Chicago's Navy Pier is a kid's dream destination: The Ferris Wheel! Cirque Shanghai! The IMAX Theater! The Children’s Museum! The roasted nut cart! The funhouse! The churros! That said, visits to Navy Pier tend to empty every parent's pockets. So, I'll let you in on a few of my secrets. Here are seven tips to enjoying Navy Pier like a local:

1. Pre-purchase ride tickets online at You'll save time and money, and it will be easier to avoid falling into the "Can we go on AGAIN?" trap.

2. You can often find discounted tickets to the amazing Cirque Shanghai, now playing on the Pepsi Skyline Stage, at Don't miss this spectacular summer show!

3. Parking is one of the biggest expenses when it comes to Navy Pier. On weekends, flat rate parking is a whopping $24. Your best bet is to take public transportation. If you’re coming from the suburbs, take the Metra and then connect with the CTA’s #124 bus, which provides direct service from Ogilvie Transportation Center and Union Station to Navy Pier. If you do drive and you plan on catching a movie at the IMAX, be sure to get your ticket validated at the IMAX ticket desk for a $3 discount.

4. The Family Pavilion Stage, at the center of the pier, offers daily, free entertainment. Be sure to check out their schedule of performances before you go.

5. The second biggest expense at Navy Pier? Food. While the dining is on the fast food side, it remains pricey. Consider packing your own picnic, which you can enjoy in the lovely Crystal Gardens. Tables are available.

6. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is the cultural gem of Navy Pier. Vibrant, affordable productions strive to render the Bard kid-friendly through abridged storylines and post-show Q and A sessions, and the theater also hosts other plays written with children in mind. The theater itself, with its courtyard seating, will give you a taste of what it was like once upon a time at the Globe. Consider becoming a Chicago Shakespeare Theater subscriber: three play packages start at just $37 per play and include a 40% discount on pier parking.

7. Radio Disney will be hosting free family fun nights this summer at Navy Pier. You'll enjoy concerts, prizes and of course, music at these interactive performances. Check out the Family Pavillion schedule for dates and times.