A Birthday Experience to Remember

I came across this idea years ago.  Unfortunately, at the time, my daughter wasn’t old enough to participate.  I really thought this might be something she would love.  In the months leading up to her 12th birthday, I still had this idea on my radar, but I was a little nervous about it.  I mean, what if she wasn’t all that excited about receiving an experience like this for her birthday?  Not to mention, there’s one little catch.  Between the ages of 12 and 15, children who participate in this activity have to be accompanied by a paying adult.  Overall, it wasn’t going to be inexpensive, and I’d hate to invest in something like this and have it be a total flop.

The night before she returned to college in Utah, Della (a former student), came for a visit.  We were up late talking about her first semester at college and I pitched the idea to her.  When I told Della the idea, her eyes got big.  She leaned forward and said, “Are you kidding?  I’d love something like that!”  Her reaction helped me to make my decision.  I decided I was just gonna go for it.  As Della and I talked more, the wheels in my head began turning and I came up with an idea.  Della’s birthday is also in February and she would be turning 19–she’s legally an adult.  Hmm.  Sometimes, my former students are forever stuck in my head as 12-year-olds. 🙂  If she could fly out here the weekend of the experience, she could have my ticket, accompany Maddie and enjoy the experience too.  The rest was history.  We went back and forth coordinating flight possibilities and finally nailed a date, February 18th.  We had no idea that the day we picked would end up with the greatest weather in the history of all Februarys in the Midwest!

As Maddie’s birthday neared, I explained to her that her gift this year would solely be an experience.  She seemed a little nervous and asked if she would receive any gifts to unwrap on her birthday.  Um, no.  This was going to be it; she seemed a little disappointed.  That’s when I came up with the idea to build some anticipation for her birthday surprise and have a little fun along the way.

On the night of her birthday (Monday, February 13th), she received one box filled with little “gifts,” each that contained a small clue to her birthday experience.  She was instructed to open one box each night before she went to bed.  I posted each clue on my Facebook page every night to see what others thought the experience might be.  It was a lot of fun to see what people guessed.  Some of you were so off! 😉  lol

Della brought her best friend, who had never been to Chicago before, and we caught the 5:57 am train the following morning. There’s so much to see in Chicago, you can’t possibly see it all in one day.  With that being said, we did get to see a ton thanks to the beautiful 70 degree weather.

Cami and I hung out together while Dell and Maddie were behind the scenes.  Trainer for a Day at the Shedd Aquarium is part of the Shedd’s extraordinary experiences program.   It lasts 4 hours and there was no photography allowed behind the scenes.

Blue lobster anyone?

Dressed in official trainer attire, Della and Maddie were able to help prepare food for the animals.  Food prep accounts for approximately 25% of the trainer’s day.  I can see why.  The belugas alone eat 50 pounds of fish each every day!  While the girls were able to see the penguins, sea otters, sea lions, dolphins and more, it was the belugas that really stole the show.   They were super friendly and the girls where able to touch them and “pet” their tongues.  They were not able to have this type of interaction with the dolphins because they are young and still a little “nippy.”  As for the penguins, they were only allowed to touch them as long as the penguins initiated the interaction.  Sounds fair to me.  🙂  One came right up to Maddie and rubbed against her leg.

One big surprise to me was that the Shedd has in-house rescue dogs.  The trainers use the same principles of positive reinforcement training the dogs as they do with the sea animals.  It was great to see these animals so happy and loved with a second chance at life!

As Cami and I waited for the 11:30 dolphin show Maddie and Della would participate in, we checked things out below ground and went to see “Sea Monsters 4D – A Prehistoric Adventure.”  If you visit the Shedd, don’t skip this experience!  Its only 15 minutes long, and it was soooo cool we had to see it again with Maddie and Della.  If you’ve had a 4D experience before at Disney or somewhere else, it may not be as big of a deal to you, but we laughed through the whole thing and loved it!

The dolphin show is always cool.  Keep in mind its more educational than “entertaining” like a Sea World-type show.  It was fun to see the girls get to participate in the show while learning new things about the animals.    Did ya know that penguins walk with their arms out to help cool their bodies and the trainers feed some of the animals jello to keep them hydrated?  Apparently, its one of the dolphins favorite snacks.  Who knew?  Of course, this is where I caught a shot of Maddie nearly falling into the water with the dolphins.  Only my kid!

After all of the fun at the Shedd, we grabbed some authentic Chicago pizza at Gino’s East.  (We had to! Cami’s from Arizona and we all know that Chicago “pizza” out there is, well, not really the same thing.)  Now, Gino’s is not my favorite pizza, but I have such great memories of going there in high school with my friends that I knew Maddie would really enjoy the experience.  Being able to write on things was a super cool and novel experience for her.  She took things to a whole new level by writing on the window.  D’oh!  Don’t worry; I was able to get it off.

You can’t visit Chicago and not check out Millennium Park and Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”).  Its always a cool place to visit.  We can’t wait to go back when Crown Fountain opens up in the warmer weather.

We had to stop by Dylan’s Candy Bar and see what all the hype was about. 🙂

There’s always cool looking buildings and sculptures to see along the way.

Of course, these BYU girls had to check out Tribune Tower.  My husband’s a history buff and would have loved to see all of the “pieces” of historical monuments embedded into this building.

The last stop in an already packed day was to the top of the Sears Tower Skydeck (aka “Willis”–sorry old habits are hard to break–Willis?  Who IS Willis anyway!? :).   We got to squeeze, and I mean squeeze, our way onto the Ledge.  Seeing Chicago at night with nothing but clear glass beneath and around us was an experience I’ll never forget.  It was pretty cool!

And its back to the train station we went.  That was quite a fun-filled and packed day!  I’m so happy it all worked out.  And to think, it snowed the following Saturday! Whew!  This couldn’t have gone better!

If you took the time to read this entire blog, I just want to say thank you and that I think you’re pretty cool! 🙂  I have a few fun things in the works for the next month or two.  Lens 2 Life Photography will have its first ever little chickadee minis with live chicks or ducklings to celebrate spring.  I also have Mother’s Day minis and another photography for beginners workshop in the works.   If you are interested when these events become available, please use the code “BLOG20” at checkout for $20 off.  Thank you again!

Lens 2 Life Photography

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