'Tis the season to go shopping! The busiest shopping period of the year has arrived, and as much as you may want to dodge the malls, sometimes a holiday shopping trip is a necessary evil. And what’s even more stressful than fighting for parking, navigating crowds, and standing in mile-long lines? Doing it with the kids in tow. With the right planning, a trip to one of New Jersey’s 25+ malls can be a downright enjoyable experience during the holidays. We’ve rounded up some of New Jersey’s more child-friendly malls, which feature play areas, food courts, toy stores, events and interactive holiday displays, so bring the family for some fun, meltdown-free shopping.
Short Hills Mall (Short Hills, NJ)
Your kids will never let it go if you don’t experience the mall’s interactive Frozen Ice Palace, the only one of its kind in New Jersey. The magical display features falling snow, a light show, an ice throne, activities and scenes from the blockbuster movie. You can even leave your hand prints on the ice. End the journey with a Santa visit. Due to the popularity of the adventure, be prepared to wait, or drop by at an off-time. In addition to the holiday exhibit, check out Pottery Barn Kids for weekly story times and special events throughout the year.
Freehold Raceway Mall (Freehold, NJ)
Visit Santa and snap photos in his winter home at the mall’s center court. While you’re there, take a spin on the spectacular two-story carousel, and swing by the indoor play area by the large food court for a shopping breather. My kids are fans of the mall’s Disney store, which features videos, crafts and an interactive castle.
Woodbridge Center Mall (Woodbridge, NJ)
Woodbridge offers fun shopping-break options for kids. Little ones can ride the mall’s classic carousel and burn a little energy in the indoor playground. Top off the trip with a visit to Santa while checking out his surrounding, interactive display. Santa is available for both kid and pet photos.
Menlo Park Mall (Edison, NJ)
There’s plenty to keep the kids busy, and distracted, at Menlo Park Mall. A trip to Build-a-Bear makes for a fun holiday treat. Both the Disney Store, with a video and coloring area, and Scribbles toy and gift shop, with train and sand tables, offer hands-on activities. Hungry shoppers can grab lunch, or just check out the fish tanks, at Rainforest Café, which is hosting both Breakfast with Santa and a New Years Eve celebration. Get both a meal and a movie at the mall’s AMC Dine-In Theatre. Just outside the mall is a sizeable Barnes and Noble, which offer story times and other events. And no holiday mall trip is complete without a visit to Santa.
Cherry Hill Mall (Cherry Hill, NJ)
Embark on a unique holiday adventure at the Cherry Hill Mall. Adventure to Santa is an interactive Dreamworks journey featuring the characters from Shrek. Families can travel through a 2000 square foot holiday cottage with Shrek and his friends, en route to the North Pole to meet Santa. See website for reservation information. The mall is also home to kid-favorite stores, like Build-A-Bear and Disney Store.
Garden State Plaza (Paramus, NJ)
Shopping at New Jersey’s largest mall can actually be an enjoyable experience for the family. Moms will love the extensive selection of stores. Kids will look forward to a ride on the double-decker carousel or break time in the soft play area. On Tuesday mornings, a special toddler activity time is offered at the play space. There’s no shortage of family-friendly dining at the mall. Aside from a diverse food court, the mall offers eating options at Johnny Rockets, California Pizza Kitchen and Grand Lux Café. Take in a movie at the mall’s AMC Theatre. And complete your holiday shopping with a visit to Santa. Please note that the mall is closed Sundays.
Marketfair (Princeton, NJ)
Located near Princeton University, Marketfair offers almost as many events as it does stores. Bring the kids for the weekly Moovin’ and Groovin Thursdays, featuring a free interactive music demonstration. Stop by Barnes and Nobles for all kinds of family events throughout the year, including holiday crafts and story times. For even more fun, check out Pottery Barn Kids for movie night and story events. The mall includes a United Artist Theatre. And of course, don’t forget to say hello to Santa.
*Santa through December 24th at most malls. Check websites for details.