The calendar is filling fast, but make sure to save room for a few new family-friendly local attractions this summer.
From a splashy new night show at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee to a massive bug exhibit at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, these activities should help stave off hearing your kids say, "I'm bored."
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Morton Arboretum's 'Big Bugs'
Larger-than-life insects have invaded the Morton Arboretum this summer. Through September, Lisle's outdoor tree museum is highlighting the insect world, with an oversize bee hive, lady bug, spider, daddy longlegs, praying mantis, dragon fly, grasshopper and other insects on display, some nearly 10 feet tall.
"When you're standing in the shadow of these giant sculptures, you really get a feel for what it's like to be a bug," says Mary Samerdyke, the museum's manager of interpretation. "This exhibit helps you see bugs in a new way and appreciate the many ways bugs help us even when we don't realize it."
All sculptures in the David Rogers exhibit are built using natural materials including willow, cedar, walnut and other woods.
Throughout summer, the arboretum is offering interactive, bug-themed activities. In June, kids can test their skills in a bug board game, make a ladybug mask and create an ants-themed craft.
The arboretum is at 4100 Route 53, Lisle, and is open 7 a.m. to sunset. Admission is $6 to $12. For more information, including a full list of events and classes, visit www.mortonarb.org or call (630) 968-0075.
Volo Auto Museum's 'Cars in Wonderland'
Disney and Looney Tunes fans will delight in the Volo Auto Museum's new kid-themed, 10,000-square-foot showroom, "Cars in Wonderland," which debuts Saturday, May 25.
In its newest showroom, the museum -- which recently was named by USA Today as one of the Top 10 most "jaw-dropping" car museums in the country -- features an extensive collection of kid favorites, including the Seuss-mobile, the Flintstones-mobile, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles van, Herbie and more. There are also children's rides and a small theater featuring cartoon shorts.
"It's pretty neat," says museum director Brian Grams. "It's going to be fun in there."
Disney fans in particular will enjoy the nearly $150,000 worth of Disney statues on display, several in complete sets and that date back to the early 1990s, says Grams. On view are statuary sets from "Fantasia," "Beauty and the Beast," "101 Dalmatians" and more. There's also a 200-foot-long wall where children can learn about the history of Disney and famous Disney sayings.
"We called the exhibit 'Cars in Wonderland' because all our kids' cars are surrounded by 3-D settings of Disney and Looney Tunes characters in a movie set-like setting," Grams says. "It is coming out awesome!"
An official grand opening for the showroom will be held July 13-14, featuring a special princess cabaret and Radio Disney on site.
The Volo Auto Museum, located at 27582 Volo Village Road in Volo, is known for displaying everything from classic muscle cars to celebrity-owned vehicles and autos featured in television and film. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Summer admission is $13.95 for adults, $8.95 for children 6 to 12, and $11.95 for veterans and military personnel with ID. Admission is free for military personnel in uniform and children 5 and younger. For more information, visit volocars.com or call (815) 385-3644.
Six Flags Great America's 'igNIGHT -- Grand Finale'
This summer, Six Flags Great America in Gurnee will debut a groundbreaking high-tech show -- the most advanced in the park's 37-year history -- featuring singing, dancing, pyrotechnics and video projection.
"IgNIGHT -- Grand Finale" chronicles a young couple who meet just before the 1871 Chicago Fire. They are separated when the city goes down in flames. Many generations later, their descendants meet at Club igNIGHT in modern-day Chicago. The nightclub is brought to life with music, dancing, laser lighting and more.
Featured music includes hits from Selena Gomez, Kanye West, Chris Brown, One Direction, Bruno Mars and Usher.
"Our guests have been enjoying immersive nighttime experiences for years," says park president Hank Salemi. "'igNIGHT -- Grand Finale' is going to blow away their expectations."
The show contains new video mapping projection technology, with six high-definition projectors creating set images, including of the flame-engulfed city, the club and the modern-day Chicago skyline. Guests can interact with a handheld glow stick that lights up in sync with the show.
The 30-minute performance runs from June 14 to Aug. 11 and is included in park admission tickets,
Gates open at 10:30 a.m. daily at the park, 1 Great America Parkway, off Grand Avenue in Gurnee. Admission is $41.99 to $61.99. Discounts available; see the website for details. For more information, visit www.sixflags.com/greatamerica or call (847) 249-4636.
RiverEdge Park Music Garden
The area's newest outdoor entertainment venue kicks off its inaugural season with a family-friendly schedule that includes shows, festivals and holiday and sports events.
The new RiverEdge Park Music Garden in downtown Aurora opens the weekend of June 14-15 with the city's annual Blues on the Fox festival.
Located on the east bank of the Fox River, the venue is anchored by the new John C. Dunham performance pavilion, which can seat more than 10,000 fans. The garden is the first phase of the city's larger, 30-acre RiverEdge Park redevelopment project. When complete, the regional festival park will feature wetland and urban wildlife areas, bike paths, fountains and more.
Families have plenty of options for fun park activities this summer: Take part in the Amped Up Adventure Race on June 16, or chill out to cover bands 97Nine and American English on June 28. Country stars Loretta Lynn and Randy Travis take the stage June 29, and the city will host its fireworks and Bruce in the USA concert on July 4.
The Puerto Rican Heritage Festival on July 27-28 features an Aurora's Got Talent competition, a children's area and folk music. Looking ahead, the hugely popular Fiestas Patrias is set for Sept. 14-15. The two-day festival celebrates Mexico with international music, dancing, a parade and more.
Fox Valley Park District will hold activities all summer at the park, which also features an outdoor playground at the site's south end.
For ticket prices, concert times and more information on events, visit riveredgeaurora.com or call the box office at (630) 896-6666.
Science is Fun Chicago boat cruise
Young science fans will learn the answers to all kinds of questions -- ranging from "How does a boat float?" to "Which is cleaner, Lake Michigan or the Chicago River?" -- on a new cruise offered by Chicago cruise line Mercury.
The 90-minute Science is Fun cruise, which explores the Chicago River and its buildings and bridges, is designed for school groups and summer camps. But it is also open to groups of 25 or more on Monday through Wednesday, making it a fun outing for birthday parties or other summer gatherings.
Kids will hoist water buckets, float inflated balloons, play with a seesaw and check out slimy creatures as "Professor Mercury" leads the group in a series of experiments using the scientific method of research question, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion. He'll also lead discussions about the river's environmental challenges and share interesting facts about the city, its buildings and history.
"Professor Mercury gives the students hands-on experiments that they can touch, smell and have a blast with," says cruise creator Jason Garvett. "I can't think of anyone who wouldn't love getting out of school for the day to do science experiments on a boat."
The cruise is the first in Chicago to offer this type of educational program. All cruises depart from Mercury's Riverside Gardens dock at the southeast corner and lower level of the Michigan Avenue bridge and Wacker Drive.
Tickets are $10. For more information and to make reservations, visit www.mercurycruises.com or call (312) 332-1353.