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Strolling Through Chicago: A Review of the Embassy Suites Chicago - Downtown/Lakefront for Parents with Toddlers
We took our first vacation, a trip to Chicago, Illinois, with our 19 month old toddler near the end of August 2012. When vacationing with a toddler, parents have to think extra hard about every aspect of the trip. First comes the Hotel! Since we have a toddler, we wanted the following things:
- A good location, within walking distance of attractions
- A pool that was open after dinner
- A mini-fridge to keep her milk, cheese, fruits and veggies
- (optional) A microwave to reheat leftovers (and keep us from going out every meal)
- (optional) A separate bedroom (so she could go to bed before us)
While there are many many hotels in Downtown Chicago, very few actually meet the top three requirements. We were willing to forget about the microwave and separate bedroom if it came down to it. The Embassy Suites Chicago - Downtown / Lakefront had all of these things as well as various other extras that made it a worthwhile choice. Price is in line with the other hotels in the area, yet it has more to offer. We got a discount from my work which was nice, but I was ready to book it even before I found out about that :)
The Embassy Suites Chicago - Downtown / Lakefront is in a great location for tourists. Once you park your car, you shouldn't have to access it for the rest of the trip. Located on the corner of North Columbus Drive and East Illinois Street, the Embassy Suites is within walking distance to the following attractions:
- Dominik's Grocery Store (across the street for supplies and snacks!)
- Navy Pier / Children's Museum (1 mile)
- John Hancock Observatory and Cheesecake Factory (.7 miles)
- Millennium Park (1 mile)
You'll most likely want to take a cab, or public transportation to get to the Museum Campus which is about 3 miles south of the hotel. We found the expense of a cab was worth it when travelling with a toddler rather than trying to figure out public transportation. The few times where we did manage to take public transportation, it was OK, but easier to just take a cab. For about $10 a ride, it made our days a little bit easier, especially since it was unseasonably warm (90+ degrees!) the whole time we were there. Toddler Tip: Carseats are not required in cabs, so hold your baby close and tight. Cabs in Chicago can't go very fast anyway because of the traffic! Some are marked for Handicapped and allow you to bring your baby IN stroller, however make sure you lock the wheels and still hold it tight.
Catching a cab is easy from the valet level of the hotel. The valet would wave one over and we were on our way in no time without having to go searching for cabs. When travelling with a toddler, you should definitely budget in cab rides because walking around Chicago can be tricky - especially with the random ups and downs and stairs you will encounter. Toddler Tip: If you do plan to walk, which we did often, use Google Maps as a guide. There are many stairs in Chicago. You don't even realize you walked uphill because it is so gradual, then suddenly you encounter stairs to go back down! We carried the stroller up and down many stairs since we didn't know where else to go. Google Maps has walking directions that will say "Take the stairs" so if you look it up before you go, you can map alternative routes.
We ended up with a corner room which was larger than any other Embassy Suites I've been in. I think that being in the corner allowed for some extra space. Toddler Tip: It might be worthwhile to ask for a corner room if you want a little more space.
The bedroom was plenty spacious for 2 adults and a toddler. We set up my daughters pack-n-play at the end of the bed and still had lots of room to walk around. I loved the window sill area because it gave me lots of space to unpack all of her clothes without having to use dressers. I set my suitcase on one side and laid out her clothes and things on the other. I've always been careful not to leave my suitcase on the floor, so having this extra shelf to put it was nice. Toddler Tip: Toddlers are impatient, so to speed up our mornings we set out her clothes on this shelf every night before bed and packed her travel bag. The bed was comfy and had plenty of soft pillows for us to rest after a long day of walking. My daughter ended up in it every morning (since she kept waking up early!) and there was still room for all of us to lay comfortably. There was also a flat screen TV in the bedroom which we rarely used, but it's there! Finally, the extra sink in the bedroom was a nice touch.
The living room area has a desk, couch, two chairs and an entertainment center with TV. The desk was useful for setting up our laptop and using the free wi-fi (don't know why, but they gave us a promo code on check in and it was free!). We mostly sat on the couch and my daughter loved climbing off and on the big ottoman. The flat screen TV could be pulled out and turned at any angle. During my daughter's daily naps, we enjoyed watching a few tv shows. Every morning, she would watch Nick Jr or other cartoons. Since the room was so large, we could keep the stroller open in the corner and my toddler had plenty of room to run around and play.
