This is the big one. It may not be the largest mall on earth anymore (the Mall of America took that title from it in the early '90s, and surely something in Dubai has surpassed it as well), but for a time, West Edmonton Mall defined the enclosed, indoor shopping experience. Whether that's something to aspire to is a matter of taste and preference, of course, but what can't be denied is the sheer imposing-ness of this massive retail city in Edmonton's west end.
Locals used to call it the "eighth wonder of the world." It contains 800 stores and services -- many of them the chain-brand shops you'd expect, though the mall courts Edmonton-area exclusives, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Coach, and H&M -- and 100 eateries. Truth be told, it can get a little overwhelming; you could literally spend days in here and not see everything -- not to mention the sun.
As a contained universe, it's fascinating; West Edmonton is the ultimate attempt to caricaturize reality, complete with themed areas -- the mall has "Europe," with a Disneyfied take on a Parisian streetscape (much of the high-end retail is here), and "Bourbon Street," an unfortunate collection of touristy big-chain restaurants with no New Orleans connection whatsoever, like The Olde Spaghetti Factory.
As a tourist attraction, though, it can start to feel like The Truman Show, the film in which Jim Carrey starred as a man trapped in a perfect, artificial reality that everyone but him knew wasn't real. It's also starting to look a little rough around the edges -- it's almost 30 years old, and there's only so much of it that can be renovated each year.
Shopping? It seems almost secondary. West Edmonton Mall looks and sounds more like a theme park than a shopping center. In a space equal to 48 city blocks, it houses the world's largest indoor amusement park, including a titanic roller-coaster, bungee-jumping platform, and enclosed wave-lake, complete with a beach and enough artificial waves to surf on. It has walk-through aviaries, a huge ice-skating palace, 19 movie theaters, a lagoon with performing dolphins, and a submarine adventure ride to the "ocean floor."
Roll your eyes all you want, but do go. You have to see the West Edmonton Mall to believe it.
- © Frommer's 2013