Many of my trips include Athena and I try to incorporate fun activities that she will enjoy into my schedule, but my trip to Mall of America was all about her. From morning until night, I allowed her to choose every activity, every ride, every meal, every store, and almost every stop. (Sometimes I needed a bathroom break or to check in to the hotel, but the rest was up to her.) What resulted was one of the most amazing trips for both of us and a bucketlist adventure that we should allow our children at least once in their young lives. When she’s having fun, I’m usually having fun. Watching her make decisions also showed me how capable she is and how much she’s grown. Come along on Athena’s bucketlist version of Mall of America.
When we arrived, we checked into the Radisson Blu Mall of America. Athena wanted to play on hanging chairs that were in the lobby. Normally, I would ask her to stay close to me and wait until we checked in. Since this trip was for her, I wanted to give her more freedom. I could still see her and the doors to outside were closed so I let her play freely. Even that little bit of freedom made her feel like a big girl and I could relax in line without trying to keep her distracted.
We were surprised by a Kids Club adventure that they offer upon check-in. We were invited to explore the hotel through a scavenger hunt where checked-off items resulted in a stamp in a Blu Explorer Passport. After earning four stamps, we had the choice of receiving a Marty the Moose plush animal, a Hard Rock plush toy, or two $10 game cards to SkyDeck.
We quickly dropped off our bags and began exploring. We visited certain areas of the hotel, searched for hidden items, and snapped photos to earn the stamps. The adventure had already begun and we were only there for an hour.
Athena chose Marty the Moose after completely the scavenger hunt and he became our mascot for the trip.
It was time to venture into the Mall of America. The mall features 520 stores, 50 restaurants, and attractions including Nickelodeon Universe, Sea Life Aquarium, and the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Before we enjoyed the major attractions, we had a store-stop in mind. Athena wanted to get her ears pierced. She had been talking about it for over a year. She loves earring and jewelry and dressing up. I thought it was time I took her to get earrings of her own. I’m sure there were lots of options, but I knew Claire’s was a good choice.
Athena picked out her studs and sat in the chair. The employee took her time making sure the dots were perfectly lined up then it was time. Athena cried a little after the first one and I was nervous that she wouldn’t get the second one done. I asked her if she was ready and with tears in her eyes she said, “yes.”
Luckily, we visited Sea Life Aquarium next because once she got into Nickelodeon Universe, I couldn’t get her out of there. That isn’t to say she didn’t have a fantastic time at the aquarium.
We spent over an hour in the underwater tunnel looking up at the sea life. Athena’s favorite is the turtles. She could watch them for hours. She doesn’t just look either; she’s filled with questions the bubble out of her like an over-filled, boiling pot. She asked about shark’s teeth, about the different kinds of jelly fish, about how fish smell, and about stingrays. Oh… the questions about stingrays are nonstop. I don’t know if she loves them or hates them but I do know she fears them. At the touch tank, there was no way that I could convince her that it was ok to touch them.
Our Sea Life Aquarium visit ended with a stop at the aquarium store before slowly making our way back to the hotel. At no point did we need to go outside. Everything was at our fingertips. It was like being on the Strip in Vegas. We never knew what time it was or how much time had gone by. It was always bright and a perfect 72 degrees and we never wanted to leave.
By chance, we ended up having an amazing experience at the Disney Store the next morning. We arrived at the store five minutes before it opened. Again, Athena was choosing everything so we were up bright and early for some shopping in her favorite stores. Obviously, Disney topped the list.
We noticed a special lock box outside the store when we arrived. Then, an employee from the store asked Athena if she could be her helper in opening the store. Music began to play and an animated Tinker Bell arrived. The manager walked out holding a huge key and Athena was given the opportunity to officially open the store. The magic of it all was beautiful and I had the camera to capture it.
The lock opened and Athena was given her own special key to remember her magical experience. All of that excitement and we hadn’t even gone in the store yet.
Inside, I told her that she could pick any one thing in the store that she wanted and I would buy it for her. She chose Elsa shoes after carefully considering all of her options. I was more than happy with the choice, especially after seeing some of the expensive items she could have chosen. She wore the shoes the rest of the trip regardless of what we were doing. Even when she walked to the pool in our bathing suits, she wore the shoes. Who was I to say no? It didn’t hurt.
It was then that we went to Nickelodeon Universe and for the next two days, almost nonstop with the exception of eating and a swim at the pool, we rode every ride possible. Swiper’s Sweeper was her favorite. We sat in tiny car that zipped around a small track. As unappealing as it sounds, it was awesome! I think the surprise of it made it that much better. There are two sharp turns on the ride that zip around the corner so fast I even let out a little yelp the first time.
Other favorite rides included the Barnyard train, Blue’s Skidoo, the carousel, Rugrats Reptarmobiles, and Wonder Pet’s Flyboat. One of the best parts of Nickelodeon Universe is that parents ride for free on rides that children need a chaperone so I didn’t even need a bracelet or tickets. All of the rides that Athena loved required a chaperone.
The pool at the Radisson Blu uses a saltwater system so it was gentle on Athena’s skin, which was a good thing since she just got her ears pierced. She practiced her cannonball jumps while I took slo-mo videos and laughed at her funny expressions. We had the entire pool to ourselves so we could act like two children instead of one. We made up synchronized swimming routines and timed our handstands. I could feel the years being added back to my life.
She didn’t choose the restaurants during our trip but she did choose her own meals. For most meals, she chose some form of pasta and fruit as a side. There were lots of healthier choices but she could have chosen worse as well.
I offered to take her to the Minnesota Children’s Museum because that’s usually her favorite thing to do but she wanted to go back to Nickelodeon Universe. We’ll have something new to look forward to during our next visit.
Every night, she slept soundly with her mouth agape and her arms spread out on the bed. She was exhausted but content. Her Mall of America bucketlist was complete. She pierced her ears, she discovered life under the sea, she dined on her favorite foods, she splashed in the pool, and she rode every ride possible at Nickelodeon Universe. What I realized during the trip was that if I allowed her to make choices for herself and only interjected when critical, she made better choices. She weighted out the options more and was more happy. And so was I. Every adventure that we take changes us and I learned so much about my amazing child during this trip. She’s fun, happy, and adventurous. She’s full of personality and good at figuring things out on her own. This was as much fun for me as it was for her.