Read how the Twin Cities offer lots of choices for a family with many interests — and their stressed out mom.
I was born under the sign of the twins and, like most Geminis, I am utterly indecisive. I constantly feel pulled in two directions by strong opposing forces, also known as my children. Their names are Devin, a 10-year-old boy, and Daelyn, a 7-year-old girl — polar opposites with different interests, personalities. and tastes. Picking a restaurant can be trying, planning a vacation… give me a bottle of Advil and lock me in the office for a week.
Imagine my joy at finding a destination that was a “hit” with both of my children. Thanks to some exceptional hospitality and plentiful choices of family-friendly activities, the “Twin Cities” of Minnesota and neighboring Bloomington made for a perfect family vacation.
A Hotel That Has It All
The first great surprise was how much both Devin and Daelyn loved where we stayed, the Radisson Hotel Bloomington by Mall of America (952/854-8700 1700; East American Blvd, Bloomington, MN 55425). Previously the Grand Lodge Hotel, the lobby’s great room has high ceilings and a large fireplace, and still maintains that warm and comforting lodge atmosphere. The staff at the hotel are equally welcoming, friendly and helpful to the extent that you actually see smiles growing on the faces of people as they are checking into the hotel.
Beyond the fireplace you can see through the large glass and take a peek into the Waterpark of America, which is attached to the Radisson. Once Devin got a look, he couldn’t wait to go. A completely indoor facility, it features a 10-story, mile-long family raft ride, Flow Rider surf simulator, wave pools, water slides, splash pads and more. There are always fresh towels as long as you trade in your wet ones, and life jackets come in a range of sizes for the less aquatic of us. It’s further comforting to know that everywhere you look there are attentive lifeguards that seemed ready for everything that was thrown their way. This place is a blast, and most people will probably feel like my son and never choose to leave, and, other than closing time, you don’t really have to. The in-house restaurant even offers an array of amusement park fare if hunger hits.
If you need some time to un-prune, you can always check out the 5800-square-foot Arcade that the water park shares with the hotel. Unlike most arcades near amusement parks, at this one you can actually earn enough tickets to redeem fairly decent prizes (assuming of course you actually want to stop playing). There are plenty of deals to be had at the water park, including 4pm-4pm wristbands, and a 20% discount for guests of the Radisson.
For Daelyn, trips are all about the accommodations, and after a thorough examination of our Family Suite, the previously silent girl shouted, “I love this hotel!” Our accommodations were wonderfully spacious, including a nice sized living room with a massive flat panel TV, and a table large enough for us to play cards or enjoy a kid-friendly meal from room service after a 12-hour day at Mall of America — more on that soon. The sectional sofa pulls out, but my kids were quick to call “dibs” on the top bunk of the curtained alcove bunk bed, although I found the bottom a cozy place to curl up with a book. Not that I was going to give up the king size “Sleep Comfort” bed awaiting me in the bedroom. Honestly, my husband doesn’t “get” the joy from the Sleep Comfort, but this Gemini, on the other hand, loves having the ability to change the mattress at the touch of a button. There is another LCD TV in the bedroom, so while the kids chilled out with some video games, I got to watch some HBO.
Another luxury in the Family Suite are the two full bathrooms, including a Jacuzzi in the master bath. If you’re willing to forego the extra bathroom but gain a fireplace, you could go for the Grand Suite. Honestly, I can’t imagine anything more “best of both worlds” decadent than a day at the waterpark followed by room service by the fire. Packages start at around $140/N and the suites average in the $320/N range depending on the time of the year you book, so there is a wide range of price options. The Radisson Bloomington by Mall of America is just that, with hourly shuttle service to the Mall as well as to and from the airport, so there’s no need to rent a car.
Shop ’till You Drop, and More
I have always been a big fan of malls as growing up in New York City, they seemed so exotic to me. All these different temptations under one roof, with names like Galleria, ooooh, aaahhh… Mall of America: let’s just say they had me at “mall.” Sure, I could overwhelm you with details like 40 million visitors, the mall could fit seven Yankee Stadiums, and that they’re doubling the size of it, but is it all that?… Yep, and more!
The shopping has the popular to the obscure with anchor stores like Nordstrom, and specialty stores, like Lake Wobegon, USA. We all had our must-see stores — mine was Archiver’s, The Photo Memory Store. Devin’s was the LEGO Imagination Center, where we spent as much time playing as shopping, and Daelyn’s was Build-A-Bear Workshop. The soon-to-be-built American Girl Store was still under construction, otherwise she might have had her own trouble choosing.
