Illustration: Keith Negley

Fluid Dynamics

Chicagoans have found their sea legs, at least when it comes to vacations. In the past three years, 12 percent of Chicagoans have taken a cruise, compared with 10 percent of Americans, according to Simmons Market Research. And Chicagoans are 78 percent more likely than all Americans to have taken three or more cruises in the past three years.

Chicagoans also tend to spend more money sailing the high seas-on average, $2,749 per person, compared with $2,485 nationally (this excludes domestic destinations). The most popular destination for Chicagoans? The Caribbean (excluding the Bahamas), where 394,000 locals have traveled in the past three years. Runner-up is the Bahamas, with 268,000 visitors from here in the past three years. Although Hawaii drew only 55,000 Chicagoans over that stretch, local residents are still 72 percent more likely to cruise there than the average American.

Bessie Stokes of Sunset Travel & Cruise, a Lincoln Park travel consultant, says Chicago residents’ love of seafaring vacations may stem, in part, from Midwestern pragmatism. “[On a cruise] you only have to pack once, yet you get to see all these different destinations,” she says. “And you get all these meals.” Norwegian Cruise Line, for example, has introduced a new concept-freestyle dining. Instead of a set dinnertime, travelers can eat all they want nearly any time of the day.

Take a Bough

People who live in warmer climates are left out in the cold when it comes to buying an affordable Christmas tree, according to the U.S. agriculture census. The state with the highest average price charged by tree growers to wholesalers is Mississippi, at $192.23 per tree. It is followed by New Mexico ($125.72 per tree) and Texas ($80.84). At $53, Illinois ranks seventh-the most expensive of the Northern states.

The price disparity is the result of simple supply and demand. “[The higher-priced states] typically have a smaller number of farms harvesting trees used for Christmas,” says Andy Jerardo, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chicagoans who want to deck the halls on a budget might take a chance on Michigan, where growers charge the least, a mere $12.78 per tree, or Wisconsin, the fifth cheapest at $14.58. Indiana rings in at $14.90. The only problem: with high gas prices, the farther you drive to tree shop, the less you save.

Highest Christmas tree prices (wholesale)
New Mexico
Lowest Christmas tree prices (wholesale)

City of Big Screens

Although Chicago lacks the red carpet movie premières of L.A., residents here still like to catch the new releases, according to Scarborough Research. A 2004 survey showed that 10 percent of Chicagoans had caught a movie on its opening weekend in the past 12 months, compared with 8 percent nationally. In general Chicagoans attend more movies than the average American, with 37 percent catching one to two flicks in the last three months surveyed, compared with 33 percent nationwide. And 4 percent of Chicagoans qualify as true movie buffs, attending seven or more movies in the last three months.