What’s Fun for Families at Mall of America

Amanda Williams Avatar

Photo courtesy of Mall of America There are tons of new things happenings at Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis.

Mall of America is like the Midwest’s Disney World. Kids go bonkers for MOA’s rides, attractions, stores and food. With all of the new stuff they’ve added in recent years, this suburban Minneapolis destination just keeps getting better. It’s a must-see destination. Here’s why.

The writer was hosted.

Mall of America – What’s New and What’s Changed

If you’re like me, and haven’t been to Mall of America in a while, it’s time to get yourself back to Minneapolis (actually just south, in suburban Bloomington, Minnesota). The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is just nine miles away.

The Mall of America has the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, Amazing Mirror Maze, the Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, a north woods themed mini golf course, an escape game, movie theaters and more. Not to mention there are dining options for days and entertainment for all ages. Recently, we made a trip to see what’s new in the megamall.

LEGO Store giant Lego robot at Mall of America, one of the fun experiences for kids
LEGO Store giant Lego robot looking out over Nickelodeon Universe. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Nickelodeon Universe

What makes MOA like no other mall in the world is its giant indoor theme park, Nickelodeon Universe — Toddler Tuesdays, the LEGO Store and special character meet-and-greets are still there when you arrive! The colorful, clean amusement park spans a whopping seven acres and is just one of the mall’s entertainment options. It’s always a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a fantastic getaway from the Minnesota winter humdrums. You can spend a whole day here, but do plan at least a few hours. Target a weekday for the best experience with low lines.

Mom and son at Ghost Blasters in Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America, one of the fun things to do
Ghost blasters in Nickelodeon Universe. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Rides and Slides

The popular Mall of America rides are still there, including that insane SpongeBob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge rollercoaster that goes straight up and back down before looping and zooming around the track again. Check out this footage of my kids screaming in delight for a glimpse of the epic ride.

The ride I think is the ultimate in ninja-strategy for time conservation in lines versus family fun in the seat is Ghost Blasters. It’s not a thrill ride, but it’s super fun and all ages can have a blast! The best part is the line is generally pretty short.

Nickelodeon Universe rides and bright sky lights at Mall of America
Nickelodeon Universe rides and bright sky lights. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

The log flume was closed for most of our visit (and you usually get wet on this ride), so we didn’t ride it this trip. The kids did the Rock Bottom Plunge five times, the line moves fast and it was the fan favorite.

1st Round sports bar and grill near Nickelodeon Universe
1st Round sports bar and grill near Nickelodeon Universe is a hot spot for food after rides. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Clean and Easy Amusement Park

You can still find hand sanitizer dispensers posted around most of the Mall, including in the amusement park, which is a nice holdover from pandemic ways. The grounds were clean.

Not all the rides are operating all-day, everyday. Make sure to check the website for the amusement park ride rotation and current ticket prices and promotions.

SheBuysTravel Tip: We recommend grabbing your Nickelodeon Universe Unlimited Ride Passes ahead of time on GetYourGuide. You can purchase it online and pick up your wristband once you arrive. Easy! 

High ropes course at Mall of America, one of the fun things to do
High ropes course at Mall of America. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Dutchman’s Deck — the Ultimate Adventure Course

Nickelodeon Universe has a high-ropes course, ziplining feature (you get to go across, and then back again), multiple-story slides and all of them are a super fun break from rides and line fatigue. (They require separate ticketing from the main park wristbands.)

You get a gunnysack to go down the slides and for adults, be warned: you feel every seam and rivet, so go once for bragging rights, then pop an Advil and observe! I found out despite my past of skydiving and zip-lining, I’ve grown to fear most things between an 8-foot step ladder and an airplane. The ropes course spans a few stories and thus, I remained on the ground for most of this adventure.

Classics at Mall of America are Back!

FlyOver America

Have you ever been on Soarin’ at Epcot in Walt Disney World? FlyOver America is the same type of ride, but even better. You sit (and get buckled in) to a row of seats similar to a theater setting, which lifts up and puts you in front of an IMAX movie screen that soars over different scenes in the United States. You literally feel like you’re flying over America. (Or depending on what special feature is in town, like on the most recent trip in 2022, FlyOver Hawaii!) There are some 4-D effects, like mist or water sprays during appropriate scenery. We even loved the Hawaiian trivia contest in the waiting area during the queue before the ride.

Young boy posing at Flyover America photo opportunity stop at Mall of America
Flyover America photo opportunity stop outside the attraction. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Rotating Special Themes

I could do this ride monthly – it’s very relaxing and fun! We’ve done the special holiday-themed edition following Santa’s reindeer, the classic America trip which is always available and now, Hawaii. My 7 year-old wanted to do it again (more so than any of the other theme park rides) and I didn’t blame him! The smells and views of Hawaii were enticing (especially since we’ve not been in person.)

If you get seated nearer to the middle, it’s the best experience without peripheral shadows on the domed walls (and to minimize any vertigo.) You MAY get a few cold water drips from the effects.

Fly Over America at Mall of America
Photo purchased by Jamie Bartosch. You can buy photos of yourself in front of a green screen before going on Fly Over America at Mall of America, if the green screen is operational.

