Happy Birthday to Emma!

It’s May 5th, 2009, and our baby Emma is turning 10 years old today!!! It’s hard to believe how quickly the last 10 years have flown by, and how grown up our first baby is now! We’re having a blast on her birthday trip, here’s what we’ve done so far…

We arrived at our hotel around 10 am on Sunday. We were 5 hours too early to check in, so the hotel stored our bags for us, offered us breakfast at their complimentary buffet, and pointed us in the direction of the Mall of America (across the street) to kill the time before we could get into our room. We helped ourselves to the breakfast and made a recon visit to the Mall, since we would be spending all of our time there in the next 3 days.

The Mall of America is ENORMOUS! We entered on the South side, and when you first walk in, it looks just like any mall entrance. As you move forward, the ceiling opens up and you enter an area where the ceiling soars up to 4 stories high. We came upon the Lego store first in this open area, and it is stunning. The store itself is an open design, right in the middle of the mall aisle, like a large kiosk, a very large kiosk, with some glass panels and class cubes to separate it from the mall a little. The merchandise is all on the ground level, but the Lego sculptures are arranged vertically to the top of the 4-story high ceiling! There are lots of dinosaurs, large ones, made from Legos, there is an underwater display, a space display, a pirate display, and a 4 story working clock tower, all made entirely from Legos! There are several “imagination stations” where kids can build race cars from Legos and race then down two tracks, and other stations where kids can just put together Legos in any form they like. There’s even a Duplo station for the younger kids, although Eragon liked building and racing the cars. We spent a good while playing with Legos before proceeding further. And while the kids were busy with Legos, I was scoping out what was just behind us, the indoor amusement park!

Nickelodeon Universe is an entire amusement park located in the center of the Mall. It has about 40 rides, just about anything you would find at any major amusement park, located right in the hub of the mall. It’s amazing how they have the rides packed in there, and it makes this the most accessible amusement park I’ve ever been to. Even if you want to go to a ride all the way across the park, it’s not as far away as we walk from the Mall to our hotel! But there is PLENTY to ride! We spent our entire Monday here, riding rides from 10 am to 9:30, when they shut the last rides down. By some miracle, Eragon managed to stay awake for the whole entire day, walking when he wasn’t riding rides, and as we were leaving he was saying, in a small, plaintive voice, “I’m want to ride rides!” He didn’t want to stop. But I’ve skipped ahead… back to Sunday. When the kids had had their fill of Legos for the time being, we passed through Nickelodeon Universe to get to the reason we had come to the MOA in the first place, the Holy Grail, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the American Girl Store.

The American Girl Store is on one of the corners looking out over the amusement park. It is two stories high with big windows and it is less than a year old so it GLEAMS! After shopping out of American Girl catalogs for years, I felt like I had fallen into one. It is a beautiful and sparkling store, even the yellow paint on the escalator steps was shiny! Emma told me that she thinks I’m almost more excited about the store than she is because I kept saying “Oh isn’t that so cute!” and other things like that to the point of embarrassing her. I’ll try to keep it more low key from now on… But it’s hard NOT to ooh and aah, the store is incredible. On the sprawling ground floor they have the American Girl dolls. They have many, many displays of the historical dolls (like Emma has) in various outfits and with assorted accessories. So if you’ve read the books you are seeing for the first time, for example, Kaya’s pet dog, Lone Wolf. Or Felicity’s beloved horse, Penny. Or Josefina in her striking Christmas outfit with her own doll, Nina. It’s really like Disneyland for any American Girl fan. And many of the displays have matching outfits for the girls. Completing the wonder of the first floor is the Salon, where the dolls sit in doll sized chairs just like those found in a real hair salon and have their hair done. Girls can either request that the doll’s hair be restored to its original style, or choose from a menu of hairstyles. Emma’s Josefina doll will be getting a makeover this morning in the salon!

Upstairs they have the Just Like Me dolls, which are custom made to look like your daughter, and they have their own outfits and accessories, which also fit the American Girl dolls, and which include matching outfits for the girls in some cases too. This is also where you find the American Girl Bistro, which is where we will be having lunch today, on Emma’s big day. The Bistro has available doll booster seats and place settings, so your girl’s doll can join you at the table for the celebration. And the menu looks pretty scrumptious. Emma and I popped into the bathroom while in the store, and they have doll hangers on the walls of the stalls so you can hang your doll on the wall while you use the facilities rather than putting her on the floor. Although the floor is so clean I’d lie down on it myself with no qualms. It really is like Disneyland!

