Give history a whirl
You know a place has full-blown charm when it lures an 88-year-old great-grandmother onto ice skates for the first time in decades. That would be my Grandma Cretia. She couldn't stand just watching while her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren had all the fun at The Depot's Minneapolis ice rink over the holidays.
It's easily one of the most popular places in the state to lace up your skates. Where else can you spin through a wide-open, yet sheltered former railroad shed? I remember when there were still trains crowded beneath its roof on Washington Avenue a block from the Mississippi River. The former station has been artfully transformed into historic hotel rooms with a cozy lobby and restaurant and hallways decorated in vintage train travel posters.
Life-size white statues of travelers, a sailor, a conductor and other characters throughout The Depot give a glimpse of the early 20th-century heydays of railroad travel. The spacious historic suites in particular make a memorable romantic retreat. Rooms in the adjoining Residence Inn have kitchens, which make it nice to truly retreat on cold days. Romance packages (promotional code XRP) start at $159/night with late checkout, champagne and breakfast.
Take the kids, make it a weekend
The Depot's even better for a family getaway. While the waterpark is relatively small at 15,000 square feet, it's great for younger children who love the caboose centerpiece, which includes slides, fountains and the sound of a steam whistle with chugging noises about every 10 minutes. There's a bigger slide and basketball area for older kids. You can easily fill a weekend with the water park, a scenic walk along the river, the skating rink, and a trip to the Mill City Museum less than two blocks away where the modern museum rises from within historic mill ruins.
Guests get a 25-percent discount at the skating rink, but anyone can use it for $6-$8 per person. If you're like me--unable to squeeze into skates you've had since you were 14--it's $7 to rent skates. They also have walker-like braces to help first-timers keep their balance, which makes it an ideal place to introduce kids to the ice.
Most skaters, though, do as my grandma did: link arms with loved ones and go gliding around the depot. With the illuminated city skyline as a backdrop throughout the night, it's magical.
Call 612-339-2253 or check the website for rink hours, which fluctuate. It closes for the season Sunday, March 21.
More memorable skating rinks
St. Paul has its share of charm, too, with its seasonal Wells Fargo rink set up beneath the majestic, historic Landmark Center. It wins in the urban bargain category with free ice skating. Rental skates are only $2. It's also artificially chilled, which keeps conditions consistent. Hurry, though: It's only open through Jan. 31.
If you want a more natural place to skate, head to Minneapolis' beautiful Lake of the Isles. Some rental skates are available, along with a warming house and the option to figure skate or try a game of pond hockey. Call 612-370-4875 for more details. The city's rinks are usually open through mid-February.