begun advertising that you can receive the best deal by booking direct and they do appear to be offering more competitive pricing on their own websites.

Discount hotel websites and apps

While not an all-inclusive list – many of the discount hotel websites and apps. The list is in alphabetical order and we have no affiliation with any of them.

Agoda
BookingBuddy
BookIt
CheapTickets
DealBase
Expedia
Hipmunk
Hotel Hunters
HotelTonight
Hotels.com
HotelsCombined
Hotwire
Jetsetter
Kayak
Last Minute Travel
LuxuryLink
Orbitz
Priceline
Rocketmiles
Trivago
Travelocity
TravelZoo
Trivago


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

CityPASS New York

New York CityPASS: The best attractions at a great price

Cover: New York CityPASS and the Statue of Liberty
Photo: Greg K.  Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


New York is an amazing city.

While there are a vast amount of things to do in New York City, there are certain attractions that really need to be experienced every so often by anyone visiting New York. Lady Liberty. The 9/11 Memorial. The Met. They’re iconic. They’re historic. They’re so New York.

As with everything in the Big Apple, they can be expensive to visit. The solution: New York CityPASS, offering discounts to the most visited attractions in the city.

New York CityPASS attraction: Metropolitan Museum of Art
CityPass attraction in New York City: Metropolitan Museum of Art Great Hall
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Save with New York CityPASS

New York CityPASS can really save you a lot of money and, in some locations, quite a bit of time. The CityPASS attractions include:

  • Empire State Building Experience  – Adult 86th floor admission $32 + late night re-entry (re-entry package not priced by Empire State Building Experience – CityPASS places a total value of ticket at $47)
  • American Museum of Natural History – Adult Plus 1 package admission $27
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art – Adult admission $25
  • Choice of Top of the Rock Observation Deck – Adult admission $32 or the Guggenheim Museum – Adult admission $25
  • Choice of Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island – Adult admission $18 or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises – Adult admission $37
  • Choice of Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum – Adult admission $24 or 9/11 Memorial Museum – Adult admission $24

For the optional tickets, we selected Top of The Rock Observation Deck, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, and Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, which placed a value of the attractions admissions we visited in New York City at $173.

With New York CityPASS priced at $116 – that’s a 33% savings from purchasing the tickets individually from the attractions. Making CityPASS even more enticing, at some locations you speed through the fast lane, bypassing the general admission line. The result – you save time and money.

New York CityPASS Attractions

Empire State Building Experience

New York CityPASS attraction: Empire State Building
CityPASS attraction: Empire State Building
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Empire State Building Experience is a chance to step into history while enjoying 360° unobstructed views of New York City and beyond.

With CityPASS, visit during the 86th-floor observatory during the day, then return for a late night view as the city sparkles against the night sky (May-August between 10pm-closing, September-April between 8pm-closing). A complimentary audio tour can be obtained by presenting the CityPASS booklet on at the 2nd-floor kiosk. While there is a CityPASS fast lane, it wasn’t open when we visited. However, the regular admission line wasn’t too long of a wait and we reached the top in about 30 minutes.

American Museum of Natural History

New York CityPASSattraction: American Museum of Natural History
CityPASS attraction: American Museum of Natural History
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The museum the world fell in love with after the movie Night at the Museum was released, the American Museum of Natural History is an incredible opportunity to explore over 32 million specimens of nature. Highlights include a 94-foot-long blue whale model, one of the greatest dinosaur fossil collections in the world, and one of the museum’s most popular annual seasonal exhibitions, The Butterfly Conservatory.

New York CityPASS includes general admission to the museum and admission to a 3D movie in the LeFrak IMAX theater.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York CityPASS attraction: Metropolitan Museum of Art
CityPASS attraction: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The largest museum in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, generally referred to as The Met, has over two million works of art spanning more than 5,000 years. With collections ranging from Arms and Armor, to one of the largest compilations of American art in existence, to an entire wing devoted to Asian art, it has something for every interest.

