Your flight’s delayed. Here’s the good news

It was a beautiful morning in Minneapolis and the sun was shining brightly in Fort Lauderdale, but for some reason, as soon as I arrived at the airport my Delta flight was delayed three hours. Ugh! They offered us pizza and cookies at the gate, however I was in too much of a mindset to just sit there so I decided to start my vacation right there at MSP. I’ve always believed that once you’re at the airport you’re on vacation so I was going to enjoy myself. Like all good tourists, I shopped, played, saw the sights, and took in local culture.

Changes are underway at MSP; new security screenings, restaurants and retail in transition, but there’s plenty to explore. The central shopping area, called the “mall,” is full of a wide selection of stores that rival MOA and includes live music by entertainers. There are several spas and hair salons offering a full menu of services, massage chairs, shoe shine stations, and a game arcade. Stores and restaurants stretch out as far as the concourses though so pick up a map at the info desk.

Retail options have always been enticing in the main terminal though I never had much time to shop; good thing I left room in my carryon! Many national brands as well as stores that got their start in Minnesota are represented: Baggallini, Sunglass Hut, Tumi, Johnston & Murphy, Harley-Davidson, the Body Shop, Spirit of the Red Horse, Radio Road, Wilson Leather, and Aveda. MSP also does a great job representing our local businesses. Creative Kidstuff has a vast selection of innovative and imaginative toys. Revered specialty men’s store Hammer Made sells limited-edition shirts, colorful watches, and alluring cufflinks in a compact, stylish space. Uptown Minnesota showcases local artists in exhibit-like store displays. Products range from silkscreen prints to glazed pottery to jewelry made from bike tires to jigsaw puzzles featuring local scenes.

I remember as a child going with my mom and sister to pick up my dad from business trips. We’d wait at the gate! But if there was extra time we’d head to the observation deck and watch planes come in. It’s still there! Get a 360-degree view of arriving and departing planes while sitting in the quiet, tv-free observation deck above Concourse D.

PGA MSP Airport is a golfer’s dream. This Minnesota-made, first-in-the-country airport golf simulator is up on the mezzanine. Several panoramic golf stations are available for just $10 a round. There’s a putting green and an on-site golf pro available for lessons. The packed pro shop and sports bar round out the club experience.

Though it’s expensive to enter ($45), Escape Lounge provides a reclusive/exclusive high-speed WiFi lounge, reading area, and bar for travelers. Enjoy “complimentary” food and drink while watching planes from this airlines independent skyclub.

The Thomson Reuters Gallery on Concourse C hosts changing art exhibits. I enjoyed seeing a wide range of talent and work in all media at the sixth annual Airport Employee Art Show. Opening April 25: “The Art of Food: A History of Minnesota Food Production.”

A play on its location at Concourse C, Gate 18 is See 18 Film Screening Room, a movie theater showing independent shorts. The Film Society of Minneapolis curates this 24-hour marathon of award-winning documentaries in the country’s first state-of-the-art airport cinema. This is a great place to hang out and relax a while. Look for the bronze bust of Lindbergh a few gates away.

Keep your eyes out, and on the ground, for terrazzo floors and wall murals featuring Minnesota landscapes, flora, fauna, and constellations. The Airport Foundation is currently overhauling many spaces and restrooms to include public art by many local artists. Check out Bebe Keith’s stained glass mosaics in Concourse E’s restrooms.

MSP is the new Taste of Minnesota. And the list is as long as a moving sidewalk: Ike’s, Axel’s, French Meadow, D’Amico, O’Gara’s, Rock Bottom Brewery, and Cocina del Barrio. For customs-worthy flavors, head to Concourse G. At the starting gate is Shoyu, (of Lowertown’s Tanpopo) a hip and modern Japanese restaurant my limo driver said had some of the best sushi in the country. Pick up a slice from Pizzeria Lola at Vero, indulge in fine Italian specialties by Piccolo at Volante, live it up with raw oysters at Meritage’s Mimosa, enjoy local flavors from Heartland’s Mill City Tavern, or enjoy Matt’s classic Juicy Lucy at TwinBurger. To make sure you don’t miss it there are two chances to sidle up to Minnibar, the chic restaurant/bar created by “Bizarre Foods” host and AZCanteen food truck entrepreneur Andrew Zimmern.

The next time you’re delayed, relax and experience why MSP was voted best overall retail/restaurant program in America. Believe it or not, I was having such a good time exploring Terminal 1 — on what turned out to be an eight-hour delay — that I ended up having to run to the gate to make the plane! Have a nice flight.

For more adventures follow Linda Koutsky on Facebook.