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  • Round Trip with Colleen Kelly

Chicago Staycation: Hotel Showdown

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

A plate of creamy pasta with mushrooms and a plate of salmon topped with vegetables
State and Lake Chicago Tavern

Chicago is known for its "wow"-factor skyline—a myriad of architectural wonders towering over the action-packed streets. People travel from all over the world to experience what it’s like to spend a weekend in the Windy City.

But if you’re a local, have you considered a staycation?

There are plenty of incredible hotels to choose from—in the heart of the city, or “The Loop”, and in the many diverse neighborhoods. Even if you’re familiar with Chicago, you’ll be surprised by what the city has to offer for a weekend getaway.

The Round Trip with Colleen Kelly WLS-AM 890 radio show and podcast (found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Audible, etc.) recently released an episode featuring 3 iconic Chicago hotels. Here are personally-written roundups from the Host, Colleen Kelly, Co-Host, Christina Paull, and Producer, Megan Kudla, about their individual Chicago staycations:

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel

This June, I was coming home from a business trip, but my flight was canceled. The airline then diverted me to Philadelphia, where I subsequently missed that connecting flight home to Chicago and had to stay overnight and shell out money for the hotel and Uber ($500 dollars)! Two days after I got home from this trip, my husband, two daughters, and I had a long-awaited trip to Europe, but when we got to the airport (which was in mass chaos with lines of frustrated travelers), they canceled our flight to Charlotte where we had our connecting flight to Europe. We caught another flight but arrived to find our 4 bags still back in the US!

After experiencing the chaos at the airport these days, I was in much need of a vacation that did not start or end at an airport.

Enter the STAYCATION! Since we live in the 'burbs of Chicago, we decided to head to our lovely city on a beautiful summer day and enjoy a little getaway. Besides a little traffic, getting to our destination in downtown Chicago was a breeze and very different from the current airport experience.

I know some people don't care about the hotel they stay in as, logically, a lot of my friends say they are exploring a city, so they just need a place to rest their head at night. But for our family, the hotel is a huge part of the experience! There is nothing like walking into a beautiful lobby, checking into your room with the gorgeous fluffy beds, and sighing a big sigh of relief filled with the air of excitement.

We felt that way when we booked our staycation at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel. I purposely picked this hotel and have stayed here several times over the years. Chicago has hundreds of hotels, but for summer, I always tend to go back to this hotel.

What I love about the Radisson Blu Aqua is not only its perfect walkable location just off the famed Magnificent Mile shopping street and winding Chicago River, but I also love the feeling you get when you step into the lobby. The lobby is modern and cool, and they have this magnificent extra-long fireplace filled with candles and sparkling crystals. It is a nice feature to sit by and gaze at while sipping a glass of wine and enjoying a little people-watching in the lobby.

Additionally, the rooms are filled with beautiful white comforters and a balcony, perfect for sitting outside on a warm summer evening, enjoying a cocktail, and drinking in the glorious lights of a big city.

Tower Suite at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel
Tower Suite at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel

We booked a suite, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. The one-bedroom Tower Suite was huge, with two balconies, a huge living room, a large dining table, and two really cool leather brown deep and luxurious sofas that our teens quickly plunked down on to relax. The bathroom was almost the size of half the bedroom with a rainfall showerhead and a separate deep-soaking bath. There was even a nice dressing room to store your luggage out of sight, in case you had guests.

After experiencing the room, the family and I headed downstairs for dinner at the restaurant. They had a cute little outdoor patio, but as it was a little warm, we opted to stay inside to eat dinner. The dinner was excellent. We met a few locals and they said they specifically come to this restaurant for the cuisine (and they weren't even guests of the hotel), so I thought that was a good sign.

I enjoyed one of my favorite meals that is hard to find in Chicago...brisket! Having grown up a bit in Texas, I am always on the hunt to find a barbecue, and although there are a few barbeque places in downtown Chicago, it is not really easy to find.

Steak dinner at the FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar
Steak dinner at the FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar

So, imagine my surprise when I saw Coffee Rubbed Smoked Brisket on the menu. I was in heaven, and the brisket was everything I hoped it to be. It just melts in your mouth and was as good as any I've ever had in Texas. My husband opted for the Pan Roasted Salmon with quinoa, lemon garlic spinach, and smoked fennel jam. His dish was beautifully plated and the salmon done to perfection. Of course, the teens, being typical teens, ordered cheeseburgers–and they seemed very happy.

Since we are on the subject of food, their breakfast/brunch is so tasty. You can get everything from made-to-order omelets to pancakes, and they had a lovely buffet filled with the usual eggs benedict, sausage, and bacon. Their brunch included fresh oysters on the half shell, gorgeous big shrimp, and beautiful pastries. Full from a delicious brunch, I added a nice little mimosa for the perfect touch, then promptly enjoyed a nap in the afternoon in my wonderfully comfy bed. The little nap was a luxury I don't usually find time for at home, but on this trip, I made sure to make it happen.

On another note, an additional plus of the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel is that they have two pools! Now, as a parent, almost every one of us knows, with kids of all ages, a pool is always a plus. The best part though—and why summer at this hotel is always a favorite pick—is that they not only have an indoor pool, but they have a very large outdoor pool, as well! I personally like the outdoor pool the best, but it is nice, especially if you have little kids, that if it rained, you could visit the inside pool too. Win, win!

All in all, this is one of my favorite hotels in Chicago! It has a prime location, two massive pools, excellent food, wonderful service, and beautiful suites with one of my favorite features...they each have a balcony! I love balconies!

But the very best part of this staycation? No struggling through an airport, no flight cancellations, and no luggage lost! This fall, I'm planning a couple more staycations. After all, a vacation should be relaxing, enjoyable, and a great way to connect with family or friends. And, these days the way we accomplish that is by planning a vacation...that is close to home!

