Minnesota: Minneapolis, Winter Family Vacation Ideas – Snowshoes, Puppets and a Monorail.
A remarkable city for a family holiday, winter in Minneapolis is prime time. From marvelous theatrical productions and inspiring museum programs to dreamy snow covered parks and tempting hot chocolate stops, the city shines. Spend any time at all in Minneapolis and smiling will be unavoidable. Voted the best in the USA for dozens of things, the ongoing results span the gamut. The place is fun for families of all age combinations. Yes, the days can be crisp, no cold. But it’s a dry cold so, no sweat. Take a safari by monorail.
On cold winter days the dramatic two-story atrium entrance to Discovery Bay at The Minnesota Zoo provides a refuge for viewing the zoo’s aquatic residents. The estuary and tidal areas bustle with energy as visitors interact with the exhibits. Located on 500 plus acres in Apple Valley south of Minneapolis, the zoo is home to about 2,300 animals including 15 species. Bonus points:
A climate controlled monorail provides easy viewing for riders as they glide above a variety of Northern hemisphere animals including Bactrian camels, musk oxen, moose and Amur (Siberian) tigers. Discovery: There’s an IMAX theatre onsite. (IMAX at Minnesota Zoo. Information Line (952) 431-4629 or 1-877-660-4629 and Minnesota Zoo. 13000 Zoo Boulevard Apple Valley, 55124.1(952) 431-9200, 1-800-366-7811 or 24-hour information line 1(952) 431-9500 or www.MNZoo.com Mask or puppet?
Awesome masked puppets come together in unique productions presented by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT). The company uses the ancient tradition of puppet and mask theatre to entertain and inspire all ages. The performances are masterful and visually poetic. In addition to words, the productions include musical dialog and inspiring choreographed movement. Bonus points:
In addition to scheduled productions, Saturdays from October through mid March they conduct puppet shows in their lobby. The puppeteer vignettes are ideal for young children. (In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT). 1500 E. Lake Street 55407. (612) 721-2535 or www.heartofthebeasttheatre.org
) Stay for the encore.
Minneapolis offers remarkable theatre opportunities for families. Season after season The Children’s Theatre Company set the stage for the rest of the country with cutting edge productions. The full-time acting company frames literary adaptations with style and showcases written-for-children theatre. Bonus points:
To enhance the theatre experience there are free family theatre guides which include play descriptions, activities, and discussion questions. Just ask at the box office. Discovery: At the Stages Theatre, classic stories, holiday spectaculars, and musical wonders make the shows a must-see. The theatre, built for children’s performances, is an ideal entertainment setting for all ages. (The Children’s Theatre Company. 2400 3rd Avenue South 55404. 1(612) 874-0400 or www.Childrenstheatre.org
and Stages Theatre Company. Hopkins Center of the Arts. 1111 Main Street, Hopkins, 55343. (952) 979-1111 or www.stagestheatre.org
) Get the kids close to the music.
Each year the Minnesota Orchestra offers families a delightful series “Adventures in Music” created with young audiences in mind. Amid the warm, welcoming ambiance and acoustical perfection of Orchestra Hall, the mini concerts educate and entertain at the same time. Bonus points:
WAMSO-Minnesota Orchestra Volunteer Association hosts fun Concert Previews before all Adventures in Music for Families programs. (Minnesota Orchestra Ticket Services Department. 1111 Nicollet Mall Minneapolis, 55403-2477. (612) 371-5642 or toll-free 1-800-292-4141 or www.minnesotaorchestra.org
) Electrify the day.
On the shore of Lake Calhoun The Bakken is a repository for about 2500 objects relating in some way to electricity and magnetism in the life sciences and medicine. The artifacts including some 11,000 books, bound journals, and manuscripts may be viewed by appointment. Bonus points:
The Bakken’s Family Science Saturdays provide themed hands-on activities and special presentations provide engaging moments that spark learning while having fun. Discovery: Mr. Bakken developed the first wearable, external, battery-powered, transistorized pacemaker. (The Bakken: A Library and Museum of Electricity in Life. 3537 Zenith Ave. South Minneapolis, 55416-4623. (612) 926-3878 or www.thebakken.org
) Witness nature’s strangest wonders.
The Bell Museum of Natural History is an interactive portal providing experiences that connect participants with the natural world. It is a non intimidating family friendly place showcasing big ideas. Discovery:
Onsite is a marvelous “Touch and See Room” —a place where visitors find the answers to questions about the natural world. Objects ready for investigation include ancient wooly mammoth tusk, moose antlers, assorted furs, a life-sized Kodiak bear, and an elephant skull as well as live reptiles including snakes and turtles. Bonus points: The Bell Museum is free on Sundays. (The Bell Museum, University of Minnesota campus. 10 Church Street SE Minneapolis, 55455. (612) 624-7083 or www.bellmuseum.org
) Hike along the hillside.
short walk from the back door of the Mall of America is a secret place with a window on nature-- an urban park extraordinaire. Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center anchors the green space, featuring four levels of interactive exhibits, an ever-changing art gallery and a wonderful bookshop. It functions as a portal to the diverse ecosystems found in more than 7,800 acres of landscaped parks as well as the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Hiking trails lace the wilderness and observation blinds provide opportunities to overlook the river valley and Long Meadow Lake. With patience, expect to see squirrels, chipmunks, coyotes, bald eagles, badgers, beavers and hundreds of birds in transit. Bonus points:
There are weekly programs that span a variety of topics, often making poignant cultural connections with history and nature. Discovery: The refuge offers visitors hiking and cross-country ski trails. (Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. 3815 American Blvd. East, Bloomington, 55425. (952) 854-5900 or http://midwest.fws.gov/minnesotavalley
) Remember “Top Gun”?
