Holiday Lights in Illinois 2017

Holiday Lights in Illinois 2017

Twinkling lights add a bit of magic to the holiday season. Infants to elderly are fascinated by dazzling lights displays. Whether you prefer to enjoy holiday lights on foot, in the warm comfort of your car, or even from a helicopter, you’ll find many impressive and unique holiday lights displays throughout Illinois. Read more

Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

As another year comes to a close, we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months and plan new goals for the coming year. For me, 2014 brought lots of opportunities to explore the Midwest, discovering more attractions, events and restaurants to share with you. It’s always amazing how much there is to do right here in the Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the Black Hills, from small towns to big cities. Today I’m sharing with you some of my personal “firsts” and also my top ten blog posts of the year, the ones most popular with you, my readers.

2014 New Experiences:

In March I discovered that anyone can paint—even no-artistic-talent me. At the Art Party Studio in Champaign, Illinois, bring your own wine, if you’d like, follow the step-by-step painting instructions, and every painting turns out well. If, on the slim chance it doesn’t, you can always blame it on the wine.

Art_Party_StudioI tried my hand at glassblowing for the first time at The Glass Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Okay, so my turn lasted only a minute or so, since I was on a group tour and we just had a sampling. It would be fun to go back and create a “work of art” of my own.

The_Glass_ParkI joined the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau dragon boat team in the Kenosha Area Dragon Boat Festival in July. As hard as our team tried, we came in last place, but we had a great time.

Dragon_Boat_RacesTwo new states were added to my list this year, Nebraska and South Dakota. I spent a couple of days exploring Omaha, including gardens, museums and shop. If you like zoos, you have to see Henry Doorly Zoo, my favorite zoo of all I’ve ever been to.

Henry Doorly ZooBesides the national monuments, national parks and so many other things western South Dakota has to offer, I took my first helicopter ride with the Black Hills Aerial Adventures, where I saw the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments at eye level and the Needles Highway from a bird’s eye view.

Mount Rushmore from HelicopterAs great as everything else was in South Dakota, the highlight was the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, where I bumped along in the back of a pickup truck right in the midst of the cowboys and cowgirls on horseback rounding up around 1,100 head of bison for their annual vaccines and pregnancy tests.

Buffalo RoundupThe year concluded with my second helicopter tour, this time in the evening with Chicago Helicopter Experience, along the Chicago lakeshore, with a great view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Michigan Avenue Christmas lights.

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Top 10 Posts of 2014

  1. Haunted DeSoto House Hotel, Galena IL was published in 2013 but continued to be the most popular throughout 2014.
  2. Ghost stories are apparently popular. Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost created quite a controversy among Traverse City locals, some believing the legend and others not.
  3. I don’t know whether it’s because of the location on Route 66 or if people are interested in car museums, but the Number 3 most popular post was Pontiac Oakland Museum, Pontiac, Illinois: Auto Nostalgia along Route 66.
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is always popular, so I’m not surprised that Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel made the list.
  5. Billed as the biggest biker destination in Illinois and along the Great River Road, Poopy’s Pub n’ Grub, Savanna IL; Popular Even with Non-bikers, came in at Number 5.
  6. Downtown shops in towns in southwest Michigan resort towns are always fun to explore, and Traverse City foodie fans especially liked Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight.
  7. Green County, Wisconsin, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cheese Days in 2014. In June I attended a press preview of the big September event and wrote about it in Cheese Days 100th Anniversary Preview, Monroe, Wisc. The event is held every two years, so plan ahead to attend in 2016.
  8. Published just in time for Halloween, another Traverse City supposedly haunted location came in at Number 8, Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City.
  9. Eating at a tiny ten-seat diner is fun, especially when the delicious food is served by a magician, like it is at the Suzie Q Café, Mason City Iowa: A Meal with a Dash of Magic.
  10. Old lighthouses are fun to explore. The stories behind them are always fascinating. Another Traverse City attraction, Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan made the list at Number 10.

