Spring Forth — Slip, slide, show, and shop your way through the Midwest

March 2012 View more

Lay the groundwork for a fulfilling spring break by filling a gas tank instead of boarding an airplane. This trio of Midwest destinations offers fun for children to grandparents.

NMAG0312_Travel_1One-stop shopping, splashing

Mall of America, Minnesota’s most popular attraction, reportedly lures more visitors in a year than all other state attractions combined. That’s because the fun isn’t limited to shopping, although having 500-plus stores and no sales tax on clothing purchases certainly helps.

Underneath one monstrous roof are stores, restaurants, movie theaters, a walk-through aquarium, amusement park with rides, comedy club, miniature golf and exhibits (an international show about the late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, is featured until mid-June).

No other U.S. shopping-entertainment complex is bigger. www.MallofAmerica.com, 952.883.8800

The nearby Radisson Hotel Bloomington connects to Water Park of America; its thrill rides, slides, and pools can accommodate 3,000 people. Learn about Minnesota lakes to loons while making a splash indoors; rivers, plunges and rest spots are named after real parks and waterways. www.WaterParkofAmerica.com, 952.229.5753

Many of the area’s hotels offer free shuttles to the mall. Light rail connects the mall to downtown Minneapolis, where art to history museums await. Explore Mill City Museum, formerly the world’s largest flour mill, where visitors nibble samples of fresh-baked treats. www.MillCityMuseum.org, 612.341.7555

Express buses link the Mall of America to St. Paul, home of the Minnesota Children’s Museum, where the exhibit “Grossology: The (Impolite) Science of the Human Body” stays until mid-May. www.MCM.org, 651.225.6000

City of showstoppers


Within the pretty Ozark Mountains is a city of 7,000 where bright lights and stage shows rival those of Las Vegas, only without the gambling or risqué behavior. It’s been this way in Branson, Missouri since a tourism boom of country music theaters in the 1980s.

Branson takes great pride in branding attractions as affordable, clean-cut, and patriotic. Magicians and comedians, acrobats and exotic animal trainers, Christian musicals and classic rock singers—dozens of show choices vie for attention; so do zip lines, IMAX movies, and limousine and horseback rides.

The city loves a parade, too, drawing up to 30,000 spectators per event, and that includes a procession during the Vietnam Veterans Expo, March 29 to 31.

Visit Silver Dollar City, open since 1960, for rollercoaster rides to cooking classes, blacksmith demos to hand-carved dulcimers and baseball bats. The PowderKeg ride zooms to 53 mph in less than three seconds. www.SilverDollarCity.com, 800.475.9370

A bonus is the area’s natural beauty and wildlife-friendly habitat, especially near Table Rock and Taneycomo lakes, where cabins, condos, and budget-to-upscale hotel rooms are available. Explore the water by riverboat, yacht, pontoon, or fishing boat.

Brason celebrates its centennial this year, and the new Centennial History Museum opens April 1.

NMAG0312_Travel_3Record-setting diversions

Glass-art guru Dale Chihuly’s biggest sculpture looms 43 feet inside of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s biggest museum for kids. Chihuly’s colorful, 1,600-piece installation defines the amazing nature of this five-level repository of learning, fun and adventure. Exhibits involve dinosaur digs, biotechnology, and introductions to life in Egypt, the art of glass blowing, railroad transportation, and more. www.ChildrensMuseum.org, 317.334.4000

Lessons about transportation and speed converge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, where a grounds tour means heading right onto the 2.5-mile Indy 500 racetrack. www.IndianapolisMotorSpeedway.com, 317.492.6784

Indy also is home to White River State Park, the only urban state park in Indiana, where the Indianapolis Zoo arranges unusual activities, by reservation. Learn to train a dolphin, help bathe an elephant, take a behind-the-scenes tour, or meet sea lions to penguins. www.IndyZoo.com, 317.630.2001

Just outside of the city, watch the milking and grooming of cows at Traders Point Creamery; its restaurant and shop feature the farm’s award-winning dairy products. www.TPOrganics.com, 317.733.1700

At Connor Prairie Interactive History Park, book seats at a Hearthside Supper, through March 31, for a taste of what people ate in the early 1800s. This 200-acre Smithsonian Museum affiliate specializes in historic interpretation. www.ConnorPrairie.org, 800.966.1836

Photo 1 courtesy of Meet Minneapolis.
Photo 2 by SwiftShots; courtesy of Branson Landing.
Photo 3 courtesy of Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association.