It was September and we were happy just hanging out in our home in Cuenca, Ecuador. But Fall was looming, and my only job was to pick out what I wanted to do for my birthday. What a job! So much fun, yet so overwhelming – there were so many choices! I kept waiting, looking for last-minute travel deals, since that is one of the things I’m best at. We considered a few different deals that came along, but in the end, I chose a partially familiar trip full of fun for both of us.
Four years ago, when we left our careers and traveled around the world, three months of that travel entailed a driving trip across the good ole’ USA. Our first stop was Chicago – a city we love – to attend Chicago Seminars: a frequent traveler, points and mile collecting conference. Well, this conference occurs every year, same time and place, and we hadn’t attended *any* points and miles conferences in the past four years. With the way things had been going in 2016 in the points and miles world (poorly, if you aren’t aware), I figured it was time. There’s less and less shared on the internet these days about points and miles collecting (because the more people who learn about and participate in a deal, the quicker the deal seems to get shut down), and meeting people in person is the way to go.
So our first stop was Chicago! This time we flew from Ecuador. We stayed downtown our first night, using points for what turned out to be a great hotel. The Holiday Inn Chicago-Mart Plaza River North is situated right in the heart of things and literally sits on top of the Chicago Sun Times building. We had space and windows and views out the wazoo! Naturally I took about a billion photos before we even left our hotel room.
When we did leave, we walked up the street to an OfficeMax, where ironically, we took advantage of a deal to earn a bunch of points and miles! But by that night we were acting like normal folks, getting together with our long-time friend Tamara who used to live and work with us in Philly, for an amazing pizza at famous Giordano’s. I was in heaven. I would like one of these pizzas every day for the rest of my life, please!
The next day we took the train out to the suburbs of O’hare and stayed in another nice hotel, this time the Sheraton Suites Chicago Elk Grove. Our room was a beautiful suite with a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and bar area that make you want to just hang out inside the hotel all day. Of course with a conference to attend, we had very little time to enjoy the hotel, but we did eat breakfast there each day, and I managed to get an early morning swim in one morning.
The Chicago Seminars Conference was awesome. I won’t go into a lot of detail, since there are many other bloggers who have already done that, and have done a much better job than I could ever do. Most of our readers aren’t looking for the nitty-gritty of points and miles collecting. That said, we met a ton of great new people, as well as some new bloggers, and we reconnected with a couple of old faces from four years ago. There were enough advanced sessions to keep me happy despite it being more of a beginner/intermediate level conference, and Elliott was only overwhelmed once or twice when we accidentally sent him to a too-advanced session. And we came away with some great new tips, and great inspiration. There were some individuals who make my craziness appear novice, and I loved getting the details of what they do and how they do it. Mission accomplished!
The next leg of my birthday journey was also a familiar one. We rented a car in Chicago this time, and drove once again from Chicago to Wisconsin Dells, just like in 2012. This time it wasn’t a surprise, but we headed to the exact same destination – Chula Vista Resort. Wisconsin is famous for its indoor water parks, and I’d had such a blast four years ago, I decided I wanted to play in a water park once again on my birthday. Can you blame me? As an October birthday kid, I never got to have birthday parties in a water park!
We stayed two nights and had a great time playing in the water park all day both days. It has great water slides, tube rides for one and for two, and a huge bucket of water that slowly fills and eventually dumps right on you if you stand in the right place. My favorite rides are the tubes that are at least partially in the dark, and where you have a chance of spinning around as you go down, but I really love them all! When we needed a rest, there was always my other favorite, the Lazy River.
One unique thing about our stay this time was that we decided to participate in a sales pitch. We were told it was not a timeshare, but rather a discount program, and in return for our two hours, we’d get a bunch of food vouchers. Food? We like food. We were in.
Anyone who has ever listened to a timeshare presentation knows they love to go longer than the promised 1-2 hours, and our biggest concern was losing precious time in the water park. But these guys had found a way to make us all happy. Before the presentation officially began, our salesperson took us out to breakfast. So while he did start the sales talk here and there during breakfast, we didn’t care since we were eating a delicious meal. Afterwards he stayed within his time limit, and once his manager realized we weren’t buying, they couldn’t THROW us out of there fast enough. We were happy to oblige, having enough food vouchers in our hands to buy our meals for the entire stay!
On our last morning we woke up early and drove as the sun rose, back to Chicago. All in all it was a great way to spend my birthday week. Chicago, one of my favorite cities – good. Pizza and friends – always good. Points and miles? Extra good. Indoor water park and free food for two days – super good. And somehow, there was still more to come! But the last part was built in for the love of my life.