I’m looking forward to sharing more fun and interesting attractions, events and restaurants in Midwest destinations throughout 2015. If you have suggestions on Midwest places to see and things to do, don’t hesitate to share them at, and I’ll help spread the word.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie


Chicago Helicopter Experience: View City Lights by Air

Chicago Helicopter Experience: View City Lights by Air

Anyone who has traveled to and from Chicago by airplane at night has sampled a bit of the beautiful city lights. However, you are high up in the air in a matter of seconds and see little, if any, of the downtown area through your tiny window before you are out of city range. On the night-time Chicago Helicopter Experience tour I took, the stunning panoramic view of Chicago lights lasted a full half hour.

Photo courtesy of Chicago Helicopter Experience
Photo courtesy of Chicago Helicopter Experience

If you’ve never flown in a helicopter, you need to add it to your bucket list. I’m afraid of heights, but being in a helicopter didn’t bother me at all. If you’re an acrophobic but have no problem flying in a plane, you should have no problem with a helicopter either.

You’ll be assigned a seat in the helicopter based on your weight relative to the other passengers, a requirement to balance the load for safety purposes. I lucked out with the front passenger side window, although since we rode in the ECO-Star (EC-130), the newest and nicest helicopter that CHE has, and the top helicopter in existence for tours, there was not a bad seat on board.

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The CHE crew sets you up with your five-point safety harness and your headset. The surround-sound stereo headset with a voice activated microphone also allows you to talk with the pilot and the other passengers and quiets the outside noise.

Before you know it, you’re up and flying over the city, high enough for a beautiful panoramic view, yet low enough to identify landmarks below. The CHE tour takes you along Chicago’s lakeshore. My flight was during the holidays, so we were able to see the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. Since the lights along the Magnificent Mile are white, they didn’t stand out from the street lights, but the sheer number of them added to the beauty.

Holiday Lights 2
Photo courtesy of Chicago Helicopter Experience

We got another perspective of the city when we flew next to the high-rises. It would have made a gorgeous photo had I been prepared with my camera on a faster shutter speed. As it was, none of my photos turned out. Between it being dark out and the movement of the helicopter, my auto setting blurred everything. So that’s something to think about if you plan to take photos. Unless you’re a professional photographer or advanced amateur, instead of taking photos, you may want to just sit back and enjoy the view. You can have a fellow passenger take a photo of you outside of the helicopter after you land.

Me with helicopterBecause safety comes first, our trip was the last to fly that evening. The weather changed unexpectedly and became too windy. Should your tour need to be cancelled due to weather conditions, CHE will notify you as soon as possible to cancel or reschedule on the next available tour. If that happens, I would definitely reschedule, if possible, because it’s a fun and beautiful way to see the city, whether by day or by the lights of the night.

About the ECO-Star Helicopter

The ECO-Star Helicopter (EC-130), manufactured by Airbus Helicopters, is the top helicopter used in tourism. It seats six passengers, so if you have a group or a large family, most would be able to go up together. It’s the only helicopter model allowed to fly in the Grand Canyon because it’s the most eco-friendly. The Fenestron Tail Rotor design, which places the tail fan within a duct, reduces noise by 50%. The big wraparound window provides a great view, even for those not seated next to the window.

CHE EC130 helicopterAbout Chicago Helicopter Experience

The Chicago Helicopter Experience flies out of their heliport at 2420 S Halsted in Chicago, which is accessible via the CTA Orange Line (Halsted stop) and the Halsted #8 bus (Archer stop).

Tours are offered seven days a week, year-round, during the day, at sunset or at night, and last approximately 30 minutes. You can also book a private tour. Private tours for two use one of the smaller, more intimate helicopters. Check the web site for tour rates and further details.

CHE helicopter fleetDisclosure: My Holiday Lights Tour was hosted by Chicago Helicopter Experience, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie