December 2016 View more

Wrapping up some memorable experiential gift ideas

There’s nothing inherently wrong, of course, with a sweater for Christmas. It’s warm and it’s practical and it’s perfectly acceptable as an expression of holiday generosity.

But despite the authentic thoughtfulness behind it, there’s nothing about that sweater that’s going to inspire cherished memories or excited anticipation. Sure, it looks good with that one pair of jeans, but for the most part it’s just going to kind of work its way into the wardrobe rotation and become, for better or worse, a part of the everyday routine.

An experience, on the other hand, is a three-in-one gift—something to get excited about weeks in advance, something to be thrilled by in the moment and something to look fondly upon for years. Under the tree, it may just be a certificate or a pair of tickets that don’t hold the immediate tactile gratification of that lovely sweater, but in their hearts, it’s sure to be something much more.

A ‘Cool’ Gift

While the Bulls and Bears were long the sporting standard-bearers during
Chicago’s fall and winter seasons, the focus over the past decade has shifted back to the ice, where the resurgent Blackhawks have once again claimed their former position as the hottest ticket in town. Whether sitting right behind the glass or standing in the upper reaches of the 300 level, there’s nothing better for a Chicago sports fan than being part of the experience of a game at the (new) Madhouse on Madison—from the jet-engine roar of the national anthem right through the final horn of another Hawks victory.

United Center
1901 West Madison, Chicago
Tickets are $47–$515

nmag1216_unboxed_ifly_800pxTake Flight

How adventurous is your gift recipient?
Perhaps bold enough to want to try skydiving, but not so daring as to want to actually jump out of a plane? This massive indoor facility bridges the gap between those poles with instructor-aided, no-parachute flights inside a giant wind tunnel. Every experience includes all the gear and instruction needed to take a leap into skydiving—without ever getting one’s head in the clouds.

Put a bow on it

Pair their skydiving trip with a gift certificate to one of the many new and nearby restaurants along Freedom Drive—but perhaps suggest that the meal come after the flight.        

1752 Freedom Drive, Naperville
Gift vouchers for packages range from $71–$308, with gift cards available in any amount

nmag1216_unboxed_canopytour_800pxTake Flight, Part II

There’s more than one way to fly. While not nearly as close-by as an indoor skydiving adventure, a zip-line tour through the forests of southern Wisconsin is a great way to get that same sensation of flight—with a few strings attached. The drive is just over an hour, the canopy tour—featuring eight zip lines, five sky bridges and a culminating 1,200-foot dual zip racer—is a full morning or afternoon of fun and the memories are likely forever.

Put a bow on it:

Turn a day of adventure into a full weekend getaway with an overnight stay at one of Lake Geneva’s many lovely resorts or B&Bs.

Lake Geneva Canopy Tours
N3219 County Road H
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Year-round canopy tours are $99.99 for adults and $89.99 for kids (ages 7–15), and gift certificates are available in amounts ranging from $25–$100

nmag1216_unboxed_forthill_800pxTo your health

Does this gift make me look fat? There’s a risk involved with giving fitness-related gifts. No matter how well-intentioned, there’s always the possibility that the recipient will see your perfectly benign gesture as a thinly-veiled shot at his or her physical appearance. Get past this potential passive-aggressive landmine, however, and a gym membership for the holidays makes a lot of sense, given the abundance of indulgence just passed and the clean slate of a New Year just ahead. Even better, at the Naperville Park District’s new 8,000-square-foot facility, your recipient is sure to be among the first to hit the shiny new machines and fancy indoor track (goodbye, dreadmill—er, treadmill!).

Fort Hill Activity Center
1798 Quincy Avenue, Naperville
Annual memberships range from $420 (individual) to $1,008 (family); personal training sessions run from $200 for five, 30-minute sessions to $600 for ten, 60-minute sessions

A Pop of Culture

How excited will the theater lover in your life be to snag a pair of seats to one of the hottest, most-anticipated and highly acclaimed new musicals to come down the Great White Way in decades? Given the rapturous reception it stoked in New York, it stands to reason that the first tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip hop-fueled take on the life of America’s first treasury secretary will be entrenched in the Loop for quite a while, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to get into the room where it happens. Be ready with a few alternative dates and a high-limit credit card, and then be ready for your own rapturous reception on Christmas morning.

Put a bow on it

Tuck those ducats into a copy of biographer Ron Chernow’s masterful 2004 tome on Alexander Hamilton—Miranda’s inspiration for the show.    

Hamilton: An American Musical
The PrivateBank Theatre
18 West Monroe, Chicago
broadwayinchicago.com, vividseats.com or stubhub.com
Tickets are $62–$600 for most performances

nmag1216_unboxed_surlatable_800pxGood Taste

Like a fitness-related gift, a cooking class can easily be misinterpreted as a knock on the recipient’s skills in the kitchen. But a more reasonable and less reactionary food lover will be sure to see your gift for what it is—a wonderful opportunity to learn a new culinary skill or try his or her hand at a brand new dish (the bonus, of course, is that you may wind up as the beneficiary of that delicious new skill). Sur la Table features a variety of classes—from Thai favorites to French sauces to homemade ravioli—almost every night of the week, all in its convenient downtown Naperville location.

Put a bow on it:

Present the certificate in a new pot or serving dish associated with the cuisine or recipe they’ll be learning.       

Sur la Table
55 South Main, Naperville
Classes generally range from $59–$75