Spent the better part of Saturday at Mall of America, starting with a live broadcast of "Shop Girls" at the Operation Glass Slipper Princess Event, including a visit to Sea Life Minnesota, and ending with a mad dash through DSW some nine hours later. Here's what I learned: People start lining up for Rainforest Cafe at 10:30 a.m. No wonder it's so challenging to get in at dinner time. Nordstrom is "going green," offering to email customer receipts rather than printing it out. (They have long put a return sticker on every item at point of purchase, so the receipt isn't really needed for returns anyway. J. Crew has decided not to offer its swim collection at any of its Twin Cities stores this spring. Shortsighted - the cold makes Minnesotans all the more likely to take a beach vacation. And finding the perfect swimsuit is difficult enough without guessing online. If you want to shop Nordstrom Rack on a busy Saturday, make it your first stop, while you have the patience to deal with the crowd, lines and assorted odors.
Pays to buy tickets in advance to the new Sea Life Minnesota - you save $5 each by ordering online, and you get to enter through an express lane. Now, whether or not admission is worth the $14.99 in advance ($19.99 at the door) is another question. The name isn't all that's changed: The mall aquarium, now run by Merlin Entertainment Group, just completed a major renovation that includes a new stingray exhibit, an enormous Poseidon figure in the shark tank, new sea creatures, and more educational elements. The good: The stingray tank at the new entryway (they flipped the entrance and exit) is cool - it's at eye level for kids and includes a deck that allows you to walk over the stingrays. The jellyfish exhibit is striking, the sea horses are so cute, and the shark cove that lets you to experience sharks, stingrays and sawfish swimming overhead is still awesome (and seems longer somehow). The bad: The new "hands-on submarine play area" is ill-conceived. First of all, it's aimed at a very narrow population of 2 to 5 year olds, which is an accident waiting to happen for bigger who still have the urge to climb. Second, the play structure is crammed in a corner near the exit with little space for strollers - something virtually every person stopping there is going to have. Ultimately, even with the added features, aquarium admission still seems pricey. It's a great addition to a mall visit, but not a day's outing, like going to some of the other museums in town. For an aquarium in the basement of a mall, it's mighty impressive. But even with the slow moving crowd in front of us, we were done in around 90 minutes. The Barnes & Noble Cafe is a wonderful respite from the chaos of the mall rotunda (and offers quiche and soft pretzels and other snacks beyond the usual Starbucks baked goods. Entering the mall off of I-494 on Killebrew Drive is always faster than Lindau Lane. But parking near Nordstrom is entirely more civilized than the east side lots.