MALL OF AMERICA
Taking kids to the Mall of America can sound like an unnerving adventure, especially when you do it alone. Minnesota winters are long, and indoor play places get expensive, so listen to me when I say…You Can Do It! You can master the art of making the MOA a 100% kid-friendly outing, and you can do it on a budget (or for free). Parking? Free. Play with Legos? Free. Color at the Disney Store? Free. Picnic lunch? Free. Mom’s coffee at Starbucks? $4.00 (no, really, you deserve it). Read on to see simplified ideas on navigating through one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world…without the anxiety.
What is it?
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, let me enlighten you. The Mall of America is the largest mall in the United States, with more than 520 stores, 50 dining options, and a ton of specialty attractions like Nickelodeon Universe, the Lego Store and Sea Life Aquarium. Every year, 40 million visitors walk through the doors from all over the world, and no matter the weather outside (blustery wind, sleet, blizzard), it’s always 70 degrees inside. It’s 4.2 million square feet of commercialism, and it’s pretty darn fantastic! Yes, even with small children.
Fit for what ages?
I’ve taken my kids here a couple dozen times a year since the time they were born (no exaggeration – this is the perfect place to spend your maternity leave pushing a stroller and walking off some baby weight!). It’s uber-stroller-friendly with lots of elevators and kid-friendly entertainment for youngsters of all ages. If you have a toddler who loves to chase around, the space for them to do that here is, like, mommy heaven! Obviously, the older the child, the more difficult it may become to entertain them for FREE as you can so easily do with a younger one, but there are activities in varying price ranges that will keep every member of your family busy for hours upon hours.
How much are we talkin?
Depends on what you do. I wanted to keep this blog post on the cheap for ya’ll (read the Tips section below), but there are plenty of activities that DO cost money. The indoor theme park, Nickelodeon Universe, has free admission but charges by point package or wristband to go on rides. All-you-can-ride wristbands are normally $31, but there are a slew of discount offerings, including Military Discounts, Twilight Hours and Toddler Tuesdays (when wristbands are only $12/kid). You can sometimes also get a Sea Life/Nick Universe package deal which saves you a good chunk of change. Sea Life Aquarium is another option, but this one feels pretty pricey for what you get. $17 for kids and $23 for adults just feels steep for a Minnesota aquarium. Again, discounts are offered (Weekday deals, MN resident discounts, Online purchase savings), and it is a cool aquarium, especially with the combination of the new jellyfish exhibit and the awe and wonder of a child. Moose Mountain mini golf is $9. The Barbie Dreamhouse Experience costs a whopping $23 to everyone over the age of two. You better really like Barbie, little girl!
Now, on to the free/cheap stuff…
Want some tips?
Yes. Tips. Important to have tips. First, let’s get the boring ones out of the way. There are bathrooms located in the middle of every wing on every level. They ALL have changing tables, including the department store bathrooms. Leave coats in the car if possible. You’re most likely parking in a ramp, and even though it might be 6 degrees outside, I advise running to the door and embracing the heat inside without lugging heavy jackets around. They do offer lockers, but they are tiny and expensive. Ramps are free. Wear comfortable shoes. Get there early, and definitely try to do a weekday. The craziness levels on a weekday vs. a weekend at the MOA (especially in the non-summer months) is so vast, it’s ridiculous! If you have a fountain coin-tosser, pack some pennies. If you have one that is going to nap, pack a stroller (if you don’t have one with, you can always rent one for $7 from guest services). If you are a planner and want to eat on the cheap, pack a lunch. Pull Mall of America up on Google Maps on your smart phone and zoom waaaay in. Every level and almost every store is listed there now. Pretty crazy. Very cool!
I’m going to give away my “go-to” mall route that is cheap and completely kid-centric:
Park in the East ramp. Remember which state you picked and which door you entered. We usually enter at Sea Life, thus starting the adventure. There are some fish outside of Sea Life that you can look at (for free). Head down to the first level and stop at the American Girl store to play “house” in the Bitty Baby section with cribs and strollers. Next stop – Nick Universe. Look at the Ninja Turtle statues, visit the Peeps store for free samples, and go in the Nickelodeon store (near the ferris wheel and carousel). This store has tons of character products, so if your kid is into Dora, Sponge Bob, Bubble Guppies, Ninja Turtles, Backyardigans, or Yo Gabba Gabba, this is the place to go! Let them play with toys and, if it’s still there, this particular store has a “dollar rack” with some smaller items that will still get ’em excited for mere pocket change. On your way out the North hallway, swing past the Caribou next to the Blues Clues ride and pick up a coffee (for you) and a kids size smoothie (for them…for $1.99). Next stop is the Lego Store, which has building tables for some free play (taller tables for bigger kids with small Legos; shorter tables for the munchkins with mega blocks). Kids can spend forever here, and you can sit on the benches and enjoy that coffee! When that thrill wears off, head left past the Lego store and you’ll see the Disney Store. We always go in here, and every time I get emotional and want to take my kids to Disneyworld. Every. Single. Time. On weekdays, Disney clips show on the big screen while your kids color pictures of princesses or superheroes on the kids table. My two-year old daughter spends a lot of time in the mini castle looking in the three-way mirror while trying on crowns and wands. When we are Disney’d out, we continue left to the end of the hall to the Rainforest Cafe. The food here is overpriced and basic, but the live fish and real-looking alligator and other animated animals make this a worthy window-shop stop. Take a break on a bench and enjoy your picnic lunch. If the kids have been good, grab them a small treat at the iCandy Sweet Shoppe. Make a final stop in Old Navy and ask a worker for a free balloon. Continue heading down the hall, and you’ll wind up back at the East parking/Sea Life entrance where you started. This is just enough adventure to tire out my two- and four-year olds. After all, you’ve only walked 1/4 a mile. Now you know my secrets to a day at the Mall for under $10.
Character sightings, discounted ride admission, a fun themed activity and free meals for the little ones? Yes please. Toddler Tuesdays are the way to go if you can swing it. Check out the free dining options here and sift through the Events page to see what themes are planned for upcoming Tuesdays.
Free Family Flicks
Every Saturday at 10:00 am, the Theaters at MOA offer Free Family Flicks, where everyone in your family can watch a G-rated movie on the big screen…for FREE! Check out the upcoming list of movies here.
If you have time…other kid stuff includes:
A hermit crab kiosk. Popcorn from Doc Popcorn, directly across from the Walk with Dinosaurs store. Free cheese samples at Rybicki Cheese. Game Stop to play some free video games. Barnes N Noble (a nice kids reading area).
Hours and Location
60 East Broadway | Bloomington, MN 55425
Located directly off Hwy 494 across from the airport, you can’t miss these attractions – the biggest Mall in the US and a massive bright blue IKEA building. There is some construction happening around some of the mall entrances right now, so heads up if you have a regular ramp in which you like to park. They are working on more additions to the MOA, so give them time because it’ll be worth it. Additions are set to include a dinner theater, hotels, an ice rink, and waterpark. Read more about this expansion here.
Monday – Saturday 10:00 am – 9:30 pm
Sunday 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
Closed Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.
Follow Mall of America on Facebook to see special appearances, newly-opened stores, free concerts, contest entries, and up-to-date traveling exhibits. You can also follow Nickelodeon Universe and Sea Life Aquarium.