Indoor theme parks offer salvation from inclement weather. In Minnesota, that’s usually protection from a blizzard. But on this day, Zeus was pissed and throwing lightning bolts at the ground.
My original plan was to make a credit run at Valleyfair, switch to Nickelodeon Universe, and then finish with Valleyfair night rides. With thunderstorms in the forecast until the mid-afternoon, that plan made no sense. So I started at Nickelodeon Universe. And that turned out to be a blessing disguise.
I knew the Mall of America would be busy. It was a Saturday with cruddy weather. As a result, I knew Nickelodeon Universe would be busy. I just underestimated how packed this park can get.
Nickelodeon Universe is located smack dab in the middle of the Mall of America. Having visited Dubai earlier this year, I’m no stranger to indoor theme parks. But Nickelodeon Universe is quite unique.
For the indoor parks that care to create an atmosphere, usually they do so with themed buildings and structures. Nickelodeon Universe has more trees than most outdoor parks! Combine that with the roof that admits natural light, I forgot I was even indoors.
I arrived right at opening and encountered a series of self-service kiosks. After purchasing my wristband, I tried to peel off the back like you do on 99% of the wristbands out there. But I couldn’t.
Everyone else was having the same issue. Could all of us seriously not figure out how to attach a freaking wristband? Turns out you need to bring your unattached wristband to your first ride. I wasn’t a fan of this.
For one, no one knew to do this until a staff member directed us to do so. But more importantly, it really slows dispatches. The operators spend an extra few minutes every cycle applying stickers.
I started with TMNT Shell Shock. That proved to be a wise decision. When I walked past it later in the day, it had a queue spilling onto the midway. That was the theme of the morning.
I’ve ridden my fair share of these crazy, flipping Gerstlauer sky rollers, but this version had these awkwardly wide restraints. This made it a bit harder to hold the paddles in place once you get flipping, but I was able to manage.
This was definitely one of the harder versions to flip, but once I got that all-important first flip, the barrel rolls didn’t stop. The flipping speed wasn’t quite as fast on this one as some of the newer models, but it was still very disorienting. 8 out of 10
I then walked onto Ghost Blasters. When I saw the ride’s placement tucked in the corner of the park below the ropes course, I figured it would be a short version. Much to my surprise, it was quite long.
I have no clue where they fit everything, but it was filled with 2D targets that reacted with each shot. The guns worked flawlessly and I didn’t notice any dead effects. Well the ghosts were dead, but you know what I mean. 7 out of 10
My first coaster of the day was Rock Bottom Plunge. After loving Monster’s lap bar trains the day prior, it was a bummer to return to the Eurofighter OSTRs. But fortunately, this one wasn’t too rough.
The lift on this one is really cool. Per usual, it’s a vertical lift and as it nears the top of the roof, the car slows to a crawl. And then the car drops down, giving riders some incredible ejector air.
I wasn’t expecting the speed hill after. It gave a quick pop of air like the post drop speed hills on a RMC. The loop and cutback were just ok, but I loved the hangtime in the zero-G roll. There was a second half, but it didn’t do anything for me.
Rock Bottom Plunge is essentially defined by three great elements for me, but those three elements are excellent. 7 out of 10
Next I rode the park’s Zierer monorail
coaster, Pepsi Orange Streak. If you want forces or airtime, this is the wrong coaster for you. This coaster is all about the visuals.
It’s basically a high speed tour of the park. It weaves above, around, and under rides. At one point, it even goes through a dark ride bit by the Log Chute. Plus it’s a capacity monster, which was a major help later in the day. 7 out of 10
Back in April, I rode RC Racer at Disneyland Paris. And I enjoyed that coaster more than I thought. It had some decent kick on the launches and nice floater air. For that reason, I was looking forward to trying one of these spinning half pipes.
Enter Avatar Airbender. The spinning was quite intense at the base of the halfpipe. This spinning combined with the ride’s proximity to the ceiling made it super disorienting. Plus it had a longer cycle than RC Racer and just as much air. 7 out of 10
At this point, I still thought the park was dead. But then I saw the queue for the Fairly Odd Coaster. It was spilling onto the midway. Considering these Gerstlauer spinners always have painstakingly slow queues, I should have known better.
I always thought SFNE’s Pandemonium was the original layout that other parks cloned. The ride fits that spot so well. Turns out, Fairly Odd Coaster was the original. As tightly packed I thought Pandemonium was, Fairly Odd Coaster takes it to the next level.
If you’ve been on any of these Gerstlauer spinners, you know what to expect. It’s a smooth ride with some solid dips and if you get an unbalanced car, nice spinning too. 6 out of 10
Whenever someone asks what the best flume is, most people say Splash Mountain or Ripsaw Falls. Other times you may hear Chiapas or the one at Knott’s. But once in a blue moon, someone will say the Log Chute at Nickelodeon Universe. Is this flume really that good? In a word, yes!
