The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder continue to capture the imagination of young girls everywhere. If your daughter loves to read the Little House on the Prairie series of books you’ll have to make it a point to visit the Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. We made a deal with our oldest daughter. If she read the entire series of Little House books, we would take her to Walnut Grove to see the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and the Wilder Pageant.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin and the family later moved several times, first to Kansas then back to Pepin, on to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, then to Burr Oak, Iowa and finally to DeSmet, South Dakota. There are historic sites in all of these locations and many people visit all of Laura’s homesites by following the unofficial Laura Ingalls Wilder trail. The continuing popularity of Wilder’s books nearly 60 years after her death ensures a steady stream of visitors.
While there are Little House on the Prairie themed festivities and museums in each location, our favorite are the events which occur each July surrounding the Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove, Minnesota
Walnut Grove is located in south central Minnesota. The town was remote in the 1870’s when the Ingalls lived there and it’s not much easier to get there today. Walnut Grove is a farming community located off U.S. Highway 14 in southwest Minnesota roughly 150 miles from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The closest major airport is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota a little more than 100 miles to the southwest.
Things to See
Ingalls Dugout Site – 13501 County Road 5, Walnut Grove, MN
One of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books is titled By the Banks of Plum Creek. The title refers to an earthen dugout home that the Ingalls family lived in next to Plum Creek. You can visit the location of the home near Walnut Grove. The homesite is located on a farm just outside of Walnut Grove. The homesite sits on a picturesque piece of land adjacent to a rolling stream. When we visited, the shallow stream had slow moving water that our kids waded in much as Laura and her sister did in the 1870’s. Local residents told us however that the creek can and does flood from time to time.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum – 330 8th Street, Walnut Grove, MN 56180
The Laura Ingalls Wilder museum sits in the center of Walnut Grove. The museum is made up of several buildings including a schoolhouse, a chapel, a typical home of the day an example of a dugout home and a covered wagon. The museum has a mix of items including historic items from the time period the Ingalls family lived in the area and things from the long-running television series. The museum also has a well-stocked gift shop where your daughter can get the perfect bonnet!
Pageant Suppers-Walnut Grove Community Center – 311 6th St, Walnut Grove, MN
One of the things we had heard about before going to Walnut Grove were the church suppers served before the pageant performances at the Walnut Grove Community Center. The suppers are prepared by local residents for the large crowds that attend the pageant performances each night. It has to be a challenge to feed such a large group of people in such a sort period of time.
The dinner is served buffet style and the menu is basic food typically consisting of things like hot turkey sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and beans. We took a look at the food being served and our daughters, who typically will eat anything, decided they did not want to eat the food served. We opted instead to eat at the nearby Nellie’s Café.
Nellie’s Café – Highway 14, Walnut Grove, MN
Named after Nellie Oleson, a character from the Little House books, Nellie’s Café serves a variety of burgers, sandwiches and wraps. It’s nothing fancy but the food is good. It can get crowded at pageant time.
The Wilder Pageant – 11505 Crown Avenue, Walnut Grove, MN 56180
The annual pageant is held during three consecutive weekends each July. This year the pageant is being held July 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23. The event is held outdoors on a large piece of land on the edge of town. There are several thousand seats facing a large set designed to replicate the Walnut Grove of the 1870’s. The actors in the show are local townspeople who put on the show each July.
The pageant shows the Ingalls’ arrival in Walnut Grove and gives snippets of their life there. We were very impressed that the production was strictly a local effort. It was very well done and a great slice of Americana. Our daughters loved it and it was the highlight of our trip.
Tickets for the pageant can be ordered online. Click here for details.
Where to Stay
As I mentioned earlier, Walnut Grove is not an easy place to get to. The pageant is held at night with the performance starting at 9:00pm which makes overnight accommodations a necessity unless you want to return to the Twin Cities late at night. Walnut Grove is a small town without any large hotels close by. Marshall, Minnesota, the nearest large town is nearly 30 miles to the west. We chose to stay at the Microtel Inn in Springfield, Minnesota about 25 miles to the east.
If you prefer to camp, there are several campgrounds in the area.
