Apparently the company I work for gives generously to the Shedd Aquarium here in Chicago... so generously that the Shedd Aquarium offered free admission to all employees plus up to 3 guests. For an extra $6.95/person we were able to upgrade our ticket to get us into the Oceanarium as well. My wife & I have some close friends who have a 2 year old and a 15 month old so we invited them along. Since all of our kids are under 3 they all got in free.
We did still have to pay for parking and the nearest covered parking for the Shedd Aquarium is the North Parking garage of Soldier Field. From there, being on the lake, in the winter, on a chilly day, well to say the 2-3 block walk to the Aquarium was "brisk" would be a gross understatement.
Once we got inside we took my daughter out of the stroller and carried her. so she could better see the fish, frogs, turtles, dolphins, penguins, and Beluga whales. She talked to many of the fish she saw. She also quite enjoyed the penguins and had a nice chat with them (although I doubt they could hear her through the thick glass).
Her most common word is "Da da da da da", and while yes it sounds like she's saying "Dada" and was saying that while I was holding her, she also says that when my wife is holding her, when she's pointing at her high chair, lamps, my in-laws cat, and just about anything and everything else you can imagine. She does sometimes say "mamamama" too and a few times it has been in the correct context and this weekend she did utter "Gampa" but neither of her grandfathers were present at the time. I think she knows that "Dada", "Mama", and "Gampa" are words but I don't think she's quite grasped their context or meaning just yet. I'll take what I can get though, and I do find it adorable that she says "Da da" in such a way that she sounds like she's excited to be telling you the world's greatest secret. It comes out as an ecstatic little whisper.
Well anyway the Aquarium-- I do have one somewhat serious complaint-- it is not at all stroller friendly (and thus would not be wheelchair friendly either). At one point we were at the lowest level of the Oceanarium. We were told that in order to get to the cafeteria we would have to take the elevator UP two floors walk down the hall, and take a different elevator back down 1 floor. The elevators were just large enough for two strollers... and there were a lot of people with strollers there, thus there were usually lines for the elevators. It got to the point where we were just carrying the strollers up and down stairs-- an inconvenience for us, but dowrnight impossible for those in wheelchairs.
We did check out "Fantasea", the Shedd's show featuring dolphins, Beluga whales, a hawk, and penguins. During the intro video that was shown we heard, "People come from around the world come to Chicago specifically to see the Shedd Aquarium." As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "Who ARE these people?" Maybe I've been spoiled by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Sea World (Orlando, FL), and Marineland (St. Augustine, FL) but to me the Shedd was not an Aquarium I would consider to be THE reason for coming to Chicago. Maybe one of many reasons, it might make the top 10, but I doubt it would even crack my top 5.
At any rate, it was almost as amusing to us as the time we went on a lake shore boat tour at Navy Pier with a friend from out of town and during the safety schpiel before the tour started it was mentioned that the weather on Lake Michigan can turn into "a fierce maelstrom" on a moment's notice (which is especially funny to hear on a bright sunny July day... when the boat doesn't even venture outside the breakwater).