Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA Campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors.
Our boys were very excited about this day of our trip — we’d be spending the day at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota! Our schedule noted that we would be leaving the Austin Jellystone campground at 7:15am and arriving for breakfast at the Mall of America at 9:00am. Taking into account the drive time issues over the past two days, our PR team wanted to allow more time for everyone to make the 101-mile trip to the mall, and they asked the bloggers to meet at a central point in the campground at 6:45am and be ready to depart shortly after. They also wanted us to try driving together as a group to the mall.
This proved to be somewhat difficult. By the time everyone had pulled out of their campsites and lined their RVs up in the campground’s driveways, it was closer to 7:30am. Several of us were ready to leave shortly after the meeting, but we waited about 40 minutes for everyone else to line up and prepare to leave. We did our best to stay together, but things happen..! Everyone drives at different speeds — we quickly found that a few miles per hour variance was enough to separate the entire group. One blogger’s RV cargo hatch popped open during the drive, and she had to fix it. Another blogger’s sewer tank cap came off and was dangling close to the road. Oops! (Reading our Facebook group’s play-by-play during this drive was rather humorous on this morning: “Whoever is driving the Sunseeker that just passed us: Your cargo door is flapping in the wind!” It was our modern-day equivalent of a CB radio!) Once we got on the highway, several of us had to leave the group to get gas — we were among them. Another $126.26 went into the tank. Better news on this tank, though:
Woo hoo! 8.58 miles to the gallon was a big improvement over our last 6.64MPG tank! We arrived at the Mall of America after 10:00am and were told to wait in the parking lot for all of the RVs to arrive before entering the mall.(I’m not trying to sound negative, but many of us had hungry kids at this point and it had been a hurry-up-and-wait kind of start to the day. An event this size was certainly a learning experience for everyone!) Around 10:20am, our group headed to a meeting room inside the mall.
The Mall of America had prepared a welcome breakfast of doughnuts, fruit, coffee and juice. We were treated to a presentation about the Mall and Minnesota tourism. The mall also thoughtfully had a bucket of small toys for all of the children — each child could choose two toys to play with while we ate and learned about the mall. (My kids were delighted!) Did you know: – The Mall of America has no central heating system. It is kept at 72 degrees all year long by a combination of skylights and the body heat from shoppers! – The Mall of America is home to the largest indoor theme park in the United States, Nickelodeon Universe. There are 30 rides inside the mall, as well as a high ropes course and a mini golf course. This summer, the mall is adding a zipline over the theme park. – The Mall of America is also home to the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium. There are more than 10,000 sea creatures, sharks, sea turtles, rays, jellyfish, and seahorses in the aquarium.
We were given passes to Nickelodeon Universe, the Ghostly Gangplank high ropes course, and the Moose Mountain mini golf course. If we wished to visit the aquarium, we were told to meet at 2:00 and we’d be admitted together as a group. The Bloomington Minnesota Convention & Visitors Bureau was in attendance too, and a representative discussed many of the fun things to do in the Minneapolis area. They offered to take bloggers on a two-hour midday break from the mall to visit nearby Minnehaha Falls. It looked lovely, but the tour time overlapped the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium guided tour, so we’d need to choose one or the other. We opted to stay at the mall as our kids wanted to see the aquarium too. We wanted to maximize our time enjoying the attractions with our children as we knew we’d be having plenty more outdoor experiences over the course of this trip.
We were also given a reusable shopping bag with media materials, a coupon book to use in the mall, and an invitation to a buffet dinner at 6:00 jointly catered by Famous Dave’s and Kokomo’s Island Cafe. Yum!
And then, we were off to play! And play we did…
We have been to the Mall Of America before, but it was about five years ago and our kids were much younger, so it was fun to watch them enjoying some of the larger rides now. We also learned that if you plan to go to Nickelodeon Universe, a during-the-week day is far better than on the weekend! Our previous trip was over a weekend, and we waited in long lines for many of the attractions. On this Friday, we didn’t wait more than five minutes to ride anything. This meant we could ride and re-ride many of the kids’ favorites.
SpongeBob’s Rock Bottom Plunge is a looping roller coaster with a fully vertical rise at the beginning of the ride. My youngest son was tall enough to ride but thought it was too scary! But our nine-year-old rode it three times and loved it.
We also did the Ghostly Gangplank high ropes course, which was amazing. As you cannot take cameras or phones up on the course, I have no photographs of us traversing its many balance beams and ropes, so here’s a photo from the mall’s website. It’s 56′ high and is the tallest Sky Trails rope course in the world. My boys were able to go three levels up. Their mother went all the way to the top and rang the bell!
A second coaster, the Pepsi Orange Streak, is the longest coaster in the park. It’s a great one for younger kids as it’s speedy but doesn’t loop. It also travels through the Log Chute ride, where you can wave at all of the people preparing to get wet! And of course, we said hello to SpongeBob.
