Midwest Living Review
In a world that increasingly celebrates princesses, American Girl feels like a wholesome, smart, worth-the-money alternative, and that brand thrives at this flagship store in Chicago's Water Tower Place. Quite simply, it is little girl heaven for the 8-12-year-old set, thanks to the historically based doll characters, the books, the clothes, the accessories, the doll hair salon (where you can learn how to do their hair in different styles), the doll hospital, the pet shop, the sweets shop and the cafe. A mom could easily drop $500 here without thinking twice (the dolls themselves are $100 each). The bookstore anchors the front of the store, the dolls pull people toward the back, while the cafe is on the second floor. The cafe is a flat-fee kind of thing; $22 per person for appetizers, meal, dessert. Cookie dough smoothies are popular, kid-friendly and $5 extra. The meal starts with a plate of cinnamon rolls; the appetizer is a plate of carrots and celery sticks, plus soft pretzel puffs stuffed with cheese. We ordered the mom-friendly salmon salad and the veggie panini; the menu also includes all of the kid-friendly staples like mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, etc. But you don't come here for the food, which is fine; you come here for the experience. The dining room is full of multigenerational tables -- grandmas, moms, aunts and girls celebrating birthdays or special days, and the girls of course have their dolls. And if you don't own a doll -- we didn't -- you can borrow one from the bookshelves near the cafe entrance to dine with you (we did). If your girl is celebrating a birthday, she gets a paper tiara and so does her doll; the servers sing "Happy Birthday" and bring a big chocolate cake topped with mile-high vanilla buttercream frosting that's accented with pink piping and flowers. American Girl also has partnered with other big Chicago attractions to offer American Girl-themed tours held at the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and, in 2011, the First Lady Chicago Architecture River Cruise. Those special events run from $40 each, including dinner, transportation and tours -- a reasonable price for the memories you'll make with your growing-up-too-fast girl. Fourteen Chicago hotels also partner with American Girl to offer special packages, including beds for the dolls and milk and cookies for the girls and their dolls. If you're interested in those programs, visit American Girl's website or call the Chicago store to make reservations.