Q&A Interview Unveils Minnesota’s Spectacular New MOA Water Park Experience
Exciting news is circulating about a new addition at the Mall of America! It is 320,000 square feet, will be full of adventures, and will also leave you soaked! Yes, the Mall of America in Minnesota is dreaming of a new water park called Mystery Cove.
I was honored to have a few moments with Chris Grap, VP of experiential at the Mall of America and Nickelodeon Universe. He, along with Nathan Klutz, VP of construction at the Mall of America and Nickelodeon Universe, and Brian Spielman, VP of attractions at the Mall of America and Nickelodeon Universe, are the team that has been dreaming and helping the Mystery Cove project come to life.
Enjoy the Q&A below with Chris Grap, VP of experiential at the Mall of America about the new Mystery Cove water park attraction:
JESSICA: I heard about your project (Mystery Cove at the Mall of America) and got super excited because I have kids and we don't have a water park in Rochester.
CHRIS: Rochester is great, Rah, Rah, Rochester. Big fan of Newts burgers, they are fantastic. But you know, we understand our role in the state and in the area as well in providing unique entertainment and offerings for families. So yeah, we're excited.
JESSICA: I saw a picture of Mystery Cove and quite a few bodies of water, a huge wave pool...can you explain what the layout for Mystery Cove is, some of the features, and what to expect?
CHRIS: Sure. So Mystery Cove, in my mind. Sorry, in our team's minds, we really kind of wanted to look back toward theme park design. So we really designed this like a theme park with water-based attractions. And to me, there's no better theme park than the OG, Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.
And what Walt and his team of builders and designers did extremely well was what we kind of referred to as a hub and spoke model where you have your kind of 1 centralized point. And then these very points of interest that branch out from it.
So the way that we designed Mystery Cove - Mystery Cove is the shell, right? We built this shell around Mystery Cove to protect it and its secrets for guests to come and visit. But within Mystery Cove, there are five different outposts that guests get to visit. So the Bizarboretum, Eureka Reef, Peril Peak, and the Cove itself. Those are, for lack of industry speak, the areas that make up the park.
JESSICA: I could kind of tell, as I was looking through the pictures and some of the other info, it's more than just a place to come swim. So the characters that I saw photos of, how are they incorporated through all of the park?
CHRIS: I think a big part of taking on any type of thematic design is finding opportunities for guests to find their way into the story where they're comfortable. You don't want to assume too much and you don't wanna give too little.
So we tried to design for three levels and it's, again, throughout the industry, they have different names. But for the purposes of Mystery Cove, we call them the 1) casual observer, and that's somebody who might just be like, "ohh, there's a water park and we're gonna go and we're gonna ride the rides". 2) Then there's the curious explorer, somebody who wants to know a little bit more about maybe each of the outposts or the characters that are there. 3) And then there are the Super Sleuths, people like me, who are ravenous for detail about what is this place. Why does it exist? How did it get here?
We want to make sure we're designing for all levels. We don't want to overshoot and have people feel excluded and we don't want to undershoot and under-deliver.
Part of that is because you know, here in Minnesota, we've got our winters and we're obscured in darkness for months at a time. So we wanted to create a space that people felt comfortable in all year and that there were stories to tell year-round and we didn't want this to just be an indoor water park. Which can, in my humble opinion, feel very cold, very stale, concrete jungles. It's a bunch of gear slapped into a space, and there you are. That to me, does not incentivize anything imaginative, or exploratory and doesn't incentivize multiple visits.
So in doing this and understanding Mall of America's role in themed entertainment, you know, we've been doing this for 30 years, long before. the regional theme parks were even talked about. Mall of America, West Edmonton, you know, these places were building and doing these things before retailtainment had a name.
It's always been a part of Mall of America's plan to have a water park expansion, and if we're gonna do it, it's gonna be a world-class destination. We don't want this to just be another amenity for guests that are already coming here. We want to change people's behaviors and really let them know that this is worth making the trip here. Not only because of this, but because of the other amenities we offer as well.
JESSICA: You mentioned out in California, the park there that was kind of the inspiration with the spoke in the wheel. Are there any other places that inspired this whole design?
CHRIS: (Holds up a few books) From my library, right?! You know, Walt, Disneyland, the
Disneyland Hotel, those places really, they were the first to kind of do it and do it extremely well. So a lot of parks take on that design for a reason. It just works really well. But part of it for us too, and again, we're limited by space because we can only build this box so big, how can we make it feel like the space is transformative? It's not just one space, but many spaces that make up Mystery Cove, and that's why we wanted to design it with those theme park principles in mind.
So when you look at that, that drawing kind of shows the expanse and breadth of the place. You can see that we tried to account for motion as well. When you walk in the waves from the wave pool are coming across your view rather than carrying you away from the space or coming at you. There's a twist and splash ride which you would normally see in the theme park, but it is water-based, so that belongs in a water park. So we get that motion right in there. And then there are waterfalls.
We want it to feel alive and we didn't want it to be designed with straight lines either because nature doesn't design in straight lines. We want to reward people's exploration as they meander and move around through the park using different plants and landscaping to obscure views, using the cabanas themselves to either isolate certain outposts but also be a visual interest for that foreground middle ground. And then rear distance where the space feels like it grows. All that stuff is intentional because again, you don't want people to walk in and be like, that's it, they've seen everything.
We really want people to connect. And I think you have a great chance in a water park anyway for people to put their devices away because they are precious. We don't want them to get sucked in water. So hopefully by putting those things away, we're getting folks to connect differently again and just kind of forget their space and the outside world and relax, at this oasis we've created.
