Our kids were off school yesterday for an extended Presidents’ Day weekend holiday, so our family headed into the city for some almost-free fun (and sun — 60+ degrees and sunshine in Chicago in February!)
Chicago’s Field Museum has free admission for the entire month of February for Illinois residents (just show your drivers’ license or state ID at the front desk.) This is a fantastic deal, considering admission is normally $36 for adults and $25 for children. We planned to spend half our day at the Field, then head to McCormick Place to take in the 2017 Chicago Auto Show.
It had been a few years since we took our boys to the Field Museum — apparently, a few years too long as they didn’t remember much of it! We had a wonderful day seeing the mummies, the dinosaurs, and of course, other entertaining exhibits.
My oldest son felt that this model of a prehistoric man would not be happy to be portrayed in the nude and tried to preserve his modesty while we viewed this exhibit.
The Maori Meeting House was built in 1881 and is only one of three in the world that exist outside New Zealand. We loved looking at its hand-carved walls and touring it. (In Maori custom, of course, you have to take your shoes off before entering.)
Our kids also loved the Tahiti exhibit, which is designed to look like a Tahitian shopping village. In fact, we stayed in this exhibit for a while as they were pretending we had taken a cruise to this vacation destination!
If only this Tahitian cafe had been real — they would have stayed even longer. They got such a kick out the cafe’s television broadcasting French Poylnesian programming.
Our boys also really enjoyed the rocks and minerals exhibits. Here, my youngest son examines the damage that a meteorite did when it fell through the roof of a garage in 1938, plunging through the garage roof and continuing through the Pontiac parked inside!
My oldest son was pretty excited about this aragonite — not only is it a really cool-looking mineral, but look closer. My son said “It still has the price tag on the bottom!”
Sure enough, this mineral specimen apparently cost just $12 at some point in its history. “I’d buy it for $12,” my son said.
And, of course, no museum trip is complete without a Mold-A-Rama! We counted four Mold-A-Rama machines at the Field Museum (perhaps there were more!) and at $2.00, it’s a bargain-priced souvenir.
Next, we headed over to the auto show. I hadn’t been to the Chicago Auto Show in many years, and my husband and children had never been. We’re not really in the market for a new car at the moment, but it’s fun to look at what’s new. Chicago Auto Show admission is $13 for adults and $7 for children, but you can get free tickets by filling out this form and taking it to a local Chevrolet dealer. (Call first to make sure they still have some, as the tickets are first-come, first-served.)
Earlier this month, I received two free auto show tickets from Chevrolet in my email with a note of thanks for being a loyal Chevy owner, which was the catalyst for our planning this day trip with the kids.. I headed to a local dealer to score two more tickets so the four of us could attend free of charge.
I’ve written at length about my love for Chevrolet in the past — Chevy indeed runs deep in this family, and I am a third-generation Chevrolet owner, so of course we had to spend some time at Chevy’s booth. In addition to having many new 2017 and 2018 Chevrolets on display, Chevy was attracting a lot of show attention for bringing the Lego Batmobile to the show this year.
Our kids were delighted that Chevrolet had a Lego Batmobile Build Station set up where you could build your own free toy Batmobile and take it home!
We also spent some time checking out all the new Chevrolets. My current vehicle, a TrailBlazer, was purchased new and is still my daily driver, and my love for this vehicle has not waned since the day I drove it home. It’s been a great vehicle for our family, and I absolutely love driving it.
Chevy made the TrailBlazer in North America from 2002 to 2009 when it was replaced by the Traverse. We looked at several new Traverses at the show and struck up a conversation with one of the Chevrolet reps. Aside from the eight-seat capacity of the Traverse (one more seat than my current TrailBlazer) I said that I still like the styling of my Blazer better.
The Chevrolet rep asked how many miles are on my Trailblazer (149,000.) Then, she said…
“Keep it. They’re great vehicles, and you’ll be able to go to 300,000 miles with it. Seriously. There are so many of them still on the road, and people ask us all the time when we will bring back the Trailblazer!”
Chevy, it’s that kind of honesty and quality that will keep me buying your vehicles when it is finally time to replace the ones we have now. (And she’s absolutely right — I see other TrailBlazers on the road nearly every day, and the majority of them look just like mine — not a spot of rust on them! Pretty good considering they’re all 8 to 15 years old at this point.)
We spent a little more time at Chevrolet’s booth. Here, our boys are practicing parallel parking a robot car that is using prototype technology to move sideways into a parking spot.
When we’d finally had enough Chevy fun, I announced, “Well, we’ve seen all there is to see here. We can go.” (Kidding, kidding. I told you my Chevy loyalty ran deep!) However, the three other Cataldos said that they wanted to look around some more. Admittedly, some of the other automakers had pretty cool booths at the Auto Show as well, so we went to check them out.
My husband is an enormous Star Wars fan, so he wanted to visit the Nissan booth to see the new Star-Wars themed Nissan Rogue.
My husband opened the door of this limited-edition Nissan Rogue One Star Wars edition vehicle. “Look at that trim! Look at those mats. Isn’t that cool?” He should know better than to ask me..!
