Teams of professional sculptors from around the world will create masterpieces out of 10-foot blocks of snow at Gateway Park, located just west of the entrance to Navy Pier, during Snow Days. Stroll past the carvings then watch dog-sled racing and weight-pulling demonstrations, a snowboard rail jam and kids activities like ice bowling, basketball, hockey, football and snow painting.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27-28, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan 29, at Navy Pier's Gateway Park, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. Free admission. For details, go to navypier.com/snowdays or call (312) 595-PIER.
Gung ho for Gung Hei Fat Choi
This year, 2012, marks the year of the dragon, said to be the mightiest of the signs in the Chinese zodiac. Celebrate year 4710 with the annual Lunar New Year Parade in Chicago's Chinatown. Revel in marching bands, colorful floats, lion teams, a mystical dragon dance and see Miss Friendship Ambassador. It's the best place to experience Chinese Gung Hei Fat Choi (Happy Chinese New Year) and this year's parade also kicks off celebrations of the Chinatown Centennial 1912-2012. Hint: on weekends, take the Chicago Water Taxi at Madison Street near Ogilvie Transportation Center straight to Chinatown.
11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, at Wentworth Avenue from Cermak Road to 24th Place, Chicago. Go to chicagochinatown.org for details or call (773) 868-3010.
Skate in the sky, stay nearby
Take the world's highest ice-skating rink for a spin with a new package from Chicago's Talbot Hotel. Designed with kids in mind, the Skate in the Sky package includes two "no wait" tickets -- good for one adult and one child -- to the Hancock's ice skating rink, which sits more than 1,000 ft. above the city. You'll also snag an exclusive Chicago Blackhawks book; a Talbot tumbler for warm drinks; and a $15 breakfast credit per person, up to two people, at Bice Ristorante.
The package is available now through April 8 at the Talbot Hotel, 20 E. Delaware Place, Chicago. Rates start at $245 per night. For booking information, call (800) TALBOTT or visit talbotthotel.com.
You can make your Valentine's Day much better than the movie of the same name when you stay at the Chestnut Street Inn in Sheffield, Ill. Just a couple of hours from Chicago, the award-winning bed-and-breakfast features gourmet, locally sourced Mediterranean cuisine and area attractions such as antiquing, shopping, hiking, historic sites and wineries. The historic inn, built in 1854, offers four uniquely appointed guest suites with private bathrooms, Dish Network, DVD/VCR with more than 1000 titles, robes, signature toiletries, snacks and beverages and a full gourmet breakfast. Valentine's dinner stars roasted butternut squash and chestnut soup; salad of crab, mango, avocado and micro greens; and filet mignon; as well as an appetizer and dessert.
The special runs from Feb. 10-14 at Chestnut Street Inn, 301 E. Chestnut St., Sheffield, Ill. Rooms cost $109 to $169 per night. The six-course dinner is $40 per person with optional wine pairing for $20 additional. Call (800) 537-1304 or visit chestnut-inn.com.
Shiver me timbers
If you can't stop it, top it (winter, that is) like the "Coolest Celebration on Earth" does every year. The 126th Saint Paul Winter Carnival offers ice-carving demos, ice skating, hockey tournaments, lots of music, curling demos, two parades, a sports fest, snow sculptures and more. Watch fireworks, dog sled races and try geo caching along with some 350,000 other hardy visitors to the Minnesota town. Adults may want to attend the Carnival Beer Dabbler with 40 different beers to sample, and the little snow bunnies will especially go for the Winter Carnival Kids Day on Sunday, Jan. 29, and Family Day on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Event times vary daily from Thursday to Sunday, Jan. 26-Feb. 5, at Landmark Center, Rice Park, State Fairgrounds and downtown St. Paul, Minn. Many events are free, others require various fees. For details, see winter-carnival.com or call (651) 223-4700.
Frigid air in Amana
Beat the blues with a trip to Iowa's Amana Colonies during Winterfest. The list of activities ranges from the sublime (wine walk) to the ridiculous (ham-tossing contest and the best beard competition). Enjoy breakfast the way it used to be at the Amana Communal Kitchen or the open fire chili extravaganza. Then it's time for ice skating, sledding and snowshoeing to burn some calories. Kids will go for the marshmallow roast, winter wreath toss and meeting the Winterfest Ice Princess. A shuttle whisks visitors from eagle watching at the Lily Lake Shelter to the Ronneburg Restaurant for Wiener schnitzel and chicken schnitzel samples. Knitting, spinning and quilting demos, a log-sawing competition, live music and theater round out the long list of things to see and do. Lodging in the Amana Colonies ranges from quaint bed-and-breakfasts to full-service hotels and condos.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28. Plan your trip at festivalsinamana.com or call (800) 579-2294.
Worth the trip
Ski.com is offering free flights for children to Snowmass, Colo., this winter. Families who purchase a Ski.com package that includes at least five nights of lodging in March at any Snowmass property and four days of lift tickets valid at Aspen/Snowmass receive one free airline ticket for a child ages 7 to 12. In addition to free flights, the travel company's Kids Stay Free Ski Free program allows kids ages 7 to 12 to ski, stay and experience group lessons free with the purchase of a Ski.com package that includes at least five nights of lodging in either Aspen or Snowmass and four days of lift tickets. Snowmass is also home to the Treehouse Kid's Adventure Center, a 25,000-square-foot facility with two stories of rooms themed for kids ages 8 weeks and older, a family-friendly climbing gym, teen activities, kids' retail shops and more.
Purchase a package by Feb. 17. Rates vary by accommodations. Get details on the kids fly free to Snowmass option at ski.com/snowmassflyfree. Find more deals at ski.com/specials or call (800) 950-4990.