What annual spectacle attracts pyromaniacs, residents, and tourists alike to Chicago each year? The answer is the Magnificent Mile Light Festival. On November 20, Chicago closes street traffic on Michigan Avenue from Wacker Drive, north to Oak Street, where a parade showcases local celebrities, Disney characters, and 200 trees illuminated in millions of lights. On the Chicago River, the procession culminates into a pyrotechnic phenomenon with the detonation of some 10,000 handmade fireworks.
Aside from its luminous qualities, Magnificent Mile’s moniker festival is known for being a showcase of whimsical attractions. One year, Eli’s Cheesecake made a 4-foot, 500-pound cheesecake. Chicago retailers, restaurants and hotels use the opportunity to tempt Chicagoans and visitors with abounding special promotions and shopping incentives.
The history behind Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Light Festival originated in 1959, when Saks Fifth Avenue embellished elm trees outside of its doors on Michigan Avenue with white lights, imported from Italy. The concept was such a bright idea that it developed into the Magnificent Mile Light Festival.
This year, the march down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile takes place, Saturday, November 20 at dusk when the parade departs from its primary sponsor’s stage, Harris Bank at Pioneer Court, (401 North Michigan Avenue). For the first time ever, Minnie Mouse is escorting Mickey Mouse on the lead float. Unlike the light festival’s modest beginnings, the present extravaganza is an all-day affair with live concert performances, starting at 11 am. and going until the Magnificent Mile Light Festival gets underway at 5:30 pm.
Navigating the Magnificent Mile Light Festival Crowds
In recent years, the Magnificent Mile has been attracting millions of people, making it quite necessary to arrive armed with a tactical agenda for navigating the dense crowds. Here are some considerations:
When to arrive?
Arrive early. Although the Magnificent Mile procession starts at 5:30 p.m., timing is everything. Day travelers should plan to be in the area between noon and 2 p.m., at the latest, to miss the traffic gridlocks and uncomfortably packed public transportation.
If you don’t live in the neighborhood or the Chicago metropolitan area, the best time to arrive is the day before the Magnificent Mile Light Festival. Many hotels are enticing visitors with special packages.
Where to reserve hotel stay?
Tourists, who prefer an unobstructed view of the Magnificent Mile Light Festival, have a number of lodging accommodations along Michigan Avenue: Hotel Intercontinental, the Allerton Crown Plaza, the Four Seasons, the Westin and Omni Hotel are a few options.
Room rates are quite reasonable at the Allerton, where a one-night stay begins at $99. The Park Hyatt is tempting families with a 50 percent discount on room accommodations for the children. Appealing to the fashionistas, The Drake Hotel and the Hotel Intercontinental are luring reservations with magnanimous shopping and pampering packages. In case one decides to watch the light festival from the serenity of a hotel room, remember to request accommodations facing Michigan Avenue.
Where to park?
Keep parking economical. For the best parking rates, avoid lots located near Michigan Avenue, Rush Street and St. Clair, where the rates are significantly higher. Parking lots on Dearborn Place and LaSalle Street (four-to-five blocks west of the Magnificent Mile) afford cheaper parking.
Where to plot a spot?
Prior to the procession, it is important to plot a spectator spot in close proximity to one’s favorite designer stores, retailers and eateries. After the light festival is over, don’t expect to get anywhere fast. Head for a favorite department store or restaurant.
Other Event Notes
In observation of the Magnificent Mile Light Festival, most stores are extending hours until 10 p.m., offering incentives to spend.
Eateries and restaurants are feeding patrons with dining specials. E. Leaven Foods is doling out a complimentary cookie with any hot chocolate or coffee purchase. The Omni Hotel Chicago appeases with an alternative perspective of the festival. The hotel’s dining room features a bird’s eye view of the light festival and an appetizing all one can consume buffet. Also, patrons dining after the festival (8 p.m.), save 50 percent off the buffet’s regular per person rate.
Between the festivities, special dining deals and shopping discounts-the Magnificent Mile Light Festival is bound to be a good time to spectate, shop and kindle the holiday spirit.