A clearly-marked CityPASS line is available at the entrance, which enabled us to skip the main ticket line, which was long. Our New York CityPASS admission included general admission and entry to all exhibitions at The Met. Be sure and grab a floor plan on the way in and download The Met’s audio guide app on your smartphone (and take your earbuds). It’s free and very well done.

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises

New York CityPASS attraction: Statue of Liberty
CityPASS attraction: Statue of Liberty
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For the first of our attraction options, we had to decide between the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or the Circle Line Cruise. The Circle Line Cruise looked like fun, but it had been years since we’d been out to visit Lady Liberty, so we decided to pay her a call.

The CityPASS booklet contains all of the attraction vouchers and they don’t have to be used in any specific order, just sometime within 9 days of their first use. The Statue of Liberty is a good example of why this is important. The weather forecast for the three days we were in New York City was rainy on day 1, sunny on day 2 and partly sunny on day 3. So, we visited the museums on day 1 while it rained and, as the blue sky in the image above illustrates, our day 2 began with the Statue of Liberty under gorgeous New York skies.

Leaving from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, our CityPASS included a Statue Cruises ferry ride with stops at Liberty Island and Ellis Island, plus an audio tour on each island and Ellis Island Immigration Museum admission.

New York CityPASS attraction: Statue Cruises
CityPASS attraction: Statue Cruises
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum

New York CityPASS attraction: Guggenheim Museum
CityPASS attraction: Guggenheim Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next option was Top of Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum. After visiting The Empire State Building from late afternoon to twilight, we considered using the same-day late-entry pass to re-enter the Empire State Building for night photos and then visiting the Guggenheim the following day. Instead, we opted for Top of the Rock Observation Deck to photograph at night getting a different vantage point. That said, if you haven’t ever been to Guggenheim, it is a fabulous museum.

Showing the CityPASS booklet as we approached on the street, the man at the door waved us through, telling us to skip the upstairs line and proceed downstairs to the ticket counter. There you exchange your CityPASS ticket for the next time-available Top of the Rock general admission ticket which, in our case, was a couple of hours later. We wanted to do the experience at night, so that worked fine for us. At the scheduled time, you return and head through security.

The Top of Rock Observation Deck is actually three floors of 360º viewing at the top of Rockefeller Center. On the 67th & 69th floors, views are through glass panels that have small gaps, which is why the people in the photo below are spaced out as they are. The 70th floor is open, with unobstructed views.

New York CityPASS attraction: 69th floor at Top of the Rock Observation Deck
CityPASS attraction: 69th floor at Top of the Rock Observation Deck
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum or 9/11 Memorial Museum

New York CityPASS attraction: 9/11 Memorial & Museum
CityPASS attraction: 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We were staying in Lower Manhattan during our visit and walked over to the 9/11 Memorial the first night after dinner. It is truly stunning.

We’d already discussed which attractions we’d visit during dinner and decided on the Intrepid, so we were actually going to purchase tickets to the 9/11 Museum so we could visit both, but we arrived too late and the museum was closing. It is definitely on our “next time” list.

Our day 3 agenda included a tour of the Intrepid. There was no wait in the CityPASS line and we received general admission tickets and quickly made our way to the ship. Launched in 1943, the former aircraft carrier survived five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike during World War II, then went on to serve throughout the Vietnam War. Decommissioned in 1974, the ship nows serves as the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum, with numerous exhibits and one of the most varied aircraft collections on the east coast. In addition to the Intrepid, the museum is also home to the American guided missile submarine Growler.

New York CityPASS attraction: Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
CityPASS attraction: Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Is CityPASS New York right for you?

If you plan to visit more than two museums and/or attractions while visiting New York City, you should definitely look into getting a CityPASS. It’s easy to obtain, saves you money and time, and includes the must-visit attractions.

Learn more on the New York CityPASS website.

Lower Manhattan, New York City, New York
Lower Manhattan, New York City, New York
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclosure & disclaimer: We received complimentary New York CityPASS booklets 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.

CityPASS ticket booklets

Travel tip: Get CityPASS – It’s a great deal

Cover: CityPASS ticket booklets
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Large cities have so much to do and see with fabulous museums, observation decks, tours, and attractions.

