Ah …. the mini vacation.

Definition: Attempting to cram a full vacation into 3 days or less.

It’s a completely insane idea, however after travelling nearly every weekend in the Spring for soccer tournaments you get the feeling that you have the mini trip mastered.  So with all of our soccer trips securely under our belts we got out our suitcases (still full of mini toiletries from Spring) and loaded up in the trusty Trailblazer and set our GPS to the Mall of America.

The Mall of America was not the original destination.  The original dream was to actually make it to a beach.  However living in the state of Indiana the closest beach is 11 hours and 35 minutes away (by the way if you’re wondering Pensacola Beach, FL is the closest with Folly Beach, SC coming in a close second).  So one day of driving one day of beaching and one day of driving didn’t sound like a good use of time.  After the beach bubble was burst it became impossible for the family to agree on a destination so up until about 4 days before we left I wasn’t sure we were going anywhere.

The only thing I did in advance was book the dogs at the All Inclusive Puppy Dog Vacation Destination (Bam refuses to let me use the word Kennel).  The day we left I pulled up some hotels on the internet and told Dave to make a reservation while Dawson and I took the dogs to the aforementioned destination.  Then after arguing about driving through Chicago versus driving through Illinois via Champaign, IL and Normal, IL we left.

How to play the I-spy game on I-39 in Illinois – “I spy with my little eye something and the color is GREEN.”  You have your choice of grass, tree or corn.  For Finding Nemo fans – it’s like playing I spy with Dory in the ocean.  Then as we were approaching St Joseph I spotted a set of signs.  I can’t remember exactly what the rhyme was but it was something about getting robbed by thugs and ended with using a gun.  Dave, however, didn’t hear me say thugs, he thought I said bugs so when I got to the end about using a gun the look on his face was priceless.  He asked, “did you say BUGS?!?!”  Laughing hysterically I repeated THUGS.  Well we did have fun for the next 20 miles trying to imagine what size bugs required carrying a .40 caliber pistol.

We stopped at a gas station that had a Chester Fried Chicken attached to it – that advertised in its window “Taco Wednesday.”  Beyond the question of why Chester Fried Chicken was having a Taco anything, Teagan asked “Why Wednesday- haven’t they ever heard of Taco Tuesday?”  In my family our lives revolve largely around animated movies and their various components – for those of you not aware of Taco Tuesday it stems from The Lego Movie.  This stop also was where we realized there was not only a full moon but a blue moon.  Teagan also had one of her famous geography faux pas at the gas station where she declared how excited she was to be in Wisconsin to the clerk – we were still in Illinois – by a lot of miles.

The interstate in Wisconsin is a lot more scenic – jus sayin’.  And we decided if we ever need to move to Wisconsin for any reason Beloit is a good choice.  In Beloit first we passed the Frito Lay factory and then the Hormel Chili factory – what more do you need?  I mean other than a Philadelphia Cream Cheese factory – it’s a Sunday Football snack extravaganza wrapped up in one town!  When we went through Wisconsin Dells Dawson decided he was OK just to stop there – from the interstate you can see 3 separate massive indoor water park resorts.

So we made it to Minasoda (Teagan spelling – she actually gets A’s and B’s – maybe not a great testament to our education system) and to our hotel and Dave had done a fabulous job – it was a suite with extra room and each child had a bed.  YAY!!  We could see the Mall from our hotel.  YAY!! Our hotel was conveniently located at the end of runway 35 at Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport.  YIKES!! I mean like 1000 feet from the end of the runway.  It was kinda like being at home, just a lot more intense.  By the time the jets are over my house I can only see the FED EX or Delta – at the hotel I could see the people in the windows.  It was late afternoon so we decided to check out the Mall and take in a movie.

You arrive at this massive complex and turn into a parking garage.  In order not to lose your car you can text “PARK” to 78456 – I made those numbers up but you get the idea.  And then “bing” you get a text telling you that you parked in Wisconsin Orange North Wing Area J-PQ parking spots 452-675.  Yeah that should be helpful if we get turned around inside the Mall.

So inside was pretty intense.  It’s truly one of those things you have to see to believe.  It’s actually almost sensory overload.  There is an aquarium inside – like full on walk through a tunnel filled with sharks and sting ray aquarium.  There are no maps available of the mall – however by Day 2 Dawson had found an app for his phone and could type in a store type and it would tell him where the closest one was.  There are directories here and there but they always had a lot of people around them.

Eventually, after a 4 mile hike and 3 escalator mishaps we found the movie theater.  We watched Vacation – it only seemed fitting as the Griswolds are possibly the only other family in the world with travel mishaps like ours.  After the movie we ate dinner overlooking one of the 3 indoor roller coasters.  Teagan was dying to ride the roller coasters.

