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An American Girl Chicago Experience

american-girl-kariss

Just a few short weeks ago, I was not a fan of American Girl. But after our American Girl Chicago experience, my tune has changed…

In fact to say I was not a fan would probably be a bit of an understatement. I actually questioned parents’ thinking who bought their children what I previously considered to be these overpriced dolls.

That was until I started to do a little exploring into the brand myself.

During our recent “Luxury for Less” Chicago road trip, I wanted to do something special for each of my kids. Since my daughter had just celebrated her birthday early with a “McKenna birthday party” (the American Girl Doll of the Year for 2012) because of her new love of gymnastics and we were going to be in a city that had an American Girl Place, I thought it the perfect time to dig deeper into the mystique of American Girl.

So I called up the company to let them know I was heading to Chicago with my family and made no secret my cynicism for their product. I felt their dolls were expensive to the point of being exclusionary to so many girls.

Despite my concerns, they welcomed the chance to introduce me to American Girl and the story behind it.

american-girl-place-chicago

To say the American Girl Place Chicago is impressive is an understatement. It’s a 2 story haven located just inside the iconic Water Tower Place on the famed Michigan Avenue of Chicago. We immediately met LaDonna (who had been with the store ever since it’s opening), who literally took us on a historical tour as told be the American Girl dolls and their stories.

Yes, I said their stories.

You see, what I didn’t realize is that American Girl was started by educators for the purpose of introducing young girls to history through girls they could identify with.

It all started with a story!

Well that, and three dolls.

Yes, as it turns out, American Girls are more about the history (or should I say her-story) behind the dolls, than the dolls themselves!

I was literally in tears as LaDonna walked me and my two children around the historic section of the store and painted tales of WWII, the Underground Railroad and women earning the chance to vote! Not only did I resonate deeply with so many of the human elements of the stories, but more importantly, I learned so much about our nation’s history that I never knew the details of and so desperately wanted to share with my own kids!

I felt like I immediately needed to repent every critical remark I’d ever made about these exquisite dolls.

And exquisite they are.

I had heard other moms talk about the quality difference between American Girl dolls and other imitators and it’s true. Everything is constructed with the utmost quality – from their clothes to their hair.

“But they’re still $100…”, I hear you saying to me.

Yes, yes they are. But these are not dolls that are meant to be bought every year. They encourage girls to read about the girls and develop a relationship with them through their story….then pick the doll that they most resonate with to bring home as their own.

mckenna-american-girl-chicago

In fact, on the drive to Chicago, as Kariss was studying the Mckenna section of the American Girl Doll catalog, I asked her, “What is it you find so fascinating with McKenna?”… thinking she might just say, “she’s so pretty” or “I’m in the only one in the class without one”.

Instead I heard an answer that I believe to be the reason American Girl has had such grassroots success, “Her story is my story”.

american-girl-mckenna

How do you argue with that?

As for me, I would much rather get my daughter one very special present instead of a lot of small gifts that aren’t as meaningful. And even better, if you know in advance that this is something your daughter has been longing for, why not ask the grandparents or other relatives to each chip in?

Because from my perspective, the real fun is in the actual experience at American Girl Place Chicago.

Though you don’t even need an American Girl doll to partake in all the experiences they have there (you can bring your own or even borrow an American Girl doll at the cafe!), it’s extra special to go through the store with your doll once you get her.

From matching outfits to the Hair Salon and our favorite – the photo shoot & photo wall, the options are endless! Of course Kariss chose to get McKenna as her first American Girl and her aunt graciously offered to buy her the matching outfit (see, I told you relatives enjoy helping in that way!). We especially loved that for an extra $5, you can get a card that will project your daughter’s photo on the grand photo wall of any American Girl Place for a full year when anytime you visit :)

american-girl-place-photo-wall

Again, priceless.

And remember how I mentioned that you don’t even have to have an American Girl doll to experience all that American Girl Place has to offer? They regularly have crafts, parties, scavenger hunts and more themed around their dolls…many of which are free and open to the public. (Check out the full schedule of American Girl Events).

In fact, you may have even seen the American Girl Chicago River Cruise and Cafe experience we chose to participate in! Again, with a heart of learning, American Girl has crafted experiences the entire family can participate in together while combining the stories of their dolls with the history of the city the store is located in.

So, suffice it to say, I’m a convert to American Girl. For my age daughter (just turning 8), I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a ‘toy’ that is equally loved by your child and also helps you teach her about values and history at the same time.

I’m looking forward to seeing how McKenna grows with Kariss & our family…and how she in turns starts to write the pages of her own story to share with others…