As we crossed over the Rockies on a FlyOver America test flight, my stomach plunged, and I leaned over to co-creator Stephen Geddes at my left to ask: Has anyone ever gotten sick on your other flight simulator ride in Canada? “Only one person in more than a million rides,” he told me, with pride. I breathed deeply, willing my breakfast not to make a return appearance. I don't want to make history at Mall of America! At least, not this way! The queasiness did pass (full disclosure: I’m a total wimp—literally, looking down in a moving vehicle can make me nauseous), and I mention this not as a deterrent to visiting Mall of America’s new $20 million attraction, rather, as evidence that it really delivers! FlyOver America is as close as you're going to get to the feeling of flying free, without jumping off of a platform. And, much more scenic.
The custom-built attraction, which opened Wednesday, lifts riders 10 to 40 feet above the ground where they are suspended, feet dangling, before a giant, half-spherical dome screen for a bird’s eye view of the country—from Maine to Hawaii to Alaska. Created by a pair of Canadian entrepreneurs who started with FlyOver Canada in Vancouver, the only similar attraction in the U.S. is Disney World’s Soarin’ ride at Epcot.
If you’re thinking IMAX, FlyOver is much more intense. The seats move in sync with the film to make riders feel like they are flying over mountains, under clouds, and straight across water. Wind blows, and a light mist actually hits riders as the waves splash, to amplify the immersive experience. There are smells too, but I didn't notice them (maybe for the best?).
More than 50 hours of aerial filming all parts of the country, in all seasons resulted in the 8-minute FlyOver film. From cities to plains, the scenery is spectacular—so much so that on-screen locators, or some sort of cheat sheet, would be nice, so riders know what they’re seeing. (Currently, there's no narration, no notations on screen—just pretty sights, and music.) Watch for flyovers of Red Wing and Minneapolis.
Full disclosure: Neither of the men flanking me in this photo are actual pilots. And I justed needed somwhere appropriate to wear aviator goggles.
Plan on around 30 minutes for the entire experience, which includes a safety video and pre-boarding time. Could be longer, if interest is as strong as Geddes and his partner anticipate. FlyOver Canada has topped a million riders in its three years, Geddes says, and that’s as a destination attraction—not located in the middle of a mall that boasts 42 million annual visitors.
FlyOver is a separate attraction from Nickelodeon Universe, which means a separate admission fee: $16.95 for adults and $12.95 for children up to age 12. You must be at least 40 inches tall to ride. (Order online to reserve a flight time and avoid lines.)
The Disney-ifying of MOA will continue this spring with the opening of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant and Crayola Experience (May 26) on the third level. Crayola will feature 25 interactive activities and shows, culminating, of course, at a giant store. With two other Experience attractions in Easton, Penn. and Orlando, Fla., Crayola says the average visit is two to three hours.
Crayola Experience will be a $24.99 ticket. I did the math, folks, and if you were to vacation/staycation at the mall and try every major attraction from mini golf to rides to the aquarium to zip lining, the activities alone would cost around $165 per person (not including some online discounts for advance ticket purchases). There’s a bundled ticket for Nickelodeon Universe and SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, and the Bloomington Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a Big Ticket pass that includes attractions in and beyond the mall, and a few MOA activity coupons, but I think the time is approaching for MOA to create its own budget-friendly attraction pass, offering some sort of price break for doing multiple activities.
That said, prices don’t seem to be a barrier—based on the limited amount of rooftop-only parking available this past Saturday, I'd say many a spring break was spent at the mall. For anyone who hasn’t been in a while (or ever), the mall has several new restaurants, a branch of the Minnesota Children’s Museum, and the new J.W. Marriott hotel.
But things have been fairly quiet on the retail front. That’s about to change, Senior Vice President of Business Development Jill Renslow hinted at Wednesday’s FlyOver opening. Lease agreements can be months, even years, in the making, and it sounds like things are starting to fall into place. For now, we know this: NYX cosmetics will open next week, Kate Hudson’s Fabletics is coming this spring, and Paper Source has plans to open at MOA. The mall still won’t officially confirm the opening of Zara, but I think it's safe to say our Christmas dreams will come true this year.