There is no shortage of downtown Chicago hotels. But the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile offers that rare combination of elegance and friendliness that makes families traveling with kids feel right at home. Add in a gorgeous pool that conjures up visions of Esther Williams, large rooms, and a primo location just north of the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile,” and you have the makings of a comfortable stay in the Second City.
InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile
The InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile is one of Chicago’s venerable old downtown hotels. For years, I walked by it almost daily, peering into the interior and wondering what it would have been like to be a 1920s Flapper girl on the arm of some handsome Gatsby-like escort as we sauntered to our room.
For our 10th anniversary, I was that girl–minus the flapper dress. My husband and I booked a night at the hotel, packed our bathing suits to ensure we could take a dip in the city’s most beautiful indoor pool, and headed downtown for the night.
A return visit this year when the InterContinental Chicago was the location sponsor for a TravelingMom and Techlicious Tech and Travel event proves the hotel is even better after a major renovation. The pool is still the most beautiful in the city but now the rooms are equally lovely.
The hotel was built in the 1920s as the men’s-only Medinah Athletic Club. It was topped with an exotic gold dome that was to be part of a decorative docking station for dirigibles. The Hindenburg disaster changed that and no blimp ever docked there.
The junior Olympic-sized swimming pool on the 14th floor was considered an engineering marvel at the time. It is surrounded by rows of seating, a throw-back to the days when swimming was a popular spectator sport and Olympic athletic and “Tarzan” actor Johnny Wiessmuller trained in the pool.
The hotel opened in 1929, just before the stock market crash plunged America into the Great Depression. Four years later, the Shriners filed bankruptcy and lost their beloved building, which had been criticized for its “wasteful extravagance.” After a stint as residential apartments, the building became a hotel in 1944 and synchronized swimmer Esther Williams began swimming in the pool.
After changing hands several times, the property was bought by InterContinental Hotels and Resorts on 1989. Thanks in part to a former Shriner who donated a book full of photos showcasing the original construction, the hotel was significantly restored to its original splendor, only with bigger rooms. Today, the InterContinental Chicago is one of the Historic Hotels of America and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What Works for Families
Location. It doesn’t get much better than the Mag Mile. Located just north of the Chicago River, the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile Hotel is within easy walking of Millennium Park, Oak Street Beach and shopping on North Michigan Avenue (including the American Girl store!) It’s a short cab (or bus) ride to some of Chicago’s world-class museums and Navy Pier.
Friendly service. Every employee I met, from the front desk clerks to the wait staff to the housekeeping staff was unfailingly pleasant and helpful. While I was not visiting with kids, there were families with kids checking in at the same time I did. The front desk clerk greeted the kids, not just the parents. This was always my kids’ measure of whether a hotel is kid-welcoming enough.
Large rooms. This is not something I generally expect to find in downtown hotels. With real estate prices at a premium, I expect every inch to be used. But the InterContinental rooms were plenty large enough for a family, so you won’t have to feel like you are tripping over one another.
Large bathrooms. When was the last time you stayed in a hotel with a separate bathtub and shower?
The pool. Have I mentioned the pool? It’s awesome. The kids likely will just be happy to be in the water splashing around. But parents can spend a few minutes admiring the surroundings and imagining Esther Williams rising from the middle of the pool or Johnny Wiessmuller training for his role as “Tarzan.”
What Doesn’t Work for Families
Add-on fees. This is the rare downtown Chicago hotel that has enough room for a cot or roll-away bed. But the nightly fee for an extra bed is a steep $50. And leave the car at home. Overnight parking costs a whopping $67.
It can be noisy. While my 23rd floor room was relatively quiet, others who stayed on lower floors were awakened in the night by the street noise from always-lively Michigan Avenue. If your kids are light sleepers, request a room on a higher floor.
There are 807 guest rooms in the two towers of this hotel. Because of the historic character of the building, there are 175 different room configurations. Mine was a large rectangle with a wall of large windows and a huge marble bathroom. It was quiet and peaceful with a lovely view over Michigan Avenue, one of Chicago’s toniest streets.
The big draw here is Michael Jordan’s Steak House. This restaurant that bears the name of the Man Who Built the NBA and Chicago’s favorite Chicago Bulls basketball player has a dark and welcoming ambiance. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to eat there. I plan to return.
We did head to The Continental for an expansive breakfast buffet that featured everything from made-to-order eggs to a huge selection of fruit and pastries. There is sure to be something here that even a picky eater could like.
But there’s no need to stay in the hotel when you get hungry. You are on Michigan Avenue, after all. That means you’re in the heart of a city that is a food lover’s dream. Wander down the street and you’ll find anything from great burgers to gourmet fare.