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Escape To The Tropics In Chicago

by Amy Bizzarri

You don't have to feel stuck in the cold city this winter. Visit the tropics without having to catch a flight. These four Chicago spots are the perfect tropical pick-me-ups: uninterrupted, stress-free family time with a side order of sliders, palm trees and butterflies.

Garfield Conservatory

Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Wednesdays until 8 p.m.

Begin your trip at the Garfield Park Conservatory — the perfect vacation spot within the city during the winter months. Though it was damaged by the summer hailstorms of 2011, the conservatory still boasts flowering cacti, bright yellow lily pads, a double coconut palm and a large plant dripping with bananas, and now is the time to support this Chicago gem. The lush palms of the fern room take you back to the Illinois of millions of years ago and the vibrant flowers of the Show House wake up wintery minds to spring. The Elizabeth Morse Genius Children's Garden features climbable leaves, a giant seed pod, a long, curvy slide and best of all, a chance to run around and breathe in oxygen—without coat, hat and gloves.

Nature Museum

Hours: Hours: Sun, Sat 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Mon-Fri 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Admission: $9, $7 seniors and students 13-22, $6 kids 3-12

Take your eyes to the "sky" at the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The 2,700-square-foot greenhouse features 1,000 butterflies from 75 different species. Asian, South American and African butterflies glide through the air along with Midwestern varieties you might have seen in your own backyard on warmer days. If you're there at the right time, watch a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and fly for the first time.

The Key West-inspired Key Lime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort in Gurnee (right across from Six Flags) is a complete vacation destination. The 65,000-square-foot Lost Paradise water park features a wave pool, heated to an always-comfortable 80 degrees, a meandering lazy river, swift water tube slides, a huge slide-and-play park area, and a kiddie-pool for tots. Adults will appreciate the fluffy-towel service, attentive and numerous lifeguards and a hot tub hidden in a quieter corner. The water park is open exclusively to Key Lime Cove overnight guests, which means super short lines for the slides and easy-to-find chaise lounges for relaxing. The central "mall" area of the resort recreates Key West's Duval Street, complete with palm trees, quaint shops and eateries — and even a man walking an iguana on a leash.

Rainforest Cafe

Hours: Hours: Sun 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Mon-Thu 11 a.m.–9:30pm;
Fri 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.; Sat 11 a.m. –11 p.m.

End your tropical-themed outing by grabbing lunch or dinner at the Rainforest Café. Besides a menu that features warm-weather ingredients, kids love watching the automated jungle animals around the dining room. When the lights go down and water pours from the ceiling to a chorus of gorillas, elephants and parrots (along with lightning and thunder), winter will be the last thing on your mind.

Amy Bizzarri is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Follow her adventures at
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