American Girl Chicago River Cruise & Cafe Review

by Sami

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During our recent “Luxury for Less” Chicago Road Trip, we were treated to quite the Chicago family experience: an American Girl Dinner at American Girl Place Chicago, followed by the ultimate American Girl themed “Chicago’s First Lady” River Cruise!

I’ll share more about our experience at American Girl Place Chicago in the coming days, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to share about the Chicago River Cruise because this weekend will be your last opportunity to cruise with American Girl and Chicago’s First Lady cruises for the summer!

Although I’m a native Chicagoan, I haven’t been back in years, and this was my first trip where my kids were old enough to walk by themselves 🙂 Considering they’re now 6 & 8, I had a lot I wanted to show them in a short amount of time.

So when the opportunity arose to see Chicago via a river cruise (one of the the best ways to take in the highlights of the city) via an American Girl infused tour, we jumped at the chance!

American Girl Place Cafe

The evening started with dinner at the American Girl Place Cafe. My initial impression was nothing less than impressive. Immaculately thought out and decorated, this cafe was a little girl’s dream cafe, while also being equally inviting for the entire family.

Case in point: after we were welcomed, the hostess immediately went to get a doll chair so Kariss’ new doll (McKenna) could join us at the table, but they also had “loaner” American Girl dolls (even boys!) so even if you don’t have a doll, you don’t feel excluded from the fun.

The most memorable part of our meal happened almost immediately upon sitting down.

I mentioned thoughtfulness when it came to the cafe. This was demonstrated in 3 very specific details as soon as we were seated:
1. There were bows on ponytail holders being used as napkin rings that we could take home with us (brilliant)


2. They brought a box of family questions for us to ask each other and discuss during our meal, further encouraging the family bonding experience (and staving off the question, “What can we do ’til our food gets here???”)


3. This is the most brilliant part: they immediately brought us an appetizer sampler plate with equal portions of a variety of fun and healthy foods for our entire table! Things ranging from cut vegetables and cheesy potato bites to artichoke dip & cheese. The minds behind American Girl proved to me once again that not only do you not have to ‘dumb down’ things for kids, but that with just the slightest creative effort, you can make a HUGE impact on your family at mealtime!

To be honest, the meal itself was not notable. I ordered a roasted chicken & vegetables that was very average, as was the pizza my son ordered. Surprisingly, the stuffed shells that my daughter ordered (and that they custom tailored for her with olive oil instead of red sauce) was delicious!

And the meal truly ended with something special: a beautiful dessert sampler for each of us that had ties to three different American Girl dolls

I can’t say that I would go back to the cafe for the food alone, but when you take the entire experience into consideration, I believe it was well worth it.

Chicago’s First Lady River Cruise

After dinner, we headed to the main floor of American Girl Place Chicago to board the buses that would take us to the river so we could board our cruise. The docent rode on our bus and shared some wonderful history that I wasn’t even aware of as we drove down Michigan Avenue.

I really thought my kids would be thrilled with the “boat ride”, but seeing as we’d already spent the morning at the Legoland Discovery Center and the afternoon at American Girl Place, there were pretty pooped and not sure what to expect. Still, we had a perfect summer night to be on the water and I encouraged them to take in as much as they could.


We even passed by Marina Towers, the iconic twin flower-shaped buildings where my parents used to live!
I also think this would have been a great experience to do with your extended family or as a special treat with multiple families so the kids had friends to share in the experience with.

After cruising for about 45 minutes, we made a turn to head back and captured this shot of our family in front of the skyline:
I will say, this is about the time when my kids lost interest. While the description of the cruise suggests it’s appropriate for girls ages 8 & up, I would venture to say that unless your child is at least 10, they’re not going to stay engaged for the entire river cruise.

While our docent from the Chicago Architectural Foundation was beyond knowledgeable, from a kids’ perspective, her presentation was just a little too heavy in architectural history and a little too light in American Girl references. Although I thought the cruise was thoroughly engaging, most of the kids ended up on the large center bench of the top deck huddled around an iPad 😉

If you ask me, the entire cruise was stunning, but the most beautiful moments of the night came towards the end at sunset:

To get a more thorough idea of what to expect on the American Girl Chicago’s First Lady River Cruise, take a glimpse of this video compilation I made of our experience (including the bus ride over):

If you’d like to experience this for yourself, you better hurry! The last American Girl Dinner and Chicago’s First Lady River Cruise for the Summer of 2012 is this Sunday, August 12. Dinner will begin at 5:30 with the cruise following at 7:30. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 877-247-5223.

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