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Chicago River Cruise & Architecture a la Carte Field Trip

  • October 02, 2019
  • Chicago
  • 10


  • This option includes a ticket for a 90 minute river cruise and a ticket to the Chicago Architecture Center. Member ($82) plus Guest ($97) will cost a total of $179. Registration deadline: September 17
  • Member ($42) plus Guest ($52) will cost a total of $94. Registration deadline: September 30

    TO ADD YOUR GUEST: click on the "ADD GUEST" button at the bottom of the data collection form and enter the guest information as indicated.

    Please note: Members may bring more than one guest near the registration deadline if space is available. Check with the trip organizer.

Estimated Trip Duration:
Oakwood West: 7:30 AM - 8:25 PM
Capitol Lakes: 7:55 AM - 8:05 PM
East Towne Sears: 8:20 AM - 7:45 PM

Registration Fee includes Badger Bus Charter Service with Wi-Fi.

Lunch is not included.

Note: If you cancel after the registration deadline, there will be no refund.
Registration is closed

Chicago's First Lady

Registration for the member only option (which includes the boat ride and admission to the CAC) is closed - we had to give them a final count along with  payment two weeks before the trip.  However, the bus only option is available through September 30; you can still take the boat cruise but you will have to pay for it separately and you won't get the group discount.

Now that the dog days of summer are over, join us to view some of Chicago's architectural wonders.  Our bus will drop us off at the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) located at the corner of N. Michigan Avenue/East Wacker Drive.  From there you will have the opportunity to take a river cruise, explore the CAC museum, choose from six different architectural walking tours, or meander along the recently inaugurated Riverwalk

Read a recent New York Times article about the CAC at The Second City Claims First in Architecture.

If you choose the Member (with option to add guest) selection,  you will have a 90 minute guided cruise along the Chicago river from 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm on Chicago's First Lady boat.  A ticket to the Chicago Architecture Center is included in your registration fee.  You will have time for lunch before the boat ride and after the boat ride you will have two hours to explore the Chicago Architecture Center museum and stroll the adjacent Chicago Riverwalk.

If you choose the Member Bus Only Independent Study (with option to add guest) selection,  you can choose among the following guided tours:  Reliance Building; Chicago Icons, Past and Present; Modernist Masterpieces: Marina City and the IBM Building; Art Deco Skyscrapers: the Loop; and Magnificent Architecture of the Magnificent Mile (you must register and pay for these tours yourself - see more details below). The bus only option does not include the river cruise or admission to the Chicago Architecture Center.

Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Drive

Chicago's First Lady Cruises Dock, 112 E.Wacker Drive

Chicago's First Lady Boat Cruise

We will be taking a tour aboard Chicago's First Lady, which is the only Chicago River cruise partnered with the non-profit Chicago Architecture Center.  It has been rated by TripAdvisor as the number one river boat tour in Chicago - see First Lady Review.

Our cruise will be from 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM.  This relaxing 90-minute tour features both indoor and outdoor seating, a full-service bar and snack bar, and is consistently named by locals and visitors alike as the best way to see Chicago.  For more than 25 years, the CAC's expertly trained docent volunteers have led the river cruise, sharing fascinating stories behind more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River. Hear how Chicago grew from a small settlement into one of the world's largest cities in less than 100 years. In just 90 minutes, you'll get the best overview of Chicago’s architecture and its history.

Tours depart rain or shine unless the Coast Guard deems it not to be safe to be on the river (a very rare occurrence). In addition to the open air top deck there is a climate controlled salon that can accommodate all passengers. The tour can still be heard when in the salon; however seating is limited.

Chicago Architecture Center

Formerly known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Chicago Architecture Center is a nonprofit cultural organization with tours, exhibitions, programs and events for all ages.  The Chicago Architecture Center is the city’s new all-in-one architecture experience: a museum with two floors of fascinating exhibits.

At the Chicago Architecture Center, you can:

  • Learn how Chicago became "the city of architecture" with exhibits about its diverse neighborhoods, housing types, leading architects and up-and-coming projects
  • View the largest 3D model of Chicago, with more than 4,200 buildings and cinematic elements that tell amazing stories of the city
  • Discover the international influence of skyscrapers, through super-sized models of tall buildings from around the globe
  • Explore how design will shape the cities of tomorrow and imagine what urban life will look like in 2050

Bus Only Independent Study Option

We are also offering the trip as Bus Only Option.  This option does not include the river cruise or admission to the Chicago Architecture Center. 

