…is what I thought when it was first suggested I go out on the Skydeck’s glass ledge, a dizzying 1,353 feet above street-level. I have to admit I wasn’t sure about that little adventure, but it turned out to be a fun family thrill.
Willis Tower was on my must-do list for Chicago. I remember hearing about the Sears Tower as a kid–back when it was the tallest building on earth and a dude dressed as Spiderman climbed all the way to the top. Back then I wondered what it would be like to look down from the top. I had no idea that by the time I did, I’d be looking down from The Ledge, a glass box, which extends 4.3 feet from the SkyDeck on the 103rd floor.
In the time it took me to finally make it to Chicago, the Sears Tower became the Willis Tower, renamed in 2009 for the building’s largest tenant, London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings. It may not technically be the Sears tower anymore, but I’m with Shakespeare on this one–What’s in a name? It’s still the same building, after all. And even though it’s not the tallest building in the world, it’s still the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and arguably the tallest structure in the world (Hey, antennas count!) That’s the Chicago landmark I wanted to visit–and take my son to see!
I’d read that it’s best to arrive at the Skydeck early in the morning, when it first opens, or later in the evening, to avoid the crowds. That was our plan, but the day we were scheduled to go it was raining. A quick check of weather.com’s hourly forecast showed that the rain and clouds would clear up in the afternoon, so we headed to the tower around 2:30. Most likely because of the rain earlier in the day, we didn’t experience heavy crowds. When we left, we noticed more people were coming in than when we first arrived.
When we arrived we found the Skydeck entrance (it’s separate from the regular tower entrance) and took the elevator to a huge queuing area. There wasn’t much of a wait on the day we visited, but to avoid lines, your best bet is to arrive early–when the tower first opens. If your family just doesn’t do early then you could try later in the afternoon or early evening. I’m sure the night time view is pretty spectacular.
The first line was for security–you empty your pockets and walk through a metal detector. After they took an official souvenir photo, we proceeded to a short ticket line. On busy days there is another queuing area, after the ticket line, for a movie about the tower, but we were able to go straight into the movie, Reaching for the Sky. (You have the option of buying a Fast Pass to skip this line.) I liked the movie–and it kept Mini Man’s attention. The footage of construction workers walking around on beams a thousand feet in the air, as if it were nothing, was crazy. I don’t know how you get used to something like that!
After the movie it was time to head to the elevators for our ride to the top! It takes about a minute and a half to reach the top. This is probably not an attraction for the claustrophobic. They pack you pretty tight in those elevators. But it’s a short ride. As you ascend, there is a video screen that shows you how high you are climbing and ticks off other monuments and buildings as you pass their height.
As you can see, I did it! I conquered The Ledge! It takes a little getting used to. When you first see it, your brain tells your body “NO WAY JOSE’!” (mine actually said, “NO WAY SAM!” Your brain may choose to call you any number of names, depending on the sauciness of its vocabulary). But once you put a foot out there and give it a try, your brain eventually gets the message that you’re not falling to your doom and just goes with it. My first attempt I just ventured a few inches. By the end of our time there I had no problem sitting and standing all the way out in the middle of the ledge. Braver folks may have no adjustment time at all. But I’m here to tell you there’s hope even for chickens like me! And I can say that I know how Wile E. Coyote felt as he looked down, just before he plummeted to earth!
And because I know you’re wondering–Yes! There are restrooms at the Skydeck. So when Jr. gets all the way through the line, movie and elevator ride and then decides he needs to go (and you know he will) just ask one of the cashiers in the gift shop area to point you to the restrooms.
Yep, there’s a gift shop at the top. There are a couple of more at street level. There’s a good assortment of souvenirs, if you’re in the market for any. The Lego model of the Willis Tower is pretty cool, but you can get it for about $20 at the Lego store. That’s $5 less than the price we saw at the top of the tower. There were some good deals for t-shirts, though.
Once you get to the top, you can stay as long as you like (or until they close for the evening). It looks like there is sometimes a line for elevators down, but there was no line on the day we visited.
Admission to the SkyDeck is $17.50 for adults and $11.00 for kids. An audio tour is available for an additional $5.50 per person. A Fast Pass costs $35 and can save you some time on busy days, with an express line to the elevators.
SkyDeck is open daily April through September from 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. and October through March from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
The views all around the top are great, but the glass ledges are really awesome! There are four in all. One is used for official souvenir photos. The photos are nice because you get the entire ledge to yourself. And the high angle of the photo is really cool–it shows off the amazing Ledge views. And everyone looks better when photographed from above–so bonus there! You can buy printed photos at the bottom, or save your card and pay to download your photo online when you get home. The photo attendant at the top told us that pictures stay on their website for six months, but the card we got said one year. Either way, there’s plenty of time to check it out.
The other three ledges were open for personal photos. There was a line to get to each. The day we were there the line for the third one was shortest, since everyone seemed to make a bee line to the first two.
For more info about the ledge and SkyDeck, visit theskydeck.com
We really had a great experience at the Willis Tower Skydeck. There was plenty of room to move around and check out the views from each side. It was still a little cloudy, so we probably couldn’t see everything we would have on a clear day, but the views were still amazing. And The Ledge was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You may be thinking “I could never do that!” That’s really what I thought. Give it a try–you’ll be really glad you did. Those three layers of half-inch thick glass panels aren’t going anywhere–I promise! And your little daredevils will have a great time taking photos out on The Ledge! Hey! There’s next year’s Christmas card!