Story by Jody Robbins
EDMONTON, ALBERTA — “What is this place?” asks my awe-struck daughter, her jaw dropping as she takes in the NHL-sized skating rink — after just exploring an exact replica of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’ flagship in 1492. Seeing either attraction is a big deal for any eight-year-old, but with both indoors, less than a five-minute walk away from each other, she’s stumped.
“Are we in another city?” Eve asks. She’s not far off.
With more than 30 million annual visitors, on any given day West Edmonton Mall has a population that would rank it as Alberta’s third-largest city. As winter and spring couldn’t agree whose turn it was, we decided to escape to Edmonton. Like any good mother, I’ve multi-tasked, combining a much-needed sanity break with introducing my daughter to the time-honoured tradition of conquering the mall.
But West Ed (as the locals call it), is no ordinary mall. With more than 800 shops, an indoor water park, ice rink, amusement park and aquarium, it’s a destination in itself. Inspired by the traditional bazaars of ancient Persia, you’ll find myriad shopping, dining and entertaining options, seamlessly stitched together under one roof. Our challenge during this two-day escapade is to fit it all in.
Sleep in the West Edmonton Mall
This shopaholic’s dream became a reality with a stay at Fantasyland Hotel, located smack-dab inside the mall. Here you can escape to the South Pacific, hibernate in an igloo or go on an African safari — all without leaving your room. With 120 fantasy-themed guestrooms, wee-ones happily engage in quiet time on their tricked-out bunk beds while you gleefully lay out your purchases. The best part? Guests of the hotel can buy passes for Galaxyland and the World Waterpark at a flat rate of $20.50 per person.
Location: 17700-87 Avenue, Edmonton, AB
Contact: 780-444-3000 or toll free 1-800-737-3783
Room Rates: From $178 per night
Get wet at the aquarium
“Whoa, Mom! Did you see that ray splash me?” yells Eve over the din as we plunge our hands into the touch pools at Sea Life Caverns, an underground aquarium that’s home to more than 100 species of aquatic life. It’s almost feeding time and the stingrays are clearly famished, trying to get anyone’s attention by flicking water over their tank. But we don’t reward naughty behaviour in our family, and moved onto watching African black-footed penguins waddle around their enclosure instead.
Another way to dive into marine life is at Sea Lion’s Rock. The spunky California sea lions had us in stitches as they imitated seals, sharks, and a few wet blankets. For those wanting to get up close and personal, try the Sea Life Encounter, where you can swim with the sea lions and work side by side with a trainer.
But many folks come to the mall specifically to splash around World Waterpark, the world’s largest indoor wave pool. It also sports a permanent bungee tower (naturally the world’s largest), and a whopping 17 waterslides. But did time allow us to plunge into any of this awesomeness? Sadly, no. Defeated, we were forced to admit that some malls are just too powerful to take on in one battle.
Santa Maria: $1 per person
Sea Life Caverns and Sea Lions Rock: $5.95 per person or $25.95 for an all-day family of four pass.
Sea Life Encounter: $119 ages 8-11, $149.95 12 years and up
Keeping Kids Busy
From sea to sky, we found ourselves 30 feet in the air, cautiously stepping one foot in front of the other, as we made our way through Ropes Quest, one of the newest attractions. A sure fire way to get adrenaline junkies revved up, anyone over 42 inches (3.5 feet) can tackle this obstacle course. It all looked like such fun, getting harnessed in, then being connected by a lanyard to the overhead tracking system, until of course you’re actually on the course, looking down. With three different levels of ropes and bridges to cross, it’s best to keep moving and look straight ahead, unless you happen to be a rock star eight-year-old.
“Making it across the rope with nothing to hold onto was scary,” admits Eve. “But once I had done it, it was okay.”
We were then faced with Galaxyland, the world’s largest indoor amusement park. It’s got it all: thrilling rides including several roller-coasters, games of chance, even a video arcade. With a separate area of kiddie rides for the younger set, it’s ideal for all ages. Tots can tumble through the tubes, slides and shoots at Galaxy Kids Playpark. If you’re up for it, there’s also mini-golf and the Ice Palace.
Go ahead, I dare you to try and pack it all in. I’ll even up the ante to a double-dog dare — if you can manage to do so without raising your voice at your kids. Impossible, right? But if you’re successfully, well, let’s just say you’re a better mall maven (and parent) than I.
Ropes Quest: $9.95 per person
Galaxyland: $32.95 per person
Galaxy Kids Playpark: Free under 1 year, $6 ages 1-3, $9 ages 4-12
Ice Palace: Free under 2 years, $5.95 ages 3-10, $7.95 general admission
Professor WEM’s Adventure Golf: Free under 2 years, $9.95 general admission, $25.95 for a family of four
More on the West Edmonton Mall
Location: 8882 170 St. N.W., Edmonton, AB