The kitchenette area is basically just a sink, cabinet, mini fridge and microwave. They really should add some shelves here because we had no space to organize our sippy cups (as they were drying) and snacks. I didn't want to use the cabinets because she could reach those. The fridge and microwave worked perfect for our needs. We stored milk, a few drinks, grapes, cheese and a few left-overs in there. Toddler Tip: To save money and avoid taking our toddler out every evening, we ate left-overs a few days. The meals many restaurants give you are so large that you can easily save the left-overs and save a few bucks.
The bathroom was nothing to write home about - just a large sink, toilet and tub. The shower curtain seemed to have some moldy spots, but luckily they had a rounded curtain bar that kept it away from us so we didn't have to touch it. The shower tray was falling apart and we had to be careful where we set things so it didn't flip over. That could easily be replaced, so hopefully they fix that soon. Everything else was standard. Toddler Tip: I wish I would have brought a spout cover and even an inflatable tub since my toddler was ALL over the slippery tub!
Every Embassy Suites offers a daily breakfast buffet and this one is no different. We got to breakfast every day around 8 AM to avoid crowds and it worked out most of the time. Yes there were still lots of people but we didn't really have to wait in line for the buffet. The omelet station always has a little line, so we just passed on that. Toddler Tip: Ask one of the workers where the high chairs are located. You can carry it to your table anytime you need it. The breakfast is pretty simple - scrambled eggs, pancakes, cereal, donuts, sausage, yogurt, bananas and a variety of bread items. Some days they had cut up fruit. It would have been nice if they could have mixed it up every day - although my daughter didn't mind eating a pancake every day, I got bored of it after 4 days. On the day they didn't have fruit we were disappointed. That should be standard. Free breakfast is a great way to start your day in an expensive city like Chicago. Toddler Tip: We filled our bellies and took some extras (bananas, donuts) to snack on later. I saw many people taking full plates back to eat in their room, so do what is convenient for you.
A pool was one of our requirements so that we could stay in a few nights and my daughter loves to swim. Unfortunately we only got to use the pool one night. On the last night of our stay, we got all ready to go swimming just to find out that the pool was closed :( My husband asked at the front desk and found out someone got sick in the pool. Now you can't blame the hotel for that - but I do blame them for not having signs in more places. We didn't know the pool was closed until we got all the way down there and actually saw the pool. Toddler Tip: Send an adult to verify the pool is up and running before you get your toddler excited about swimming. My daughter cried when we had to walk away. I made her a pool in the bath tub to make up for it but it was not quite the same. They really should have put signs by the elevators so everyone would know right away. The hotel offered us a free movie to make up for it, so we watched 21 Jump Street after she went to bed.
The Room and Amenities are really the most important part of a hotel for me, but here are some other details for those of you who are wondering.
Valet parking is expensive ($50+ a night!) but self parking isn't that much cheaper and having your car accessible is convenient. When traveling with a toddler, any opportunity for convenience will help. The bell boy took all of our luggage including snacks and pack-n-play so we didn't have to worry about getting these to and from the room. We already had our hands full with our wiggly daughter.
Check in and out was easy peasy. They had accidentally charged us for the free movie they gave us, but my husband got that taken care of with no hassle. There was rarely a line at the counter except for the last day when we were leaving. The Saturday we checked out definitely seemed to be the day the crowds were coming in since it was the last weekend before Labor Day. Toddler Tip: travel about a week before Labor Day to avoid crowds!
As for getting around the hotel, that was easy too once we figured it out. From the valet an elevator takes you to the Lobby floor. That is where breakfast is served and the bar is located. After that you take an elevator to your room. There is only one set of elevators but they always moved fast for us except that last day when it started to get crowded.
Overall our stay at the Embassy Suites Chicago - Downtown / Lakefront was very pleasant and I will stay there again. Usually I like to explore hotels and try different ones, however now that we have a toddler we have to pick the one with the best features for her. You won't find any other hotel with all of these features in this great location, except perhaps the OTHER Embassy Suites that is only a few blocks away. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed!
My Strolling Through Chicago series features reviews geared at parents with toddlers and full of Toddler Tips! Read more reviews in this series below!