The Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago is destined to become another architectural icon in a city known for its iconic architecture. But don’t be intimated by the cutting edge look. The Radisson Blu Aqua is family friendly and located in one of the family-friendliest parts of downtown Chicago, just a half block north of the city’s world class Millennium Park and two blocks from the Lake Michigan shoreline.
What Works for Families at Radisson Blu Aqua
- Prime location near Millennium Park
- Friendly, welcoming staff
- Lots of activities on site
- Price: $$ Great value for this location in Chicago
What Doesn’t Work for Families at Radisson Blu Aqua
- Small rooms
- Not all rooms have access to balconies, so parents are stuck in the room with sleeping kids
The Radisson Blu Aqua at 225 N. Columbus Dr. is located in a quiet corner of the otherwise bustling downtown. It’s east of Michigan Avenue and south of the Chicago River in a newly developing area.
There’s a serene mini park just to the east that includes a playground for little ones. Millennium Park (Chicago’s version of New York City’s Central Park) is a half-block south. In the summer, Millennium Park is home to daily free concerts and family events.
All of Chicago’s downtown sights are within easy walking distance—shopping on north Michigan Avenue and State Street; Navy Pier; the Museum Campus that is home to the Field Museum and Sue the T-rex, the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium; lakefront boat rides; the Chicago River walk; the city’s thriving theater scene, and plenty of free things to do.
The Radisson Blu Aqua is a 45-minute cab ride from O’Hare International Airport, a 30-minute cab ride from Midway International Airport or a six-block walk from the Blue Line (to O’Hare) and a three-block walk from the Orange Line (to Midway).
The walk is not recommended in the winter when you’ll be walking straight east into the biting winds off of Lake Michigan.
The hotel is located on floors 1-18 of an 82-story mixed-use high rise, the tallest building ever to be designed by a female architect. Designer Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects created the visually appealing and eco-friendly high rise. The high rise, which won the 2009 Skyscraper of the Year Award, has a unique wave design that seems to undulate as you walk around it. The same flowing elements are carried out inside the hotel, giving the whole thing a chic but comfortable vibe.
The parking is on-site and the lobby check-in is easy, efficient and paper-free. The Silver LEED certified building has a super green operating system—no paper anywhere. Everything from the hotel amenities list to the room service menu is electronic, available on the flat screen TV in your room. And the wifi is free.
The lobby also has a lovely seating area surrounding a fireplace in the wall. I thought it looked cozy with plenty of comfy couches, but the hotel is embarking on a plan to redesign it to be cozier.
Radisson Blu is Radisson’s high-end product and it’s very big in Europe. The Chicago hotel, opened in late 2011, was the first Radisson Blu to open in America. (The chain has since opened hotels at Mall of America in Minnesota and Philadelphia.)
True to its European roots, the rooms at Radisson Blu Aqua are small but efficient with plenty of eye candy in the design. My hotel tour included a look at two standard rooms. One offered a big soaking tub. Unfortunately, my room had only a shower, but it was nicely appointed.
The exterior of the building offers waves of balconies and I expected to spend at least a few contemplative moments sitting on mine while looking out over Millennium Park. So it was a little disappointing to find that the wall of glass was only a window. There were no sliding doors to admit visitors to the outdoor patio, although some rooms do have patio access. Had I been staying there with a little one, I would have been happy not to be able to get outside. The patios are small and the railing looked insubstantial against the wanderings of a determined toddler.
Unlike so many luxury hotels, Radisson Blu does not nickel and dime visitors. The wifi is included (always a plus when you’re traveling with teens who simply must be connected at all times).
If you can entice the kids away from the flat screen TV and free wireless, there is plenty to do on site.
Because the majority of the high rise is apartment and condo living, the building has all of the features one would expect from a high-end residence downtown. There are two pools–a lap pool indoors and a larger pool outdoors. There’s a large sports deck that includes a 1/5 mile running path and plenty of places to soak up a little sunshine or take a more leisurely stroll–all rare finds at an urban location.
The 8,000-square-foot fitness center has a sign on the door saying no one under 16 is welcome, but Gordon Taylor, director of sales and marketing for the hotel, assured me that it would not be a problem to take kids inside, provided they are accompanied by an adult.
There’s also a really cool screening room that the hotel rents for business functions. I suggested the hotel consider offering a family movie night to guests. If that ever happens, you can thank me.
The first floor of the building houses a CVS pharmacy, an affordable option for picking up that thing you forgot to bring. To save money on food and drink, there’s a Marino’s grocery a half-block away with a huge made-to-eat buffet and expansive wine selection.
But the biggest amenity of the Radisson Blu Aqua is its location. It’s an easy walk to many of Chicago’s best features, including the lakefront and Millennium Park.
The hotel restaurant, Filini, offers kid-friendly fare, but the setting itself is so sleek and sexy that it seems a waste to bring kids along. The Italian cuisine was delectable and the service first-rate at reasonable downtown prices.
There’s also a full room service menu, an indulgent treat I didn’t try during my stay, but one we often take advantage of when we travel as a family. In keeping with Radisson Blu’s paperless eco-friendly system, order your room service from the TV.