Thrill for gearheads: Tesla rental at Mall of America

Summer is an easy season for fun and fantasy, but Minnesota’s Mall of America in Bloomington knows how to trump it up all year.

This is where youngsters bring dolls to lunch at American Girl, walk among bigger-than-life superhero figures at Legoland and watch what they color come to life on screen at Crayola Experience.

Adolescents on puppy-love dates veer to the thrill rides of Nickelodeon Universe, which make it oh-so-easy to squeal for a hand and accidentally bump or bumble during speedy twists, surges and 360-degree spins.

Adults have the thrill of shopping at specialty boutiques for Baggallini to Vera Bradley – but that doesn’t speak to all of us. Neither does it have to.

A two-minute walk from the indoor El Circulo del Cielo (a seven-story-tall Ferris wheel) and the Splat-O-Sphere (which hurls strapped-in riders 60 feet) is another kind of adrenalin rush: rental of an uber-digital Tesla electric car by the hour ($35), day ($195) or week ($995).

So you can amuse yourself by, say, paying $30 for 12 minutes of racing at a multi-level go-kart track inside Mall of America, or take the wheel behind one of the world’s most technologically advanced automobiles for $5 more and five times longer.

You tell me what’s the better value, or story, to bring home as a vacation memory.

The California-made Tesla started as a performance car (translation: designed for speed). Ben Affleck drives one. So does Cameron Diaz, Will Smith and Steven Spielberg.

Andrew Barrett, director of strategic partnerships for Tesla at Mall of America, says most of his customers are from California. “They fly into the Twin Cities and want to drive what they’re familiar with,” he explains. His Tesla kiosk opened in time for the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.

Gearheads know the vehicle is unusual, especially in the Midwest. The auto manufacturer, established just 15 years ago, has stores and galleries instead of dealerships. None are in Wisconsin.

That added to the mystique and intrigue of renting one, which is what my guy did, and I skittishly went along for the ride. All went fine, except for the radio and GPS not working. We’re still not sure why, and we could have called our driving teacher back to the parking ramp, but we were in a time crunch and my iPhone worked fine for navigation.

Proof of insurance was required. Unlike a traditional car rental agency, Barrett had no coverage to hawk for the $100,000 Tesla S we were assigned. Which heightened the thrill, and my tension, a bit.

We sought a leisurely ride and took advice to get acquainted by driving around Lake Harriet, skirting the edge of the Twin Cities airport and veering into pleasant residential areas. The ride? Smooth, quiet and pretty tame, although I’m told acceleration felt remarkably effortless and braking seemed intuitive.

In the Tesla is a 1,200-pound battery pack (more than one-fourth of the car’s weight) and no gas tank. Much of what you’d do with knobs and switches (tune the radio, adjust seats, mirrors, interior temperature) happens by touch on a digital control screen that resembles an iPad in size.

Add traction, steering, braking, acceleration, suspension and other tweaks. The number of possible adjustments was mind-boggling and a little intimidating, enough to require a 10-minute lesson about how to drive (and find/use the GPS), before leaving the parking lot.

Best, though, was the novelty of the experience. And the looks of people on the sidelines as we cruised the Twin Cities for an hour.

It’s a cheap thrill, as long as you don’t damage the goods.

On the first floor of Mall of America, between Nordstrom and Sears, is the kiosk for Tesla rentals. It is next to a deep-blue Tesla which, we noticed, gets a lot of attention from mall walkers. One guy did a video while walking around it. Others left hand and nose prints on windows). At least 10 of the vehicles are for rent.

Mall of America, 60 E. Broadway St., Bloomington, Minn., opened in 1992 as the nation’s largest mall (in total area). It is home to Sea Life Aquarium, the 20-some rides of Nickelodeon Universe (Avatar Airbender to Wonder Pet’s Flyboat), virtual reality and other gaming at a SMAAASH arena (the only U.S. location), 500-plus shops, 50-plus restaurants, a comedy club, other entertainment and events.

Fun fact: It’s 70 degrees inside Mall of America all year, thanks to passive solar energy from 1.2 miles of skylights. When it’s time for a change of scenery, use a light rail line at the mall for a hassle-free ride to downtown Minneapolis.

Attached to Mall of America is a Radisson Blu with Tesla rentals by the day. A reservation is required; call 855-487-3857. Use a computer kiosk near hotel registration for vehicle delivery.

One other unusual thing about the hotel: On the rooftop are bee hives, a partnership project with University of Minnesota Bee Squad beekeepers and researchers. Hives annually produce around 40 gallons of honey, which pops up on menus at FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar. A little bee designates items that contain the ingredient.

Look for honey syrup in craft cocktails such as Bee’s Knees (with gin and lemon juice) and the Calhoun Loon (with vodka, ginger liqueur and pink grapefruit juice).

Popovers arrive at the restaurant with Blu’s Bees honey butter. On pork chops is a honey glaze. Honey-apricot sauce accompanies an order of smoked, dry-rub wings.