From zoos and minor league baseball to a railroad museum, how to craft family trips in Illinois that include grandma and grandpa
As vacations increasingly are being recognized as special opportunities for kids to bond with both their parents and grandparents, the term “multigenerational” has become a travel industry buzzword. Happily, Illinois abounds with attractions that extended families can enjoy.
Multigenerational travel is typically defined as taking a trip with three or more generations, but grandparents traveling with grandkids count as well. The trend continues to grow as grandparents in the baby boomer generation are living longer, have more disposable income and want to share experiences — not just material things — with their children and grandchildren. In many cases, grandparents are willing to underwrite some or all of the vacation costs.
In today’s fast-paced world and with families living farther apart geographically than at any time in history, travel is increasingly seen as the best way for extended-family members to get together and make memories. Recent surveys show that 40 percent of travelers went on a multi-gen trip in the last 12 months and that nearly a quarter of grandparents traveled with their grandchildren alone. Many tour companies are benefiting from this development, especially when families get together with friends for group excursions.
Following are eight Illinois experiences that will fit well into family-focused tour itineraries and provide memories for years to come. Everyone in the clan will have a good time at these Illinois favorites, which are perfect destination spots for families large and small.
Kids, parents and grandparents can enjoy family togetherness while observing animals from around the world at one of the country’s largest zoos. Located in suburban Chicago, Brookfield Zoo showcases a wide range of creatures in cageless enclosures that simulate natural habitats. The 7.5-acre Great Bear Wilderness, home to polar bears and grizzlies, includes an underwater viewing area, while Habitat Africa! The Savannah is shared by giraffes, ngutans, spider monkeys and other rainforest animals inhabit Tropic World. Seven Seas has dolphin presentations, Hamill Family Play Zoo is popular with the little ones and a Motor Safari tram provides guided tours of the zoo.
John Deere Pavilon, Moline
Kids from 5 to 85 will find something to love at this free, family-friendly attraction operated by Moline-based Deere & Company, a leading manufacturer of agricultural, construction and forestry equipment. Climb aboard the giant machines and operate a simulated excavator or dozer. In the hands-on Discovery Zone, guests can see films, make a stop-motion video, and build bridges and roads with blocks and machines. The John Deere Store is stocked with green-and-yellow Deere logo gear, toys and collectibles.
Minor League Baseball, Six Locations
The whole gang can enjoy America’s pastime in relaxed settings in suburban Chicago and downstate. Game tickets are affordable, seats are close to the action, and everyone looks forward to the between innings entertainment and giveaways. All stadiums offer attractive picnic packages, party areas and special fan experiences for groups. Check out the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Kane County Cougars in Geneva (Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks), Schaumburg Boomers, Joliet Slammers, Peoria Chiefs (Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals) and Chicago Dogs in Rosemont.
Historic Nauvoo, Nauvoo
Pioneer history comes alive at this collection of 30-some historic sites from the 1840s when early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi River. The well-preserved Mormon settlement features demonstrations of pioneer crafts like blacksmithing, bread baking and brick making. Horse- and ox-drawn wagon rides are available. Summer entertainment includes outdoor concerts and the folksy variety show Sunset on the Mississippi. All tours and events are free.
Illinois Railway Museum, Union
Because kids are always fascinated by trains and older adults often wax nostalgic over the heyday of rail travel, the appeal of this Illinois railway museum cuts across generations. One of the largest museums of its kind in the nation, it boasts more than 400 cars and locomotives. Several large exhibit buildings are packed with antique equipment, including restored Pullman sleeping and dining cars. Rides in electric streetcars are offered throughout the day; diesel-powered and steam trains run on a five-mile track weekends and holidays from May through September. There’s a train-themed playground for the kids.
Lambs Farm, Libertyville
All ages enjoy good old-fashioned fun at this family favorite. Guests can feed hay to the horses, llamas, alpacas, donkeys and cows. They can pet and groom goats and sheep, watch pigs wallowing in the mud, hear turkeys gobbling and see Joseph the camel. The Discovery Center has small mammals, reptiles and exotic birds. O her diversions include miniature golf and rides on the carousel and miniature train. For shopping, Lambs Farm has a thrift store, pet and garden center, and country store selling made-from-scratch cookies, chocolates, jams and breads.
Sanphilipo Place de La Muisique, Barrington Hills
This private museum in Barrington Hills is known worldwide for its impressive collection that includes antique music machines, arcade and gambling machines, chandeliers, the world’s largest restored theater pipe organ and a spectacular European salon carousel. With a carved and lit-up façade that measures 89’ wide by 42’ tall, the carousel possesses 36 horses, several gondolas and chariots and a spinning lover’s tub that all turn to the sounds of a Gavioli band organ. These items, along with the largest collection of restored automatic musical instruments in the world, can be found within a majestic French Second Empire setting.
Caterpillar Visitor Center, Peoria
Caterpillar InteriorEight exhibit galleries and four theaters featuring more than 50 videos and 800 photographs will immerse your family into the world of earthmoving equipment made by Caterpillar Inc., one of Illinois’ premier manufacturing companies. The experience begins with a video in the bed of a two-and-a-half-story Cat® 797F Mining Truck on a virtual ride into a mine site. Interactive stations let you design your very own Cat machine. Hop onto a simulator and see first-hand what it’s like to operate heavy equipment. The Cat Merchandise Center offers a wide selection of collector die-cast scale models and the latest in branded footwear and designer apparel.
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