We love: Chicago Park District programs
We don't love registration madness.
The Chicago Park District’s kids’ programs are among the best deals—and the worst-kept secrets—in town. Word spreads quickly about top-notch summer camps, Little Leagues, and swimming and gymnastics programs, offered for much less than their privately run counterparts. Come registration time, though, online slots are nabbed within a minute—two at the most. In-person registration translates to snaking lines of parents who literally camp overnight. Marketing specialist Erin Swanborn says the Park District is working on the problem. “We’ve put more and more spots online over the years, and it’s drastically reduced the in-person lines,” she says, adding that a new website sometime next year should simplify the process more. Her best tip: Check for spots a half hour after online registration opens, when “holds” are automatically returned to the inventory. If you strike out online and in person, Swanborn suggests putting your name on a waiting list. So why not just add more spots? “Until we get more funding, we’re doing as much as we can,” she says.
In the meantime Swanborn recommends branching out to less-popular parks. “If you’re willing to travel a little, you can find programs that are just as good,” she says. We’ve had luck signing up for programs in nearby suburbs, including Evanston, Skokie and Wilmette. The nonresident fees are a smidge higher, but sign-up is a breeze.