Ah, tweens. Too old to enjoy “kids stuff,” too young to enjoy shopping. Is the Mall of America, the USA’s largest shopping center, really a tourist destination for the 8-12 set? Travel Hack Traveling Mom Dia Adams set off with five tweens in tow to find out.

Tweens may be tough to please. They don't even want to shop at the Mall of America. But let them loose on these attractions and they'll beg to stay.

Nick’s Fairly OddParents roller coaster brings the goosies. Photo by Dia Adams, Travel Hack TravelingMom

As excited as I was to visit family in Minneapolis, MN, I have to admit I dreaded the idea of keeping five tween cousins entertained. The Mall of America seemed a logical choice for the grownups, but any mom of tweens knows they can be tricky. The last thing any parent wants to see is the dreaded tween eye-roll.

Fortunately the Mall of America has figured out the magic formula to keep tweens entertained. Even better, MOA has plenty of attractions for little kids and adults, too. Here’s a handy list of what our tweens loved.

FlyOver America: Must Do

Are you a fan of Soarin’ at Disneyland and Disney World? Do I have an attraction for you! Imagine Soarin’, but twice as long and with state of the art technology. If you’re not familiar, FlyOver America is a movie, but so much more! Special seats mentally transform into an airliner and “take off” feels like you are actually leaving the ground. The all-around film takes you on a thrilling tour of the United States and beyond. Special effects in the theater take you from deserts to glaciers and make you feel as if you’re there. Even the “safety video” before the attraction is great fun. The tweens loved FlyOver America- so did I. It’s simply a must-do. At $17 for a fifteen minute attraction you may hesitate to go. Don’t. Consider a combo ticket with the other attractions to save and keep an eye out for promotions.

Nickelodeon Universe: Tween Paradise

My kids were skeptical when they first heard about Nickelodeon Universe, and so was I. I was concerned that an indoor theme park featuring Dora the Explorer would lack the required thrills for the tween set. I was SO wrong! While little kids will have great fun at Nickelodeon Universe there’s SO much more for the big kids. From bumper cars to coasters to a log flume that got us SOAKED, Nickelodeon Universe entertained our five tweens from open to close- and had them begging to come back.

Nickelodeon Universe is less like a theme park and more like a really good country fair with the bonus of being climate controlled. The theme park area was small enough that we felt fine letting the kids roam on their own while the moms and dads went shopping and the grandparents enjoyed Caribou Coffee on a park bench in the middle of the park.

Tickets for Nickelodeon Universe run about $35 for an all day pass.  I recommend keeping an eye on the Special Offers page for frequent promotions and combo tickets with other must-see MOA attractions.

Tweens may be tough to please. They don't even want to shop at the Mall of America. But let them loose on these attractions and they'll beg to stay.

A stingray gave us a smile from the tunnel tanks at the SeaLife Minnesota Aquarium. Photo by Dia Adams, Travel Hack TravelingMom

Sea Life Aquarium: Tunnels of Fun

We’re members of the National Aquarium in Baltimore so it takes a lot for an aquarium to impress us. Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium had us at tunnels: their tanks take you not just above, but below the aquatic action. We went through the tanks three times and could have done it all day.

Tickets to the Aquarium run $24/day but are much cheaper as a combo ticket with the other attractions. Of the attractions we visited the tweens ranked it as “day 2” but the adults definitely ranked it above even the amusement park (but not above FlyOver America, the unanimous fave).

L’eggo my Legos!

While our tweens, even the girls, where underwhelmed by the clothes shopping, everyone loved the Lego store. We are spoiled by having a Lego store locally here in DC and by frequently visiting the one at Disney World but the kids were still impressed with the Lego Designers’ creations. Fortunately the Lego Store is right outside of the Nickelodeon Universe so you don’t have to hike to get there.

One store that was a surprise hit – Barnes and Noble. I know Barnes and Noble is everywhere but the Mall of America’s Barnes and Noble had a gigantic Manga section that our tweens returned to again and again. Scattered throughout the mall are also a couple of stores specializing in anime, which our Japan-obsessed tweens loved.

Gotta Catch ’em All

I’d be remiss not to mention that the Mall of America has 25 (!) PokeStops for you Pokemon Go players out there. We were tripping over Pokemon as most of the PokeStops had lures set by one visitor or another. If you go, do a good deed by setting a lure of your own- the tweens will thank you!

Our family had so much fun at Mall of America that the two days we spent weren’t enough. We can’t wait to go back. Next time we will consider staying at the one of the mall’s hotels. The Radisson Blu is Traveling Mom tested and approved. I’ll definitely check out the hotel packages which include admission to our favorite attractions and other benefits.  There’s a train straight to and from the airport so you could visit the Mall of America without needing a car.

Are you a Mall of America fan?  Where do your tweens head first? I’d love to hear in the comments.

The Mall of America provided media tickets, but we purchased additional tickets for our family. As always on Traveling Mom, opinions are solely my own.

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