Make a Family Getaway This Winter
You've made play dates for your kids. How about planning a play date for your family?
During the school year, families can get into a rut of homework, lessons, TV and packed schedules. Plan a time out, a time away from home for some family together-time on a special getaway. Here are some ideas to get you started. Check them out with the kids and choose your favorite.
Popular area attractions include the Lake Superior Zoo, the Great Lakes Aquarium, and the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, where kids can climb aboard restored train cars, and Adventure Zone, an indoor family entertainment center with miniature golf, laser tag, and more.
Of course, the 22 runs and Big Air Terrain Park at Spirit Mountain are always a big draw for skiers and snowboarders. This year, the addition of a second beginner area and a new conveyor lift should make the mountain easier than ever for kids to conquer.
When you're ready to come in from the cold, make your way to The Edge, a 35,000-square-foot indoor water park that opened in 2005. With water slides, a lazy river, and even an exploding volcano, it's the next best thing to a tropical island in Minnesota.
On a lark, take your kids to the amazing LARK Toys and Carousel, where you'll find toys, ice cream, candy, and an exquisite hand-carved carousel all under one roof. Located in the tiny town of Kellogg in the southeast corner of the state, it is the nation's largest independent toy store. The name, which stands for Lost Arts Revival by Kreofsky, reflects its owners' passion for good old-fashioned wooden toys, but there's also a huge selection of books, puppets, tin wind-up toys, and much more.
While you're in the Mississippi River Valley, don't miss the National Eagle Center, just up scenic Highway 61 from Kellogg. Starting in late November, many bald eagles migrate to the open water and plentiful fish supply in the Wabasha-Reads Landing area, and they're easy to spot through the scopes on the observation deck. You can also see three live eagles-Harriet, Angel, and Columbia-up close inside the center, along with interesting displays about our national emblem.
Swoosh and Splash at "Alex"
Big Ole, a 28-foot-tall Viking, will be the first one to greet you when you arrive in Alexandria. One reason to head in his direction is Andes Tower Hills, a family-oriented ski area with 15 downhill runs, 15 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, a tubing hill, and an excellent terrain park with plenty of jumps, rails, and fun boxes. It's also one of the few ski areas in the state that does not serve alcohol on the premises.
Another reason to visit Alexandria is the Big Splash Indoor Waterpark. After a day on the slopes, some members of the family might want to unwind in the Lazy River or soothe their aching muscles in the tropical whirlpool spa while others flit from under the 500-gallon splash bucket to the four-story waterslides. Spend a weekend here, and you'll understand why Alexandra bills itself as a city that's "easy to get to, hard to leave."
Although the beaches may have frozen over, the year-round resorts in the Brainerd Lakes area continue to lure vacationers up north with warm hospitality and a variety of recreation opportunities. Inside, swimming pools and game rooms provide hours of entertainment. Outside, families can try ice fishing, rent snowmobiles, or even take a ride on a dog sled.
Ski Gull Ski Area has 12 downhill runs-60 percent of which are designed for beginners-overlooking beautiful Gull Lake. There's also a new tubing area, plus snowboarding, cross country skiing, and ice skating, all in one convenient location.
Several water parks have recently opened in this area. The Rapid River Waterpark was first on the scene in 2000, followed by the Three Bear Water and Themepark and the Paul Bunyan Water Park, both in 2005. All three have tree house play areas, an array of waterslides, and a lazy river. If you can't choose between them, try one water park Friday, one Saturday, and one Sunday!
A Capital Time in St. Paul
You can always give Old Man Winter the slip by ducking into one of the wonderful museums in Minnesota's capital city. The weather even figures into several of the exhibits. For example, you can view a film about winter ordeals through the back window of a car stuck in a snow bank or head into a 1960s-style basement for a realistic tornado simulation at the Minnesota History Center.
At the Science Museum of Minnesota, you can also see the skeleton of an 82-foot-long Diplodocus, climb aboard a Mississippi River towboat, and participate in a variety of hands-on educational activities.
In addition to creating a booming thunderstorm, young children can role play all day at the nearby Minnesota Children's Museum by starring in their own music video, operating a construction crane, and crawling through a giant anthill.
All three museums have gift shops full of educational toys, games, and projects to help pass the remaining weeks of winter. The shops and restaurants lining historic Grand Avenue are also well worth checking out. From Creative Kidstuff (1074 Grand Ave.), a toy store specializing in "whimsical, wonderful, wildly imaginative playthings," to the Red Balloon Bookshop (891 Grand Ave.), which features the largest selection of children's books in Minnesota, there's something grand on every block.
The Mall and More in Bloomington
The seven-acre theme park at the Mall of America in Bloomington is the nation's largest indoor family amusement park. It features more than 30 rides, ranging from the gentle Bloomington Express steam train for tots to the speedy Pepsi Ripsaw Roller Coaster and Paul Bunyan's Log Chute, which plunges over a 40-foot waterfall.
At the adjacent LEGO Imagination Center, kids can build to their heart's content, surrounded by large, animated LEGO creations, including dinosaurs and astronauts. Mall visitors can also see their favorite prehistoric creatures at the Dinosaur Walk Museum, and live sea creatures-including the world's largest shark exhibit-await discovery at the Underwater Adventures Aquarium.
With the opening of the Water Park of America in May 2006, Bloomington added America's largest indoor water park to its list of mega-attractions.
A tropical rain forest, an IMAX Theatre, and shark feedings are just a hop, skip, and a jump away at Minnesota Zoo in nearby Apple Valley. Winter is actually the best time to spot the animals along the Northern Trail, whether you're hiking or riding the monorail. Camels and tigers and musk ox, oh my!