Laura Monahan comes from an artistic family, and spent her youth practicing sculpture, oil painting, pottery, and what turned out to be her ultimate passion: photography. Her ability to preserve candid moments has left an indelible impression?she has a published portfolio on three continents and product lines appearing at national retailers such as Hallmark and JCPenney. Laura?s photo shoots always take place outdoors, capturing newborns, older kids, and families in soft, natural lighting and poses that never appear unnatural. Her settings span the country from San Diego?s foamy beaches to Denver?s red-rock sunsets and into the Midwest?s autumn leaves, and she holds mom's night out events all over the country, including in Honolulu, San Diego, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Denver.
With more than 10,000 creatures, 30 display tanks, and a 300-foot ocean tunnel, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium gives visitors an up-close look at the sea's intriguing inhabitants. Sand tiger sharks feed on crustaceans and squid, one of the world's largest collection of jellyfish floats under multicolored disco lights, and the popular day octopus emits clouds of black ink to prevent visitors from glimpsing its unfinished autobiography. An interactive quiz trail helps deepen visitors' knowledge of the sea creatures, many of which are on the endangered list and have been rescued or were born and bred as part of Sea Life's conservation projects.
When the amusement value of people-watching starts to wear off, shoppers at the Mall of America can ascend to the fourth floor to Rick Bronson's House of Comedy for professionally dispensed laughs. In front of walls painted with off-kilter murals of the city skyline, nationally renowned comedians riff and banter on a thrust stage that makes it easy for audience members to offer hearty handshakes after each good joke. Meanwhile, guests munch pizza, burgers, and northern treats such as poutine and cheese curds. Past standup superstars include Norm MacDonald, Steve-O, Tom Green, and a who's-who of comics seen on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman.
One hundred thirty six steps lead to the top of the Eagle's Nest, Water Park of America's fastest body slide. From a perch on the 10th floor, visitors careen down five floors before rocketing into a pool of water. Greater drops await riders of the park's twin body slides, whose six-floor descent veers outside the building before ending in a big splash, and indoor family raft ride, which travels more than a mile down 10 stories.
Down on the main floor, a 500-gallon bucket douses the children's play area with water every 135 seconds. Games of basketball unfold around four hoops in the activity pool's shallows, and tubes float down a winding river past attractions named for Minnesotan bodies of water. At the Flowrider, guests battle gravity to stay upright on a surfboard positioned on a sheet of water that flows 25–30 mph.
More challenges await guests in an arcade stocked with classic games such as skeeball and air hockey, which requires players to blow on a puck until it reaches their opponent's goal. More than 70 games reward skilled visitors with tickets, which they can trade for prizes such as an X-Box 360. With cuisine including housemade pizza and entertainment such as six high-definition televisions, Water Park America's three restaurants re-energize guests after enduring full days of swimming, sliding, and gaming.
At Sam’s Grill, formerly known as Oak City, the menu's bounty of sizzling and hearty dishes reflects the best of American cuisine by incorporating a variety of our country's ever-present international influences. Though stir-fries and pastas abound, the Mediterranean is clearly the restaurant's greatest inspiration—dishes such as filet mignon kebobs and pizzas topped with gyro meat create a fusion of local and overseas flavors, and more traditional American dishes, such as the Cajun burger or baby back ribs keep palates firmly at home. Meanwhile, wine-savvy waiters educate clients on the wines available by the glass. Sam's Grill also adds a splash of nightlife to the mix by bringing in DJs with Thursday nights dedicated to Latin music and Friday and Saturday nights focusing on Top 40.
Visitors to the annual Twin Cities Beer Fest step through the gate, tasting glass in hand, and face an army of beer vendors, each ready to supply what could be a new favorite IPA, lager, or cider. The event brings together more than 100 craft beers, domestics, and imports from throughout the Midwest and the United States as well as Canada, Mexico, South American, Europe, and Asia. Chefs sling an array of multicultural snacks in local food trucks such as Chef Shack, Smack Shack, Natedogs, Turkey To Go, and Barrio. As live music plays and the stomachs of competitive eaters let out their most intimidating growls, guests can sip and sample with a sense of pride, since a portion of the event's proceeds support the Emergency Food Shelf Network.