Hawaii Mom Blog: Visit Chicago: Chicago's First Lady Cruises Architecture Tour




August 1, 2022

Visit Chicago: Chicago's First Lady Cruises Architecture Tour

Disclosure: I received media tickets for this tour.

One of the best ways to experience Chicago is by a river cruise, and we did that with Chicago's First Lady Cruises Architecture Tour.

In collaboration with the Chicago Architecture Tour, Chicago's First Lady Cruises offers guests a chance to see some of Chicago's iconic buildings through a different vantage point, while learning some interesting details about them.

After finding parking (discounted validated parking is available at 111 E Wacker Drive), we found our way to the dock - head to the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive and look for the blue awning that leads to the stairway to the ticket office and dock.  There are many helpful attendants and signs to direct you to the appropriate dock, as their are other cruise lines and tours that leave from the same area, and you don't want to be standing in line for the wrong cruise.

The 90-minute tour Architecture Tour offers upper deck, open air seating, as well as a few seats on the bow, in addition to indoor, air-conditioned seating on the main level, where you'll also find a bar and restrooms.

We arrived to the boarding dock 30 minutes before departure, and the line was already extremely long.  I thought there was no way that we would be able get seats on the upper deck, but there were plenty of seats for everyone (in fact, all guests sat on the upper deck or bow).

Our narrator was a volunteer docent named Steve, and he was so insightful, knowledgeable, and humorous.  He made the entire tour enjoyable and fun, as he talked about the different buildings, designers, and architectural styles, while throwing in fun facts (unfortunately, because he is a volunteer, he was not able to accept tips).  

Here are just a few of the many buildings we saw and learned about:

Reid Murdoch Center used to be a symmetrical building, but was redesigned in order for the expansion of a street. 

Wrigley Building, inspired by Spain's Giralda Bell Tower (designed by Anderson, Probst, and White)

Marina City (aka "Corn Cobs"), designed by Bertrand Goldberg, whose designs incorporated many curves and rounded corners.  He created spaces that were multi-functional, mix-used structures allowing people to live, work, and play in the same area. 

River City is another building designed by Bertrand Goldberg (notice all the rounded corners and curved lines).

NBC Tower.

Merchandise Mart was one of the largest commercial buildings in the world.

The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is decked with airline warning strobe light antennas. 

St. Regis is the third tallest building in the city, and was designed by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang.

333 West Wacker Drive ("contextualism").

Steve told us if we see balconies, that means the buildings are residential.
Many commercial buildings have been converted into residences.
Our tour was midday, and I was worried that it would be very hot.  It was warm, but not unbearable.  Be sure to bring water with you (they do a quick back check before boarding), or you can buy drinks onboard.  You can also take advantage of the air-conditioned lower deck, but the windows are a lot smaller than I expected, so you don't get as great a view of the buildings (but you can still hear the narrator speaking about the buildings), therefore, I highly recommend staying on the upper deck.  The views are unbeatable!

It was fascinating to learn about the city, the buildings, the numerous bridges, and even the river itself.

What was once considered an eyesore (we were told of one specific building which was built with minimal windows looking out onto the river), the river is now thriving with businesses, residences, and attractions.  People live, work, and play along the River Walk. 

Not only can you take a cruise on the river, but you can also kayak and paddleboard.  The Riverwalk welcomes visitors to stroll along paths, walk their dogs, or even sit and relax (I saw several spaces with seats and lounge chairs just beckoning people to take some time for themselves).

One of the things I enjoy most when I travel is seeing the different architecture styles, and the Chicago's First Lady Cruise Architecture Tour was a great way to both see the city's skyline from a different perspective and learn about the architecture behind the landmark structures. 


Visit the Chicago's First Lady Cruises website to learn about the Architecture Tour. 

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