If your crew loves amusement parks, aquariums, water parks and shopping, Mall of America just might be the perfect destination. So large that seven Yankee Stadiums could fit inside, this retail and entertainment complex draws 40 million visitors each year to Bloomington, Minn. (a suburb of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul). With MOA’s latest expansion, it’s now the largest mall in the Western Hemisphere, offering almost every store and restaurant you could imagine. If the thought of this megamall is overwhelming, here are my family’s tips for getting the most out of your trip.
To drive or fly, that is the question
About 400 miles from Chicago, MOA is a 6.5-hour drive or 1.5-hour flight. My brood cruised the scenic drive in a minivan. Wisconsin Dells and Madison are on the way (stop to pick up some New Glarus beer for the parents). If you decide to fly, MOA is just minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. All of Bloomington’s nearly 40 hotels offer free shuttle service to the mall. Public transit is available to downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, so you don’t really need a rental car.
Where to lay your sleepy head
New elegant hotels, JW Marriott and Radisson Blu, are connected to MOA for easy access without even stepping outside. My family opted for Radisson Bloomington, just down the street, home to Water Park of America. Swishing down the 10-story Family Raft Ride and floating in the Wave Pool were our 4- and 6-year-old’s favorite activities. The bunk beds built into the wall were perfect hideaways for the little ones at the end of fun-filled days.
The early shopper gets the short line
Arrive at the mall as close to opening time as possible (10 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. Sunday). Leave coats and extras in the car. Racecar strollers can be rented to zoom little ones around the more than 520 stores and 50 restaurants. No sales tax on clothing or shoes means the perfect excuse to splurge.
Wristbands reap more rides
The largest Nickelodeon theme park, with 27 rides, Nickelodeon Universe is sprawled across seven acres in the middle of the mall. All-day and Two-day Wristbands are great values for families who love thrills. Save $5 when you buy online. Points Passes are also available. Kids over 48 inches tall can enjoy all the rides, if they’re brave enough to drop face-first on SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge or spin and swing on the new Shredder’s Mutant Masher device of doom. Kids over 42 inches can enjoy most rides with a chaperone (and the required chaperone doesn’t have to pay).
Little ones have many options, like the new Guppy Bubbler spinning gondolas and Swiper’s Sweeper—kids can’t help but laugh hysterically as their car whips around corners. My 4-year-old could not get enough of the Pepsi Orange Streak roller coaster. It’s big, but not too scary—just exciting enough to get everyone shrieking. Twilight Ride Wristbands are available for a discount after 5 p.m. With low lights, it feels like an outdoor carnival at night.
Dutchman’s Deck beckons adventure-seekers with the longest indoor zip line in North America and the tallest ropes course in the world, each for an extra charge. Mouse Mountain Adventure Golf is a simple course, free for kids under 5. Go early to minimize wait times.
See and feel at SEA LIFE
SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, in the basement of MOA, is an adventure of touch, sight and sound. Get hands-on before you even check in. My kids had to be lured away from the touchpool, where they stroked sea cucumbers and ochre stars. “It feels like soft Jell-O!” my 4-year-old exclaimed, petting an anemone. Make sure to bring extra shirts.
The backlit tanks of jellyfish floating to twinkling music and color-changing lights were magical. The seahorses impressed us, even before we learned they are the only animals in the world where the dad gives birth. More than 10,000 sea creatures are viewable in the Ocean Tunnel, where Sandtiger Sharks and giant sea turtles float overhead. My 4-year-old stared in awe as divers waved to her from inside the tank (recreational dives are available to certified divers over age 18).
For a good time, dine
The service with sarcasm at Dick’s Last Resort completely shocked my 6-year-old son, until he erupted into endless giggles. I’ve never seen him enjoy lunch more. Hard Rock Café offers a glimpse at Prince’s exuberant outfits (did you know he hails from Minneapolis?) while you wait for kids’ meals, served on guitar-shaped plates. Burger Burger is a great choice in the upstairs food court for an upscale, fast-casual meal. Order the B.A.M.F! with feeling or savor the French Kiss. Hand-cut fries taste fantastic dipped in signature sauces, like Truffle Aioli, Guacamole Ranch and Bacon Ketchup. Don’t miss the milkshakes and cocktails. Blueberry Fields, served in a mason jar, is sure to shake up your day.
Twin City Grill offers classic comfort foods in a soothing setting—the perfect way to cap off an adrenaline-filled day. This Lettuce Entertain You restaurant serves the same juicy, dry-aged steaks as Wildfire, as well as Twin City favorites, like almond-crusted walleye and prime meatloaf. Ribs were a tasty option on the kids’ menu. And the bountiful dessert tray provided plenty incentive for our mini me’s to finish their meals.