“No. It’s not a Chevy.”
The boys enjoyed this virtual-reality experience at the Nissan both, where you could visually transform into a Stormtrooper. I really should have taken a video of them dancing and jumping around once their bodies had been “shelled” with Stormtrooper armor!
Mercedes-Benz had the MB Mountain, where Auto Show-goers could line up to experience going up and down its 45-degree incline. This was actually nerve-wracking to watch. While you know it must be safe if they’ve got a ride-along experience like this set up at the auto show, the screams from the passengers inside these SUVs was akin to something you’d hear at a roller coaster park! Their #MBMountain hashtag on Twitter has several movies from passengers. We didn’t get to do this one as all passengers had to be 18 or over to experience it.
Jeep had a fun “Camp Jeep” set up where professional drivers took you on a ride over bridges, through a tunnel, and even up a set of stairs! This one was something the entire family could do — riders only had to be 44″ tall.
Toyota had a large replica World Series trophy set up on a Cubs pickup truck. Even though this is a Toyota truck, this Cubbie fan had to snap a pic! Their whole booth was filled with cars wrapped in Cubs logos and Cubbie blue, save for one White Sox-wrapped car.
Like many trade shows, you can pick up little swag items along the way — keychains, stickers, auto brochures, and the like. Many of the automakers were also handing out large shopping bags for you to carry your Auto Show gear in. As our day continued into the evening, my family had acquired all sorts of small things that they, of course, kept handing back to me to carry.
This presented me with a dilemma. I could not bring myself to pick up and carry around a bag with another automaker’s name on it. (Seriously — this Chevrolet thing is a very serious deal for me. There aren’t many things I am fiercely brand loyal to in this life, but Chevy is one of them.)
I had really hoped that Chevrolet would have a shopping bag for me to stash all of my auto gear inside. The closest they had was this tiny cotton Chevrolet bag given to Lego Batmobile builders so they could carry their toy Batmobiles home. Unfortunately, this little bowtie bag, while cute, was not spacious enough for all of our Auto Show swag.
So, I expanded my hunt for an appropriate bag. We visited GMC. No bags.
We visited Buick. No bags.
We visited Cadillac! Surely, General Motors’ top-of-the-line brand would have a great-looking bag for Auto Show attendees to carry around. Nope.
There were few other swag-bag options at the show for brand loyalists like myself. What to do?
Finally, I saw it: An appropriate place to get a shopping bag that would not conflict in any way with my unwavering Chevrolet loyalty:
Jewel-Osco was at the Chicago Auto Show handing out bags… of bags! Each Jewel-Osco Fuel Rewards shopping bag contained four more Jewel-Osco shopping bags for shopping at Jewel. Score! The Jewel crew was offering to sign people up on the spot for their Fuel Rewards program, but as I am already a member, I simply thanked them for my new plethora of bags.
Woo hoo! Now we could continue our auto show adventure. The Chicago Blackhawks had an area set up where you could try your slapshot to win a prize.
I have no idea what you might win if you succeeded in smacking a ball into the goal hole, but the “losing” prize was pretty cool anyway:
Hail to the Chief! The Chicago Blackhawks are also giving away a beautiful Blackhawks-themed Camaro at the Auto Show:
Now that I’ve entered to win this beauty, you don’t have to. The odds of winning are based on how many people enter, so really… you don’t have to enter.. ;)
We wrapped up our auto show experience with a test drive at the Kia booth. Now you know of my constant, unwavering love for Chevrolet — so how did I end up behind the wheel of a Kia? Well, there was a “Kia shouter” sales rep yelling that you would get a $10 Amazon gift card for every member of your party if you test-drove a Kia at the auto show.
While I can’t own anything other than a Chevy, I don’t have an issue taking free money for a little test drive. Plus, our kids heard “free Amazon gift card” and asked if they would really each get gift cards too. The Kia shouter said “Yes! All four of you!”
Of course, our boys were excited and said “Do it, Mom!” My decision was further sealed when the Kia shouter told me that I would get to drive on the “secret road” between McCormick Place and downtown Chicago!
Chicagoans, do you know of this road? Some locals call it the “Bat Cave” or the “Magic Road.” It’s a 2 1/2 mile private road that extends north from McCormick Place to downtown. This road is only available to shuttle buses servicing convention-goers and is not generally open to the public.
Well, ever since I learned of this road a few years back, I wanted to drive on it — you know, the “forbidden fruit” effect. I figured for $40 in Amazon cash and the chance to zip down the Magic Road, I could get behind the wheel of a Kia!
The Kia shouter led us to the lower level escalators at McCormick place, where we took a quick survey about Kia. The Kia team verified that I held a valid drivers’ license and showed us a card of vehicles to choose from. I selected the Kia Sorento because it had a third row seat, and my boys like riding in what they call “the way-way-back.”
Lastly, the check-in iPad at the Kia booth instructed us to choose a soundtrack for our drive. Fun! My boys chose Quiet Riot’s “Cum On Feel The Noize,” which seemed like the perfect rockin’ soundtrack to speed down the Bat Cave road on.
