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Tourism Fail

Klondike and I recently spent a few fun- and friend-filled days in my favorite big city, Chicago. We had a marvelous time; how could you not when there’s theater and deep-dish pizza and the original Marshall Field’s store (which I refuse to acknowledge is now a Macy’s)?

It was a thoroughly marvelous time, with one glaring exception: our trip to Shedd Aquarium. The aquarium is wonderful, and we had a splendid time once we got tickets, but actually getting tickets was beyond absurd.

I had scoped out the situation online a few weeks before our trip, but I actually found their site sort of confusing and couldn’t determine what level of ticket we would want, so I figured we would just buy them when we got there, understanding we might have to stand in line for a bit. A bit? HA!

There’s a big plaza in front of the aquarium. When we got there around 12:30 on Saturday, the line extended down the stairs from the entrance, up one side of the square, across, and then back up the other side, in a giant U. I caIMG_4047n’t even begin to guess how many people were waiting. But the line was moving, slowly but steadily, so I felt pretty optimistic in spite of the chilly temps and biting wind. Forty minutes later, we had made it up and across and just had up the last side and up the stairs until the promised land of INDOORS. That’s about when the line stopped moving. Every once in a while there would be a brief forward surge. Slooooooowly across the plaza, finally to the stairs, where there was a tent so we had a little shelter from the wind. Very, very, very slowly up the stairs, and into….the vestibule! More waiting, with no idea what lay beyond. Eventually through the revolving doors into the lobby where we were met with…a rat maze to wait in to buy tickets! Oh, yes, and we were greeted with a sign telling us that all the aquatic shows for the day were sold out. Total time to get in and buy tickets? Approximately 2.5 hours.

The facility kept throwing salt on the wound, too. We went to put our coats into a bank of lockers that only accepted quarters, and the change machine was out of service. We wanted to buy a soda, and the machine wouldn’t accept cash (out of service) – we had to use a credit card. To buy a soda.

In the end we had a great time; the jellies exhibit was super cool, and how can you not love seeing dolphins and beluga whales and otters and penguins and turtles and sea horses? But it felt like perhaps the least tourist-friendly tourist attraction I’ve ever been to. Oh, and did I mention that if we had purchased our tickets online the day we went, there would have been a FIFTEEN DOLLAR SURCHARGE? Each. I live someplace where everything is cheap, so maybe I just had Big City sticker shock. To find out, I did a little comparison shopping of the other big attractions in Chicago.

Art Institute: $23 ($2.50 service charge for online purchase)
Museum of Science & Industry: $18  (add ons for special exhibits = $8 each)
Field Museum: $15 basic / all access $30 ($2.50 online order fee)
Adler Planetarium: $12 basic (all exhibits, no shows) or $28 full access plus two shows (can’t buy online?)
Shedd: $8 basic, but that doesn’t include half the exhibits and you can’t add the jellies exhibit (which costs more) to that ticket. $28.95 for all exhibits PLUS $3 for jellies. Also, $4 for aquatic show, which was sold out.
Total experience = $34.95, but IF PURCHASED ONLINE THE SAME DAY AS YOUR VISIT it’s $49.95

So yeah, Shedd is steep. To feel so under-appreciated as a visitor was a drag for almost seventy bucks.

A reasonable person might be thinking right about now, “Hey, it was Saturday, they were busy, good for them, how could they help how long the line was?”

I’m so glad you asked!

Here are some of the ideas that occurred to us during our hours-long wait that they could have done to improve the experience. To those of you at the Shedd who are surely reading this, please feel free to claim these ideas as your own. Be a hero in the office.