For one, the layout is incredible. You go through a cave, up a Knott’s Berry Farm themed lift, past the top level of the mall, past the memorial for one of Harmon Killebrew’s home runs, through a dark ride portion, down a sizable drop, past Paul Bunyan, and down an even bigger drop.
Those dark ride bits were the biggest surprise. I figured this flume may just have some tunnels. I didn’t realize it would be filled with animatronics and this much detail. This ride would fit in at Disney if you took away the Hooters you pass at one point.
I also expected to come off this thing relatively dry. Who would want to walk around a mall dripping wet? I was in for an evil surprise up front. Before re-entering the cave, there’s this unassuming rapid that drenches the sucker up front. And of course that was me.
The only downside with the Log Chute was the queue. There seemed to be a pretty large gap between logs, so the line moved at a snail’s pace. I think I waited 45 minutes for my first ride and an hour for my second ride. But it was totally worth it!
Outside of Splash Mountain, this just may be my favorite flume. It had everything I could ever want- great drops, theming, and a super unique layout. I’d even place it above most coasters I’ve ridden. Log Chute is that good. 10 out of 10
I got my last short wait of the day on Shredder’s Mutant Masher. For whatever reason, this frisbee never had a queue. And I don’t know why since it was one of the stronger ones out there.
It had no force on the downswing, but it had some nice floater on all the max swings. Plus I enjoyed the science lab/experimental theming in the queue. 7 out of 10
I’ve always wanted to know what it would be like to ride a drop tower in a mall, so I had no qualms waiting a half hour to try Splat-O-Sphere. This is basically a jumbo Moser tower and that’s fine by me.
I find those towers to give a surprisingly strong, ball-tingling drop. But this one had a view to accompany it. There is so much kinetic energy in the park and the surrounding mall. It’s a sensory overload. 7 out of 10
Brain Surge didn’t have too many people in the queue, but it loaded slower than a coaster with VR. I think I had to wait a half hour, but all was forgiven once I got my hands on the joystick.
I alternated between doing front flips, back flips, and stupidly long stalls. While I do appreciate the Knoebels Looper for what it is, I’m an American. I’m lazy. Why rock when I can use a joystick?
Plus it’s nice not having that burlap sack of a seatbelt for a restraint. 8 out of 10
Since everything had a queue, waiting 15 minutes for one of the saddest kiddie coasters in existence didn’t seem *quite* as bad. It had no drops and barely any speed, but I’m glad I rode it.
On the first lap, I felt something glance over my head. I thought someone may have thrown something from a balcony above. On the second lap, I realized what it was. A tree branch was scraping against my head. Remember, we’re indoors. 2 out of 10
Usually I skip wave swingers, but the Backyardigans Swing-Along was unique. This one had backwards facing seats. I can’t think of another swing ride with that gimmick.
I’m sad to say it wasn’t that good. For one, it was a very slow swing ride. In retrospect, that makes sense since the park markets this as a kids ride. But the bigger issue was the swing spacing. Once per rotation, one of the forward swings would bash against my knee. I had to ride defensively. 4 out of 10
Pop quiz. What’s the tallest ride at Nickelodeon Universe? You’d think it would be one of the coasters, the drop tower, or the Ferris Wheel. But you’d be wrong. The tallest ride is actually a slide.
The Anchor Drop slides were a $3 upcharge on top of admission. The view of the whole park was fantastic at the top, but the slide portion was a bit disappointing. You glided smoothly thanks to the mat, but it twisted around itself so many times that it never built up any major speed. 5 out of 10
I contemplated trying Fly Over America. It was pricey, but I was willing to give it a try based on the positive reviews. However, the queue was a complete showstopper. They estimated it was over an hour. That was my cue to leave for Valleyfair.
But before leaving, I made a lap of the mall. I saw a lot of mall staples (GameStop, Forever 21, Wetzel’s Pretzels, etc) on the lower floors, but on the top floors I saw some bizarre specialty stores. This included a cheese store and an alpaca store.
The most intriguing place I found was Smaaash. It appeared to be a mash-up of a sports park and a VR park. It was super busy, so they must be doing something right.
While the Mall of America wasn’t as impressive as the West Edmonton Mall or several of the ones in Dubai, it was still quite nice. It’s refreshing to see a mall this lively. Maybe one day that American Dream mall will finally open so I have one of these super malls in the Northeast…
But undoubtedly the crown jewel for me was Nickelodeon Universe. None of the coasters are stand-outs, but they compliment each other well and are all very reridable.
The real stars of Nickelodeon Universe are the atmosphere (I’m still in awe at this park’s natural beauty), strong flat collection, and that otherworldly flume. I just can’t get over how amazing that flume is.