Monday, November 14, 2011

The Mall Of America: Mecca For Shoppers, Oriented Toward...Children?!

The Good: Good shops, Easy to get around
The Bad: Most activities are geared toward children/families
The Basics: Underwhelming despite its size, the Mall Of America is geared toward attracting families with children and lacks real appeal for everyone else.

For those who do not follow my reviews, I write everything I write from the perspective of an adult. Usually single, I look at the world through the lens of an adult who likes doing adult things, seeing the world in an adult way, with no inclination toward having children. In addition to not having children of my own - nor wanting any ever - I find myself frequently irked by situations or experiences that are almost exclusively advertised toward families. Yes, I'm the kind of person that resents the "Reserved For Customers With Children" Parking spots at the grocery store and likes the idea that there is some benefit to growing up, getting older and having some experiences designed around maturity, adult fun and doing things without the annoyance or self-censorship that comes with children being around. (This frequently comes out in my reviews when films are dumbed down or edited to appeal to a PG-13 audience or music that has incredible lyrical potential, but is marketed toward the 15 - 21 Dance crowd.)

Today, I have no compunction or difficulty in admitting that perhaps the biggest drawback to my recent visit to the Mall Of America was how the entire experience was marketed toward children and families. Call me crazy (and I am certain someone will), but spending hours being bombarded with signs of three and four person families with the two bright-eyed children "ooh-ing" and "ahh-ing" over everything, like some archetypal nagging mother asking, "When are you going to get married, settle down and have children?" was just annoying. Even before I arrived at the Mall, I knew about the Nickelodeon theme park that was the centerpiece of the Mall, but I was shocked by how much of the rest of the Mall Of America was oriented around exclusively appealing to families, with children.


The Mall Of America is found near Minneapolis, Minnesota, at 60 East Broadway in Bloomington, MN. Mapquest directions are remarkably accurate for the Mall with that street address, so getting directions to and from the mall is fairly easy. Moreover, coming off Interstate 494, there are adequate signs to help one find one's way. I had more of a difficult time following the signs back to my hotel than I did getting to the Mall Of America.

In general, the Mall Of America is easy to get to from exits off I-494 and it is just a little south of downtown Minneapolis.

Ease Of Local Transportation/Parking

Getting around around the Mall Of America was surprisingly undifficult, even at midday and in the evening. There are parking lots around the outside of the Mall as well as two multilevel parking garages. All parking at the Mall is free and as a result, it is easy to find a place to park and one need only remember where one came in.

Inside the mall, traffic flow was especially light compared to my expectations. Outside the central courtyard, where the Nickelodeon Universe theme park was and the main food court at lunch time, walking around the Mall Of America was especially easy. The hallways and walkways are wide enough for several people in both directions. The thinnest point I found would still have been wide enough for four electric wheelchairs to safely navigate around one another. Of course, inside the Mall Of America, transportation is largely on foot. Some stores were utilizing golf carts early in the day to get people and merchandise around.


There are no hotels or Accommodations within the Mall Of America. I found a delightful Quality Inn And Suites only 1.44 miles away from the Mall and that was wonderful for me. The visitor's guide boasts forty hotels within ten minutes of the Mall, but after finding the hotel I liked, I did not look much further.

From the Mall Of America, though, there was a shuttle bus to the Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel, so anyone into gambling and shopping could do well with that free shuttle. There were a number of free shuttle buses constantly arriving and departing the Mall Of America, so in addition to getting around, one presumes it is fairly easy to find a place to stay while visiting this shopping Mecca. Given the number of Minnesota tourist shops within the Mall Of America, one presumes there are ways to get hotel reservations from within the mall itself.

Unlike the growing mall near me, Carousel Mall in Syracuse, NY - which is being expanded to overtake the Mall Of America as the world's largest mall under the aegis "DestiNY USA" - there are no hotels on premise.


Well, shopping is the main attraction that the Mall Of America is supposedly all about. However, I arrived at the beginning of Back-To-School shopping season and was struck by how few people were actually shopping. Outside the twelve to nineteen female population, virtually every demographic I observed was walking around without any bags. Yes, they came to shop the 520 stores (maybe a few less than that, I did notice at least one was boarded up pending an autumn unveiling) but they weren't buying.

What does one have to look forward to as far as shopping at the Mall Of America? There are the standard department stores and the Mall Of America is anchored by Sears, Nordstrom, Macy's and Bloomingdales. Strangely, these are also the only stores able to advertise on the outside of the Mall Of America, so the former stadium looks more like the Pentagon from the outside than a shopping mall. There are one hundred twenty clothing stores at the Mall Of America, featuring the standard mall staple shops like The Gap, Old Navy, Victoria Secrets (two of them!), and Hot Topic. There are at least four maternity clothing shops, multiple Foot Lockers, and enough clothing places to keep children coifed for years. There are eight stores marketed exclusively toward clothing men, as well as a few options for clothing women who don't meet the appalling size zero standards of American society.

But for those of us who go to malls for things other than clothes (I'm a t-shirt and jeans person, myself!), there are two art galleries, stationary stores, a Barnes And Noble (sanctuary from the craziness and children!), stores for memorabilia from the Mall Of America, the usual assortment of health and beauty stores (like Bath and Body Works, The Body Shop, and Crabtree and Evelyn), jewelers (fourteen independent jewelry stores), luggage stores, shoes, computer, and a pathetically low number of toy stores. Yes, I realize the contradiction; I complain about how everything at the Mall Of America seems to be geared toward families with children, then I complain about the lack of toy stores, but what things like a K-B Toys does for an adult shopper is provide a solid store where we know the children will be and we can navigate around that. Moreover, toy stores suck the children in and keep them off the sidewalks, as it were. There is a Build-A-Bear and a Lego store, but mostly, the Mall Of America lacks non-Nickelodeon toy stores.