After we visited the American Girl store on Sunday we decided to have lunch, and by then we were wearing down, since we had been up at 3 am to catch our plane. We headed to a restaurant called Kokomo’s, dining with an island flair. Emma had fettucini alfredo with shrimp, I had fish tacos, Dave had some kind of chicken sandwich with island seasonings, and the boys had macs and cheese. By this time Eragon had given out, so he slept through lunch. We dallied as long as we could since by now we were just killing time before checking in at the hotel, then we headed back to the Lego store for some more race-car building. The kids built and raced cars until 2:30, because we estimated it would take us around 30 minutes to get out of the mall and across the street, but we arrived in the hotel lobby at 2:40. It’s really, really close. Luckily our room was ready, so we checked in and Dave and I crashed and the kids mildly crashed although I don’t think any of them slept. Emma woke me up some time after 5 and we all got dressed to go swimming. After a while in the pools and hot tubs we cleaned up and headed over to IHOP for dinner. There are two restaurants connected to our hotel, an IHOP and a TGIFridays. By the time we got back to the room the kids really were ready to crash. Dave and I stayed up and watched a movie, then crashed again.

The kids woke up at 9 am Monday, ready to hit the breakfast buffet and take on the theme park, so we did just that. We started out with the family rides, including a nice long log ride and a Dora-themed ferris wheel. Then we split up into two groups, one parent with Eragon, riding the rest of the Dora and Diego themed rides, one parent with the rest of the kids, riding slightly faster rides. After covering about half the rides in the park, we headed to the food court for lunch. We had been eyeing the scariest rides with trepidation and vows that none of us would be caught on either of the two most frightful looking rides, including a coaster that starts out taking you straight up, at a 90 degree angle, to the glass ceiling above the park, over a small arc, then STRAIGHT DOWN, at a 90 degree angle, before looping upside-down and all around for a one minute and 15 second thrill ride to end all thrill rides. But some time after lunch, when we had covered most of the rides in the park, and had closely watched the people entering and exiting the scariest rides with no apparent casualties, we committed to riding EVERY ride in the park, no matter how scary, and Emma, Atticus and I volunteered to take on the 90-up, 90-down coaster, officially called the Spongebob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge.

I should mention here that there were NO lines for ANY of the rides. It’s a Monday during the school year, and while there are other visitors, there are enough rides to disperse them throughout the park and mall, and we never have to wait more than one ride cycle to get on any given ride. The only down side is that they are running a schedule where some of the rides are only open the first half hour of any hour, some are only open the second half hour of the hour, and some are open all the time. It takes us a little while to figure out the schedule, but once we do, we waste little time between rides! Also, Dave mentioned about halfway through the day that his favorite thing about this park is that it since the park is indoors, it’s AIR-CONDITIONED! It is covered by a glass ceiling, so it can get warm if you are in a sunny spot, but there are trees for shade, and if you really feel warm, you can step out into the mall surrounding the park and cool off quickly! I’ve never been much of a shopper or a big mall lover, but this place is Nirvana!

So Emma, Atticus and I rode the scariest-looking ride and it was AWESOME! It was never really that scary and it was over so quick that it really just took your breath away. Big fun, so we rode it again! Shortly after that we marked the last two remaining rides off our list and then just blitzed all our favorite rides over and over until we closed the place down at 9:30 pm. As I mentioned earlier, Eragon was reluctant to leave, but the rest of us were BEAT. We headed back across the street for dinner at Friday’s (yes, we even skipped dinner in favor of riding more rides!) and had an incredibly delicious dinner with possibly the best, friendliest waitress we’ve ever encountered. She was an older Asian lady and she called every single one of us lovely terms of endearment like Honey and Sweetheart and she pampered us and doted on us as if she knew that we had spent the last 12 hours being wrung out on amusement park rides of every conceivable kind. I also had the most delicious margarita I’ve ever had in my life, a blue raspberry concoction. Mmmmm.

We stumbled the short distance left to our room, crashed again, and now it’s the Big Day, the reason for the trip, the pinnacle of the celebration. Time to rally the troops and take on the Mall of America again! We plan to spend the first part of the day getting lost in the American Girl store (officially called the American Girl Boutique and Bistro), having Josefina’s hair done and letting Emma have a little shopping spree. Then lunch at the Bistro, then more shopping if necesssary, then the Lego store, then who knows what (possibly the Aquarium, which is also located in the Mall) until time for dinner at The Rainforest Cafe). We may also catch a movie today or tomorrow at the Mall’s theater, we’re planning to see Planet Earth. We’ve also talked about taking the light rail into downtown Minneapolis tomorrow if time permits. Whatever we end up doing, it should be fun! I’ll add pictures as soon as I can, but Emma and Atticus are both up now so I think it’s time to seize the day!!!

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