Sears Tower in Chicago is the tallest skyscraper in the U.S., making it a must-see tourist attraction for Chicago visitors. Recently renamed Willis Tower but still called by its 40 year-old moniker by many, Sears Tower is a 110 story engineering marvel at 1450 feet. The new Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck that opened July 1 adds an element of thrill to the visit for those who fearlessly step into the plexiglass enclosures with their simultaneous views of the skyline and the river/streetscape below.
With no cloudy weather refunds, visiting Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck on a clear day is essential.
Visiting the Chicago Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck requires ample patience- about an hour and fifteen minutes worth during our July 2009 opening month visit. The long line inside the door of the Sears (Willis) Tower winds around to the elevator. After a 15 minute wait for the elevator, there’s the line for tickets- another half-hour. Emerging from the ticket line is no occasion to sigh with relief; Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck visitors proceed through roped off lanes to an inescapable photo-taking area. (Visitors will be channeled through a purchase line on their way out of the Sears (Willis) Tower; those wishing not to buy these fake photos can step over the ropes and exit.) After their mandatory green screen photos, the uninitiated Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck visitor may think he’s finally on his way to the top. He boards the elevator with anticipation, only to exit into another line, this one for the mandatory movie viewing.
By now an hour has passed, and the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck visitor watches the LED display for countdown to movie time. The theater doors open, the seats fill, the movie begins. A short informative film about Chicago and the architectural history of the Sears (Willis Tower) consumes the next ten minutes.
Chicago Architectural History and Willis Tower Construction Movie
The movie begins with an effort at preserving the tattered remnants of the myth that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern to start the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 with no mention that the journalist under whose byline the story ran admitted fabricating it.
The movie presents fascinating tidbits of information about the various architects who rebuilt Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire and the construction of the Sears (Willis) Tower and the addition of the Skydeck. The Sears (Willis) Tower was completed in 1974 and is presently the 3rd tallest structure in the world. On a clear day, visitors to Sears (Willis) Tower can look out not only on Illinois but upon Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana as well.
Quickly dashing from the movie theater, the Chicago Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck visitor finds himself in what by now is not a surprising condition: standing in line again, waiting for one of two elevators. This elevator ride is the penultimate destination in the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck quest. The two elevators accommodate substantial numbers of visitors, and the ride up is only one minute long. Along the way, a display indicates the floor, the elevation, and world monuments whose height approximates that elevation.
Why Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck Is Worth the Wait and Cost
Is the view from the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck worth the cost of admission and the tedious wait? Yes.
Over the years, the windows in the Sears Tower observation deck continuously turned up with forehead prints on the glass. The parade of forehead impressions inspired the creation of the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck, accommodating visitors desiring a view from outside the four walls of the tower.
Located on Floor 103 at an elevation of 1353 feet, the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck plexiglass enclosures extend 4.3 feet beyond the building façade. Visitors can peer through the plexiglass floor to the River or Wacker Drive below and can scan the skyline for Chicago landmarks, Lake Michigan and neighboring states. With ideal weather, a Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck visitor’s view encompasses 40-50 miles and 4 states.
Throughout the Chicago Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck area, exhibits inform the visitor about the history of Chicago in six languages: English, French, German, Japanese, Polish, and Spanish.
The view from Chicago Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck is an impressive one as it should be for the cost: $14.95 for adults, $10.50 for children, or $30.00 for a fast pass allowing the visitor to bypass the elevator lines.
The Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck offers the unique opportunity of photographing you and your companions suspended over the city of Chicago.
To visit the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck is to interact with an engineering accomplishment that represents a milestone in American history- the time that we erected a building even taller than the Empire State Building and one that was upon its completion the tallest in the world. Even today, the Sears (Wilis) Tower remains the tallest in the northern hemisphere and for many folks the tallest they will ever experience.
If you wouldn’t go to Paris and skip the Eiffel Tower, then you won’t want to lose face by sheepishly returning from Chicago and admitting you passed up the opportunity to experience the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck.
Tips for Visiting Chicago Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck with Kids
The wait to get to the top of the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck is excruciatingly long for a child. The movie on Chicago architecture would prompt shirt tugging and whines from most children. What to do?
Before heading to the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck, go to theskydeck.com and print out the coloring pages for younger kids to keep them busy while in line upon line (don’t forget the markers). For older kids, bring hand held entertainment such as an ipod or game system or provide a small dollar store white board with expo marker and eraser for drawing and games such as hangman.
Once on the Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck, the Skydeck Scavenger Hunt will keep kids busy trying to identify the landmarks below, but only if you remember to print out the Skydeck Scavenger Hunt pages from theskydeck.com before you visit.
Tips for Visiting Chicago Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck with Scaredy Cats
You’ve taken care of the adults and the kids, but what about those scaredy cats in the group who say no way, no how are they going up to the 103rd floor of the Sears (Willis) Tower on any elevator just to be traumatized by the 1353 foot elevation?
If the elevator is the problem, assuring them of a smooth, quick ride of one minute duration might do the trick. If not?
There is one gift shop on the entry level of the Sears (Willis) Tower and three more on the lower level. Send the scaredy cats souvenir shopping whilst the brave explore the Skydeck. Accessing the lower level gift shops requires going through the first line to get to the elevator to the lower level. Once there, bypass the ticket line and the photo-taking line and walk down the hallway to the right.
The Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck is the newest Chicago attraction and one well worth visiting.
Sources: http://www.theskydeck.com/; http://www.willistower.com/; http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Great_Chicago_Fire#encyclopedia.