What better on a cold winter day than to file a flight plan and fly a mission? At Air Combat Entertainment Simulations (ACES) participants get to wear an authentic flight suit, helmet and parachute harness as part of the on-the-ground simulated air adventure. Experience the thrill of piloting a full-motion F/A-18. During this simulation, participants have the ability to launch from and land on an aircraft carrier, dogfight a sibling in a second simulator, compete in aerial combat tournaments and design a flight plan. Discovery: Ideal for ages 10+ but, no surprise, Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis are not on staff. (Air Combat Entertainment Simulations. 5005 Excelsior Blvd. St Louis Park, 55416-3013. (952) 920-3519 or www.flyaces.com
) Shop ‘til you drop.
The Mall of America Mall of America really does have more than 500 stores and 60 restaurants. It is one of the most visited destinations in the United States because it has something for everyone. At the heart of an amazing array of shops and department stores is Camp Snoopy, the largest indoor family theme park in the nation. For visitors shopping breaks include a roller coaster ride or a fling on a revolving swing. Bonus points: In addition to days of shopping enjoyment the Mall of America contains other things to do, even in a snow storm. It is the home of Underwater Adventures, the world's largest underground aquarium. Visitors may try a high tech indoor stock car racing competition or go bowling at Jillian’s Hi Life Lanes. Discovery:
There is no sales tax on clothing. For shoppers there is a Mall of America Super Savings Coupon Book loaded with more than 200 offers from stores, restaurants and attractions. (Mall of America. At the crossroads of Interstate 494 and Highway 77, Bloomington. 1-800-879-3555 or www.mallofamerica.com
) Touch a shark!
Under the Mall of America is an amazing aquarium with a 300-foot-long curved glass enclosed moving walkway. The tunnel like route allows visitors to move under and through the 1.2 million gallons of water that create the habitat for more than 4,500 sea creatures. See sandbar, nurse, black-tip reef sharks, giant grouper, sea turtles and eels seemingly oblivious to the intruders on the walkway. Bonus points:
At Starfish Beach, touch tanks allow visitors to interact with water residents. Don’t miss the book wall loaded with exceptional books for children. (Underwater Adventures. Mall of America 120 East Broadway Bloomington, MN 55425. (612) 883-0202, www.underwaterworld.com
) Ride the rails.
Great news! The Hiawatha Line, Minnesota’s light-rail, has expanded service to Mall of America and the airport. Initial service ran eight miles between Minneapolis’ downtown and the Historic Fort Snelling, with 12 stops at boarding stations. The final four miles of the line runs through the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport to the Mall of America. (Minnesota Department of Transportation. Metropolitan Division Office of Rail Transit Ceresota Building 155 Fifth Ave. South, Suite 300, Minneapolis, 55401. (612) 215-8200 or www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/lrt/) Ski the Twin Cities.
Adjacent to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Snelling State Park has an extensive network of hiking, biking and ski trails that link to Minnehaha Park. The Thomas C. Savage Visitor Center provides interpretive exhibits and films as well as naturalist programs year-round. Trails also allow visitors to hike up to the historic Fort Snelling for a view of military life in the 1820s. Bonus points:
In winter, the park maintains six miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, 7 miles of groomed skate-ski trails and 12 miles of hiking trails. Snowshoeing is permitted anywhere in the park except on groomed ski trails. Both dog sledding and ski jouring are permitted on seven miles of trail on the Dakota county side of the park. (Fort Snelling State Park. 101 Snelling Lake Road, St. Paul, 55111. (612) 725-2724, 725-2389 or www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/fort_snelling/index.html
) If the snowshoe fits, wear it.
Wirth Winter Recreation Area is located is the largest regional park in Minneapolis. In the winter months it provides miles of trials suitable for cross country skiing and snowshoeing as well as easy slopes for snow tubing. Trails are designed for beginners, intermediates, and ski skaters, so all ages will enjoy the snow. Some trails are lighted. The chalet serves snacks and a place to warm little toes. Rent cross country skis, snow tubes or snowshoes onsite. Discovery:
Minnesota State Cross Country Ski Passes are required for skiers age 16 and older, daily passes are available at the Wirth Chalet. Annual and three year passes are available by calling the DNR (1-888-665-4236) or by going to any place that sells fishing and hunting licenses. (Theodore Wirth Winter Recreation Area. 1301 Theodore Wirth Parkway, Minneapolis 55411. (763) 522-4584 www.minneapolisparks.org