If you choose this option, you can choose from CAC's walking tours.  On October 2,  the following tours are available during our time in Chicago (click on the links in red for more detailed information about each tour):


                  Reliance Building                                    Marina City and the IBM Building

12:15 PM - 1:00 PM -  Reliance Building (Alise Chicago)

1:00 PM - 2:45 PM -  Chicago Icons: Connecting Past and Present

1:30 PM - 2:45 PM -  Modernist Masterpieces: Marina City and the IBM Building

1:30 PM - 3:00 PM -  Art Deco Skyscrapers: The Loop

2:00 PM - 3:30 PM -  Magnificent Architecture of the Magnificent Mile


Please note: if you choose any of the tours from the above list, you will have to sign up and pay on your own.  Read the description carefully - some of the tours do not leave from the CAC building.  It is best to sign up for these tours before signing up for the PLATO bus trip to ensure your registration.  It is unlikely that there will be space available if you try to sign up for the tour when you arrive at CAC the day of the trip.

And if you simply want to explore downtown Chicago on your own, you can also choose the bus only option.  The bus will only make one stop – at the Chicago Architectural Center, 111 E. Wacker Drive..

The fee for PLATO Members for the Bus Only Option is $42 and for Guests it is $52.

Lunch is on your own

The newly completed Riverwalk has a number of restaurants for your enjoyment. You can view a map of the riverwalk along with restaurants at Chicago Riverwalk Concession and Area Map.  The First Lady boat dock is at #19 on the map.


Another suggestion for lunch is the Wells St Market, a high-end food court.  It is located at 205 W. Wacker which is a 15 minute walk along the riverwalk from the boat drop-off point and a half-block from the riverwalk itself.

And if the weather is bad there are many fast-food options available in the Pedway, a network of underground passages, which is accessible directly from the CAC.


To access the boat dock from the Chicago Architecture Center, there are some steep stairs. To access the dock by foot without using the stairs, from Wacker Dr., use the ramp located at State Street (two blocks from the CAC)  to descend to the river level and then travel east and pass under the Michigan Avenue Bridge to reach the Chicago's First Lady dock.

Is the CAFC River Cruise wheelchair accessible?

No, the boat tour is not ADA accessible. None of our boats are able to accommodate motorized scooters.

However, we do offer early boarding for our passengers with limited mobility. We can provide standard wheelchairs for passengers who need them and make accommodations for those with other disabilities. Upon arrival at Chicago’s First Lady boat dock, speak to any uniformed employee to request assistance.

Although it's not required, we recommend that a caregiver accompany a guest with mobility restrictions to facilitate movement during the cruise and to assist in the unlikely case of an emergency.


Bear in mind that our boarding bus route is like Madison Metro or any other municipal bus service. Please arrive early at your boarding stop so you don’t miss the bus. When everyone is aboard and seated, we leave.

– Don’t be late. We can wait just 5 minutes at any one location.

– Pack water bottles and snacks for sustenance on the journey.

Leave Madison

7:15 AM     Bus arrives at Oakwood for boarding

7:30 AM     Departs Oakwood

7:55 AM     Arrives Capitol Lakes for boarding

8:20 AM     Arrives East Towne Sears for boarding.

8:30 AM     Departs for Chicago (or sooner if everybody is on board)                                   


11:15 AM     Arrives Chicago Architectural Foundation

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM    River Cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady

4:20 PM      Begins boarding for return trip

4:30 PM      Departs for Madison

Return to Madison (Estimate)

7:45 PM        Arrives at East Towne Sears

8:05 PM        Arrives at Capitol Lakes

8:25 PM        Arrives at Oakwood Village West

Accessibility Policy: On the Badger Bus, you must be able to climb steps to board and exit the bus.

Non-Member Policy: Members must register their guests. Each PLATO member is entitled to bring one non-member guest per bus trip. Members may bring more than one guest near the registration deadline date if seats are available. Check with trip organizer. 

PLATO Membership: PLATO membership is $60.00/year and all memberships renew on July 1.  If you join between April 1 and November 30 you will pay the full membership fee of $60.  If you join between December 1 and March 31 you pay half the membership fee - $30.

For further information contact Chicago Architecture Trip Organizers:

Bob Shaw - robert.e.shaw@gmail.com - 608-255-3486

Irene Zimmerman - irene.e.zimmerman@gmail.com - 608-658-4685


PLATO is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in association with:

For more information about PLATO, contact:

Edie Urness-Pondillo
UW-Madison Continuing Studies
21 N. Park St, 7th Floor, Madison, WI 53715
Email: info@platomadison.org
Phone: 608-262-5823
Fax: 608-265-4555

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