I am a fickle consumer when it comes to airline transportation and spend way too much time weighing fares and gateways. I favor no airline but repeatedly head to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport because of often-remarkable price differences compared to Wisconsin options.
When a deep discount means spending a night in the area because of odd flight times, I typically book cheap lodging, hold my breath and get in and out fast. Now the rejuvenated village of Rosemont, Ill., tempts travelers to consider doing more and staying longer.
New since 2011 is a high-end outlet mall and entertainment district within a walk or quick shuttle ride from numerous hotels. These venues are two miles from O'Hare, within view of runway takeoffs and landings.
What makes the destinations unusual?
In Fashion Outlets Chicago are 130 shops that are a mix of well-known and internationally known brands. Anchors are outlets for Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Forever 21. The Herve Leger outlet (women's clothing) is the only one in the world.
For many of us, this means more browsing than buying, even with discount pricing, but it's not your average mall experience. Artistic endeavors figure prominently into mall design and have earned the property global recognition. Chow ranges from casual DJ's Taco Bar to classy Villagio Ristorante.
The mall caters to travelers by holding luggage ($5), checking it ($15) to the final destination, printing boarding passes and duplicating the airport's fight departure monitors. Shuttles to/from O'Hare operate often ($8, one way). Mall parking is free, but not overnight. More details at fashionoutletsofchicago.com or (847) 928-7500
iFLY, iflyworld.com, (779) 368-4359: An introduction to the feel of skydiving happens indoors at part of the entertainment district (in MB Financial Park). Watch an instructional video before gearing up (with jumpsuit, goggles and helmet) for the experience, which happens inside a 14-foot-wide, see-through and three-story wind tunnel. Each individual's one-minute flight happens against updrafts of up to 175 mph while an experienced skydiver assists and ensures safety.
Participants gain an inkling of what free-fall skydiving feels like, without jumping from an airplane. The company says people ages 3 to 103 have tried iFLY, and it is possible for people with special needs to participate. The cost starts at $70 for two flights, each one minute long.
Admission is free to the Big Ten Experience, a small, interactive museum that is a part of Big Ten headquarters at the park. Inside a mini theater, the University of Wisconsin "Jump Around" football tradition is re-created. Computer kiosks replay incredible slam-dunks and summarize how Big 10 schools' work and research make a positive difference in the world.
A circle of other diversions include restaurants with walls of windows that overlook the park, which is used for ice skating and hockey practice during this time of year. Music concerts are booked during warmer weather.
I Love This Bar and Grill, countrybaril.com, (847) 678-0088: In country music artist Toby Keith's restaurant is a guitar-shaped bar and performance stage. Barbecue is the menu specialty.
For jazz, check out the Saturday night shows in the Montrose Room of the artsy Loews Hotel, a couple of blocks away. Check out who is playing and order tickets at smoothchicago.com (312) 725-0740.
Zanies, rosemont.zanies.com, (847) 813-0484, specializes in stand-up comedy and national touring acts. On the second floor of the 18-screen Muvico Theater, muvico.com, (847) 447-1040, is a restaurant and bar. Kings Lanes, Lounge and Sports, kingsbowlamerica.com, (847) 233-0099, has 20 bowling lanes, 60 televisions and a billiards room.
Add polkas, schnitzels and liters of dunkel at the Hofbrauhaus, hofbrauhauschicago.com, (847) 671-2739, patterned after the 400-year-old one in Munich. It is one of six such German restaurants and beer halls in the United States.
An Irish pub, Mexican restaurant and craft beer gastropub are among the park's other ding choices. Also within a walk is Rosemont Theatre,(847) 671-5100, whose upcoming shows include tributes to Abba (March 13) and the Rat Pack (March 14).
The biggest names perform at Allstate Arena, (847) 635-6601: Fleetwood Mac on Feb. 14, Enrique Iglesias on Feb. 20, Chris Brown and Trey Songz on Feb. 27. The arena also hosts lots of pro and college ice hockey matches.
Numerous hotels in the area provide 24/7 airport shuttles and sleep-park-fly rates; compare this to daily parking rates of $9 to $60 at O'Hare lots. Or leave your car in Wisconsin, take a bus to O'Hare and hook up with lodging from there.
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