Amtrak (U.S. train network), Chicago
Grand Rapids is relatively close to Chicago which makes Amtrak the perfect option for travel. The train departs daily from GR at 7:35 AM and arrives in Chicago at 10:33 AM. The route take three hours and fifty-eight minutes. (You will change time zones.)
One way tickets are thirty dollars and round trip tickets are sixty dollars, flat rate. Try to purchase your tickets in advance as the routes can be often sold out during high travel times (like the weekends and or holidays...which ticket prices also go up). Arrive at the train station at least a half hour before your departure in GR and probably forty five mins to an hour in Chicago. The bigger the city, the earlier you should arrive.
Amtrak is convenient. It saves time, money and the stress of driving! I loathe driving in big cities and the traffic in Chicago is a nightmare, especially downtown. That doesn't even include hunting for parking spots.
Amtrak allows storage for personal suitcases (limit one) after that you have to pay. You're also allowed to carry a small backpack with you on your seat.
Amtrak serves alcohol and food, although quite pricey. My recommendation would be to sneak a few goodies in your bag. Try to get a window seat because the views are worth the look, especially when you pass Lake Michigan. Those are million dollar views in the warmer months.
There were some interesting characters that were on my route two of which were dubbed "Ballet boy" and "Pork Alert"......so people watching is always a form of entertainment if you didn't bring a book or your laptop! The seats themselves are quite comfy, so sit back and enjoy your trip!
An alternative to flying or driving in/out of Chicago is to take the train. Amtrak offers train service throughout the United States and Chicago is a central hub.
Generally, as long as you don't need to reserve a sleeping car then the cost is very reasonable.
One of my favorite ways to arrive to Chicago is via the train. Every chance I get I take the train from NY to Chicago. Always a pleasure to get off and see the familiar. The recently changed. And know you are near enough to everything you must do in town before heading onward.
Take the train to Chicago and save fuel, avoid the traffic and parking hassles, and arrive feeling refreshed!
Well, we all know that's a good idea, but is it actually practical? In the summer of 2007, I discovered that it was indeed a practical, economical, and relaxing alternative to the drive down from the north. I drove down to Milwaukee and parked my car at the MKE airport ($5 a day), then took Amtrak (7 trains daily, average 90 minute travel time) for the final 90 miles to Chicago.
Standart RT fare from Milwaukee is $48 RT - and I was able to get a 10% on that for being a member of AAA.
Union Station is also one of the stations served by RTA trains. Recently I stayed with a friend in LaGrange, and we took the train into Union Station for a carefree (and car-free) day of fun and frolic.
Did I miss the Edens and the Tollway? Not a bit! Was I glad not to have to pay between $20 and $30 a day for parking? Yup! Was the train crowded? Not really. Would I do it again? Shoor!
Living so close to Chicago we had two budget options to get to our destination: drive or ride by train. Rather than dealing with driving to/in Chicago and paying for parking we chose to take the Amtrak train between the two cities. For a reasonable $40.00 per person roundtrip we had a hassel free trip getting to and from the city. The train only took about an hour and half and was a pleasant ride. The train leaves from one of two locations in Milwaukee: an airport location and a downtown location. We left from the airport location and arrived at Union Station shortly thereafter. It couldn't have been easier to get out of Union Station and find a taxi. We were at our hotel in no time at all with less stress than we would have had if we had driven ourselves.
I won this Amtrak ticket at eBay. For $100, I got a roundtrip ticket from Los Angeles to Chicago with stopovers in Kansas City and Albuquerque.
Los Angeles to Chicago by train (the Southwest Chief) takes approximately 41 hours. Along the way, you'll see deserts, mountains, and prairies. I saw the great Mississippi River for the first time onboard the train.
Train travel is not for everyone but for some people, the "romance of the rail" is very much alive. The next time, I'll take the train from Los Angeles to New York.
Union Station is a train station but, to me, it is as much a part of Chicago as the Field Museum or the Sears Tower.
The architecture in the lobby is wonderful and, as a kid, I remember getting a great feeling of energy from the place. There was a sense of activity as if everyone there was on an important mission: somewhere exotic to be, some villian or hero or lover to meet, something exciting to see or do... Maybe this is where my love affair with travel started; on a dark wooden bench, watching and wondering where everyone was going.
Fly into Midway (usually cheaper) or O'hare. You'll be able to get flights from virtually anywhere in the world, many direct. O'hare is a huge, busy airport. Midway is not so much. ;)
Take Amtrak into the city... Chicago is the hub!
Take Greyhound in. Drive in yourself, just know what you're doing before you find yourself stuck in traffic and lost.
Speaking of trains... if you're outside the city, the best bet is to take the El or Metra train into the city instead of trying to find a parking space. I think it works best, at any rate.
Avoid the car downtown. Avoid it other places if you can. Most of the day there's some sort of congestion, and oftentimes you'll find yourself in gridlock, whether it be downtown or on a nearby expressway. So, avoid rush hour (which is like 7-10 and then 3-7).
In the city, buses work well, but fare is $1.50. The El is an option for a few locations, as is the subway, both of which I reccommend if you're going long distances in the city. If you're not going really long distances, just walk. It's good for you and you'll get to see more of the city close-up.
