When taking in Chicago’s sites, a visit to the city’s historic — and fabulous — Navy Pier is a must-do.

The Navy Pier is 3,300 feet long and extends into Lake Michigan. It’s located in the Near North Side community and was built in 1916 at a cost, according to NavyPier.com (http://www.navypier.com/about/history.html), of .5 million, “equivalent to .7 million today.” It was the largest pier in the word when it first opened. The pier housed the Red Cross, soldiers and home defense units during World War I and was officially named Navy Pier in 1927 in honor of the naval personnel who served there during the war. Chicago, in fact, leased the pier to the Navy during World War II.

Proprietors of Chicago vacation packages will tell you that the pier was designed to handle shipping and entertainment when first built, but has over time become the place for Chicago’s visitors and residents alike to meet and have fun. In fact, by the late 1930s the pier “was described as a summer playground with recreational facilities that included picnicking areas, dining pavilions, a dance hall, auditorium, and children’s playground.” [Federal Writers' Project (1939, rep. 1991). Chicago and Suburbs 1939. Evanston, IL: Chicago Historical Bookworks. pp. 57. ISBN 0924772174],

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As often happens to long-standing public buildings, Navy Pier fell into disuse from about 1965 until 1989. Eventually, Chicago’s Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority took over the pier and started a 0 million renovation in the 1990s that left the pier with a ballroom, convention exhibition halls, shops, a concert stage and fast-food eateries, and more.

Visit Navy Pier today and you’ll have the opportunity to ride the 150-foot tall Ferris wheel and other amusement park attractions, take in a show at the IMAX theater or even the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Try your luck in the Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze or at the pier’s miniature golf course.. If you enjoy public art, the Navy Pier offers a large “front lawn” that presents many large public art sculptures as well as an interactive animated fountain.

Chicago vacations often include boat tours of Lake Michigan and you will find many tour operators located at the Navy Pier. If you’re a lover of fireworks, be sure to visit the pier on a Wednesday or Saturday night during the summer to watch the spectacular fireworks shows held then.

As a (somewhat) minor side note, Chicago was — and is — known for many great and spectacular mansions built decades ago. Many of the stained glass windows from those mansions were salvaged and now appear in the pier’s Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.

As for the future, attractions on the pier are scheduled to include a monorail as well as a new (260-foot!) Ferris wheel.

Sheila Dodd is a representative for Executive Coach of Chicago, a Chicago tour bus company. With years of experience in coordinating Chicago bus travel and tour groups throughout the city, Sheila is an expert in all things Chicago.

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