Mall of America
You would think that the day Michael's phone stopped working would not be a good day. Our day started out miserable. It was a day off, but the phone woudn't even turn on. He felt paraylzed - unable to return phone calls or emails or be productive in any way. We were in a moderately big city, and could find an AT&T store, but the Apple store was over an hour drive from where we were staying. Our experience has been that the Apple store was usually worth the trip. We locked up the Airstream and headed out for a day-trip.
You see, the nearest Apple Store was in the Mall of America, so we all decided to ride along while Michael got his phone fixed. Michael was the only one of us that has been to the Mall of America before, but we knew it had a roller coaster inside! I had heard that it also has an aquarium, a movie theater, an American Girl store that does spa days, a Barbie Dream House attraction, and certainly much more. It seemed WAY more glamorous than sitting at the church in the Airstream all day!
We started off the day with low expectations. We had resolved not to get sucked in. We knew there would be a roller coaster, but we would just look at it and window shop. We were sure it would be expensive and there were 9 of us. This was an unplanned day-trip, not a family vacation or a birthday outing.
That resolve lasted until we entered the Mall and saw the amusement park. I think we were expecting something small or comparable to a state fair carnival. We were wrong. These roller coasters actually looked fun - the whole lot of them! We checked the ticket prices, and as expected they were around $35 a person for an all-day wristband or $5 a ride (with the kids rides costing less). We changed our attitude to "maybe one ride at the end of the day." After all, Charity was so excited to have reached 48" tall. She would be allowed on almost ALL the rides. She loved Cedar Point last summer, and we were hoping to get back this year, but we won't be back in that area until fall, at which time Cedar Point will be closed.
Either way, we had an appointment we had to make. We passed a Disney store on the way, so I let the kids browse there and play at the Lego store while Michael went to the Apple Store. They confirmed that the phone's logic board was dead. They suspected it was caused by an aftermarket battery replacement, but still gave him phone swap deal, saving him some money on a new phone. They restored all his stuff from the cloud and we were on our way.
About those roller coasters! We looked again. There were at least 4 pretty cool looking ones. Michael thought they might have an after 5 PM rate. The signs said nothing, but when he asked there was a 5 PM discount on the armbands $22.99 plus tax. We decided to go for it. MJMJ would not be tall enough and I was pregnant, so we just needed 7 passes. We grabbed some pizza for an early dinner and waited until 5.
At 5:00, I went to purchase 7 tickets at the customer service desk. He rang in the purchase and I handed over my debit card. That was when the lady next to him blurted out, "STOP! Don't pay for that!" He looked at me, and we both gave her a strange look. She clarified, "Go next door to the gift shop and tell them you want the birthday package. It is cheaper, you get 8 armbands instead of 7, and you get free ice cream."
"Oh... Okay." Who was I to argue? I did as she said, and she was right. It was $25 cheaper with an extra ticket and free ice cream. SCORE! I had to choose 3 hours or 5 hours. I decided 3 hours was plenty, since that would be 8 PM and we had a long drive home. I took MJMJ to the kiddie rides and the others rushed off to the roller coasters.
Overall, we had a great experience. On the drive home, we compared the day to a day at Six Flags, St. Louis. We had considered taking a day-trip there to make up for missing Cedar Point. Geography aside, here is why I think Mall of America was a better choice:
1 - Price. We ended up paying about $18 a person vs. $27 for Six Flags. That is just the ticket price, but there are more savings. We got free icecream. Non-riders did not have to pay to enter the park, but could be right there, taking pictures. That saved us one whole ticket price. Free parking. Food was from the food court. All nine of us ate for $25 at Sbarros.
2- Air conditioning. Anyone who has been to an amusement park in June or July knows the value of this! After 6 hours in the sun, you are willing to pay $20 for a cheeseburger just to sit in the A/C for an hour.
3 - Overall size. I thought that the Mall of America would be small. After all, it is inside. I did not feel like they skimped on the rides. It was four stories and they pushed rides all the way up into the rafters to make the most of the space. It was really compact. That meant that instead of walking miles and miles, we could just skip from ride to ride without becoming exhausted. After visiting Disney, this seemed like a great advantage. Don't get me wrong, it's no Cedar Point. Cedar Point has 16 roller coasters. Six Flags St. Louis has nine. Mall of America has four. We are not comparing Apples to Apples, but for me, the compact nature was a good thing.
4 - Cleanliness. This is more of a slam on Six Flags, than a brag on the Mall of America. I have memories of Six Flags being a fun, family atmosphere. The workers were outgoing and fun to be around. That is not the case now. I'm not sure what has changed; maybe it hasn't changed and I have just gotten older. I did notice a difference when they added the water park & people started wearing less and less clothing. It seemed like a less family-friendly place. I noticed they went to automated ride instructions and the workers lost enthusiasm. Overall Six Flags seems like a trashier option when it comes to amusement parks. Disney, Cedar Fair Parks, and Holiday World go out of there way to preserve their atmosphere. Six Flags does not. Mall of America was acceptable. The indoors atmosphere made it feel cleaner and nicer. The workers were average.
4 - Lines. The longest line we waited in was about 10 minutes. This meant that in the 3 hours that our armbands were active, we go to try every ride we wanted. The down-side of the "no-line" benefit is that after 3 hours, the best fun is done. (Please note, that it was a Monday evening. One of the advantages to homeschooling and traveling year-round is that we are not stuck at all the touristy spots during peak season. We love that.)
5 - Other options. If one member of your group is not interested in amusement parks, there is a whole plethera of other things to do at the mall.
All-in-all, our unplanned day-trip turned out to be a huge success. At 8 PM, our armbands stopped working. The workers let the kids on the last ride and they asked me waht happened. I was able to reply, "That means it is time for ice cream!" There were no complaints about that. It was then easy to head home for the night, each sharing our favorite part of the day. This leg of our tour has a lot of long travel days and rural communities, it was nice to break away and make some happy memories!