We are not, technically, an American Girl family.
We have some of the brand's historical fiction and mystery novels, which feature the lives of the characters represented in the brand's many dolls. We also have a few paperbacks from its collection of advice books, including those designed for young girls entering puberty. (I am especially a big fan of those!).
But, we've remained an American Girl doll-free house because, mostly, my kids never really asked for them. They've stayed busy with my own childhood dolls and various stuffed animals.
But that disinterest, I suspect, is going to change once my little one makes her next birthday wish list. And it's all my fault. I took them to tea at the American Girl store at Charlotte's SouthPark.
It was lovely. We borrowed a friend's American Girl doll, but you don't need to bring your own. When you check in at the restaurant at the back of the store, you're welcome to borrow one of several at the reception desk. At your table, the dolls sit in a special chair and even get their own little tiny tea cup that you can take home once you're done.
The diner-themed restaurant serves up lunch, dinner, desserts and afternoon tea. Reservations are highly recommended. When school is out, the seats can book up quickly.
The menu features everything from cheese quesadilla and pepperoni pizza to rigatoni with Italian meat sauce and an Asian chicken salad. You can treat yourself to fruit smoothies or milkshakes and other desserts.
For the traditional afternoon tea, you get a taste of a little bit of everything. First came the more savory tea tray with an assortment of mini muffins, fruit, mini burgers, a turkey tea sandwich, a mini bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich and a cucumber sandwich with herbed cream cheese (which was delicious!).
Next came a plate of desserts - chocolate chip cookies, a small cheesecake and, (the kids' favorite), the chocolate mousse flowerpot.
There were a selection of teas or hot chocolate. The food was good and, at $13.50 per person, a reasonable price.
But, the experience was more than about the food. My girls and I took about an hour, relaxing in the dining room as we chatted about the food and the dolls that we'd seen in the store.
The kids kept busy with crafts our server brought over. At the table, there was a box of conversation-sparking questions like "What is the hardest thing you've ever done?" and "What is your earliest memory of yourself or your family."
When it was time to go, my girls were ready to plan our next trip back.
And we didn't leave right away. We shopped. The space features much of American Girl's collection of dolls, books, clothes and accessories. You can find a special section focused on its Girl of the Year, a limited edition doll that's available only during the year of its release. Many of the accessories are out for kids to play with - from Maryellen's diner set to Lea's rainforest house to Kaya's teepee and bedroll.
You'll also find the hair salon where girls take their dolls for a little sprucing up. For between $5 and $25, packages include everything from a manicure to ear piercing to hair styling ... all for the dolls. Slots for the salon can fill up so be prepared for a wait or make reservations as soon as you arrive at the mall.
At three hours, a trip to Charlotte might not be a day trip for most families. The store has a fix for that too. Four Charlotte hotels - Charlotte Marriott SouthPark, Courtyard Charlotte SouthPark, Hampton Inn & Suites Charlotte-South Park at Phillips Place and Renaissance Charlotte SouthPark Hotel - all offer special American Girl store packages.
They include milk and cookies and a special robe, slippers and bed for your American Girl doll. Those items are only available to those who book a special American Girl hotel stay. In fact, I'm told that some parents on business trips actually book the American Girl package so they can take the items home to their girls.
More information about booking a hotel stay is on the website for the American Girl store in Charlotte. You also can find the latest on special activities that the store has planned, including exclusive dinners, private shopping events and crafts.
The store is at SouthPark, 4400 Sharon Rd., Charlotte.
And check out our earlier post on afternoon tea destinations across the Triangle.