1000 Craig Avenue
Tracy, MN 56175
7 miles west of Walnut Grove
601 1st Avenue
Lamberton, MN 56152
10 miles east of Walnut Grove
Microtel Inn & Suites
502 E. Rock Street
Springfield, MN 56087
25 miles east of Walnut Grove
1511 E. College Drive
Marshall, MN 56258
30 miles northwest of Walnut Grove
Sleep Inn & Suites
300 Nwakama St.
Marshall, MN 56258
30 miles northwest of Walnut Grove
Super 8 Marshall
1106 East Main Street
Marshall, MN 56258
30 miles northwest of Walnut Grove
1382 E. Bridge Street
Redwood Falls, MN 56283
42 miles northeast of Walnut Grove
For more information on Walnut Grove and the Wilder Pageant, visit www.walnutgrove.org . Enjoy your trip!
We recently returned from this year’s Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference held this year in the Twin Cities at the Mall of America. Earlier this year we posted on spending Spring Break at the Mall of America. While everything we wrote earlier remains true, there have been some exciting additions to the family friendly attractions at the Mall of America. We’ve updated our earlier post to reflect those exciting changes and we highly recommend spending some of your summer vacation at the Mall of America. Your kids will love it!
Planning a summer vacation can be challenging particularly if you have limited time available or limited money to spend. The cost of airfare, hotels, rental car and other expenses can add up quickly. An affordable and fun alternative, especially if you live within driving distance of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, is to spend a few days of your summer vacation at the Mall of America just outside Minneapolis in Bloomington, Minnesota.
The Mall of America is the largest mall in the country with over 500 stores and more than 50 restaurants. But it is so much more than just a shopping mall. The Mall of America contains a full sized amusement park, a huge aquarium, loads of entertainment options and much, much more.
One thing to keep in mind when shopping at the Mall of America is that the state of Minnesota does not charge sales tax on clothing or shoes. Depending on where you live, that can save you up to 8% on your clothing and shoe purchases.
In addition, the surrounding Twin Cities area has a ton of other things to see and do when you and your family want to venture outside of the mall.
What to Do
Nickelodeon Universe, located right in the center of the Mall of America, offers more than 30 rides and attractions spread over seven acres. Included are a full-sized roller coaster and log flume ride along with theme rides featuring Sponge Bob SquarePants and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The thing we like about Nickelodeon Universe is that you’ll find rides to please kids of all ages. To ride the rides in Nickelodeon Universe you’ll need either a wristband or ride pass. A wristband to ride the rides all day is just $34.99. There are cheaper alternatives if your kids want to ride just a ride or two.
Sea Life Aquarium
Underneath the Mall of America sits the SeaLife Minnesota Aquarium featuring a 500,000 gallon tank filled with all sorts of interesting sea life. You can ride through a glass enclosed tunnel 14 feet below the water’s surface and see sharks and sea turtles like you’ve never seen them before. A new feature at the aquarium is the Stingray Adventure which allows your kids to actually touch and feed the Rays. Admission to the aquarium is free for kids under 3, $17.25 plus tax for kids 3-12 and $24.95 plus tax for those 13 and older. Discounted tickets can be purchased online.
Lego has a huge presence at the Mall of America. Part store and part play area your kids will love Lego, located on the first level on the south side of the mall. We especially like the Pick-A-Brick wall which has the best selection of Lego bricks we’ve ever seen.
Moose Mountain Adventure Golf
Located on the 3rd level on the mall’s north side is Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, a north woods themed miniature golf course. Your kids will love the golf and the great views of the theme park below.
Minnesota Children’s Museum
The Minnesota Children’s Museum recently opened a satellite location on the third floor of the mall’s north side. Modeled after the museum’s main location in St. Paul, the Mall of America location encourages children to learn through play. The museum offers a variety of exhibits that are engaging and fun for kids of all ages. The price for admission is $7.95 for all and free for museum members.
A.C.E.S. Flight Simulation
If flying a fighter plane has been one of your kid’s dreams that you’ll want to make a stop at A.C.E.S. Inside you’ll find a number of different flight simulators that put you right in the middle of the action. A.C.E.S. recommends that children be age 10 or older but they do leave it to parent’s discretion.