The MOA (952/883-8800; 60 East Broadway, Bloomington, MN 55425), as we began to call it, has a massive variety of food offerings. There are two food courts with lots of choices which really comes in handy when everyone wants something different to eat. The quickie specialty foods like Cinnabon and Subway are scattered along every area of the four-story behemoth, and with four Caribou coffee stops alone you won’t be lacking a java fix. There are also fun theme restaurants including Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Kokomo Island CafÃ©, and my clan’s favorite, the original Rainforest CafÃ©, to name a few.
MOA presents about 350 special events every year, almost one every day and most of them are free. The events range from the Race for the Cure charity events to performances by The Jonas Brothers. There are 14 screens at the AMC theatres, Moose Mountain Miniature Golf, flight simulators and more.
A must-see is the Underwater Adventures Aquarium featuring a 300-foot-long tunnel that gives you the experience of being in the water with the sea creatures as they swim over and all around you. Both kids and I loved it and we also did the behind-the-scenes tour, twice. We got to see the labs, the tanks from above, newborn sharks, rays, and turtles, as well as the “cleanest kitchen in the mall.”
Nickelodeon Universe, smack dab in the middle of the Mall lives up to my high expectations as the most exciting form of entertainment. The first 30 seconds of SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge takes you straight up, and just before you think you’re going to break through the glass ceiling of the MOA, you plunge that hair-raising drop right out of the Rock Bottom episode, followed by some other twists and turns (or you faint).
There are many thrill rides that will definitely please the roller coaster junkies in your family, but as Daelyn was a few inches shy of the height requirement, we stuck mostly with the Family and Junior rides. One of the nicest features of this amusement park is that there is no fee to enter, and you only pay for the rides you go on. The park works on a points system so you buy a wristband with as many or few points as you want, and, after 4pm, discount bands and unlimited bands are available. This system is great, especially if you’re traveling with some thrill seekers and some that just want their picture taken with Cosmo. There are a few carnival games and an arcade for the classicist.
One nice surprise is another eating alternative named EATS that offers nutritious, tasty and kid-friendly fare. Since anyone in the MOA can walk the promenade, this makes for another eating alternative.
The biggest surprise about MOA is how green-friendly it is. My whole family, especially my son Devin, is very environmentally conscious and, upon seeing the mall, he started asking questions about the massive amounts of everything it was using. We learned that much thought was put into it being green including the use of passive solar heat, landscaping with 400 live trees — with no pesticides, just ladybugs, and all vehicles running on diesel fuel made from the restaurants’ used grease.
If you’re planning to spend a great deal of time at the MOA, you might consider the Family Fun package offered by Country Inn & Suites. You get the accommodation of your choice, two unlimited ride day passes at Nickelodeon Universe, an Aquarium pass for a family of four, an MOA coupon book (a must get), and 1 Build-A-Bear Workshop “bunk trunk,” which includes cozy items for your bear’s stay — blanket and pillow set, a bear sized T-shirt, and more, and a $5 dollar gift card to build your own bear — not included. Daelyn thought this whole package sounded brilliant, and since they start at $253 and up, she’s not wrong. The Country Inn has a very down-home, drink-your-coffee-on-the-front-porch feel. The rooms are cozy and comfortable and there are two indoor pools and a newly renovated fitness room. The yummy country-style breakfast buffet includes big fluffy waffles made to order with your choice of toppings, and is sure to fuel you up for a full day at the Mall.
Beyond the MOA
My son is a lover of all thing science, so we had to go to nearby St. Paul and visit the Science Museum of Minnesota (800/221-9444; 120 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102). This is a great adventure as the exhibits are hands-on, fresh and exciting, Devin’s favorite was the Dinosaur and Fossils Gallery, I was totally loving the Experiments Gallery, and Daelyn enjoyed watching the movie in the first convertible IMAX dome theater in the United States.
There are surprising theater options in Minneapolis including three geared for young people. Downtown Minneapolis is architecturally very interesting — especially the web-like walkways that connect buildings, and don’t forget the Minnesota Twins. If you decide to stay in Minneapolis, the Radisson Plaza Hotel Minneapolis is a gem. This is a more grown-up hotel, upscale and elegant, but most important, it’s where Derek Jeter stays! Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, treat yourself to a meal at its restaurant The Fire Lake, Grill House & Cocktail Bar. It specializes in local food and blending classic midwestern and Mediterranean cuisine. I double dare you to resist their homemade chips, and the desserts are delicious to the point of being unfair.
The Twin Cities ended up being a wonderful surprise. We all had our favorites, each one different and wonderful. In the end it was a vacation that was fun for each of my children, as well as both sides of my personality, and that’s impressive.
For additional ideas on places to stay in the area, see St. Paul Hotels.
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