Minnesota amusement parks are pop culture play lands featuring cartoon characters, thrill rides and, in some cases, fun that's open year-round. Whether you want small-town Minnesota charm or Mall of America glitz, there's a park to fit any upper-Midwest family vacation. As part of a Huffington Post Travel series on family-fun parks, here is our guide to all the key information visitors need to know about Minnesota amusement parks.
Hang out with Snoopy and his friends at Valleyfair, the largest amusement park in the upper Midwest. It has 75 rides, a giant "backyard" barbecue and a family-friendly Peanuts theme. The lines at Valleyfair are usually more manageable than other large-scale theme parks, which will keep the kids happy and the parents sane.
Peanuts PlanetIn May 2011, Vallyfair opened Planet Snoopy, a whole section of the park devoted to Peanuts character mascots. Designed for families, Planet Snoopy has 20 rides, including the Cosmic Coaster, Snoopy's Rocket Express and the Kite Eating Tree, as well as live performances such as "Charlie Brown's Hoedown."
Other CoastersValleyfair has six full-sized coasters, including the Corkscrew and the Renegade; classic family rides such as the bumper cars, carousel and the Minnesota River Valley Railroad; and plenty of kiddie rides. Other attractions include go-karts and a full water park.
Variety Of FoodThere are almost 50 food locations throughout Valleyfair, including Panda Express, Subway, two sit-down restaurants and lots of snack bars serving everything from pizza to ice cream. During peak season, the park also offers a "Backyard Barbecue" buffet on the plaza patio from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., serving hot dogs and sausages, grilled chicken and a selection of picnic sides -- if you purchase a BBQ + Regular Admission Ticket package online, the buffet is free. Get there early on Saturday, and you can enjoy breakfast at Coaster restaurant with the Peanuts gang from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Safety RecordIn May 2006, the Twin Cities Star Tribune reported that the Wild Thing coaster derailed, causing minor injuries to 18 people. In September 2007, the Shakopee Valley News reported a small fire at a telephone box in the park.
Address: One Valleyfair Drive, Shakopee, MN 55379
Hours: The park is open daily from mid-May through Labor Day weekend and is open weekends only in September. Hours vary, but the park is generally open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer, with most Saturdays open until midnight. In October, the Halloween Haunt is open Fridays, Saturdays and some Thursdays until midnight and Sundays until 7 p.m.
Price: Regular admission, $41.99; military, $27.99; junior/senior (3 and up, under 48 inches, and 62 and over), $9.99; 2 and under, free. Two-day passes are $51.99 regular admission, $16.99 junior/senior. Backyard BBQ + regular admission (must pre-purchase online), $41.99; senior, $25.49; junior, $19.49.
Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America
No trip to Minnesota is complete without visiting the Mall of America, the "Hollywood of the Midwest." Nickelodeon Universe is a seven-acre year-round amusement park in the center of the mall featuring two dozen rides for all ages and all of your favorite Nickelodeon characters, from SpongeBob Squarepants to Dora the Explorer.
Ride Around The ParkThe Pepsi Orange Streak coaster takes guests on a thrill ride around the park, looping around other rides and breezing by pedestrians. It's one of three indoor coasters for thrill seekers, including the Fairly Odd Coaster and Rock Bottom Plunge.
Themed CoastersNickelodeon Universe offers more thrills with rides such as the Splat-o-Sphere and the Avatar Airbender, and family rides such as the Dora-themed Ferris wheel, a classic carousel, a log flume and a haunted mansion. There are plenty of rides for little ones, including the Rugrat Reptarmobiles, Swiper's Sweeper, Blue's Skidoo and Diego's Rescue Rider. For a challenge, try the Flying Duchman Ghostly Gangplanks Adventure Course, the tallest ropes course in the world.
Mall FoodThe park itself doesn't serve food -- but it doesn't need to. Mall of America has over 50 restaurants, from fast food to fine dining.
Safety RecordTwo fatalities have been reported at Nickelodeon Universe. According to RideAccidents.com, in August 1998 (when the park was called Knott's Camp Snoopy) a 12-year old boy panicked on the log flume and attempted to climb out of the ride, causing him to fall to his death. Inspectors found the ride was operating properly. The same month and year, an 8-year old girl died of a heart attack after riding the Screaming Yellow Eagle; the girl had a history of heart problems, and the ride was found to be safe. Rides are regularly inspected. Research found no reports of serious accidents or injuries within the last 10 years.
Address: 60 E. Broadway, Bloomington, MN 55425
Hours: The park is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Price Entrance is free. Points for rides can be purchased for $1 each (rides are three to six points per person), or buy an unlimited ride wristband for $29.95. Point packages are also available. The ropes course is $5.95 or $4.00 with a wristband.
Other Noteworthy Parks Near MinnesotaCasey's Amusement Park
Paul Bunyan Land
Six Flags Great America
What's your favorite roller coaster in Minnesota? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
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