Layover: Minneapolis – Saint Paul

MSP International Airport
Ah, MSP. A layover in this sprawling north coast airport can be a great time, or abject Hell. Here are some ways to have fun if you find yourself flying into this flyover state.

(I can say that; I’m from there. And I love it. And it knows.)

Shorter (2 hour) layovers

I’ll be assuming you’re flying into the Lindbergh Terminal. If you’ve got under two hours and you’ve landed at the smaller, aggressively clean Humphrey Terminal (the HHH, after Hubert H. Humphrey), taking the light rail to Lindbergh is not worth it. You’ve got a coffee shop. Sit down and enjoy the quiet; that terminal is usually a ghost town. (That’s the reason there’s not much to do there — everything closes because there isn’t enough traffic.)
The Lindbergh Terminal is the opposite of a ghost town, which I guess would be a … town. With concourses A through G and “The Mall” in the middle, as well as a snappy little tram, it’s a bustling airport with lots of choices for restaurants and shopping. I highly recommend French Meadow Bakery and Cafe located in concourse F, which is a mini version of a favorite in Uptown Minneapolis in the Lyn-Lake area. I wish it were a sit-down restaurant and not counter service, but I can’t argue with the delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings made with organic and local ingredients. It’s an actual taste of Minnesota.

If you want to do some Minnesota-esque shopping, you can stop at Minnesota! for wooden birds and the like. Every home in Minnesota has a wooden bird. I don’t know why this is. Or, if you prefer to do as the locals would do (or you are a local, or you already have a wooden bird, or both), you can hit up Harley Davidson, Hugo Boss, or pick up some sporty stuff at the creatively named Sports Minnesota.

If you’re into drinking, nature’s cure for flight nerves, TGI Fridays has cheap drink upgrades (an extra shot for a buck or two), and Tequileria in concourse G will give you a plastic shaker if you drink enough margaritas. They serve 1800 Reposado there, which happens to be a really great tequila. Added perk of Tequileria: fun to say.

The best burger and the best beer in the joint are conveniently located together at Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant — and click that link if you’re going there. Free coupons.

You can also hit up Tumi in the Mall if you forgot a suitcase and feel like carrying an empty one (I’ve never understood suitcase shops in airports), or get your shoes shined a lot of places. Got kids with you? You can kill an hour or so playing with all the toys at Creative Kidstuff. Heck, I can kill an hour or so playing with all the toys at Creative Kidstuff.

Longer layovers (4+ hours)

Whether you’re at Lindbergh or Humphrey, if you’ve got more than four hours, you’re gonna want to leave the airport. Why? Because it’s easy and there’s lots to do! The fancy light rail, also known as The Hiawatha Line (after the street it’s built along), is your friend.

If you don’t care much about Minneapolis but want to occupy yourself, take the light rail over to the Mall of America. It’s like, right there. The Mall of America has four giant department stores, three floors of shops (mostly chains), a huge movie theater, an aquarium, and a freaking amusement park in the middle. With like, roller coasters and a log flume and stuff. It’s totally out of control. The Mall of America is perfect for some, but strikes horror into the hearts of others.

Light Rail View of MinneapolisIf you’re on the “others” team, then take the light rail the other way and head to Downtown Minneapolis. It’s great that you don’t need a car to get downtown and play.

What to do in Downtown Minneapolis? Well, there’s lots of shopping and eating, especially on Nicollet Mall, and St. Anthony Main has a number of bars and restaurants with a view of the Mississippi River. If you’re there, you should also check out Nye’s Polonaise, which was called “The Best Bar in America” by GQ, and rightly so: Polka music in one room, a piano bar, and an old-timey feel make it cozy and fun — and the food’s not bad either. If you’re looking for a great meal, though, my very favorite restaurant in Minneapolis is a hop, skip, and a jump from the light rail: Cafe Brenda. Cafe Brenda is a mostly-vegetarian restaurant with some poultry and fish options, and the food is to die for. Get the mushroom pate appetizer. Yum.

If it’s a cold month? No worries: Minneapolis is all indoorily connected with an elaborate, 8 mile skyway system — click here to download a map. If it’s warm enough to walk around outside, I recommend heading down to the outrageously large and blue new Guthrie Theater, which sits right on the Mississippi River. There are bars and restaurants inside, as well as a really cool “endless bridge” from which you can watch the water.

Other tips:

So, hopefully that helps you through the pain that is the layover — Minneapolis is a great town, and thanks to the light rail, it’s really easy to get right downtown in a jiffy. Just make sure to get back to the airport in time to catch your flight!

MSP has a fun game on Concourse F

Travelers Insurance display at MSP
Traveling through MSP over the holidays, I came across a bunch of kids going nuts in the hall on the way from security to Concourse F. Kids usually know what’s fun, so I stopped to see what they were doing.

There was a series of moving posters on the wall, like the one you see above. All looked like red umbrellas, but when the kids touched them, the pieces of the umbrella would scatter like dry leaves. Naturally, kids had their coats off and were circling them overhead, whooping the poster panels cowboy-style.

The neatest thing was, if you touched just the bottom of the umbrella, or just the middle, only that part would break apart. The motion sensors integrated in the projection were that specific!

The whole thing is an advertisement for Travelers Insurance (note the red umbrella logo). Click through the gallery to watch the kids play, and next time you have an MSP layover, go check it out on Concourse F!
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Southwest Rescues Twin Cities from Northwest Monopoly

The Twin Cities have enjoyed fleeting affairs with budget airlines in the past. AirTran provided dirt cheap flights between MSP and Chicago (as low as $59 one-way) for several years. When they left, fares rose considerably. For many people flying out of Minnesota, Northwest is the only game in town. A search on the major booking web sites last week turned up fares of over $500 between MSP and O’Hare. In short, Northwest has travelers trapped in a corner and seems intent on extracting as much money. Sporadic service by budget carriers like Sun Country has done little to alter the trend of high prices. But a deal between Twin Cities Int’l and Southwest Airlines will bring some significant change to the air travel market next year.

Minneapolis has been courting Southwest for some time now. The flirtation got hot and heavy earlier this year, but it took until now to iron out the details. The deal will make Minneapolis the envy of mid-sized markets across the US currently held hostage by a single major carrier.

What exactly is Southwest going to bring?Southwest will bring competition that will completely change the air travel game in the northern Midwest. Southwest is known for its cheap fares and frequent special offers. In order to compete, Northwest and others will have to drop fares. The first Southwest flights from MSP will be to Chicago-Midway (8 per day). From Midway, the airline flies non-stop to 47 cities. Perhaps the plane change will not be a turn on for convenience freaks. But for budget travel aficionados, deals like $59 from Chicago to Detroit and $127 to Vegas are hard to pass up, especially when similar routes now cost three or four times that. In addition, Southwest does not charge for extra checked baggage like Northwest currently does.

Minnesotans will have to wait until next spring for the first Southwest jet to take off. Flights will depart from the MSP’s Humphrey Terminal, a smaller terminal located behind the airport’s main Lindbergh terminal. But, it will be worth the wait for many. As Tom Parsons, owner of bestfares.com, recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Southwest saw high prices…they could come in and drop your prices like a rock.”