  • Encourage more people to buy tickets online ahead of time. If the website had told me to expect a 2+-hour wait, I would have worked harder to figure out which tickets we wanted.
  • You know those signs they have at Cedar Point and probably every other amusement park in the world that say, “Your wait from this point in line is 8 million years”? GET ONE. If we had known what we were getting ourselves into, we might have bailed. Of course, we’d just paid $19 to park the car, so maybe not. But at least we would have been informed.
  • You know those aquarium employees or volunteers or whoever they were who walked around outside periodically surveying the line? They could share information, like announcing things like the aquatic shows being sold out, in case that was a deal-breaker for anyone. Or, ‘’Hey, we know it’s cold, we’re glad you’re here, hopefully you’ll be inside soon (although we really have no idea because we run an inefficient operation).”
  • You could give out wristbands or tickets or numbers or something so we could go sit in our car to stay warm for the first hour or so.
  • Make us aware of the Go to the Head of the Line option sooner (rather than after you’re already 2/3 of the way through the line), especially if you’re going to charge 50% more for that option.
  • You could – hold on, this is a wild idea – HAVE MORE PEOPLE SELLING TICKETS ON BUSY DAYS, like, say, Saturdays. As far as we could tell, the only reason it took so long to get in was because it took so long for tickets to be purchased. Perhaps you were at capacity at some point. I have absolutely no idea because you provided zero information.
  • Act like you’re happy to see us. When we finally make it to the person waiting to take lots of money from us, have her acknowledge how nice it was for us to wait so long to see your fishies.
  • Make sure once we’re inside, everything is PERFECT. If that means loading more quarters into the change machine by the lockers midway through the day, do it. It’s not rocket science, people, it’s customer service.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when someone treats a captive audience like that’s what they are. Be better than that. Wow me with how well you handle the situation rather than shrugging your shoulders and letting us stew and fret. In the end, we spent as much time waiting to get in as we did enjoying the exhibits. And we did enjoy the exhibits. Really, truly. I highly recommend the aquarium. I also highly recommend buying your tickets in advance. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And here are some pretty pictures to offset my angst. 🙂

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It wasn’t a test, but we passed.

I started seeing someone a few months back. Astute readers might have picked up on it after this.  (He’s kind of awesome.) We’re gonna call him Klondike, ok? So Klondike & I went on vacation recently, and it was the longest time we’d ever spent together. He lives in Indy (and I do not) so we see each other roughly every other weekend, which actually works out nicely for this independent chica.  Anyway, we went on vacation. Aruba, nine days, just the two of us. That is a long-ass time for me to spend with ANYONE. I wasn’t anxious about it, but definitely was curious to see how it would be. And it was really, really good. He didn’t get on my nerves at all, which is kind of amazing. Although I wonder if anybody would get on my nerves if I had plenty of sleep every night and spent all day on the beach being decadent. I wonder if I could get a grant to fund a social experiment…oops, I digress.

We passed the non-test. We still dig each other. Even after he got exposed to my less-than-cheery travel self on the way home, when a seven-hour layover in Miami got extended by an additional five-hour delay. It wasn’t pretty, but he hung in there.

In fact, I think the likeiness part is what made the vacation so great. It certainly wasn’t the 5-star (HA!) all-inclusive resort telling us upon arrival that they were overbooked and were moving us to a Westin. (We politely declined.) It wasn’t the weirdly uncomfortable beach chairs that were too short even for not-remotely-tall me that made everything fab. It wasn’t the mediocre food at the resort. It wasn’t the high levels of noise in the pool/bar area that oozed into our room morning and night. It must have been the company.  🙂

I made some bloggy notes so you would know I was thinking about you. Consider this post the equivalent of the “wish you were here!” postcard I didn’t send. But look! I can make one now!


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Floating

Floating in the ocean is the most peaceful thing in the world. The water here is ridiculously buoyant. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. It’s impossible not to float. Even Klondike, who says he never floats, floats here.

For me it is effortless. I lie back in the water and my legs and feet rise and my entire being is supported by the ocean. Cradled. The water is calm unless something motorized zooms by, so I can drift without fear of a face full of saltwater. And I do. I see the sun and blue sky above me. I can hear muffled sounds, but mostly it’s those passing boats and jet skis, gentle humming that quickly dissipates. Usually when floating in a body of water it requires a tiny bit of work – some hand waving, or consciously lifting my legs to the surface, without which they’ll dangle below me. Not here. Everything rises to the surface. It’s like I’m lying down. Relaxed. Sometimes Klondike stands nearby and gently holds one of my feet, just as a reference point for me. It’s perfect.  🙂


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88 steps down and 88 steps up.

