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Photo credit: Margalit Sturm Francus, Autism TravelingMom

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the Mall of America is that it is solely a shopping destination. With its 530 stores and over 12,000 employees, the second largest mall in the U.S. is much, much more. Think family-friendly, multiple attraction and entertainment venue for all ages. After our family visit last month, we chose our top ten exploration recommendations. Here they are, in no particular order:

Nickelodeon Universe

Formerly known as Camp Snoopy, this theme park has something for everyone. The younger visitors can enjoy mild rides like Rugrats, Reptarmobiles and Backyardigans, while the older crowd can ride top-notch roller coasters. As parents, we appreciated that it is indoors, the lines were manageable and we could pay according to each attraction our child selected. A total win-win situation! For those who like treasure hunts, don’t miss the Adventure Universe Club that enables participation in a fun online and in-park program.

The Flying Dutchman’s Ghostly Gangplank Rope Adventure Course

Tucked away at the back of the Nickelodeon Park is the new sensory thrill-seeking attraction that really appealed to my older son. The Flying Dutchman boasts an ultra tall slide and elaborate rope course with an optional zip-line across the park. It is quite popular so be prepared to wait on the benches below while your child completes the course. A separate admission ticket is required for the attraction (and it’s totally worth it!).

Moose Mountain Mini Golf TMOM Travel Disclosure

Fully handicapped accessible and impressive, the 18-hole indoor Mini Golf was the perfect afternoon activity for my temperature sensitive son with autism.

Guaranteed Family Fun at The Mall of America

Photo credit: Margalit Sturm Francus, Autism TravelingMom

Water Park of America

Located in the Radisson Hotel five minutes away from the actual Mall, this state of the art water park was a perfect start to the day.The park boasts several water slides, a wading pool and lazy river, but both our sons spent most of their stay at the Flowrider practicing their surfing with the help of the lifeguards. Common for public indoor water facilities, the strong chlorine smell and heat took some getting used to, especially for my son with autism.
Sea Life Aquarium

I have to admit my expectations were low for a relatively small Mall aquarium, but I was pleasantly mistaken. Starting with an interactive tour, visitors could touch different sea critters like stingrays and star fish before continuing on to an octopus garden. The tour ended with an impressive 300 feet ocean tunnel where guests view sharks, turtles and manatees from every angle. In the ‘Claws’ exhibit we learned about various crabs and their habitats. Totally enjoyable! For additional excitement, there is a program that allows scuba certified divers to swim with sharks.

The Lego Store

Someone told me a long time ago that some children don’t outgrow their Lego fascination. This certainly applies to my sons. They are just as enamored now as they were ten years ago. Of course, now they buy the more complex and expensive architecture famous landmarks series. At the store, they spent much time checking out the master builder bar and ogling the 180-color Lego display wall.

Star Trek Exhibit

As sworn fans, my husband and older son were very excited about touring this exhibit. It features one of the largest collections of props, costumes and artifacts from the iconic TV series and movies. The excitement builds with seeing the famous Starship Enterprise bridge, touching the bed at the sick bay and even sitting in Captain Kirk’s chair! If you aren’t acquainted with the subject, binge on a few seasons or go with a true Trekkie like my husband to explain things to you.

CSI Exhibit

This interactive exhibit turned out to be a winner for the whole family even though in real life I’m the only fan. I enjoyed that it made us collaborate on a project to learn how forensic medicine works. One is ‘assigned’ a murder case, then goes through a crime scene, a lab to test DNA, prints and blood spatter, a (not graphic) autopsy room, and even the office of Grissom (the show’s protagonist) to determine who the killer is! Our son with autism got a bit frustrated when he didn’t solve the crime, but there is no fear of leaving the exhibit without uncovering the truth.

Guaranteed Family Fun at The Mall of America

Photo credit: Margalit Sturm Francus, Autism TravelingMom

Barbie Dream House Experience

As a long time Barbie fan I knew I needed to see this and I was right. Unfamiliar with some of the TV show story lines, like the dolphin in the bathroom or horse in the living room, I still enjoyed the pink house with the elevator, high tech kitchen, and patio with changing skyline. Walking into Barbie’s closet and checking out all the Mattel collectible dolls display was great!

Theaters at the Mall of America
The movie theater in the Mall is exceptionally family-friendly offering the unique D-Box motion experience, reduced six-dollar tickets on Wednesdays, free Saturday kids flicks and even autism friendly performances on select Saturdays.

Additional tips
Consider purchasing the Mall of America coupon book if you are going to shop and dine there.

Planning on visiting the Waterpark, Nickelodeon Universe and Aquarium? Consider the Bloomington Official Twin Cities Adventure 3 day Pass. It entitles the bearer to 30% discount on select attractions including the Zoo, Science Museum and Imax theater.