On Sunday it was time for all of us (minus Ryan and Turkey) to head home so that Moose could march with his school’s band in the town Memorial Day parade on Monday. We said a sad goodbye to Combo Breaker:
And got a few last pictures:
We took one last walk around the beautiful hotel lobby:
And then hit the road. We were excited to watch the odometer kick over to 80,000 miles on the way. We were even more excited to stop at Portillo’s and eat lunch on their patio!
It was weird arriving home without two members of our family, but they returned Monday with gifts. I didn’t have the opportunity to stop at a Jewel-Osco while we were in Chicago, but Ryan found time to buy my favorite chocolate torte:
And he brought back staff medals for the entire family as thanks for the work we did over the weekend…I was rather overwhelmed at being recognized!
And so that wraps up what was a slightly shorter than usual but greatly appreciated trip up to Chicagoland for Combo Breaker. Hopefully it won’t be another three years before we make it back, but like I said, I won’t take it for granted again!
We were up early enough on Saturday to be on the Combo Breaker floor before pretty much anyone else (other than staff) showed up:
It was the perfect time for our traditional Combo Breaker family photo!
After that, we parted ways again to do our respective jobs. Ryan and Turkey were working the full day again, and the rest of headed off to fill more bags for the next several hours. We were working with someone which made it a lot of fun, and the time passed quickly! After we finally ran out of hand sanitizer and had to stop, we took a break for ice cream at Oberweis:
Back at the hotel, we took yet another walk…I don’t think the place has a bad side!
We spent the rest of our time that day at Combo Breaker…we knew it was our last night there, and we wanted to make it last. We got to see an auction tournament for the first time, which was loads of fun, and caught one final before we left. We also got to see parts of a wedding that was taking place at the hotel, which was also fun!
We took the long way back to our room (outside again) to enjoy the night view one more time.
The second day of our trip was the one I was most looking forward to, because after three long years, we were finally going to go back to Chicago! The weather forecast wasn’t promising, but in the end, although it was quite cool, the rain lifted, and that was good enough for us. We got to leave from a new-to-us Metra station (Palatine), so we saw a bunch of different suburbs on our way downtown.
The sights that greeted us were just like I remembered:
It was so good to be back!
Bunny took some time to feed some pigeons:
And one even photobombed her!
Mostly, we just walked around and took it all in. It was so much fun to see all of our favorite places (and some new ones), and we even stopped to listen to a street musician (who was very talented!) for a bit. The only thing we didn’t get to do that I would have liked was see Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan, but it was very windy, and that was in the opposite direction of the other stuff we had planned, so I settled on seeing a sliver of my lake from a distance.
We walked up the Magnificent Mile to Water Tower Place, something new for us. We stopped in to see the big American Girl store and the Lego Store (two of our favorite places):
We also spent some time in Jane Byrn Park by the historic Water Tower:
After that, we made our way to the Plaza of the Americas so we could visit the “Wings of Mexico” art installation, which is “a symbol of the immigrant journey and celebrates Chicago as a sanctuary city.” Moose didn’t care to have his picture taken, but us gals couldn’t resist!
No visit to Chicago would be complete without a stop at the former Marshall Field’s on State Street to buy a box of Frango Mints!
And then we made our way back to the train and said goodbye to my favorite city. The last time I said goodbye, I assumed I’d be back “soon.” Three years later, and without Turkey joining us because he was working Combo Breaker the whole day, I finally made it back. I really hated to leave, and I’ll never take it for granted again.
Back at the hotel, Combo Breaker had begun, so we spent some time on the floor, taking in all those sights, too.
We also enjoyed playing some of the arcade games they had set up, including Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong.
We couldn’t resist another walk outside, where the evening light was perfect. Also, we enjoyed watching muskrats swim in the hotel ponds…who knew?!?
We also found time for one more evening swim…it wasn’t quite the same as swimming under the stars at Pheasant Run’s outdoor pool, but it was still fun!
I haven’t had the opportunity to do too many “Markel Family Road Trip Wrap-Ups” over the last few years, but I’m back with a big one, because Combo Breaker returned to Chicagoland over Memorial Day weekend!
