From the view from the deck of the Windy to the food at the restaurants on shore, Navy Pier has something for everyone.
By LAURIE M. FISHER
CHICAGO -- The best view of the city's skyline isn't from the top of the 100-story John Hancock Center. It's on board Windy, a 148-foot four-mast gaff topsail schooner.
The Class B tall ship sails out of the Navy Pier three times each day, weather permitting. On a recent hazy summer afternoon, about 100 passengers climbed aboard the large vessel and sailed for 90 minutes along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Everybody helps: After a briefing on safety procedures, the staff instructed passengers on how to help hoist the massive sails. Windy motored out of the downtown pier past the lighthouse and headed south down the shoreline. Once clear of other ships, the captain shouted orders to raise the main sails and jib. A few passengers volunteered to help pull the lines. From the grimaces on their face, even the macho men seemed surprise at the upper body strength required to finish the job. The crew of young women completed the task with a smile and show of impressive arm muscle.
Once the captain doused the engine and we were under sail, he let a few brave souls take the helm. The staff was eager to answer questions about the boat or the skyscrapers in the distance. They also encouraged visitors to sit back and enjoy the calm combination of wind and water.
Neighbors: Ships of all sizes and shapes shared the waterway. In the distance, we could see hundreds of graceful white leaning triangles, racing in a regatta. Several large motor-powered boats zoomed by, an alternative for those who crave speed and don't mind deafening decibels. For those who love life in the fast lane, 70-foot-long Seadog Cruise boats cruise the area for 30 minutes. Seadog also offers a 75-minute architectural tour.
Another vendor is Shoreline Sightseeing, whose boats offer 30-minute tours of Chicago. They provide water taxis on two routes: between the southwest corner of Navy Pier and the Museum Campus or the Sears Tower. Dining and cruising are options on the Spirit of Chicago and Odyssey Lines.
Things to do: In addition to boat docks, Navy Pier is home to a large entertainment complex. The 50 acres of parks, promenade, gardens, restaurants, shops and entertainment center was bustling with families on a warm summer day. A favorite attraction is the 150 foot high Ferris Wheel built to resemble an attraction from the 1893 world Columbian Exhibition. The lines moved fast since each of the 40 gondolas holds six people.
For indoor entertainment, visit the Chicago Children's Museum for the under 12 set. Teens and sports fans may want to see the IMAX supersized version of *NSYNC or a docudrama about Chicago's basketball legend Michael Jordan. Adults can wander through the Stained Glass Museum, which has a permanent collection of 150 examples of stained glass divided by Victorian, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary pieces.
An 18-hole miniature golf course and old-fashioned wave swing will open later this summer. Restaurant options range from lemonade and ice cream stands to family-style full service restaurants.