The challenge can be how to fit it all in and how to pay for it all. Normally it comes down to a choice between time or money – stand in a long line or pay for the venue’s expedite line/VIP upgrade to bypass the wait. The problem is that when you are on vacation, time and money are both limited. Then, we found CityPASS ticket booklets, which gets us into the top attractions, saves us money, and normally has us heading straight through the fast lane line.

Sound too good to be true? Here’s how we first discovered CityPASS Chicago and why the CityPASS website is now our first stop when planning a city tour.

How CityPASS saved the day (at least a big portion of it) in Chicago

We arrived in Chicago on a Friday midday, dropped our bags at the hotel, and planned to head to a couple of attractions that afternoon.

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

First on the list, was the observation deck at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). Arriving at the tower, the line reached out the door, down the block and around the corner. Ugh. We waited through the line about 30 minutes and finally reached the entrance, where we were told the wait was over three hours to get to the top. I noticed a completely empty line that said it was for CityPASS booklet holders.

As we continued in the queue, I pulled out my phone, went to the CityPASS website and discovered that CityPass Chicago covers all the places we wanted to visit on the weekend, would save us money and would get us in the fast lanes. I instantly bought two passes, got a confirmation email within a minute with the voucher. We moved over to the CityPASS line and were on the next elevator.

Arriving where the really big line was below the main entry to purchase tickets, we passed everyone else, went to the ticket office showed them our voucher, were given our CityPASS Chicago booklet, then headed off once again in a fast lane for the elevator to the observation deck.

Sounds good, but is CityPASS right for my trip?

So, you are probably thinking, “Whaaaat? That’s pretty cool but… how does that really work, how does it save you money, and are the attractions really where you want to go or some funky place that couldn’t sell their tickets?”

Keep reading.

How does CityPASS work?

CityPASS booklets can be purchased online on the CityPASS website or in person at the attraction locations. If you purchase online, you print the voucher or just have it sent via email to your phone, then show it at the ticket desk of the first attraction you visit in the city. They scan it and provide the CityPASS booklets that have the tickets for each of the venues. The attraction tickets are valid for 9 days and can be used in any order.


CityPASS tip: If you have the voucher sent via email to your phone, take a screen shot of the image that will be scanned. The man at Willis Tower advised us to do this as the internet can be sketchy in the basement of the building where the ticket desk is located.


What attractions are included?

In each of the CityPASS cities, the attractions include some of the top locations and, in some cases, options allowing for some customization of your trip.

For example, CityPASS Chicago includes admission to the Willis Tower Skydeck, The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and then either 360 Chicago or the Museum of Science and Industry and also a choice of either the Art Institute of Chicago or Adler Planetarium.

CityPASS tickets attraction: The Field Museum
CityPASS tickets attraction: The Field Museum
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Another example is New York CityPASS, which includes The Empire State Building Experience, the American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and then either Top of the Rock or the Guggenheim Museum, a choice of the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise, and finally either the 9/11 Memorial and Museum or the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

In other words – the attractions really are the ones everyone wants to visit.

CityPASS tickets attraction: Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
CityPASS tickets attraction: Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Saving time and money with CityPASS ticket booklets

While every city is different, the CityPASS savings can be up to 53%.

Using our itinerary in Chicago, the attractions we visited would have totaled $199.95 and the CityPASS Chicago was $98. For our selections, that was a 51% savings and we entered through the fast lane at all locations. The time savings allowed us to visit multiple venues each day, which wouldn’t have been possible without the fast lanes.

For New York City, we did not pick the most expensive attractions, so the total value was $173. The New York CityPASS price is $116, which still is a 33% savings.

The price comparisons above are for adult admissions, but children’s pricing is also available. The admission prices we used were the online published prices at the time of our visit.

CityPASS Cities

CityPASS tickets attraction: Empire State Building in New York
CityPASS tickets attraction: Empire State Building in New York
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

CityPASS ticket booklets are available for 12 North American cities: New York City, Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Southern California.


Disclosure & Disclaimer: We received complimentary CityPASS booklets for some reviews. 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.

CityPASS Chicago

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.