Last month I attended my first TBEX conference, (has it already been a month?) a conference for those passionate about promoting travel. I flew out out of Philadelphia early on a Saturday and back in on a Wednesday evening. If you would have told me how much sightseeing (in addition to workshops) I was going to do in that 5 days, I might not have believed you. But travel I did.
My first complimentary sightseeing trip started less than 2 hours after I landed with a trip to the Minnehaha Falls. My last trip was to the Minnesota Zoo ending about 3 hours before my flight back to New Jersey. I experienced a lot of Minnesota family attractions in a little bit of time. While I did visit them without my boys, I still did it with my mom goggles on and I know I just have to come back with my boys to share a Minnesota vacation with them. Based on my experiences these are the activities I think families will absolutely want to experience in Minnesota.
Take a look at my recommendations, pictures, and videos for these Minnesota experiences. Let me know what you think and any questions you have. I’d be happy to tell you more about my experiences and might be doing just that in the weeks ahead… between of course our other adventures this summer.
8 Ways for Families to Experience Minnesota
Never have I visited a zoo this large that had both spacious indoor and outdoor exhibits. Not only does Minnesota offer a 485-acre campus featuring miles of outdoor trails but it’s also home to the largest indoor interconnected zoo exhibits in the country. There are building with hallways open and spacious enough for multiple strollers or wheelchairs. With floor to ceiling windows, children and adults can watch the animals in outdoor habitats but from inside. Meaning rain or shine, cold weather or warm, any day is a great day for a visit to the Minnesota Zoo. I especially loved that since the hallways are so open and spacious your child could easily get comfortable sitting on the ground watching the animals and learning from them without being in anyone’s way.
The Minnesota Zoo also offers a great playground space with structures for kids to climb and explore as they perhaps pretend to be one of the animals they’ve seen. Located near there is a children’s farm area and at designated times of day kids can even milk a cow.
Another great area of the Minnesota Zoo was the dinosaurs exhibit area. It reminded me of back home and how we have our own Field Station Dinosaurs. The Minnesota Zoo has certainly put their own twist on it.
With all these areas and more to love at the Minnesota Zoo, it’s a must see Minnesota family attraction for me. You can see more of my Minnesota Zoo photos in my Facebook album with a short preview here.
You can learn more about the Minnesota Zoo at their website, http://mnzoo.org.
Sea Life Aquarium
The Sea Life Aquarium is another Minnesota family attraction that blew me away. Who would have thought that inside a mall, you could find an aquarium with so much to do? But then Mall of America is not your ordinary mall…. and the Sea Life Aquarium is not your ordinary aquarium. There are several extraordinary reasons to visit the Sea Life Aquarium.
The Sea Life Aquarium is accessed by going down a level. Once inside it’s bright and colorful. The aquatic-themed murals will have your children begging you to take them into explore more. If you have time to do the behind the scenes tour, do it. It was interesting to go into the lab to learn about how much food it takes to feed all the aquatic animals and neat to go above the tanks and peer into the sharks swimming below.
When we were back on the exhibit floors it was the Jellyfish Alley that had me in awe. Sure, I’ve seen jellyfish before, but in most aquariums you have one tank of jellyfish. At the Sea Life Aquarium, there were several. The darkness of the room combined with the light of the jellyfish made for quite the experience.
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Further along our way at the Sea Life Aquarium, we came upon an aquatic tunnel. This wasn’t just a tunnel with one kind of animal. No this was a 300 feet tunnel with different aquatic areas representing different marine regions of Minnesota. It was overwhelming and beautiful at the same time.
I may also have had a few chuckles when I saw the horseshoe crab exhibit. Many of the visitors had never seen a horseshoe crab before, but us Jersey folks know our crabs. ;-) The Sea Life Aquarium has touch tanks for kids where they can feed stingrays as well as educational exhibits and photo spots. If all that wasn’t enough to convince you to visit, consider this. The Sea Life Aquarium has a come back program. You can visit the aquarium for a few hours, then explore the Mall of America for shopping, dining, or another adventure before returning back to the Sea Life Aquarium to finish out your day for no additional charge.
You can see more of my Sea Life Aquarium photos in my Facebook album with a short preview here.
You can learn more about the Sea Life Aquarium at their site, https://www2.visitsealife.com/minnesota.
If the Sea Life Aquarium is an aquarium like no other, well the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park offers amusement that is hard to be matched elsewhere. Rides are themed for kids’ favorite Nickelodeon shows, but don’t be fooled. There’s something for everyone at this Minnesota family attraction. The younger set will enjoy rides themed after Dora, the Backyardigans, Jimmy Neutron. The older thrill seekers will not be disappointed with the Sponge Bob Rock Bottom Plunge or the Avatar Air Bender.
My personal favorite and what I believe appeals to everyone is Nickelodeon Universe’s Fly Over America. While you sit back in this flight simulation ride, you’ll feel as if you are flying over the world. You’ll be in the air, on the ground, on slopes, on water and more. And if you’re like me, it won’t be scary. It will be thrilling and relaxing. You won’t want it to end.
