Don’t panic. It’s only a shopping mall.
I tell myself this every time I shut the car door, heist the toddler onto my hip, and stare up at the twinkling Goliath that is Opry Mills.
I also tell myself that once I get inside, I’m never more than a hundred feet from an adult beverage.
There—that one helps.
Opry Mills has everything. You can buy a boat at this mall. You can buy a 10 boat fleet if you’re feeling especially nautical. You can also get your teeth whitened, and we all know that every good captain needs a pearly grin.
Everything in one place is good. It means less driving, which means less parking which—for me—means lower blood pressure. But such wild, otherworldly convenience is not without its cortisol spiking dilemmas.
Opry Mills is a lot for a human being to take in—especially one who might already be buckling under the pressure of the mistletoe this holiday season. Considering the fact that this place makes the average shopping mall look like a vending a machine full of TAB, they do a pretty good job of managing all that they have to offer.
Yes, it is an outlet mall, and yes, you can find great deals, but you can also blow through money if you don’t have your wits about you.
The best advice I can give you is to avoid the “loop” at all costs. Opry Mills is a giant oval, and once you go a certain distance on said oval, it is nearly impossible to not traverse the entire thing.
Let me show you what happens when you keep walking aimlessly:
This is a HimaIayan Salt Lamp. I was weak, I was tired, and it called out to me. This is the purchase of somebody who has gone entirely too far down the retail rabbit hole. The sad thing is that somebody in my family is definitely getting that thing for Christmas.
Though I am in no way qualified to discuss anything about design flaws, it would be awesome if Opry Mills had some sort of mid-loop bisection so weary holiday shoppers on the brink of complete emotional collapse (especially those of us also chasing/carrying toddlers) could get back to their cars quickly and easily without being put in the position to needlessly buy glowing chunks of salt. But—it doesn’t. So, you have to plan accordingly to beat this sinister ring of shopping fun. Take a peek at the map, and choose your parking spot wisely. I’m always looking for kid’s stuff—most of which is located between the food court and Rainforest Café entrances, thus, those are my parking sweet spots.
There is a time for the leisurely, meandering mall shop here, but it probably isn’t between Black Friday and Christmas.
Top Shopping Picks
- H&M has some amazing kiddie wear (and parents wear!). It’s a bit of a hike from the majority of the children’s apparel, but the clothes are adorable, and I can afford them. For real.
- If you want to feel really old, take your stroller into Forever 21, and totally just kill the vibe. Yes, there will be heavily glossed mouths agape at your very presence, but soldier on, my friend.
Now, obviously I have too much life experience to wear a shirt that says:
But this place is kind of made for mommas. Parenting calls for a disposable wardrobe, and at $3.90, the Forever 21 basics provide just that.
Seriously, I have off-brand juice that costs more than these things. I’m going to burn them for pleasure when they start to wear.
- If you have little builders, do NOT miss out on the Lego Store. The staff is super-enthusiastic, and the sets are beautiful.
**Be aware** the kiosk vendors are ruthless at this mall. If you make it out of this place without your body slathered in Argan oil and a paper cone of Bavarian nuts in your hand, then you can consider yourself an astonishing success.
FOOD (AND DRINK!!!)
Most days, I would rather eat airplane sirloin than anything from a mall. On the other days, I would rather starve. It’s not that I don’t love the unmistakable smell of Panda Express that lingers in my hair for days after consumption, but my quickly crumbling metabolism prefers that some things that cross my lips at least feign nutritional value—especially before the holidays. Luckily, Opry Mills has several healthier options for people like me who want to stare longingly at slices of pizza while eating iceberg lettuce and dying inside. My personal favourite?
I love a healthy salad but not as much as I love a margarita. Dietetic, it ain’t, but there’s nothing like a tequila at 11am to put a little jingle jangle in your step and take the edge off the shopping experience. Head to Chuy’s for all kinds of Mexican delights (but mostly the margaritas).
If you’ve got the kiddos in tow, and you want to win some serious Mom points, you need to go to Rainforest Cafe. Yes, it’s a giant super-chain, but it’s amazing the amount of shopping a toddler will withstand when he knows he’s going to eat chicken tenders with an animatronic gorilla. The entrees aren’t cheap, but the portions are massive, so don’t be afraid to split something.
So, our Santa experience at Opry Mills was what I like to call—a bit of a clusterfudge 🙂
Maybe Wilder woke up on the wrong side of the crib, or maybe he just wasn’t feeling the Old World “St. Nicholas” air that this particular chap emanated. Either way, the scene was bewildering for all parties involved. Santa actually leapt out of his seat at one point and hid behind a giant plastic polar bear leaving my toddler to go totally Keith Moon on that blue velvet couch. Though I quickly stepped in (which, as you can see, made everything TOTALLY better), I could practically hear the photographer thought-praying for us to get the heck out of there. Let’s just put it this way: Mary Poppins they ain’t. I’m sure that most days, with most kiddos, this team is a holly jolly wonder to work with, but if you happen to have a child who requires a little extra support (who maybe has just a touch of the humbugs), you might want to re-think this busy locale in favour of somewhere a little more sedate where you can take your time.
If deer estrus and semi-automatic weapons don’t cramp your holiday style, Bass Pro Shop offers FREE photos (with 4×6 prints!) with their very own Santa. Hours: Monday – Friday 3-8 pm, Saturday 10 am – 8 pm, & Sunday 12 – 5 pm.
It is important to understand that Opry Mills isn’t really a mall. It’s an attraction. Yes, there are stores (seemingly billions of them), but there’s also a movie theatre (with the best popcorn on God’s green earth), a Dave & Buster’s (great for older kids), occasional live music, loads of children’s activities, and some of the best people watching you will see in your life.
Most of the child-specific entertainment is concentrated between Rainforest Café and the food court, but there is fun to be had all over the place.
The music-themed play area here is super-cute and shockingly clean given the staggering amount of grubby little hand traffic it sees in a given day. It has plenty of seating for grown ups and charging stations for our treasured devices. Since I am that awful mother who wipes down every single surface before my child touches it, we prefer to go in the morning slightly before the shops open, when things are sparkly and relatively quiet. Be advised—on the weekend, things can get overrun with amped up, post-Dilly Bar 7 year olds, so it might be best to avoid that time frame with your really little ones.
If you’ve got a pre-crawler, your munchkin might like to peek in on the fishies displayed at Rainforest Café or the Aquarium Restaurant. (They seriously have sharks there!) Gazing is free; the fried cheese sticks cost a little extra.
Also, apparently carousels in shopping malls is a thing now. They’re everywhere, including Opry Mills.
On a wintry morning when you’re feeling especially spritely and caffeinated, Opry Mills is your best bet for holiday shopping. It takes the stamina of a migrating wildebeest, but they’ve got nothing on you—you’re a parent—you can handle anything! Opry Mills truly has everything you could possibly need along with a million things you probably do not. With a little planning and some calming visualization exercises in your back pocket, this might be your one and only trip to the mall this season. When you’re done, you can buy yourself a drink for a job well done!