Chicago two major airports. For the international flights this is O'hare Airport and for the domestic flights this is Midway Airport. From O'Hare you can take the blue line rapid train to the downtown area and from Midway the Orange line to downtown.
If you travel with Amtrak you can arrive at Chicago's Central station, which is famous of the movie 'The untouchables'.
In the three and a half month I was in Chicago, I only walked, used the train/subway, taxis or rented a car for transportation.
There are two airports, O'Hare and Midway. Public transit runs from both airports to downtown Chicago. If you prefer to drive, good luck. Once you get within 30 miles of Chicago traffic slows down to a crawl. There is also an Amtrak station downtown - as long as the trains are still running! Greyhound has a station here as well and it is within walking distance of an 'El' station.
Chicago has a pretty decent public transportation system. The trains run every 7 - 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. Buses are more infrequent, depending on time of day and traffic. Some buses do not run 24 hours, so if you are relying on a bus for transportation after the bars close, make sure it will still be running!
They have a website where anyone can put in their starting point and destination and it will tell you what to take to get there.
Chicago is the transportation hub of the Midwest. You can get a direct flight to Chicago from almost any gateway city around the world, and it's easily accessible with both Amtrak or Greyhound. Of course, driving is always an option, but don't plan on using your car once you get here.
The public transportation system in Chicago is top-notch. There is absolutely no reason for you to use a car here. Just get a map of the city and take the 'L' wherever you want to go. There are also reliable buses, but if you aren't going far it's a good idea to walk. This is a great way to see and enjoy the city.
From what I remember it was a reasonably priced way to travel to Chicago without having to worry about a vehicle or parking. Making the trip via Amtrack allowed one to relax and enjoy the trip in comfort. It made a nice day trip to shop Michigan Ave. from Michigan. They may offer lower rates during holiday season also.
From Grand Rapids, Amtrak is a pretty good deal, even if the trains in this country are a joke compared to those in Europe. Amtrak has a 3-2-1 fare special on which means three people go for the price of one and a half or, if math serves, half price. It's leisurely(this trip the train had to slow to 15 mph between GR and Holland because of flash floods possibly causing washouts. Given that my daughter's company had to pay $30 per day to park her car at the pricey Swissotel, and given that the train was only $61.50 RT with a AAA discount(weird,huh?. If time is of the essence, fly, but I could not pay for gas and parking at that bargain rate.
Took taxis(my daughter insisted that buses and the L were not safe) If I were there as an adult sans child, you can bet I'd take the bus and the L. $1.50 per ride vs. $5 or more for quite short hops?
It's pretty easy to get to Chicago by any means you can imagine. We have 2 international airports (Midway and O'hare), numerous major interstates, and Amtrak still offers service to and from a number of destinations. If possible, I would opt to fly or take a train, simply because traffic and parking can be a nightmare.
The best way to get around Chicago is by using the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) Trains and Buses. Chicago is famous for its 'El' trains, and the system is easy to figure out. Chicago's downtown is known as 'The Loop' due to the fact that the El trains run in a giant oval around the heart of the city. For maps and information about the CTA just check out www.chicagotransitauthority.com.
Since CTA trains and buses cost $1.50 per ride, I suggest buying a pass for the week or however long you're staying. Any currency exchange or Jewel/Osco or Dominick's grocery stores sell various passes. A 30 day pass is $75, a 1 week pass is $20. If you don't feel like fooling with that, the vendors in the stations give you one extra ride for every $10 you put in, and 2 extra rides for every $20. Depending on how much you intend to use public transit, you can guage which will be the most cost effective choice.
Cabs are also plentiful here in most parts of the city, and the drivers are usually friendly and knowledgeable. However, because of violent crime and the lack of available fares, cabbies avoid many areas of the city. Be careful not to find yourself alone after dark in an underserved neighborhood.
I first rode Amtrak when I was a wee 6 years old from Oakland, California (where I was born) to Huntington, West Virginia to visit Mom's family in eastern Kentucky. Because we were traveling the last 2 weeks of school, school work was to be made up during the 3-day train trip which is why I'll always remember those pull-down trays so handy for such duties.
The 2nd train trip was this past October when the kids & I traveled to New York City. Although, it was a longer trip than going via plane, it was infinitely more comfortable. The leg room has more space than cattle class in a plane and on a bus, plus, there's more room to move about. Every so often are stops where one can jump out for a quick view of this or that quaint town. While bringing alcohol on board is prohibited, the trains themselves serve alcohol so it doesn't seem to be a safety or legal issue so much as competition in sales. I'd suggest bringing your own (it's wonderful to sip champagne as one travels the countryside in autumn) but to be discrete.
The only 2 downsides are:
*the bathrooms - which don't seem to be emptied our cleaned out during the entire trip, so about halfway through the smell becomes intolerable
*the attitude of the workers in the dining hall area who seemed to act as if they were doing us a favor by serving us.
The 3rd trip was overnight from Cincinnati to Chicago, about a 9-hour trip, which is great! It makes for plenty of time to sleep. Hop on the train at 1:30am; arrive at 9:30pm Chicago time. In between, I skip the smelly bathrooms and the intolerable service issues.
Photos: June 2009