I got so much help from this forum before my trip I wanted to post a trip report here about how it all went - so here goes;
Arrived Friday 21st Dec. We were staying in a great apt on Loomis st so we got the blue line straight from the airpor to Racine and walked a blcok and a half to the apt. It was really handy having transport so close, and this was on of the reasons I chose this place to stay. The neighbourhood was lovely, felt very safe walking there, even on our first night, when we ventured out to get a pizza from Taylor Made Pizza on Taylor St, (which was amazing by the way ) and to pickup some supplies from the 7 11 store.
The next day we were waiting outside stax breakfast place ( 3 blocks away) at 7am for it to open. We had a lovely breakfast - my teenagers, not realising the size of portions served ordered chocolate panckaes for one and mini waffles with cream for the other - neither of them could get even haf way though the meal but what they could eat, they did. The hostess was really lovely there, she had been to ireland previously and recognised our accents - she came over to chat and gave us some helpful tips for things to see when we were there.
We left and headed on the blue line into state st fro some shopping - this is where the day took a turn for the worst. On the blue line into town a fight broke out on our carriage - there was only the two guys and myself and the kids on this carriage - it was about 08.30am - they started fighting over a pair of gloves that one had apparently stolen from the other and it became a physical fight, right infront of us. It was really scary and my kids and I hopped off at the next station and waited for the next train downtown. We didnt feel any safer on that one, between drug addicts shooting up heroin in the corner seat - and guys bursting through the carriages while the train is moving looking for spare change ( right in our faces) . We felt qute intimidated. I am not going to get in to each experience but we got on a blue line 3 more times that day and each trip was sccarier than the last. By the time we got home for the evening I was a nervous wreck ( I had also been punched hard in th eshoulder, by a random stranger who was mad at anotherr guy as I walked down state street by that point - so i had really had enough by then).
I deciided to get the pink line from then on and t sit in the firsgt carriage behind the driver everytime and although none of us were comfortable again on the el - nothiing else bad happened. We used buses wherever possible, and chicago has such good transport links that we could get around very easily. We had bought a 7 day pass each which was really good value.
In addition to the shopping ( which we did quitte a bit) we did the usual touristy things like visitingn navy pier - whcih was good, very cold of ocurse on the day we were there, but we braved the cold to do the ferris wheel which was nice.
We also went on a city segway tour - we did the 3 hour tour - my kids and I were the only people on the tour who were NOT from chicago - our tour guide was Russell and he was fantastic ( we did this on the Sunday, the day after all the scary experiences) and he went a long way towards making my kids and i feel more comfortable and able to have fun. The tour took us all over , we covered way more than we could have done in a day on foot and his commentary was witty and breezy. Segways themselves are great fun, so take a tour if you get a chance.
On christmas day we went ice skating in millenium park - it wasnt too busy thagt morning and just as the kids took to the ice it started to snow - could not have been better timing - it was magical!.
We took the red line to chinatown on christmas day as planned - and it was a great idea - the streets of downtown chicago were pretty deserted but chinatown was busy - as you would expect. We all picked up some trinkets and our Christmas lunch was Dim Sum including chicken feet - very different tthatn our usual turkey and brussel sprouts.
Chicago is a lovely place to visit, apart from our bad expeiences on our first day there I found everyone we met so freindly and nice. There is lots to see and do and lots of lovelyplaces to eat which I will be reviewing separately.
Thanks again for all the help and advice I received here and if anyone wants to know anything about Dublin - i will be happy to return the favour!