Crayola Experience is a fantastic new addition to the Mall of America with more than 60,000 square feet of space and 25 hands-on attractions. In Crayola Experience your kids will find unique experiences you can’t find anywhere else, such as:
– Learning how crayons are made
– Starring in their very own coloring page
– Naming and wrapping their very own Crayola crayon
– Taking part in a 4-D coloring adventure
Crayola Experience is located on Level 3 South at the Mall of America. Admission is $24.99 per person although discounts may be available online. Be sure to check the Crayola Experience web site. Annual passes are also available.
Fly Over America
Another new addition to the Mall of America is Fly Over America. Using virtual flight ride technology and a variety of special effects like wind, scents and moving seats, Fly Over America makes it feel like you’re really flying. You’ll take a simulated flight over some of America’s most recognizable landscapes during the 10 minute flight.
Tickets are $16.95 for adults and $12.95 for children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased on a Standby basis or for timed entry. If you’re on a tight time schedule or if you’re at the mall on the weekend, we recommend the timed entry. Fly Over America is located on the west side of the mall’s Center Court.
Like American Girl stores everywhere, the Mall of America location is two stories of American Girl dolls, clothes, accessories and more. Girls who bring their dolls can drop them off at the salon and let the on-duty stylists give them a new hairdo. After that they can go to the bistro for a bite to eat. American Girls is located right next to the east entrance to Nickelodeon Universe.
At Build-A-Bear, kids create their very own personalized stuffed animal. With more than 30 animal options to make and hundreds of outfits and accessories to choose from each Build-A-Bear experience is a new one. The Mall of America Build-A-Bear is located on the first level on the east side of the mall.
Creative Kidstuff is a Minnesota-based chain of toy stores that has a selection unlike any you’ll find in any other toy store. From unique educational toys to great toys from smaller toy companies you’re sure to find something that will appeal to the children in your life. Creative Kidstuff is located on the first level of the mall on the east side.
Peeps and Company
If your kids like candy be sure to make a special stop at Peeps and Company located on the first floor at the west end of Nickelodeon Universe. Inside you’ll find Peeps of all varieties and a shopping experience unlike any you’ve experienced in any candy store. Peeps and Company is located just inside the west entrance to Nickelodeon Universe.
Where to Eat
Restaurants Inside the Mall of America
The Rainforest Café now has locations around the country but the Mall of America location was the very first. You’ll be pleasantly distracted by the animated animals and simulated thunderstorms. The children’s menu has the old standbys macaroni and cheese, burgers and chicken fingers. The adult menu is very broad with everything from salads to sandwiches to pasta and much, much more.
Hard Rock Café
Similar to Hard Rock Cafes everywhere, the Mall of America location has a music theme with memorabilia displayed throughout the restaurant. The restaurant is two stories tall and sits inside the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park. The menus for both kids and adults are varied and sure to please just about any tastes.
Restaurants Near the Mall of America
International House of Pancakes
Like every IHOP everywhere, the restaurant across the street from the Mall of America specializes in breakfast but is open all day for lunch and dinner as well. Special kids’ menus are available. This IHOP is open 24 hours. 2231 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
TGI Friday’s positions itself as the original casual dining bar and grill, TGI Fridays offers typical American food and drinks. The restaurant is open from 11:00am until 2:00am daily and offers a special kids’ menu. 2201 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
Chevy’s creates traditional Mexican dishes from scratch, every day. They use fresh ingredients in all of their recipes. We eat at Chevy’s frequently and have always been impressed with the food and the service we receive. The restaurant is open from 11:00am until Midnight daily and until 1:00 am on Friday and Saturday night. There is a special kids menu available and kids eat free on Tuesday nights. 2251 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
Where to Stay
There are a wide range of accommodations attached to, and near, the Mall of America. There are two hotels attached directly to the mall, the JW Marriott and the Radisson Blu. Several other hotels are within walking distance and other nearby hotels have frequent free shuttle service to the mall.
The range of accommodations varies widely. There are high-end luxury hotels, mid-priced chains and even a hotel that has its own attached water park. You’re sure to find something that suits your budget.