The Lego Store at the Mall Of America is whimsical and impossible to keep kids away from. It’s also a great, free place to spend some time playing. Pick a spot on the couch and dig your hands into a bowl of Legos! I was pretty impressed with the ship my son built!
My children were amused with my Lego skills (or lack thereof.) This was my creation. The Lego Store has a “Build Your Own Figure” 3-pack. You could build three different creations and put them in the package and take them home for $9.99. My sons decided they wanted to do this, but I couldn’t believe they didn’t want to take my Lego person home as one of their three. Hmm. Around 1:30pm, we started to get hungry for lunch. In perusing our discount dining options from the MOA coupon book, we saw a coupon for 20% off Masu sushi in the mall. We headed over and saw that sushi was actually half off for happy hour beginning at 3:00pm! Could we wait? Yes! My husband grabbed a slice of pizza at Sbarro in the food court and shared it with the kids. Then, we headed to the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium in the mall.
We had never been to Sea Life before, although we were aware from previous trips that there was an aquarium at MOA. We met with other members of our blogger group and went inside for a tour. Sea Life is located in the lowest level of the mall, and you cannot get a sense of how large it really is until you step inside. We were all surprised at the size and quality of the aquarium.
Our boys absolutely loved this aquarium! They have areas where you can pet rays and starfish.
One of the highlights of the tour is an enormous walk-through glass tunnel where you can get body-to-body with sea tortoises, sharks, and other creatures. Aside from sea diving in a shark cage, I can’t imagine a way to have the opportunity to safely be one inch away from a shark. They are truly amazing, beautiful creatures — especially when you can see them at such close range.
We saw sharks swimming directly overhead, near us, next to us, and all around us. I expected the walk-through underwater aquarium tunnel to be a small portion of the tour, but this tunnel actually winds around throughout the exhibit for 300 feet! It was much, much longer than I imagined it would be. You could spend as much time as you wanted observing all of the sea life, and we did. My boys loved this giant tortoise:
We also saw sea creatures we’d never seen before, like these little guys:
The aquarium also has a rainforest exhibit with caiman, piranhas and poisonous frogs:
All in all, the aquarium was impressive. We spent about an hour and a half inside, and then we headed back upstairs for a light meal of happy-hour sushi at Masu. After that, we went back to Nickelodeon Universe and rode more rides.
At 6:00pm, the Mall Of America hosted a dinner buffet for the bloggers and their families. It was jointly catered by Famous Dave’s and Kokomo Island Cafe. (We thought this was kind of funny as on our family’s last trip to the MOA, we chose Kokomo as our place to eat..! We love their food, so this was a nice surprise.)
Our dinner was chicken, pulled pork, a fantastic baked mac and cheese that nearly everyone went back for seconds for, salad and fruit parfaits for dessert. The MOA crew had done a great job of decorating the banquet room too with fun placements featuring RV and road trip destinations.
Before dinner, the bloggers were discussing plans for the night. We were scheduled to leave the mall at 8:00pm, but the mall was open until 9:30pm. We were camping at the Austin Jellystone campground again this evening, but as we looked at the routing, it became apparent that we were backtracking on the route. Traveling back to Austin was actually putting us further away from the direction we’d be heading in tomorrow (west toward South Dakota.) Worse, there were only two more Murphy USA stations left along the route. The closest one was 46 miles north of the Mall of America. If we drove an hour north of the mall to fill up tonight, we’d have at least 3 1/2 hours’ drive south to go back to the Austin Jellystone to camp. Or, if we did not get gas tonight, we’d have a 142-mile drive from Jellystone back to our last Murphy location – and then finally heading toward South Dakota the next day.
After a long day of play and lots of walking, some of us began discussing finding a campground closer to the mall, which would allow us to go to sleep on time and keep us on our route to South Dakota for the next day. One blogger in our group chose the Minneapolis Southwest KOA campground, which was about 24 miles west of the Mall of America. She figured that if we stayed there, we’d only have to go about an hour north the next morning to head to the Murphy station. Plus, assuming an average of 8MPG, driving an extra 101 miles would cost close to $45 worth of gas — each way — not to mention excessive drive time for everyone. The Minneapolis Southwest KOA was $48.61 per night. After one of the bloggers called to confirm they had space for all of us who wanted to stay in Minneapolis (and as these discussions continued, 10 out of the 16 bloggers decided to stay near the mall,) we made a reservation and each blogger paid for his or her own night’s reservation. While this KOA location was not officially associated or affiliated with our tour, they did a great job of reserving an adjacent block of sites for all of us so that we could continue to camp together. We did let the PR team know that we had decided to change our plans — normally, in a sponsored situation like this, I wouldn’t have “gone rogue” against the outlined plans, but the backtracking and subsequent off-route driving to work that last sponsored gas stop in were going to cost us quite a bit of our own money, as well as hours’ worth of drive time. I don’t intend any negativity against the Beaver Creek Jellystone or Murphy USA — if anything, I regret that we didn’t have more time to spend at this Jellystone as they had a lot of fun playgrounds and activities that our kids would have enjoyed. And Murphy USA’s TxtPay gas is incredibly convenient (and fun!) to use. I wish there were more Murphy USA stations around the country. We later learned some of the bloggers did return to the Austin Jellystone campground after the MOA, then drove back down to Iowa in search of more Murphy USA stations before heading to South Dakota.