We took a killer jeep tour of the island, and one of the stops was at a natural pool. It was quite a trek down some rocky steps (88 of them), and then we had to navigate through a narrow, wet, slippery, rocky little path to get to the pool, and then to get into the pool you had to maneuver across some wet, slippery rocks and sort of slide into the water. This is not my skill set. I am a klutz. I walk into things. I trip over my own feet. So it was tempting to take some pictures and observe from afar.  But I did it. I conquered my clumsiness, my klutziness, my insecurities, and I clambered (ha!) – ok – crawled – over the slippery rocks down to the edge of the pool and slid (deliberately) in. Kapow!

Klondike and I had been in the pool for a minute, maybe two, when he exclaimed, “That fish bit me!”

Uh huh.

A few minutes later, “Again! That goddamn fish bit me again!”

I might have been a tiny bit unsympathetic. I saw no fish. No tooth marks. No blood. No missing toe pieces. He got much more sympathy a few minutes later when he sliced his fingertip on a piece of coral.

Blood. Everywhere.

Ick. And I, who had brought every first aid ointment and pill in my medicine cabinet on the trip, had left everything, including bandaids, at the hotel. Oops.

Fortunately, he survived.

After paddling around in the pool for a bit I realized, oh crap, I had to get back OUT. Which involved scooting into a little “seat” in the rocks and pushing myself up out of the water. Which meant planting my hands squarely on “furry”, slimy, algae-covered rocks. Ew. Like, really, ew. But I did it. Shazam! And then I clambered (crawled) back over to the land side, to solid ground and no more slippery rocks.


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Lizards

I am obsessed with the lizards. We saw one the first day, a gigantic iguana, just hanging out, like it’s totally normal for iguanas to sit in the grass by the street. But we didn’t see any others that day, so it seemed like maybe it was an unusual thing.

The next day we saw one hanging out on some steps outside our hotel. I took a picture.

The next day, we saw bunches. Hanging out by the pool in the late morning. Then I discovered that was a daily thing. Breakfast, poolside, with lizards.

It doesn’t matter that we see them every day. I can’t stop being surprised by them. I have taken eight thousand pictures of them. And some video. I stop and stare. They bake in the sun on the rocks. They eat lettuce. They walk their funny lizard walk.

And then I wonder….when people from Aruba visit the US, do they obsess like this over squirrels?

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The end

The desk in the room is littered with shells and coral and souvenirs and books and earrings and snacks and water bottles and sand. There is sand pretty much everywhere in spite of our best efforts.

It’s time to go home. We are still having fun and haven’t tired of each other’s company, but we’re speaking freely about the ridiculously uncomfortable bed (rather than trying to pretend everything is PERFECT!!!!) and I miss my dog and my shampoo and being on Facebook for more than 90 seconds a day and Klondike said he’s feeling rested and ready to get back to work.

We have one more day, to sleep in and soak up sun and play in the ocean and get covered with sand. Tomorrow night we pack and schedule our early morning shuttle to the airport, and then Thursday bright and early we head back to reality. And we’re ready.  🙂

It wasn’t a test, but we passed.

I do not (heart) NY

Let me explain.

I recently spent a few days in the city with a college friend. It had been something like 15 years since I’d been there. We had a marvelous time. Restaurants. Shopping. Cupcakes. The Met. Katz’s Deli. Beautiful, tall buildings. The Highline. Central Park. SOHO. Times Square. We reenacted entire scenes from When Harry Met Sally. We saw a friend we hadn’t seen in years and met his delightful wife. I ate steak tartare and octopus for the first time. We spent a very moving hour at the beautiful 9/11 memorial. We rode lots and lots of subways, and almost never accidentally went in the wrong direction. Naps every day to rejuvenate. (It’s kind of ridiculous that all of that was just three days.) And theater. Theater. My god, the theater.

