Mall of America Top Things to Do

Mall of America’s Nickelodeon Universe’s natural lighting can cure mid-winter cabin fever, but it’s also festive at night.

Mall of America’s best bets for fun

Photos & story by Lisa Meyers McClintick
Whether you’re a chic shopping connoisseur, a family seeking an amusement park in the dead of winter, or someone who craves crossing “world’s biggest” off a bucket list, Minnesota’s Mall of America beckons to millions of visitors each year. 
It boasts more than 500 stores, but goes beyond being a supersized shopping mall. It’s clearly Minnesota’s top destination with a naturally lit Nickelodeon Universe, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium,mini-golf, Lego Store play area, spooky ropes course, American Girl store, Build-A-Bear workshop, night clubs, themed dining galore, plus a rotunda stage that draws top celebrities throughout the year.
Mall of America shoppers

It also doesn’t hurt that in 2013 it connected to its first hotel, Radisson Blu. With an artsy upscale vibe, it makes girlfriend getaways, romantic urban escapes and memorable family weekends even easier. You can ditch the coats and even shopping bags (the hotel can pick them up) and focus solely on roaming the mammoth Mall of America.
Another bonus: The Mall of America’s a 10-minute light-rail train ride from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and can connect to downtown Minneapolis and Target Field where the Twin play. Coming in 2014, the light rail line heads to St. Paul, as well.
Nickelodeon Universe theme park anchors the mall with its skylights, lush landscaping and even live trees with the rest of the mall surrounding it in three- or four-story directional wings: North Garden, East Broadway, South Avenue and West Market.

Mall of America North Garden

Bikini Bottom Plunge

If you’re too wiped out after a day at MOA to explore the downtowns, take heart and consider this: The Mall of America sprawls large enough to hold seven Yankee Stadiums or 258 Statues of Liberty. A mere 10 minutes spent in each of the 500-plus stores would require 86 hours and bring new meaning to shop-‘til-you-drop.

Our humble advice: Pick a focus and have a plan. Take a stroller for worn-out kids or armloads of purchases. Be sure to wear comfy shoes, bring a camera and accept you’ll only see a fraction of the behemoth Mall of America–especially with an expansion underway.
Mall of America Peeps store

Here’s a look at Mall of America’s top picks: 

(Shoppers, please note: While the list includes a few MOA interactive stores, we won’t even try to cull out MOA’s best shopping. It’s an overwhelming parade of haute boutiques and clothing such as Henri Bendel, Hanna Andersson, Columbia Sportswear, Long Tall Sally, A/X Armani Exchange, Farm Boy/Farm Girl and Nordstrom Rack for outlet deals. Specialty shops hawk everything from hundreds of Pepper Place hot sauces and See’s Candies to Peeps and Rybicki Cheese (from neighboring Wisconsin) and Victorinox Swiss Army gear. Suffice it to say, there’s shopping for everyone. Or you can skip Mall of America shopping completely and still have plenty of fun.)

1. Nickelodeon Universe
Nickelodeon Universe

The most gawk-worthy scene at Mall of America claims to be the largest indoor amusement park. What was originally Camp Snoopy when Mall of America opened more than 20 years ago has morphed to more modern characters, replacing Peanuts characters (created by St. Paul native Charles Schultz) with cable stars. Goodbye Snoopy, hello SpongeBob for the Bikini Bottom Plunge. Goodbye Lucy, hello Dora.

Dutchman’s Deck ropes course

Most Nickelodeon Universe rides fit the 48” and under crowd with lots of tot options, including the Frog Hopper, trucks, a whirling school bus and mini-coaster, but you’ll also find a log flume, the spinning Fairly Odd Coaster, and the Pepsi Orange Streak that flips upside down for older kids seeking scream-worthy thrills. You also can whirl through the new Teenage Mutant Ninja, spin crazily on Brain Surge and pay extra for the dizzying heights of The Dutchman’s Deck Ghostly Gangplankand Anchor high ropes course (The reward is a new 56-foot spiral slide
back to the ground).

Sharks and turtles swim overhead at SEA LIFE Aquarium.

Even if you don’t want to go on the rides, they are fun to watch from third-floor food courts and at night when the Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and hot-air balloons are colorfully illuminated.

2. SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium
The popular SEA LIFE aquarium starts with a journey from northern Minnesota’s Mississippi Headwaters and follows the river south to the swampy land of alligators and South American fish and tropical ocean life. The highlight is walking through SEA LIFE’s clear tunnel as sharks, sea turtles and rays swim above. Also popular: a dark room with illuminated tanks of mesmerizing jellyfish. Watch for little water eels that look like the poor unfortunate souls from “The Little Mermaid,” along with frilly sea dragons and Sea
Life’s touch tank with sting rays. For a special splurge, you can do a Sea Life sleepover, go on behind-the-scenes tours, snorkel with the fish or SCUBA dive with the sharks. (At Mall of America’s East Broadway entrance)
MOA Moose made of LEGOs

3. LEGO at Mall of America

This open, airy LEGO Store offers the Mall of America’s best free fun for kids with several Lego-building stations and supersized inspiration that includes a 34-foot tall LEGO robot sure to wow even the most jaded mom or dad. Other giant LEGO creations include a saber-toothed tiger, helicopter, Greek warrior, giant green dragon and other LEGO monuments of creativity (and patience).  Don’t miss the Minnesota-inspired artwork along the outside of the store, too. Anyone missing favorite LEGOs at home can find 180 different elements on the cool Pick-a-Brick wall (164 South Avenue; 952-858-8949).
4. Mall of America’s American Girl store
American Girl dolls can match their owner’s looks.

