By Emily Harrington
In the summer I envision hot, sunny days poolside. Unfortunately, Mother Nature isn’t always having the same dream.
Luckily, in our community, there are many great indoor places for your little one. However, if you want to strikethrough some items on your shopping list, and you want to mix in some fun with your kiddos—Market Place Mall can do that for you. Champaign’s mall is located at 2000 North Neil St. It’s in the heart of the North Prospect Avenue metropolis. Visit Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. or on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If I intersperse my shopping with an activity for my little ones, it’s a win-win! With this strategy in mind, here’s my list of fun things to do at the mall when your little ones are in tow.
1) When I saw the Fun Rides cruising around the mall, I couldn’t resist. They are so ridiculous, weird and oddly fun. These giant motorized ride-on toys/stuffed animals are available for rent. Find them at a kiosk by Macy’s. You can choose from a dozen or so different wheeled devices and four-legged animals. Rent the animals for 15 minutes/$7 or 30 minutes/$12. Rent the transportation toys for 15 minutes/$10 or 30 minutes/$17. All children younger than 4 years old and/or under 37 inches tall have to ride with an adult (best excuse ever to unabashedly jump aboard one of these bad boys). You can’t enter any stores, food court or outside, and all children need to be with an adult. The weight can’t exceed 300 pounds. They go at a pace somewhere in between leisurely stroll and power walk. This depends on the amount of weight the animal is carrying. When you make your payment (they accept all forms of plastic) look at your phone, and just make sure to come back after your allotted time. The animal won’t shut down automatically. Music comes from the rear of some of these animals—so pick wisely! My son was over it after a few minutes, but I made him stay on because I was enjoying the ride so much.
2) The Tot Lot (by JCPenney) is a FREE destination for those kids who are 42 inches and under. Although, you are going to see some rogue big kids barreling through your little ones. If it’s a calm day, (which it isn’t if it’s raining) this is a nice place for kids to burn off steam. There are bright, squishy structures for kids to jump on, over and under. The lot even has a large TV, slide and some interactive games.
3) Right outside the play area, you will find coin-operated games. These are mostly interactive. A few stationary ride-on toys, a virtual coaster and a rubber ducky plucky machine. You are guaranteed to win here! For $1 you get as many chances as it takes to win a costumed rubber duck. On the other hand, there’s also a round-a-bout of prize games at the food court. You will NEVER win at these. Flush your dollar bills.
There’s a change machine by the Tot Lot that accepts $1 and $5. It gives quarters in return. NO store surrounding this area will give you change. Don’t bother asking.
4) I love the magic of a carousel. There’s nothing like bright lights, creepy circus music and costumed animals on poles spinning round and round and round. They make me super nauseous, but my sons love them. One ride for $2, three rides for $5, six rides for $10, 12 rides for $20. I NEVER have cash, and you’ll need tokens. There’s a machine that takes plastic, and the machine accepts exact change. The carousel is a bit pricey. However, on the first (Family Fun Fridays) Friday of each month (from 5-8 p.m.)—the rides are free. Unlimited! Plus, entertainment and retailer deals! You can’t miss the carousel, for it’s located in the food court. It’s also a great place to take photos.
5) Admire the Glen C. Davies murals when you inevitably make a bathroom stop. (There are all kinds of restrooms either by the food court or by the JCPenney entrance. You’ll find breastfeeding areas, changing tables, little potties, those toddler seats strapped to the wall and traditional stalls. You’re covered.) The murals feature animals, books, butterflies, bright skies, green grass, happy trees, hot air balloons and flowers. If you keep looking—you keep finding new details. Take a moment and dive into the paintings. You may discover a heart carved into a tree, a mouse with a picnic basket or a spider in a delicate web—little moments you may have missed at first glance. His style is obvious and identifiable: colorful, bold, happy and youthful.
6) You may be shopping with a kiddo little enough to fit in a stroller. If that’s the case, lighten your load and leave your stroller at home. For $6 (you get 50 cents back if you return) you can rent a fire truck stroller at one of the chutes by the JCPenney entrance or food court. Again, you can use a credit card here! Just the novelty of it seems to delight the passengers, and it keeps them more engaged on your shopping adventure.
7) You will find a photo booth close to Fun Rides by Macy’s. Pay $5 and get a column of shots to take home.
8) Get a massage. Ahhhhh, time for a break! Sit you and your little one in a massage chair by Macy’s. These delightful massages cost $1 for 3 minutes. You can pay up to $20 for one hour!
Honorable mentions: coin-operated candy dispensers around every corner, the stuffed animal scene at Dick’s Sporting Goods, the game stations at Dr. G’s BrainWorks by Dick’s. The kids must be supervised, however, to play with games. Visits from the Easter bunny and Santa. You can bring your own camera, and you don’t even have to buy their professional pictures.
And, drumroll, pregnancy parking spots. THANK YOU!
Take my advice—make the mall a rainy day destination. Window shop, buy some goodies, get some lunch and experience a new adventure at an old favorite.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.