The shows were magical. (Imagine “magical” is in sparkly, shimmery, glittering, light up, twirling letters.) That’s right, plural.

We made a trip to the ½ price ticket booth on Saturday and got some kick-ass ½ price seats at the kick ass, Tony-award winning revival of “Anything Goes”. I didn’t know much about it going in, but had seen Sutton Foster perform on the Tonys last year and I couldn’t get it out of my head. And I still can’t. It took my breath away. I want to learn to tap. It was delightful and de-lovely. And Sutton Foster is a freakin’ badass. I confess, her arms scared me a little (very, very long and incredibly wiry), but badass.

 

 

Our final night was when we saw The Book of Mormon. The show did not disappoint, and it was the perfect ending to our action-packed adventure. It was so very, very, very wrong. So inappropriate. Chock full of dazzling, irreverent musical numbers filled with foul language. (Five of the tracks on the soundtrack are flagged as “explicit”.) And the packed house ate. it. up. I was in heaven. We spilled out of the theater, and directly across the street people were flowing out from a performance of Chicago, and in every direction there were theaters with the best shows in the world, and it was thrilling. I have seen marvelous performances in Chicago and Indy and have thoroughly enjoyed touring productions here in town at the Embassy. But there is nothing in the world like Broadway. Nothing. NOTHING. I was completely high on theater.

 

 
But.

You knew a “but” was coming, right?

Everything we think about New York is true. It’s jam-packed with people. They’re all in a hurry. They don’t seem very happy. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I made eye contact. I said, “excuse me”. I smiled. I looked around at things. Sometimes I made Greg walk more slowly. I wanted ice in my water. Jesus. Why the hell don’t they like cold beverages?

We were on the subway Sunday morning, and three young women were sitting together on the train. Each was holding a helium-filled balloon, which suggests they were either on the way to or from something fun. Yet they stared stoically at the floor, their hands, into nothingness. No smiles. No giggles. They looked somewhere between bored and pissed off. And most people on the subway looked like that. They also were dressed too deliberately. Everybody. Doesn’t anyone ever just put on a hoody? Don’t get all judgy on me and think I’m some Midwestern hick. I like to look cute. But sometimes I’m just going to hang with a friend or going to the library or running errands. And there was no “I don’t care” present in the city. It was too intentional for my taste.

And all those great things I rattled off that we did, especially the theater? There’s no way the people living there are taking advantage of it on any kind of regular basis. Partly because they probably can’t afford to. I developed a theory that there are no overweight people in NY because a) they have to walk 87 miles to get anywhere (not necessarily a problem) and b) they can’t afford food (more of a problem).

And here’s the thing: other than Broadway, there isn’t anything in NY that I can’t fully satisfy my craving for closer to home. I am a Midwestern girl, and my heart is in Chicago. The Art Institute, the Magnificent Mile, Grant Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, Lake Michigan – those feed my soul just as thoroughly as the experiences we had in New York, and I can be there in a few hours with travel expenses to the tune of a tank of gas. Plenty of outstanding restaurants and bakeries to feed my belly, as well.

Any trip to a big city always confirms that I’m living in the right place, too. I love to visit them, love to come home. Too many people, too close together. I would freak out. As previously mentioned, I love my house, my yard, and my dog, which is one of the luxuries of living in Fort Wayne. My friend’s NY wife was astonished that I, a single woman with a dog, live in my own house. With four bedrooms, to boot.

This is not to suggest I won’t go back to New York, and soon. I would plan an annual Broadway pilgrimage if funding allowed. I will happily spend another few days there from time to time, especially with an excellent traveling companion/tour guide like I had this time. I’m just not googly-eyed for it, the way so many people seem to be, and expect me to be.

I do not (heart) NY. But I would be delighted to have a fling with it every couple of years.