Ryan and Turkey left for the event last Wednesday, but Moose had one last final that day, so the rest of us hit the road on Thursday (major thanks to Ryan’s parents for letting us borrow their second car to make it all work!). The drive through Illinois was, as always, pretty boring, but we did get to stop at the fairly new Wally’s in Pontiac to get gas and stretch our legs, and that in itself was quite an experience…I had no idea a “jerky bar” was a thing!
Our destination was the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center, the new home of Combo Breaker. As much as I loved Pheasant Run, this was a real upgrade, and we really enjoyed just walking around the hotel (inside and out), and taking it all in:
Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so after stashing our stuff in the “boys’ room,” we went down to the event space to see how we could help. They were, I think, happy to see us, as they put us to work immediately, filling the registrants’ bags. It was fun being part of the work that goes on behind the scenes, and we got to see a lot of people as we worked, but I don’t think we were as happy to see anyone as Bunny was to finally get to meet her favorite fighting game commentator, Tasty Steve!
I took a break from bagging to check into our room, which was very nice…we especially liked the “wish” artwork on the wall!
The view wasn’t bad either!
After we finished our work for the day, we headed down to the pool, which was very nice (it was a saltwater pool, which I enjoyed), and we had the whole thing to ourselves!
We also took one last walk around the property…it’s a very beautiful place!
After a long wait of three years, Combo Breaker is back! Like everything that has taken place since the beginning of the pandemic, it looked a little different, but one of the most obvious differences wasn’t even pandemic-related…Combo Breaker has a new home at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center! (In related news, the now-defunct Pheasant Run Resort burned down the week before the event began, and there’s so much irony in there I can’t even start.)
So how was Combo Breaker different in the of COVID-19? It really wasn’t…vaccinations were required (you received a wristband to wear all weekend after you showed your proof of vaccination) and masks were mandatory at all times (except for when you were eating or drinking, of course…and I have to say, in general, compliance was excellent). Everything else felt familiar, though…the crowds, the games, the commentators, the artists, the fantastic energy on the floor. It was just all much bigger, because the space was enormous…even though the main stage screen was the same size as it has always been, it looked tiny compared to my memory of the event because the room was so huge!
For the first time, all seven of us Markels were able to volunteer at the event. Of course, Ryan always works, but Turkey drove up with him on Wednesday, and pitched in from Thursday-Saturday. The rest of us drove up a day later, and on Thursday and Saturday we helped fill thousands of registrant bags, and Ladybug even got to help run a bracket Friday night! There was something special about all of us being able to help out during the first event back after the pandemic, and even though most of us had to leave to come home before the Sunday night finals, I think this Combo Breaker will always have a special place in our hearts, because it just meant so much!
The fourth day of our weekend getaway would have started with church at St. John Wheaton. It’s weird to think that this Sunday, not only are we not going to be there, but nobody is.
I had planned to stop at the Popcorn Store after church, so the children could each pick a selection of candy. I’m happy to hear that store is currently able to do curbside popcorn orders, but it’s not the same without looking at all the candy displays in the shop!
I always wear Pinup Girl Clothing to Combo Breaker on Sunday. I had a really good outfit planned this year, too…my purple plaid Long Jun skirt paired with an Animal Crossing t-shirt. I even had new Animal Crossing pins for my lanyard!
The finals on Sunday are always so exciting to watch, and other than some pool time, I think we would have dedicated most of the day to Combo Breaker. I really loved seeing Tekken 7 last year, and I was really looking forward to experiencing some “Good Ass Tekken” with a hype crowd again this year!
I had another big day planned for the third day of our trip north. First things first…we always take a family picture on the Combo Breaker Floor. Actually, that’s always one of my favorite moments of the trip. I’m pretty bummed that we’re missing that picture this year, so here’s a look back at the family photos we took during our first four Combo Breakers!
After a morning visit to the event, we were going to head to Brookfield Zoo. This has become one of our favorite Chicagoland locations, (we can spend a good six hours just walking around), and it would have been our second springtime zoo trip (to go along with two winter visits). You never see the same thing twice, and we were really looking forward to discovering something new!