Hotels Attached to the Mall of America
The JW Marriott is the newest hotel at the Mall of America and is attached to the mall’s north side. The hotel offers 342 guestrooms and suites. The restaurant within the JW Marriott, Cedar + Stone, Urban Table has received rave reviews from the local food press. Their menu offers dishes inspired by Minnesota’s “natural root and local culture.” 2141 Lindau Lane, Bloomington, MN 55425
Located on the mall’s south side, the Radisson Blu offers 500 rooms and suites, each with amenities like free high-speed, wireless Internet and 24-hour room service. The hotel also offers a fully equipped fitness room and an indoor swimming pool. The hotel’s restaurant, FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar offers a wide variety of dishes focusing on the flavors of the American heartland. 2100 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
Hotels Within Walking Distance
All hotels listed are located within a block or two of the mall. While you can walk, the hotels also offer complimentary shuttle service to the Mall of America.
Best Western Plus
1901 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
Country Inns and Suites
2221 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
2261 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
Towne Place Suites by Marriott
2500 Lindau Lane, Bloomington, MN 55425
Fairfield Inns and Suites by Marriott
2401 American Blvd E, Bloomington, MN 55425
2300 East American Blvd, Bloomington, MN 55425
Marriott Hotel (Minneapolis Airport Marriott)
2020 American Blvd E, Bloomington, MN 55425
Other Nearby Hotels
These hotels, while not within easy walking distance are within a five minute drive from the Mall of America.
Minneapolis Airport Hilton
3800 American Blvd E, Bloomington, Minnesota, 55425
2870 Metro Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425
7901 34th Avenue S, Bloomington, MN 55425
Hyatt Regency – Bloomington
3200 E 81st St, Bloomington, MN 55425
Other Things to Do in the Twin Cities
Water Park of America
The Water Park of America is attached to the nearby Radisson Hotel. Be aware that there are two Radisson Hotels near the Mall of America. The Radisson Blu is attached to the mall and the Radisson-Bloomington is the one with the water park. The indoor waterpark is one of the largest indoor waterparks in America. Attractions include a large wave pool, the Flow Rider and a Surf Simulator. 1700 American Blvd. Bloomington, MN 55425
MSP Airport Aircraft Viewing Area
Less than five minutes’ drive from the Mall of America is one of the best places to view planes in the country in our opinion. The Aircraft Viewing Area at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport sits in the middle of the airport property and best of all, it’s absolutely free! To get there drive north on Minnesota Highway 77 (Cedar Avenue) to the 66th Street exit. Turn right at the intersection and take Longfellow Avenue to the south to Cargo Road. Turn left on Cargo Road and take it all the way to the end just past the FedEx shipping center. You won’t be disappointed! Click here for a map to the Aircraft Viewing Area.
Located just ten minutes south of the Mall of America in the suburb of Apple Valley, the Minnesota Zoo boasts great kids activities any time of the year. The zoo rests on 485 acres and has more than 4,700 animals including its latest addition Hawaiian Monk Seals. Be sure to catch the World of Birds show. Your kids will love it. As a special treat, now through Labor Day your family can see the new Dinosaurs exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo. Get face-to-face with life-size roaring, moving (and even spitting) dinosaurs like Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus and even T. Rex. The Dinosaurs exhibit has a $5 admission in addition to the regular Zoo admission. 13000 Zoo Blvd., Apple Valley, MN 55124
Minnesota Children’s Museum
The larger, older sibling to the smaller version of the museum within the mall, the Minnesota Children’s Museum is consistently rated as one of the best children’s museums in the country. The Minnesota Children’s Museum is dedicated to providing children with a fun, hands-on and stimulating environment to explore and discover. 10 W. Seventh St. St. Paul, MN 55102
Science Museum of Minnesota
Kids of all ages will enjoy the Science Museum of Minnesota. The museum, located on the Mississippi River, offers guests a unique opportunity to explore all kinds of science learning. Exhibits rotate regularly. Be sure to check their website for details. 120 W. Kellogg Blvd., Saint Paul, MN 55102
Children’s Theatre Company
If you’re looking for a more cultural activity, the award-winning Children’s Theatre Company may be just the ticket. There’s a reason that Time Magazine named the Children’s Theatre Company the number 1 children’s theatre in the nation. For 50 years, CTC has created extraordinary theatre experiences that educate, challenge, and inspire young people and their communities. It was the first theatre for young people to win the Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre. 2400 3rd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404
The Big Ticket Adventure Pass
If you’ll be in the Twin Cities area for several days it may be worthwhile to purchase The Big Ticket Adventure Pass which is valid for three days and gives you an Unlimited Ride wristband for Nickelodeon Universe, All-day entry into Sea Life Aquarium, admission to the Minnesota Zoo (including the IMAX theatre), admission to the Science Museum of Minnesota and admittance into the Waterpark of America. You’ll save 30% over purchasing the tickets individually. The Big Ticket Adventure Pass costs $89 for adults and $79 for children through age 13. AAA members can save 20% on The Big Ticket Adventure Pass. To purchase The Big Ticket Adventure Pass, click here.