SheBuysTravel Tip: You’ll save a few bucks on each each ticket if you order them in advance online.

SEA Life Aquarium

SEA Life aquarium remains a clean and educational family experience that should make your Mall of America itinerary at least once (but if you’re nature lovers like we are, it’s EVERY time we go!) There are exotic and North American and Minnesotan endemic species in the tanks around a very leafy space.

Amazonian fishes in SEAlife aquarium tank, one of the fun things to do at Mall of America
Amazonian fishes in SEAlife aquarium tank. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Special Themes and Tours

When we went, the aquarium had incorporated a fun Octonauts-themed educational adventure with heavy paper-press stamps to complete an adventure passport through the exhibits of sharks, jellyfish and even snakes and spiders. My seven year-old loved this sea creatures science quest! (And, nostalgia had me, since I spent so much time learning about Creature Reports and other mainstays of the kids cartoon!) Very fun experience and it was evident from the crowds (Spring Break) around us that it was an easy multi-generational activity to enjoy with grandparents and friends.

SEAlife aquarium Octonauts Dive Station, one of the fun things to check out at Mall of America
SEAlife aquarium Octonauts Dive Station. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

You can purchase behind the scenes tour packages to indulge the mini scientists in your group and there are several opportunities to interact with animals like stingrays, with feedings and touch tanks, some for an upcharge.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Time slots at SEA LIFE Aquarium are likely to sell out. Book your spot ahead of time using the “Reserve now & pay later” feature from GetYourGuide. 

The Crayola Experience at Mall of America
The Crayola Experience at Mall of America. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Crayola Experience

Have a creative child who loves art or coloring? Stop at Crayola Experience. Geared more toward little kids – although it has a few things older kids might like– it’s a massive, brightly colored and buzzing-with-activity area.

Each room is designated for a different interactive, art-related activity. In one room, you can use a touchscreen to make your own custom crayon wrapper (for a take-home souvenir crayon). In another room, melt Crayola crayons into shapes like maybe a giant diamond ring. The finished project is a keeper!

It was crowded during our Saturday afternoon visit, and a bit pricey, but it was a vibrant time filled with coloring pages and wax.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Purchase your Crayola Experience tickets online ahead of time with free cancelation up to 24 hours in advance. 

Changes to MOA

The American Girl store, with its fancy high teas and pricey dolls, is no longer in Mall of America. What has replaced that storefront space is the two-story M&M store.

Yellow peanut M&M at new Mall of America store
Replacing American Girl, the Yellow peanut M&M is on display at the new Mall of America store. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Also gone is the Hard Rock Cafe adjacent to the Nickelodeon Universe themepark, but new culinary opportunities like Cedar + Stone, cocktail bars, Twin Cities Grill and a myriad of other fun things await if you’re hungry for a good time! Try Fair on 4th! And, if you want more options than you can shake a stick at in one place, head to the food court.

Sign for Fair on 4th dining and games at Mall of America, one of the fun things to do
Sign pointing to Fair on 4th, a new dining and game experience. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

SMAAASH virtual reality is gone now, BUT Fair on 4th is an old time carnival-themed adult playground (family-friendly, but more for the adults) with delicious food, axe-throwing, and beer and spirits to keep the party going.

Sugar Factory rainbow sliders at Mall of America, one of the great restaurants to check out
Sugar Factory rainbow sliders. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

A Sweet New Culinary Experience: Sugar Factory

A fun restaurant that serves smoking beverage goblets adorned with candies, Sugar Factory, opened in the fall of 2019 at Mall of America.

This is the VERY BEST place to have an extravagant celebration like a birthday or anniversary. All the beverages can be made in non-alcoholic versions (and they will give you a to-go cup if it’s just too much for one sitting!)

Sugar Factory Half Kong sundae at Mall of America
Sugar Factory Half Kong sundae is not for the faint of heart (easily serves 4-6 people.) Photo credit: Amanda Williams

The servers are raucous with laughter and singing and jovial banter as they bring out special celebratory desserts, like the Half Kong we tried amongst the four of us, celebrating my son’s 11th birthday. (A FULL King Kong sundae is $96 and serves 12.) We all left a little high on sugar and were happy to walk off the never-to-be-mentioned calories incurred while browsing the rest of the Mall.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Although there are many places to eat and drink and be merry at Mall of America, we cannot recommend reservations enough, if you have your heart set on a particular dining experience.

Towne Place Suites by Marriott exterior in Minneapolis Minnesota near the Mall of America
Towne Place Suites by Marriott just a block away from Mall of America. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Where to Stay at Mall of America

Staying at a hotel attached to the Mall of America is pricey, if convenient. There are so many options surrounding the Mall of America, many with service from the light rail public metro line. But, we found one which was walkable and affordable which sailed to the top of our list of recommendations!

Communal space for grilling and conversation at the Towne Place Suites near the Mall of America
Communal space for grilling and conversation at the Towne Place Suites. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Towne Place Suites Minneapolis/Mall of America

The Towne Place Suites Minneapolis/Mall of America is just across the road from the SEARS anchor store sign, near the North Entrance (where the MOA star selfie spot is located as well as a main ride-share pick-up and drop-off point). It has many family-friendly features, like big suites, free breakfast and a nice indoor pool. Best of all, it’s a great value. Room rates are typically in the low $100-dollar/night range.

