Sears Tower (now known as Willis Tower) in Chicago is internationally known as being the western hemisphere’s second tallest skyscraper, only to the newly built One World Trade Center in New York City. It’s also famous for something else totally unique, it’s 103rd floor; known as the Sky Deck. With huge picture windows spanning around the entire floor, it gives guests an unbelievable view of Chicago, Lake Michigan, and on a clear day, four different states. In 2009, though, the Sky Deck became even more awesome. Glass boxes jutting out from a side of the building were added to the Sky Deck, meaning when you are inside them, you can see outside in five different directions. They call these glass boxes “The Ledge,” and being in them is unbelievable, and not as scary as you might think.
The Sky Deck is an entire experience that the owners of the tower have planned out very carefully; it’s very easy to navigate and is definitely a “tourist hotspot” in the city. The Sky Deck has it’s own entrance down on the ground, and when you walk in, there are people there to direct you to the elevators, which take you down into the basement. This is where the lines are to buy the tickets. When we got there, sometime mid-morning, the lines weren’t too bad, and when we left probably around noon or just before, the lines were a lot longer, so that’s just something to think about if you’re considering going. We got our tickets, which were $18 each, and got on the elevator with a bunch of other people. Once in the elevator and going up, there is a short video about it, how fast it’s going, and telling you how high you are at the moment in comparison with other tall structures in the world, like the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids. It takes just about one full minute to get to the 103rd floor, which is extremely fast for an elevator; about 18mph. The pressure is also extremely noticeable, and everyone’s ears were popping on the way up. Once on the 103rd floor, you are immediately drawn to the windows, for obvious reasons. The view is unparalleled; I have never seen anything like it, the closest I have come to a view like that was from the window seat of an airplane. There are lots of people kind of milling around; going from window to window, taking pictures, and buying souvenirs from the floor’s strategically placed gift shop.
One of the things that we found neat was identifying different buildings we could see from up there. We also thought it was funny because on the roofs of some of them, we saw tennis courts, swimming pools, gardens, and dining areas. Any space city dwellers can use, they do! The use of space is very efficient in Chicago. It was also cool to be above the river and streets, seeing boats, cars, and taxis go by so far below us was a weird feeling that was also very cool.
Now to my favorite part by far- the ledges. People form two seemingly quite informal lines to each box, since there’s room for a few people on each side of each box. When it’s your turn, you just get to walk in and look around and enjoy it. Of course everyone is taking pictures, some crouching down or laying flat on the floor of the glass box. Looking down onto the street below from 1,353 feet high is honestly not as scary as I had imagined it would be. The boxes are incredibly stable and sturdy, and are retracted into the building each night, which for some odd reason gave me added comfort in their safety. The glass they’re made of is only an inch and a half thick, but it doesn’t make anyone feel less safe, I don’t think. I actually got in line a second time to go in one of them so that was cool. I kept joking that I loved it up there and I could just put my bed in one of the ledges and be happy.
The Sky Deck and Ledge experience in Willis Tower is definitely awesome and the view is seriously unparalleled up there, so I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about visiting Chicago. You won’t be disappointed.