What's the attraction of the Mall Of America? Beats me; it is a lot of stores all stuffed together. I suppose the attraction is that the MOA is so large it brings people and events there. While at the Mall Of America, I found myself in Barnes And Noble for the Breaking Dawn midnight release party. That was fun . . . in a way. Like my recent attendance at a Paramore concert, I once again felt remarkably old surrounded by teenage girls decked out in Gothwear and answering vampire trivia questions. But hey, I was happy to see young people excited about the release of a book!

In addition to events, there are the permanent anchor attractions. There is a movie theater. I saw a matinee of Swing Vote (reviewed here!) on opening day for a shockingly low $5, which is noteworthy and I have to say impressed me. Those of us looking to avoid the onslaught of children in the central courtyard can escape to the fourth level for an inexpensive movie and that is very cool.

The most appealing permanent attraction to me at the Mall Of America would have to be the Underwater Adventures Aquarium . . . at least it was before arriving at the Mall Of America. throughout the Mall are advertisements featuring a middle-aged bespectacled woman with her eye wide and mouth agape with her two enthusiastic children apparently dumfounded by the fish they see. I suppose a single tweed jacket or pantsuit-wearing professor looking at a shark with pleased, yet intellectual, detachment would not sell the whole "Adventure" part, but it would have been nice to see something that didn't try to sell the experience as a "learning is fun for children" event. They're fish, take them or leave them; and before the inevitable slew of comments comes in, I used to be on a career path to be a marine biologist with an emphasis is shark studies, so it's not that I don't love all that is under the sea. I do, but it would be nice to see places that have adult appeal marketed towards adults. I recommend that they come up with an Adult Only night because the effect of seeing the incredible variety of undersea organisms is certainly lessened when one has to shove through jam-hands and snot-nosed kids to see them (and man, I wish that were hyperbole!). In addition to the standard aquarium, there was a skate and shark petting pool and that was very cool. But again, it was geared toward children. The poor girl (she had to be under eighteen!) monitoring the pool could not comprehend why I didn't want a sticker after petting the shark, so . . . Word to the wise, any pair of people who pays full price for the aquarium is a fool; there are coupons in virtually every Mall Of America pamphlet and around the Mall itself offering discounts on the wristbands.

And then, in the center, there is the Mall Of America Presents Nickelodeon's Argument For Leashes On Children, er, Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park. Dominating the center courtyard with roller coasters, rides and long lines, Nickelodeon Universe featured areas with Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants and a slew of other Nick-themed characters and rides. There was a long line to that whole sector when I arrived (an hour before the mall opened on a Friday!) and I made the mistake once of thinking I could take a shortcut through the madness to get where I was going. It was a mistake.

Perhaps the best part outside of the dining and the Barnes And Noble for me at the Mall Of America was the easy and strategic retreat from the Mall Of America to Mystic Lake Casino. Sure, the air there stunk, but it wasn't as loud and it was a place catering to adults, which felt good after a day inundated with everything trying to sell to children I am not and do not have.


The Mall Of America is a great place to eat . . . if you like fast food or expensive adult meals. There is little in-between there. There are two food courts, featuring fast food standards like Arby's, Burger King, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Panda Express. In addition to the food courts, there are freestanding restaurants, like Hooters, Rainforest Cafe, Tony Roma's, and Wolfgang Puck's. As well, the Mall Of America had an exceptionally modern-looking Chipotle Grill and a few chains I had only seen in the Midwest like Famous Dave's BBQ.

For finer dining experiences, there was a Napa Valley Grille, Twin City Grill and Tucci Benucch. Given the number of dining options, there is no reason for anyone with money to go hungry in the Mall Of America (sidenote: Minnesota, put deposits on your bottles! The amount of revenue to be had in the MOA alone from bottle returns is sickening!). I had a surprisingly good lunch from the Asian Chao restaurant in the food court.

Plus, it is easy to snack one's way through the Mall Of America. There are Caribou Coffee shops, Cinnabon, Dairy Queen, and Orange Julius (yes, they still exist!). Nestle has a setup with a make-your-own ice cream cookie sandwich station and that was tempting, even beside places like Godiva and Haagen Dazs. As well, there are plenty of hot pretzel places (because, truly, what is a mall without hot pretzels?!).

For adults, there is a wine and liquor store nestled away on the third floor.


(See above, as shopping is largely the appeal of the Mall Of America.)


If you're looking for extraordinary, you are likely to be disappointed. This is a mall and it seems strangely unimpressive given its size and some of the standards are not even that large - the movie theater had fourteen screens; my mall has twenty! If you're looking for shopping, there is plenty to be had here, though few people seemed to be doing it.

But for an extraordinary experience, for a destination, the Mall Of America fizzles. It's a decent day trip while on your way elsewhere. And if you can't stand children or marketing exclusively for that demographic, it's worth skipping the Mall Of America . . . though maybe during a school day . . .

For other destinations, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Hoover Dam
Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
Carlsbad Caverns National Park


For other travel reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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