Breakfast at Towne Place Suites near the Mall of America
Breakfast at Towne Place Suites was complimentary and COVID-friendly, offering hot and cold items. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Location is Key

My kids and I enjoyed this hotel a lot. It was wildly windy when we stayed (and in March in Minnesota, very crisp) so though it is absolutely a “walking distance” location, we opted to take the SUPER short drive to the overflow surface parking in front of the North Entrance.

I loved the amenities at the hotel, notably the generous pool for my kids to swim off steam and ice cream sundaes! Having a vast spread in the morning to load up on breakfast to fuel their day was a bonus. Note: The pool area does not have a hot tub.

Comfortable King Studio at Towne Place Suites
Comfortable King Studio at Towne Place Suites across the street from Mall of America. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Rooms Made for a Great Family Getaway

We opted for a King Studio Suite — perfectly sized for three kids and one adult. Any more and you’ll want to look at larger rooms in this all-suites hotel. The front desk staff were very bubbly and welcoming (and helpful even after our stay, when they graciously helped ship my forgetful son’s Nintendo Switch charger to our home!)

The neatest feature which I think I’ll venture back to enjoy in warmer weather was the grilling area in the front of the hotel and the quiet patio in the rear of the building, perfect for cocktails and companionship after a day at the mall! (All the suites have full kitchens, so it is absolutely feasible to plan a decadent meal while away!)

Pool area of Towne Place Suites near the Mall of America
Pool area of Towne Place Suites, prior to the splashes of the day ahead! Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Family-friendly and Convenient

Always a perk and not one at some of the adjoining Mall hotels, because real estate is at a premium there, is the free and ample parking at Towne Place Suites. While valet service is nice in Los Angeles, it’s good to be able to drive up, unload and park without any additional fuss! This is the perfect base camp for Mall of America fun!

Large rooms and an indoor pool make this hotel next to Mall of America very family-friendly.

SheBuysTravel Tip: I had my morning coffee in the deserted pool area in the early sun rays of the morning and it was delightful!

If you want to splurge on a hotel attached to the mall, consider the Radisson Blu Mall of America or the JW Marriott for more luxury. For the ultimate water park experience, there is a Great Wolf Lodge property just across the freeway, too.

Family posing at Mall of America selfie spot North entrance
Mall of America selfie spot at the North entrance. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Shopping at Mall of America

Besides all of MOA’s entertainment options, you’re also in a fantastic, massive shopping mall with every store you can imagine. Kids especially love the LEGO store with its 34-foot tall LEGO robot, where they can enjoy lounging areas with LEGO bricks to build and play! The mall’s easy-to-use touchscreen directories make it easy to navigate to where you want to shop.

Build-a-Bear Workshop is a delight for kids — making a stuffed friend with love and seeing the “how it’s made” process is an interactive souvenir stop.

#OnlyinMN selfie spot in Mall of America, one of the fun things to do
#OnlyinMN selfie spot at Mall of America North Entrance. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Anthropologie always calls my name right at the North entrance. There’s a store for everyone here, with over 500 to choose from, you will be able to complete any gifting list!

To me, the best thing about shopping here is that there is no sales tax on clothes. Zero. As one who lives in a county with a 10 percent sales tax, it’s delightfully shocking to pay exactly the price on the price tag and not a cent more. New clothes for everyone!

Fun for Days: Mall of America and Beyond

There is so much to do at Mall of America that you should really plan at least a weekend. And if you’re interested in seeing it all, plan several getaways! We have been to MOA as a destination several times and somehow we’ve still not personally discovered the escape room adventures or the Rock of Ages blacklight minigolf. Urban Tactical Combat was a fun find this last trip which I wish I’d planned for, since the boys were ogling the Nerf gun wars and laser tag options in the arena there. You just cannot do it all in one trip.

Tactical Urban Combat nerf gun arena entrance
A spot for next trip: Tactical Urban Combat Nerf gun arena. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

Hidden Gem for Departure Day

Nearby Maplewood (about 26 minutes from the Mall of America by car) has another hidden adventure worth having: Sustainable Safari. Especially if you are coming from the north, it’s a fun little stop (about 2 hours is a good time budget to allow) where kids can continue to explore their animal education with petting, feeding and holding animals like capybaras, kangaroo, and lizards! Check out the inside scoop for an awesome animal encounter.

Two young boys on Sustainable Safari capybara encounter
Sustainable Safari capybara encounter not far from Mall of America. Photo credit: Amanda Williams

The Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area has so much to offer — we aren’t kidding when we say you could spend your entire vacation from parking the car to leaving again within the walls of the Mall. BUT, with the off-site hotel options and area adventures listed, you may find that you want to move to Minnesota so you can keep Mall of America and the surrounding neighborhoods (including lots of FREE fun) on your family vacation bucket list each year!

This post is an update of an article originally written by Jamie Bartosch.

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