Once we knew we had a shorter drive to camp, it gave us more time to spend at the mall. We wanted to get a game of mini golf in too with our boys, as we still had our passes and we’d never played here before.
The Moose Mountain mini golf sits one level above the Nickelodeon Universe theme park, so you get some nice over-the-park views while you’re golfing. The boys really enjoyed this — we love mini golf with fun obstacles and challenges. It was impossible to capture this in a photo, but one of the obstacles on a hole actually shot some golf balls back out at you randomly. We were laughing at many of the challenges on this cute wild west-themed course. We ended our day by riding the Log Chute three times..! We figured that if we were going to get wet (and we did) it would be best to do that at the end of the day when we could go back to the motorhome to change. Our boys loved this ride — their wild laughter, combined with the short line, kept us coming back for more. Strangely, our youngest hated Splash Mountain at Disneyland on our recent trip, but he loved this — and I think this ride is faster with more drops! I’ve never purchased a souvenir ride photo in my life, but when we saw this one:
Well, we just had to buy it. My youngest son kept screaming “Hold onto me, Mama!” as we approached the big drop. And I did — as you can see! It was a great end to a great day. After leaving the mall, we drove to the Minneapolis Southwest KOA campground and settled in for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow: South Dakota! I couldn’t wait to visit our 40th state again. My father is originally from South Dakota, and we took many trips there when I was younger. I hadn’t been to South Dakota in almost 16 years, and my husband and sons had never visited this beautiful state…
With each day’s trip report, I’m going to provide an exact list of expenses — what it cost us, and what it would cost to do an identical trip without sponsorship. Obviously, there will be areas where you could tweak or adjust expenses to suit your family’s needs and budget, but I’m trying to be as thorough as possible in detailing all of the costs of this trip. For instances in which I do not know the exact costs of a particular item, I’m estimating what the cost would be. Day ThreeDay Three
|What it cost our family of four||What it would cost your family of four|
|Gas: $126.26||Gas: $126.26|
|Mall of America continental breakfast: $0.00||Mall of America continental breakfast: $12.00|
|Toys from Dollar Tree: $0.00||Toys from Dollar Tree: $4.00|
|MOA reusable shopping bag: $0.00||MOA reusable shopping bag: $2.00|
|MOA coupon book: $0.00||MOA coupon book: $9.95|
|Four Nickelodeon Universe unlimited wristbands Included Ghostly Gangplank ropes course and one game of mini golf: $0.00||Four Nickelodeon Universe unlimited wristbands Included Ghostly Gangplank ropes course and one game of mini golf at $36.99 each: $147.96|
|Lego Store souvenir 3-pack – $10.72||Lego Store souvenir 3-pack – $10.72|
|Sbarro pizza slice: $4.07||Sbarro pizza slice: $4.07|
|Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium – four admissions: $0.00||Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium – four admissions: Two adults at $22.99 each: $45.98 Two children at $16.99 each: $33.98|
|Masu sushi: $27.70||Masu sushi: $27.70|
|Kokomo’s Island Cafe / Famous Dave’s dinner (catered, approx. $14 each): $0.00||Kokomo’s Island Cafe / Famous Dave’s dinner (catered, approx. $14 each): $56.00|
|Amazing Pictures ride photo: $16.04||Amazing Pictures ride photo: $16.04|
|Minneapolis Southwest KOA campground: $48.61||Minneapolis Southwest KOA campground: $48.61|
|Today’s total: $233.40||Today’s total: $545.27|
|Total to date: $369.23||Total to date: $4109.29|
Disclosure: I participated in the All American RV Blogger tour. This event was partially sponsored by Access RV, Austin Minnesota Jellystone Camp Resort, Bulu Box, Bus Bank, CVS/pharmacy, Eagle Creek, Insightly, KOA campgrounds, Mall of America, Murphy USA, South Dakota Tourism and USA 5 Star. This campaign and tour was organized by Me Network. Bloggers on the tour were responsible for all expenses not covered by sponsors. Hashtags: #EpicRVBloggerTour #drivingBusBank #grouptravel #LovinMurphyUSA #MOARocks #AustinJellystone #EagleCreekAdventure #BuluBox #MiddleburyKOA #CVSOnTheGo #CVSconvenience #travelsd #exploresd #getinsightly #MtRushmoreKOA #KOAadventure #sponsored