Playing Inn-Side: Indoor Weekend Getaways
A sleek hotel connected to Minnesota's Mall of America—and a handful of other park-and-play destinations in the region—make for easy getaways, no coats required.
I really don't belong here, I tell myself nervously. I'd rather be at a museum. Or reading a book. Or sharing a candlelit dinner with my husband alongside a lake. But our 6-year-old son has been begging for amusement park thrills, and our budget won't stretch to Florida. So here I am, strapped into the Avatar Airbender, a skateboard ride inside one of the world's largest shopping malls. I'm afraid of heights, but the bright colors at Nickelodeon Universe-and no lines early this morning-lure me onto this ride in Mall of America, just south of Minnesota's Twin Cities in Bloomington.
We're three of 40 million people who visit the mall each year-more than twice the number who visit Disney's Magic Kingdom. And we know a few more. Colin runs into his classmate Grady, and we see our old neighbors, all from West Des Moines, Iowa, roughly 240 miles south. After the initial fancy-meeting-you-here, we gush about the easy drive, the affordable fun and the Euro-sleek Radisson Blu Mall of America, connected to the mall's second floor by a sunny hallway dotted with local artwork. We shop the 500-plus stores, eat a brownie volcano topped with sparklers at Rainforest Cafe and shuttle to the indoor Water Park of America to zoom down a 10-story-tall water slide in a family-size raft. Twice. "It's nice to be indoors when it's cold outside. And if you get the [unlimited-ride] wristbands, you can leave, go do something else and come back," says Alisha Stewart, Grady's mom. "And the hotel is stylish, but I wasn't afraid the kids were going to break anything."
The 500-room, 13-story Radisson Blu adds a sophisticated sheen to a mall getaway. Impeccable service, playful furnishings and soft beds only begin to define the first hotel connected to this retail behemoth. We can drop off shopping bags, rest, go for a swim-all without lugging puffy winter coats. Staying in a place like this tempers some of the mall's famed busyness.
Maybe that's why I find myself on the Avatar Airbender. The ride begins, whirling my cranberry-painted toes above my head to within inches of the glass atrium and pulling uncharacteristic shrieks from my throat. It eventually comes to a stop, and I stumble into my husband's steadying arms, my short hair blown up, adrenaline surging through my body. Turns out this getaway suits our family better than I ever imagined.
More one-stop trips!
Bloomington, Minnesota Radisson Blu Mall of America Eager-to-please, polished staffers make this hotel shine. radissonblumoa.com
Bloomington, Minnesota Country Inn and Suites Mall of America Across the street from the mall-a walkway opened in 2014 and stretches over busy Killebrew Avenue-this hotel's American Dream package makes a family getaway easy on your wallet. The deal includes a guest room, an on-site breakfast, four unlimited-ride wristbands to Nickelodeon Universe, four passes to Moose Mountain Mini Golf, four passes to the Flying Dutchman Ghostly Gangplank Walk ropes course, a mall coupon book and more. countryinns.com
Wisconsin Dells Kalahari Resort Sheer size can make this African-theme hotel with 756 guest rooms a little overwhelming. Wisconsin's biggest indoor water park and resort offers an indoor theme park, a bowling alley, a zip line, a spa, and a 15-screen movie theater. Get free in-room delivery of the owners' signature pizza-their first business before their booming water park empire. kalahariresorts.com
Chicago The Ritz-Carlton Luxury brands are competing for kids' love; here, every afternoon, kids can help decorate cupcakes with chefs in the massive hotel kitchen. Another big draw: Water Tower Place's American Girl store on the ground floor (the hotel uses floors 15–30, and a staffer will even deliver your American Girl purchases to your room). Also, a pinstriped candy man brings a cart of sweets to guest rooms. ritzcarlton.com
Schaumburg, Illinois AmericInn Price sells this no-frills former Hampton Inn just west of Woodfield Mall and the Streets of Woodfield, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex that includes a Legoland Discovery Center, a GameWorks (a restaurant and bar with video games) and a 20-screen multiplex. Located 30 miles northwest of Chicago, the hotel serves free breakfast in the lobby. americinn.com