I inched forward, trying not to look down at floor far, far below. Finally, I reached my destination: a tiny apartment, complete with a green lawn and Chicago city posters, perched at the top of the world. I leaned against the wall and surveyed the view through the metal mesh. The glass-enclosed botanical garden below made me feel like I was really in the treetops.
I called to my 4-year-old, who’d scampered right up the twists and turns much faster than me. He waved and grinned. He was already halfway back down, and having a marvelous time.
Cloud Buster at the Chicago Children’s Museum
The Chicago Children’s Museum invited us to attend the grand opening of Cloud Buster, a new permanent exhibit that opens to the public on November 1. I checked it out and am happy to report that it’s really cool.
While my 4-year-old and I waited for our turn, I chatted with Katie Slivovsky, the museum’s exhibit development director. She told us that Cloud Buster is meant to tap into the same joy kids feel when they climb trees. They’re able to choose their own paths, take risks, and challenge themselves at their own pace.
When we got in and my son donned his required orange helmet, I definitely saw what she meant. There’s no one path through Cloud Buster. Kids can explore where they want, going up to the very tip-top or winding through the middle. They can scramble from platform to platform or take a winding ramp up.
While the structure itself it 37 feet high, the Chicago Children’s Museum itself is not on the ground level. The tunnels let kids peer out over the expanse of the Navy Pier hall below.
Best of all, all the exits lead to the same place! That means you can wait on the ground and be sure to catch your kid coming out.
Best Ages for Cloud Buster
While even adventurous toddlers can climb up with a parent behind them on a calm day, preschoolers through grade schoolers will enjoy tackling it independently. While I did climb up after my 4-year-old, I took my time and came down long before he did. He was just fine without me!
You’ll definitely want to take busyness into account. If it’s a calm school day, preschoolers should be more than fine tackling the Cloud Buster solo . . . but if it’s a busy weekend afternoon, it may feel more crowded with the big kids. While the metal netting makes it easier to spot climbing kiddos, you probably won’t be able to see them at every moment.
Speaking of big kids: Cloud Buster is great for tweens! Most 12-year-olds would be more than happy to check out the cool, climbable structure. (It’s pretty fun for grown-ups, too, come to think of it).
Parking and How to Get to Navy Pier
We paid $35 to park in one of the Navy Pier garages, which is by far the most convenient option. It’s a very short walk from the garages to all of the fun on the pier. Find more parking info here. Finding alternative parking is tricky in this part of town; you’ll probably end up walking quite a bit.
Another option: Take the train downtown! The 124 Navy Pier bus route picks up at both Union and Ogilve stations. (As of publishing, bus fare is $2.50 per person and requires exact change if you don’t have a Ventra pass.)
If the weather is nice, there’s also the water taxi from Union Station to Navy Pier, which runs May through September and adds to the fun with a boat trip. The free Navy Pier trolley also runs seasonally.
Is Cloud Buster Accessible?
While there are some spots to play on the ground floor, the structure itself is not navigable by wheelchair.
There are several nooks and spots where kids can take a breather inside of the exhibit. However, it can get pretty noisy.
What to Do and Where to Eat at Navy Pier
Navy Pier is full of activities, restaurants, and adventures beyond the Chicago Children’s Museum . . . although honestly, the museum itself is so big that you can spend all day there playing! My kids loved it.
There’s a ton to do at Navy Pier, including the Ferris wheel, Crystal Gardens, IMAX movies, and more. In fact, I’d recommend making a plan ahead of time so that your kids are clear on what you are (and aren’t) doing.
Navy Pier’s restaurants are definitely the most convenient dining option. There’s a lot to choose from, including sit-down Chicago classics like Giordano’s and the Billy Goat Tavern. The food court has a ton of fun options at a wide range of prices.
Planning a Visit to Cloud Buster at the Chicago Children’s Museum?
We would love to see how your trip goes! Tag us on Instagram at #mykidlist so we can see the fun. And remember, we’re adding new, local activities to do with kids all the time on our site!