By: Colleen Kelly

The Langham, Chicago

Wow! We had a beyond wonderful stay at The Langham, Chicago, which is a 5-star hotel located near the Chicago River and two blocks away from shopping and restaurants on the Magnificent Mile. One of my favs....

Sleek chairs about the lobby of The Langham, Chicago Hotel
The Langham, Chicago

Our luxurious room had floor to ceiling windows, which showcased the amazing views of the city skyline, Chicago River, and Lake Michigan, and the private bathroom had a deep-soaking bathtub with rainfall showerhead. I actually took the time to soak in a bubble bath as my family explored the city, for it was a rainy weekend, and I wanted to stay in and explore this amazing hotel. Actually, "AMAZING" does not come close to how beautiful and luxurious this hotel is.

I also experienced the Chuan Spa that features healing holistic treatments to relax, renew, and pamper, including a range of treatments inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine. I experienced the three various steam rooms, the indoor pooI, and relaxed in the lounge chairs in the spa, where I met several lovely ladies. These lounge chairs were so cool—they were four chairs that were heated, and it is nothing I had ever experienced. One of the ladies I met was staying at The Langham as a Mother's Day gift from her husband for an overnight stay to get away from the family and recharge, and the other two ladies were lifelong friends that meet at various hotels over the country to reconnect a few times throughout the year. They informed me that The Langham, Chicago was one of their favs, and I can clearly see why!

A menu and cocktail sit on a table at Travelle Kitchen + Bar
Travelle Kitchen + Bar

Later that evening, we had dinner at Travelle Kitchen + Bar (located on the second floor of The Langham), which offers contemporary seasonal American cuisine for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. The dinner was WONDERFUL–I shared with my husband the 30-Day Dry Ribeye for two guests, which we truly enjoyed, and my sons had the King Crab and the Wagyu Short Rib. It was a dining experience to remember, especially when the waiter brought out the ribeye prior to cooking. Also, the sommelier was super knowledgeable, and we shared the same taste, especially with the French wine. Everything was so delightful and tasty.

When we finally decided to turn in for the evening, we all instantly fell asleep, as the beds were so comfortable and felt as if I was sleeping on a cloud.

It was truly an amazing and fascinating staycation and I'm looking forward to my next visit.

By: Christina Paull

theWit Chicago

As a resident of Chicago, and a travel lover, the first thing I always forget is that there’s SO much available right at my fingertips—just a train ride away from my neighborhood to The Loop. (Not to mention the plethora of activities and small businesses to visit within the neighborhoods…)

The second thing I always forget is that a vacation does not need to be go-go-go. I’m the kind of person who, when visiting a new destination, wants to wake up early and discover local spots all day long. But why not take a simple weekend away to pamper yourself? Sleep in, go to the spa, have a nice dinner at a beautiful hotel? I found out that it’s really worth it. We all deserve time to completely relax and rejuvenate, and a staycation is a perfect way to do just that.

I took my best friend with me to theWit Chicago, right on State Street, just a hop and a skip from the Chicago Riverwalk. We began our stay with a visit to the ROOF on theWit: This dimly lit, hip, lively rooftop bar blew me away. We enjoyed a view of the skyline at night (arguably my favorite time to admire the city) through floor to ceiling windows while sipping on their stunning and delightful seasonal cocktails. (I’d have to recommend the Blackberry Smash or the Strawberry Fields, but you simply cannot go wrong!)

Classic Two Queen Room at theWit Chicago
Classic Two Queen Room at theWit Chicago

The remainder of our night was spent cozying up in our Classic Two Queen Room, which had everything we needed—plus that gorgeous view of the sparkling Chicago River below. Whenever we had any questions or needed anything, the front desk was always available. We found that the staff was super friendly and accommodating.

The next day, we enjoyed the most incredibly peaceful massages at Spa@theWit—a quick elevator ride away from our room! Sometimes it’s hard for me to unwind, but this was one place I found that I finally could. Although we partook in theWit Signature massage, which combines Swedish massage, hot stones, and aromatherapy, there’s plenty of other treatments to choose from. Their Whisper Lounge was available before and after, where we could sit back on lounge chairs, close our eyes, and enjoy a complimentary cup of tea.

The restaurant on the first floor, State and Lake Chicago Tavern, was where we ate dinner. I enjoyed a creamy pasta dish with wild mushrooms, and my friend ordered a beautiful salmon plate. We swapped dishes and tried each other’s meals, proving that all their dishes were most likely winners. Of course, we couldn’t resist splitting a decadent chocolate brownie dessert. Despite our tummies being rather stuffed to the brim, we happily finished it off with wide eyes and satisfied nods. Kudos to Chef Michael Taus!

Pink lights cover a rooftop bar at ROOF on theWit in Chicago
ROOF on theWit

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the complete transformation of the ROOF on theWit that next night. We had a completely different experience from the evening before. We sat on the other side of the venue, where the high ceilings and flooding of natural light from the sunset set the giddy Friday night mood. As the moon rose, the dance floor emerged. The vibrant pink party lights danced, transforming the room once again—this time, into a nightclub vibe. The DJ absolutely rocked the space with a killer playlist. What an incredible way to support to Chicago musicians and DJs!

I would absolutely recommend a stay at theWit. And if you are simply looking for a place to grab a drink, the ROOF on theWit is a fantastic choice. I’ll be back, that’s a fact!

By: Megan Kudla


Listen to the original Round Trip with Colleen Kelly radio show/podcast episode here: Chicago Staycation: Part 2 - Hotel Showdown

Click to subscribe to the Colleen Kelly Travel Newsletter.


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