We exited McCormick place into one of the traffic tunnels below the convention center and got in our Kia. The sales rep got in the passenger seat and informed us that “Cum On Feel The Noize” was no longer available. (No!) My husband then selected Van Halen’s “Panama” as our driving tune, which we all agreed would be a fine substitute.
I stepped on the gas and headed north out of McCormick Place. I couldn’t wait to hit the secret road!
However, my dreams of secret Bat Cave driving were immediately squashed when the Kia rep told me to make a U-turn in the parking lot outside McCormick and head right back inside. Our test drive was over before David Lee Roth even sang that part of the song about “easing the seat back!” (Seriously. This song is 3:31 long. It felt like we’d barely buckled up!)
What happened? The rep said that the Sorento was one of the most popular vehicles to drive at the Auto Show, and they needed it back for other drivers.
We exited the vehicle. There would be no trip down the secret road.
Back inside the lower level of McCormick, our Kia rep handed us two $10 Amazon gift cards. We reminded her that the Kia shouter upstairs said “everyone in the vehicle” would get a $10 gift card for riding along, and that we had verified that our kids would get them too before we ever agreed to take the test drive.
Our Kia rep said “Nope, no kids. Must be 18 to get a gift card.”
The experience left us with a rather sour taste and a not-so-great impression of Kia’s auto show team. It’s not fair to entice children to get mom and dad to take a test drive by waving Amazon gift cards at them, then failing to follow through. I was even more miffed about not getting to cross “Driving the Bat Cave road” off my bucket list!
However, we did come out $20 ahead for the auto show, which almost covered our parking for the day. Or, I should say, it would have… if we hadn’t immediately given those gift cards to our disappointed kids.
Aside from this puzzling Kia experience, we had a great day at the Field Museum and the Chicago Auto Show. We even enjoyed walking around the museum campus a bit between our two destinations. 65-degree days in Chicago in February are simply glorious!
If you go:
The Field Museum continues to be free for Illinois residents through February 28, 2017.
The Chicago Auto Show continues through February 20, 2017.
If you do a dual-day visit like we did, you can park at Soldier Field for $22. From there, you can walk to the Field Museum, and there is a free shuttle bus that will take you to McCormick Place for the Chicago Auto Show from the Soldier Field deck too. (Pack snacks and drinks in your car for in between too — we did!)
We enjoyed free Chicago Auto Show tickets courtesy of a friend who works at a Lexus dealer and also went to the Museum of Science and Industry for one of its free days this week. The thing that surprised me was that parking is now over $20 at both places. Also driving to arrive before both opened was unpredictable since construction and just what days do people work? Monday traffic was better than Thursday traffic. Explain that one? Here is link for free days 2017 for various museums.https://chicagoonthecheap.com/free-chicago-museum-days/
Coupon Maven says
We knew we were going to face $20+ parking fees by driving in. We usually take the train in, but as we weighed our options, it was cheaper for us to drive on Friday.
Had it been the weekend, our kids would be free on Metra, and we could ride back and forth all weekend for $16 – $8 for each of us adults. On a weekday, we’d have paid Metra fares to and from the city each way for four of us, so we bit the proverbial bullet on parking and just parked in the middle at Soldier Field.
We left our house around 9am to try to beat traffic, and we sailed into the city without any driving delays. An hour earlier, I would bet that wouldn’t have been the case..!
My husband pointed out that it ended up costing us $5.50 per person for the whole day as we had free tickets for everything else, so we’re not complaining. We had a lot of fun for $22! :)
Kristin Gross says
Just wondering how crowded the Field Museum was. I’ve heard that free days at any of the Chicago museums are absolutely crazy packed.
Coupon Maven says
It was not bad at all. We did go on a Friday versus the weekend, but we didn’t feel it was crazy packed by any means. We never waited to see any exhibits and didn’t feel crowded. Perhaps because it’s open free all month long, it’s different than when they do one or two free days per month.
Glad that your Trailblazer is still going strong. Remarkable that it has avoided rust in northern Illinois. I love my 2006 Colorado but I’ve twice had to have some rust removed at a body shop despite having visited Ziebart within a month of getting it and faithfully renewing it every year. I’ll have my Chevy until it no longer runs.
This might not be a column idea you can use for awhile as a new car purchase doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, but a discussion of how to save money on a car purchase, particularly when you’re loyal to a specific brand, as you are, would be useful information.
Chevy sent me tickets a few years ago to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. I go just about every year.
Sounds like you had some great family memory making trips at a reasonable cost.
Coupon Maven says
My TrailBlazer has been garage kept for its entire life, and I try to be good about keeping it washed and waxed. (Most recently, this past Saturday when it was 70 in Chicagoland! I spent most of the day washing and waxing both our cars like it was summertime!) The Blazer did come with factory rust protection, but other than that, we haven’t done anything special to it.
I would be happy to write about how to save on a new car at some point. I’ve always purchased new vehicles while simultaneously saving up for the next one. I’ve never had a car payment, and of course, they’ve all been Chevrolets! :)