While this post provides a great deal of information it is by no means an exhaustive review of everything there is to see and do at the Mall of America. We’ve really just scratched the surface. If you’re looking for more to see and do on your trip to Minnesota we encourage you to visit the Explore Minnesota web site. Explore Minnesota, part of the state’s efforts to promote tourism, also has a number of brochures about things to see and do in the area available for free. You can find them near the east entrance of the Mall of America on the first level.
Summer vacation at the Mall of America is sure to be a hit with your entire family. The Mall of America and the surrounding Twin Cities area offer a wealth of fun and experiences for kids of all ages. You and your family could spend as little a weekend or as long as a week and find more than enough to keep your whole family entertained for the entire time.
We just came back from the annual Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Each year TBEX brings together travel bloggers, travel industry executives and travel influencers from throughout the world to discuss the specifics of promoting travel by using blogs and social media. There are a variety of educational seminars focused on promoting travel and keynote addresses from the likes of the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern who discussed the way he combines travel with food to better understand cultures around the world. At TBEX there’s a large exhibit hall with booths staffed by tourist boards, hotels, airlines and a variety of online travel vendors. There are also booths from companies with unique travel-related products. Given our focus on family travel, we found three of these great travel products particularly interesting this year.
Anyone who travels a lot knows how annoying it can be when your ears plug while flying. It can be especially annoying when it’s your child’s ears that are plugged. Eustachi is a new product that uses a small puff of air directed up your nostril to help open up your eustachian tubes so the air behind your eardrums can be equalized. Eustachi works with your body as you swallow. You simply hold a small sip of water in your mouth and swallow as Eustachi blows a small amount of air up your nose. Your ears clear up instantly.
The thing we liked about the Eustachi is that it’s drug-free and very easy to use, even on kids. Click here for more information on Eustachi.
Crispy Fruit from Crispy Green
Healthy eating when traveling with your kids can be a challenge. Crispy Green are freeze-dried fruit snacks that come in a variety of flavors and they’re another great travel product. They say their product is “100% pure fruit, nothing else.” We tried several of the flavors at TBEX and they are delicious.
Crispy Fruit comes packaged in small, easy to pack pouches that are TSA friendly. Your kids will love Crispy Fruit snacks and you’ll know that you’re giving them something much healthier than a bag of chips or a cookie.
For more information on Crispy Fruit from Crispy Green click here.
ReboundTAG is designed to help quickly track your luggage should it become lost. It incorporates all of the main airline-approved bag tracking technologies into one tag; an RFID (radio frequency identification) microchip, an NFC (near field communication) microchip, a QR code, an ID number printed on the tag, and integration with global baggage handling systems. When your bag is found you are updated by email and text message anywhere in the world.
The RFID microchip contains both a unique ID and also another memory bank on which flight details can be encoded whenever you travel. Most microchip-enabled airports will automatically encode the flight details onto the chip when you travel, you do not need to do anything. The NFC chip can be scanned using most modern smartphones, their system can then use the GPS within the finder’s smartphone so that the owner is sent a map of exactly where the bag was found along with the finder’s details! The QR code can also be scanned using any smartphone, and at the most basic level of technology, or if the bag is found outside an airport, there is a unique ID number printed on the tag which can be entered manually into either the ReboundTAG system or most baggage handling systems around the world. So…ReboundTAG protects your bag worldwide by using all of the airline-approved bag tracking technologies in one tag!
As an extra service, ReboundTAG has also partnered with a major baggage handling company who employ people to look through the global lost luggage databases for your bag. This means they can also update you if your bag is found using the airlines’ own paper tags. They can often even update you regarding when your bag will be delivered to you! ReboundTAG offers you piece of mind when you travel.
For more information and to buy a Rebound Tag, click here.