My visit at Nickelodeon Universe wasn’t nearly long enough. But in that two hour party we did have there I managed to capture some great video and pictures for our readers of this Minnesota family attraction. Take a look.
Our video tour of Nickelodeon Universe
A preview of our Nickelodeon Universe pictures from our Facebook album.
You can learn more about Nickelodeon Universe at their site, http://nickelodeonuniverse.com.
While I didn’t have enough time to get creating with Crayola during this visit to the Mall of America, I do know from my past Crayola Experiences, this is an experience not to be missed. What’s even better is this Minnesota family attraction is located near the Mall of America restaurants. As you plan for dinner or lunch, plan to visit the Crayola Experience before hand. You’ll have fun talking about all your experiences over your meal, plus you’ll have creative souvenirs to bring back home.
You can learn more about the Crayola Experience at the Mall of America at their site, http://www.crayolaexperience.com/minneapolis.
American Girl Doll
Right outside Nickelodeon Universe is a two story American Girl Doll store. Now one might think that based on the amount of time I spent in that store that I have a house full of American Girl Dolls at home. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There’s lots of Star Wars and Legos in by house…. but in the name of research for our readers I spent a lot of time exploring the American Girl Doll store. Now I can’t speak for the American Girl Doll in New York, but the one at the Mall of America does have a doll salon on the main floor. Dolls are welcome to schedule a time to have a stylist do their hair. There is also a bistro on the top floor where dolls and their friends can get a bite to eat.
Click over to our Facebook album to see more American Girl Doll store photos. Here’s a preview.
You can learn more about the American Girl Doll store at the Mall of America at their site, http://www.americangirl.com/retail/minneapolis.php.
The sun was setting on the horizon and the Padelford Riverboat was docked at the Mississippi National Great River Park when fellow bloggers and I had the chance to experience a different kind of Minnesota family attraction. It was a perfect night to enjoy entrees and treats from some St. Paul food trucks as local bands played in the background. It even gave me a chance to learn about some other Minnesota family attractions I’d like to visit like the science museum.
It was an Instagram-worthy night as we sailed down the river. Beautiful and majestic, I’m sure my boys would have slowed down long enough to take in the great beauty of it. For TBEX attendees like myself the riverboat cruise was our last ‘official’ group activity so I enjoyed taking the moments to relax and catch up with new and old friends before we would all be heading out our separate ways.
You can learn more about the Padelford Riverboats at their site, http://www.riverrides.com.
New Ulm, Minnesota
What’s so special about New Ulm, Minnesota? What makes it a Minnesota family attraction? New Ulm is our country’s biggest and most popular German town. It’s such a German town that my husband with German heritage was quite jealous I got to explore it without him. Our first stop on our New Ulm tour was to the Hermann the German Monument. It stands approximately 102 feet feet high and yes I did climb the 99 steps to the top. You can see our video of the glorious view below.
The view from the top of the Hermann the German Monument
Our next stop was to the Glockenspiel, a German clock tower. We stopped to enjoy one of the clock’s daily performances, took a picture with a Hermann the German, and listened to a little German toast song before heading over to an authentic German restaurant for lunch.
New Ulm’s Glockenspiel performance
New Ulm German Sing a long Video
Learn more about New Ulm at their website, http://www.newulm.com.
Wonderful Waterfalls & Picturesque Parks
When I was first choosing my Minnesota tours for before and after the TBEX conference, I knew I wanted to make sure I had a chance to explore some of the outdoor beauty of Minnesota. I am so glad I did. During one outdoor trip we visited Minneopa State Park: and on another day we visited Minnehaha Falls both of these locations are beautiful with stunning waterfalls. I could have easily stayed all day and just stared at the water flowing, but alas the nature of a press trip, we’re sometimes rushed. ;-) Make sure when you visit Minnesota’s family attractions, you make time to see one of Minnesota’s waterfalls. Pack a lunch and plan to stay a while. The waterfalls are worth slowing down to enjoy.
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Visit Minneopa State Park’s site to learn more about their park and waterfalls dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/minneopa/index.html.
Many of these Minnesota family attractions are convenient to get to and offer free parking. While we didn’t use it Minnesota does offer an extensive public transportation system. If you are staying at a hotel located near the Mall of America, your hotel likely runs a shuttle to the airport and Mall of America. And as you can tell from our post, many of Minnesota’s family attractions are within the mall itself.
Bloomington, Minnesota also offers the Big Ticket™, a 3-day adventure pass that provides up to 30% savings on six Mall of America and Twin Cities attractions. The pass including admission to visit these six attractions once over a 3-day period: Nickelodeon Universe, Sea Life Aquarium, Water Park of America, Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota Zoo, and the IMAX Theatre at the Minnesota Zoo. You can learn more about the Big Ticket™ at their site.
A special thanks to our tour hosts from TBEX organizers, Bloomington Convention & Visitors Bureau, New Ulm Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Explore Minnesota, who arranged our complimentary tours at some of these Minnesota family attractions.