Navy Pier on Lake Michigan: boat trips, museums, and theater

The Navy Pier, once known as Municipal Pier Nr 2 when used by troops boarding ships bound for the Atlantic Ocean, is located on Lake Michigan near downtown Chicago.

The Pier, originally constructed in 1916, is the world’s largest, measuring 292 feet wide and 3,000 feet long. In 1927 the Navy Pier served as a naval training facility and from 1946 to 1964 as a college campus. It wasn’t until 1976 that major restoration was begun and one year later it became a Chicago landmark. In 1994 a 150-million dollar renovation was completed and today, the Navy Pier is a major cultural and recreational tourist attraction, attracting more than 8 million visitors a year.

Along its entire length, covering over 50 acres, there are numerous attractions, dining, shopping, and entertainment venues. The Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows has 150 windows displayed in a series of galleries on the terraces of Festival Hall. Religious and secular window themes, in Victorian, Prairie, Modern, and Contemporary categories, represent Chicago’s artistic and cultural history from the 1870’s to the present. The designs include glass by artists from the Richard Dreihaus Gallery for Tiffany studios, a window of soda pop bottles, and portraits of Martin Luther King and Michael Jordan. Admission is free and the Museum is open during regular Pier operating hours.

The two main buildings are the Headhouse, now a Children’s Museum with an adjoining 15-acre Gateway Park, with a computerized fountain of 240 jets. At the opposite end of the Pier is the Hall or Auditorium, with a Grand Ballroom measuring 138 x 150 ft and a 100-foot domed ceiling. In addition, there is a combination ice-skating rink and theater, a miniature golf course, a Funhouse Maze, a 150-foot Ferris wheel (a replica of the 1893 World Exposition model), and a musical carousel.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST), a $24 million seven-story facility, seats 510 and has a subscription base of over 22,000 patrons. The CST has featured productions by Edward Hall, Stephen Sondheim, Peter Brooks, and the Canadian Stratford Festival. Tickets to the performances begin at $36.00.

There are two stages, the Bud Light and the Skyline, where a variety of musical and theater performances are presented in the 1500 seat theater. Other interesting features at the Navy Pier include specialty shops, concession stands, and restaurants in the Family Pavilion and tradeshow and convention center space in Festival Hall. The English Garden Tent and the one-acre Crystal Gardens glass-enclosed botanical park offer year-round family fun and can be rented for special occasions and events.

Boat trips, leaving from the Navy Pier, are popular with rides on schooners, motorboats, and charter ships such as the El Presidente, used by several U.S. Presidents. Exciting lunch and dinner cruises, with music and entertainment, can be booked for prices ranging from $30.00 to $114.00 for the more luxurious trips. Visitors also enjoy renting bikes or skates or walking along Dock Street at the south end of the pier, watching jugglers, mimes, comedians, and musicians, having picnics, or just admiring the city skyline and lakefront views from the Pier.

Admission to most attractions is $5.00. Remote boat rides $1.00 per ride. Funhouse Maze — adults $9.00, seniors and children $7.00, or $10.00 for an all day pass. Children’s Museum – $8.00 general admission, $7.00 for seniors.

Onsite parking rates: $14.00 — one hour; $19.00 one to three hours; $22.00 three to eight hours; and eight to 24 hours $25.00.

Open: Labor Day to Thursday before Memorial Day: Sunday — Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Friday & Saturday, 10:00 — 10:00 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day: Sunday — Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday & Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 12 Midnight.

Comments are closed.