Making the Most of an Airport Layover in Rosemont, Illinois
Designer shopping at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago turns a layover into a vacation in Italy.

I got a pound of lemons: an air traffic delay in Fort Lauderdale, a flight cancellation, being rerouted to Chicago O’Hare, an accident at LaGuardia, emergency airport closures, and a snow alert that forced me to spend 26 hours at an airport hotel.

If not for that, I might never have “made lemonade” in Rosemont, Illinois home to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Seemingly a suburb of the world’s busiest air hub (measured by flight operations), Rosemont is home to the DES Convention Center and an aggregate of family activities, despite there being “no there there.”

Finding Rosemont is Serendipity

As one of thousands stranded, the friendly folks at United had sold my ticket to American, who agreed to transport me home the following evening.

Using O’Hare’s free WiFi, I searched for same-day hotel rooms on the hotel metasearch engine and found a great rate — $72 — at the nearby Doubletree by Hilton Rosemont.

Decision: What to do with 26 Hours of Found Time

The Doubletree room — clean and welcoming — overlooked a large mall. I went downstairs to check out the gym (mediocre), pool (small) and hot tub (crowded), and figured that whatever I spent shopping at the mall would offset the cost of having room service if I stayed in.

Fashion Outlets of Chicago

Who knew it was one of the most elegant, high-end fashion outlet malls in the country? Less than two years old, and reputedly built at a cost of $250 million, Fashion Outlets of Chicago houses more than 130 outlet shops in a large, well decorated, two-story atrium with plenty of lounge space.

I entered through Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th — disheveled and disappointing. Past the first floor Bloomingdale’s, Gap, American Eagle Outfitters, Forever 21, Disney Store, I rushed up the escalator to marvel at Theory, Burberry, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Herve Leger, Vince, Giorgio Armani, Brunello Cucinelli, Prada, Etro, Ermenegildo Zegna and the Barney’s Department Store Outlet. Bingo!

I’ve read since that you can’t go more than 75 feet before you reach a shop entrance, and I believe it.

My Night on the Runway in Milan

Never thinking I could afford any of the Italian maestros, I walked into Etro. This family-run fashion house is known for artisanal designs whose patterns and rich color evoke a world palette. Overwhelmed by merchandise (some original and some designed for the outlet), I found prices were about half off to start with, then another 70% to 80% off that. I bagged some blouses ($400 to $200 to $40), jeans ($300 to $90) and a silk jacket ($800 to $400 to $80).

Prada, where the tall slim salespeople were wearing navy suits like they do at the rack-rate Bal Harbor and SoHo stores, greeted me with a cashmere cardigan sale for my husband.

In heaven and plane weary, I picked up an organic salad at the Maoz Falafel place in the food court and headed “home.”

More Rosemont Attractions Make a Staycation

Need culture?  The nearby MB Financial Park is a 200,000-square-foot indoor / outdoor entertainment centerIt’s home to a dozen distractions including restaurants, a gastropub, 18-screen movie theatre, bowling alley, comedy club, and live music spaces – many of which have family programs and kids menus. The Rosemont Theatre comes alive a few nights each month with Broadway touring shows and rock concerts.

Need recreation?  Outdoors, there’s an NHL regulation skating rink in winter and zumba classes in summer. There’s an iFly sky-diving simulator, and a Big Ten Experience, a free interactive museum dedicated to the collegiate athletic conference.

Need transportation?  Rosemont is on Chicago’s Blue Line, and the Go Airport Express shuttle from O’Hare brings in travelers from around the world, every day of the week. Parking is free. (The Fashion Outlets of Chicago is open daily 10am to 9pm, with extended hours over holiday periods.)

Need help?  Don’t have any more room in your bag? No worries, there are several discount luggage vendors. The Fashion Outlets VIP Concierge will also check your bags in for flights on Alaska, American, JetBlue, United, and US Airways.

Now that’s what I call lemonade.

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