JESSICA: Is there a part of Mystery Cove that you are most excited about personally?
CHRIS: OK. That's a great question. I think from different lenses, from the parent aspect, I love the Bizarboretum. It's a great area for those younger kids. And the way that it's designed, it is largely contained and clear views for parents to be able to see where their kids are at any time. Limited points of entry and exit. So, therefore, you're able to be right there, be with the kids, and not worry about where they scattered to. But also again, incentivizing the kids to the story of the Bizarboretum is, you're in Arthur Siddy's Playground. He is a botanist and he's created all these oversized, crazy plants, and the kids are incentivized to splash because they're essentially watering the plant life and Mystery Cove. So by being in there, you're participating and helping keep the cove vibrant. From an appearance standpoint, I
From a middle-aged fella wanting to hang out with his friends, I love the idea of the Cove itself,
where there is a secret bar. There's a 21-plus area, there are great decks and views across the expanse of the park.
Again, depending on who you are and what stage of life you are, hopefully, we've got that considered. I think we've done a pretty good job with it.
JESSICA: How many square feet is the Mystery Cove gonna be?
CHRIS: We believe it will be about 320,000 square feet.
JESSICA: OK. Well, that's a lot of space.
CHRIS: It is. It's a lot of space and I would say too it's a big question that people have about the size of it. And to me, I don't care about that much to the chagrin of some of my coworkers. I don't care how big we are. I just wanna be the best. That's it. Someone else can always come along and build bigger, but we're gonna aim to be the best. No matter what size we are, we're going to be the best.
JESSICA: Nice. So from the perspective of coming to the Mall of America with your kids and you have Nickelodeon Universe, all the stores that you can go walk around, how do families make that transition from being at Mystery Cove to experiencing some other parts of the Mall of America? What can they expect? Where do their wet clothes go? Are there resources for those types of scenarios that parents are going to face when they're with their kids?
CHRIS: Absolutely, You would treat this as you would a visit to a standalone water park. Because while you can come to Mall of America right now and go on a roller coaster as an impulsive decision, chances of somebody being like, "well, there's a water park. Let's go right now", you know, it's more of an intentional part of your visit.
Obviously, we know there's gonna be locals as well as drive market so there are lockers in the facility, there are change rooms, state-of-the-art changing facilities, and lockers available.
At this point, we're not gonna allow an in and out. We want you once you're in the water park to be there for that amount of time...relax and enjoy your time.
JESSICA: Good to know. Do you have an idea how much the entire project is going to cost?
CHRIS: I do. I have a pretty significant idea.
LAURA: (Laura Utecht, Communications Director for the Mall of America chimed in real quick) Yeah, I think at this point in time, we're still working on all of the financial pieces of it.
CHRIS: I mean, I'll say the world has changed significantly from what this project was originally designed to where it is now. So it's a bit of a moving target that we're working on. But, you know, it's multiple millions of dollars. Of course, it is a big project.
JESSICA: Yeah, well, anything today is going to be out there. Do you know when you're thinking of breaking ground or when the opening date might be?
CHRIS: There are still some things that need to fall into place and a couple of
other projects on the horizon, so it's tough to say. Again, given the markets given supply chains, it's all stuff that we're trying to work through to make sure that it's right. The last thing we want to do is put shovels in the ground and be waiting on steel or infrastructure and then missing the season. But the development timeline from start of construction to finish is about 27 to 30 months.
JESSICA: And where exactly on the property is Mystery Cove going to be?
CHRIS: So that front entrance or what we consider the front entrance, where the star is, and then IKEA is off on the side, we're building off the face of the mall and it'll be directly attached to Mall of America and expand into that north parking lot.
JESSICA: I always ask a fun question interview when I chat with people so here's yours - what is the last show that you binge-watched?
CHRIS: OK, it would be The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Ted Lasso, but they're making us go week to week now, which is the old ways and it's driving me crazy. So the last one I binge-watched, it's an older one, but my son and I just watched it again, it was a BBC show called The Mighty Boosh, which is a very absurd British comedy that we simply adore.
How about you? What was the last thing you binge-watched?
JESSICA: I just finished Yellowstone and I know that they're coming out with more, but I didn't appreciate how they left it. So, you know, I was a little disappointed to be honest with you.
CHRIS: Well, I think it's time for a sternly worded letter.
JESSICA: Yes, an open letter to all the Yellowstone people. I'm sure it'll go far.
Last chance, anything else you want to share with the world?
CHRIS: Well, that I guess you know, one of the things that you asked was the importance of story in a space. And I think it's inherently who we are. You know, we love to hear stories, we love to tell stories. And whether a person goes into a space and it's something that's
directly in their face or not, I think as long as we know these details and we're putting the time and effort into it, a guest is gonna feel it. And I think that's what sets it apart from other projects. And it's not to say that there isn't a place for all these types of things, there's a space that's just for the casual observer. That's great, but we just wanna make sure that we're delivering for everybody. We wanna make sure there's something for everybody,
and I think that's why trying to tell those stories is so important.
Chris and Laura, I so appreciated the time you took with me. Not only am I excited about Mystery Cove and what this means for our state, but I feel like I understand the purpose and passion of the Mall of America even more. Thank you.
As developments happen with Mystery Cove, I'll post those over on my Facebook page - Jessica On The Radio. Give it a follow so you don't miss the latest.