I think this would probably have been the night we went to dinner at Alfie’s Inn, too. This restaurant has become another favorite place on our journeys, and they make a mean patty melt!
After dinner, we would have headed back to the hotel for a swim, and an evening of Combo Breaker fun. Now, I know that there’s no way the floor would look like this on Saturday evening, so empty and organized, but I really this picture!
Eventually we would have headed back to our hotel room…I wonder what was supposed to be airing on the Food Network tonight?!?
Up next…the third and final day of Combo Breaker 2020!
The second day of our trip north for Combo Breaker was going to be A Big Day…it was the day we were going to to hop on the Metra and go into Chicago for a day of fun!
I had a lot of things planned…first we were going to take a water taxi to Navy Pier and ride the Centennial Wheel. After riding The Wheel at St. Louis Union Station last October, we were very excited about the idea of seeing the Chicago skyline from a similar vantage point.
We also planned on visiting The Bean, something we’ve done every time we’ve attended Combo Breaker (even the one year that we missed having our downtown day), and I’m sure we would have fed some pigeons, too, because that’s something we always seem to do.
I had hoped to stop by the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, and maybe the American Girl flagship store (although I’m still not sure how I would have convinced the boys to go along with that!). And of course we would have stopped at the former Marshall Field’s to pick up a box of Frango Mints (thankfully, I was able to order some!), before heading back to the Ogilvie Transportation Center to catch a train back to Schaumburg!
We were planning on going to Kuma’s Corner for burgers one night, and I think after a day of walking around downtown Chicago, we would have really appreciated that meal and a chance to relax. The “Lair of the Minotaur” burger, with caramelized onion, pancetta, bourbon poached pear, and brie looked especially good to me, but I was also looking forward to seeing the special.
After dinner, it would have been time to check out all that Combo Breaker 2020 had to offer. We love walking around the event the first day, and just taking everything in, from the vendors’ area to the main stage to casuals, and everything else! You never know what you’re going to see!
We always stop by the Gaming Generations booth to buy whatever catches our eye. The children were really disappointed about missing out on that opportunity this year, so they were really excited when Gaming Gen opened an online store, and they were able to order the plushes they were hoping to find at the event!
After that, we probably would have just headed back to our hotel room to relax and watch the Food Network, because our Chicago day is always exhausting. Sometimes, if we have the energy, we do go for a swim to relax, though, so that was always a possibility!
What can I say about a place that in just a few short years brought our family so much joy, and helped us create so many special memories?
The first time we went to Pheasant Run in 2016, I was the one who was excited. It had always been that “fancy place out west” when I was a child growing up in Chicago’s suburbs, and I couldn’t believe we were actually going to have the chance to stay there! And we had so much fun exploring the resort that first trip…swimming in the indoor/outdoor pool, visiting Bourbon Street, and of course checking out Combo Breaker (my first, but definitely not last, fighting game tournament experience), at the Mega Center.
After that first long weekend, it became a place we all looked forward to visiting. As we approached St. Charles, no matter which direction we were coming from, we’d compete to see who would catch the first glimpse of Pheasant Run’s impressive tower. And as soon as we were settled in our room (seriously, the should have named it the Markel Room, because we stayed in the same tower location three out of the five times we were there!), and admired the view from the top of the tower, which on a clear day included some of Chicago’s tallest buildings, we always wanted to hit the pool first thing. There were also lots of Combo Breaker memories made over the years in the Mega Center.
Pheasant Run made me feel like a rock star, and helped me make some dreams come true. In 2018, upon arriving in our room, we found fresh cookies and milk and a lovely note waiting for us, and I felt so special. And in 2019, we had a full goody basket of cookies and candies, chips and sodas, plus Kane County Cougars caps and vouchers for tickets to a game during our stay, which was an experience I had always wanted to have…do you see what I mean about feeling like a rock star? And in between those two stays, Pheasant Run hosted us for a Christmas weekend, which allowed us to make some extra special family memories, including taking the children into Chicago to experience a full city Christmas, another dream of mine.
I am so sad that the sun is setting on Pheasant Run, a Chicagoland staple for hospitality and entertainment since 1963, but I will always be grateful for the memories we made there!