If you have a 7- to 10-year-old girl in your life, the American Girl store at Mall of America ranks as a dreamy, two-story pink fantasy filled with historical, modern, and custom dolls that may match your eyes, hair and skin tone. While the dolls and accessories aren’t cheap (dolls cost about $100 each; accessories as simple as glasses go for $10), the books in the store’s library are well written, nicely illustrated and always a good deal. Anyone who has received one of these dolls usually keeps them for life.

The store amps up the dolly-and-me experience by offering a doll hospital (for repairs), doll salon (to tame doll hair reverting to a witch doctor look) and American Girl Bistro where special seats let girls dine alongside their dolls with light luncheons and holiday specials while overlooking Nickelodeon Universe. It’s wise to make reservations.
5. Build-A-Bear Workshop at MOA
Build-A-Bear Workshop

Nicely located near American Girl and Sea Life Aquarium, Mall of America’s Build-A-Bear Workshop offers a top stop for tots, who love choosing a stuffed animal and watching it come to life. It’s all about the process here, starting with choosing a bear, dog, bunny or other creature that they take to special filling stations. Sweet staffers help them adding stuffing, along with a heart. Kids also can create a birth certificate and choose from elaborate outfits that make it a magical and personal experience. They’ll also keep the new critters safe in the store if kids clamor to go on more rides.

Mall of America Rotunda

Other favorite shopping destinations for young kids: a sprawling Nickelodeon gift shop stocked with TV characters, a Disney store with a magic princess mirror, a Peeps candy store, and Sanrio (stocked with Hello Kitty merchandise), and impromptu magic tricks at Abaracadabara.

6. Look for free entertainment
The Mall of America’s Rotunda has been dubbed Hollywood of the Midwest with more than 400 annual events that include book signings, performances and a chance to see top celebrities. Those who cater to younger audiences tend to draw the biggest crowds. Think Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber. Throngs of up to 25,000 fans can pack the main floor and upper-level overlooks. Even if Mall of America entertainment is more humble than A-List celebs—a cheerleading competition, bestselling author or traveling choirs—there’s usually something fun to see.
7. Spend the night

Mall of America’s first attached hotel, Radisson Blu, offers chic style.

It’s a luxury to tuck into comfy beds and enjoy the hip décor at Radisson Blu after a long day at the mall with a lobby designed to look like a giant shopping bag stuffed with tissue paper (but looks more like an artsy ice berg with funky lighting). Rooms typically start at $199, but you can nab specials such as the ones on Black Friday that give guests first dibs on sales. The hotel connect by skyway to the Mall of America, and its Fire Lake Grill, with Minnesota specialties and foods smoked, barbecued and grilled. If you need to save money, there’s a Carlson Suites across the street, a Radisson with a Minnesota-themed Waterpark of America northwest of MOA and even cheaper rooms if you drive about 15 minutes across the Minnesota River to Eagan, which has

FireLake at Radisson Blu, Mall of America

lower lodging taxes and often offers complimentary Nickelodeon Universe wristbands or other pick-your-package options.

 8. Take the kids to Toddler Tuesdays

The mall is ideal for the stroller crowd—especially on Tuesday mornings through the winter when it’s uncrowded and well-suited for Toddler Tuesdays. The weekly event includes a nice lineup of crafts, activities or performances aimed at the preschool crowd. You’ll also find deals at Nickelodeon University and in many of the restaurants, some of which offer free kids’ meals.

9. Go to the movies

Another Mall of America perk? Free Saturday morning moviesat 10 a.m.. It’s perfect if you have one parent go with the kids and another sneaks off to buy holiday or birthday gifts. There’s also an option for sensory-friendly movie showings that welcome families who have kids with autism and other disabilities. Kids have the freedom to movie around if needed, keep lights on, have the sound turned down or make other adjustments to fit their need.
There also are movies at 11:30 am on Toddler Tuesdays.
Cadillac Ranch wild rice pizza

10. Blend dinner with entertainment
You’ll find tempting restaurants throughout the Mall of America with every kind of gimmick from bull-riding at Cadillac Ranch to 1950s nostalgia at Johnny Rockets. The biggest standouts blend food with entertainment. Toddlers and younger kids love Rainforest Café’s mesmerizing aquariums, a tropical waterfall, simulated rainstorms and gorillas that come to life when it thunders and lightning flashes.
Fish entertain kids at Rainforest Cafe.

Teens and adults can grab a game of bowling with illuminated lanes and arcade games at Sky Deck Sports Grille and Lanes. Want a little snark with your meal? Dick’s Last Resort has a staff famously ready to razz its diners. If you want to soak in Minnesota’s Up-North décor, opt for Famous Dave’s. Founded in Wisconsin and headquartered in Minnesota, this barbecue joint pulls flavors from the South—Texas, Georgia and Tennessee—but the décor is pure Paul Bunyan with Smokey the Bear signs, fishing rods and tackle and checkered tablecloths.

For more information 

For more advice on a Mall of America getaway–especially with kids along–check out my feature and other parents’ Mall of America reviews at Family Vacation Critic. If you’re heading to the MOA for the holidays in 2013, check out Mall of America’s Christmas promotions, giveaways, valet parking and free events in this 10,000 Likes post.