The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is where our family truly kicks off the holiday season. Every year, we bundle up in our winter's best and hit Michigan Ave for a full day of shopping and fun. But we're not the only family who makes this day our own; each year more than one million people travel to The Mag Mile for the city's premier kickoff to the holiday season. To make this day a special day, here are 8 tried and tested tips for a day of family fun at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.
This year's event takes place on Saturday November 23rd, and offers a day chock full of entertainment. Grand marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse will lead a holiday parade of more than 40 floats, helium-filled balloons and marching bands and light up over one million lights on 200 trees along the Magnificent Mile with their magic wands. This year, Mario Lopez and his family will also ride down the avenue and rally the crowd with the "World's Largest Holiday Carol!". The festival culminates in a grand fireworks display over the Chicago River.
1. USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Traffic is a nightmare both before and after the parade. Take public transportation and you'll breeze in and out without a hitch. Take the CTA Red Line Train and exit at the Chicago or Grand Red Line Station and walk east until you reach Michigan Avenue. If you're coming from the METRA station, take a Chicago Water Taxi! (Look into Wendella Boat Tours or Shoreline Sightseeing for more info).
2. ARRIVE EARLY
Many people think of only the big parade when it comes to this holiday festival, but there are so many other fun events happening throughout the day! Be sure to visit the Lights Festival Lane for fun and musical acts appearing in Pioneer Court (next to the Tribune Tower). Here, kids can take a photo with Santa, decorate a slice of Eli's Cheesecake, and try a free slice of deep dish pizza. From 11AM - 5PM, you'll find musical entertainment for all the kids in your family, from the toddlers (Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players at 11:15 AM!) to the tweens (Meet and Greet with Disney star Megan Nicole at 2 PM in the Chevy Tent).
Be sure to book a dinner reservation or plan on a casual, quick dinner if you're eating before the Tree Lighting Parade. Here's a great list of area dining spots. Our top three family friendly picks are Frankie's Scaloppine for their tasty Napolitain style pizzas, M Burger for unbeatable burgers and shakes, and foodlife in Water Tower Place where 14 different kitchens mean that there is something for everyone in the family.
4. MAKE A WEEKEND OF IT
Many area hotels offer special rates and packages this special weekend. Check out the holiday Mag Mile hotel offers for an awesome stay-cation.
5. BUNDLE UP
Wear your long johns and bring extra blankets to wrap around yourselves. Remember to sit on curbside as you view the parade, where hats and gloves/mittens are a must for all members of the family!
6. SET UP SHOP
Arrive at least an hour early to the parade route to snag the best viewing spots. Rumor has it that the least crowded area is on the east side of Michigan Avenue at the north end of the parade route, but keep that between us. To catch the fireworks, head towards the Chicago River and stand along Wacker Drive or in Pioneer Court well before Mickey Mouse arrives - they'll set off at 6:57PM.
7. BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR DEALS AND COUPONS
Many area restaurants, stores and attractions offer special discounts and gifts with purchase the day of the Lights Festival. The Disney Store will be distributing percentage off coupons for both the Michigan Avenue and State Street store locations: guests that visit the store and present their discounts will receive a promotional item from the upcoming Walt Disney Animation, Frozen. Stop by the John Hancock Obsevatory to meet Santa Claus and you'll receive a complimentary 3x5 photo with Santa provided by Photogenic, plus a 15% off General Admission Coupon to the John Hancock Observatory!
8. BRING REFRESHMENTS
Bring a thermos of hot cocoa and get it refilled at one of the many Michigan Avenue tea or coffee shops. Argo Tea (435 North Michigan Ave.) offers a number of seasonal, warm drinks, including the White Frostea Chocolate, a hot cocoa made with white chocolate and minty tea.
With these 8 steps, you'll be on your way to holiday memories and holiday card photo opps. Enjoy the day!