Day 2 at the Mall.  We started with the complimentary breakfast from our hotel.  The wonderful fabulous hotel (still conveniently located at the end of runway 35) was losing points rapidly after attempting to eat what they called eggs.  We started our day visiting the aquarium – and paid $7 extra for the “behind the scenes” tour so we got to walk around at the top of the open tanks – tanks holding hammer-head sharks and other miscellaneous killer sea creatures.  It was pretty cool.  And it was Dawson’s request that we do the Aquarium and the Moose Mountain Mini Golf all together as a family.  Teagan wanted to ride the roller coasters.  So we headed to the center of the mall which is a Nickelodeon Themed Amusement Park.

She got an all day wrist band and jumped in line for the 1st coaster she saw.  After that she decided she was ready to ride the big one – The Spongebob Squarepants Rockbottom Plunge.  It literally goes straight up and then straight down – and it scrapes the rafters of the 4th story.  Dawson went to get her at the end of the line and she was holding on to him as she came walking out because her legs were still shaking.  It didn’t really stop her though, although she didn’t get back on that one, she rode the others several times plus some other crazy scary rides.  I rode the swings.  Oh yeah and the ferris wheel.  I live in the fast lane.


Lunch is nearly impossible inside the Mall.  The line for Chipotle was (no lie) 100 people deep.  After a short wait we did finally get to eat.  At the end of lunch the phone rang – it was our marvelous hotel calling to tell us we had left “some belongings” in the room.  Yes, we left all our belongings in the hotel because we are staying another night.  No – they told us – we had agreed to check out today.  No – we are staying another night.  Why would I have looked at the paperwork to check and make sure they had our check out date correct?  Oh that’s right because I had been in a car forever and my bladder was about to explode.  No problem, just charge us for another night.  No deal, they need that room for tonight.  Seriously???  The hotel with powdered eggs you can still taste the powder in, at the end of a fricking runway where the planes landing gear scrape the roof if they don’t get them up in time is completely booked and we can’t keep our super nice suite?  OK – so we will switch rooms.  Completely booked?  Yeah well you need to find one.  So Dave and Dawson (who had luckily remembered to text the parking location to his phone) went to the hotel to pack (i.e. throw everything in various bags) and switch rooms.  Which we almost didn’t get because one girl was slowly helping Dave and the other girl was selling rooms like an auctioneer in a cow barn.  Odd – originally you started off the conversation with me on the phone saying you had no rooms available.

Dave returned to the mall and we continued our adventures.  Here’s the take-away from the Mall of America.  If you think you have seen everything – you haven’t.  I kept ending up in an area I thought I had been in before but then realized I had not been there.  Oh yeah and there was a “suspicious package” outside the BW3’s at dinner time.  Luckily Mall Security and Bloomington Police had blocked off a section at least 12-15 feet from the suspicious brown paper bag left on a bench while a K9 came and started sniffing.  Pretty sure the dog just wanted some wings cuz he was way more interested in the BW3’s than the sack… but also just a note… had there been a bomb in the bag my guess is at least 300 people would have been injured because if there was a bomb in that size of paper bag the blast radius would have been well over 20 ft.  Yes I find it sad I know that.

Later that night we also found out in addition to the BW3 brown bag incident, there was also a real bomb threat at the Minneapolis St Paul airport with a bag that tested positive for explosive material but contained no actual bomb.  Yep the same airport that was 1000 feet from the super popular hotel with crappy eggs.  Well probably 2500 feet, runway 35 is pretty long.  Yep time to leave, thank God it’s a Mini Vacation.

On return to Indiana we paid the $15 tolls to go through Chicago and save 30 minutes and mind numbing endless cornfields.  However we stopped to see Dave’s sister and brother-in-law and spent about an hour and a half talking.  And my brother-in-laws mom made us some super great BLT’s with some kind of special bacon she bought in Michigan.  And I finally got to take my kids to an Oasis.  If you don’t know what a travel Oasis is, it is a gas station/fast food overpass on a toll road so you don’t have to pay to exit and pay to get back on.  Why I wanted to take my kids to one I don’t know, but I remember that was the big thrill of driving to Minnesota when I was little and I remember stopping with my mom, my grandma and my sister Kim at these – which in the 70’s were smoke-filled and had maybe a McDonald’s if you were lucky – usually a HoJo restaurant.  Now they have 5 different fast food options plus a Starbucks (I know you’re shocked) and you can buy cell phone accessories and there are charging stations for your phones and your cars.  My how things have changed!  Dawson was happy – the Michigan State women’s volleyball team bus also stopped there.

Sigh… we made it through another vacation.  Even a mini one comes with adventure.  I’m realizing that travel is dangerous – but I wouldn’t trade the memories (even the crazy ones) for anything!

PS – Dear Fairfield Inn and Suites in Bloomington MN – you suck!!  And your female manager is rude and oddly went from no rooms available to selling rooms left and right and sticking us in a room with a king bed and sleeper sofa.  Thanks – and you might try mixing the egg powder a little harder.