by Paul Ruben
Soon after the Mall of America opened in 1992, I visited to report on the enclosed indoor amusement park, Knott’s Camp Snoopy. It changed over the years and in March 2008 was re-themed as Nickelodeon Universe.
It is now home to Nickelodeon cartoon characters such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants. I love SpongeBob. Actually, I love all sponges. Do you have any idea how high the world’s oceans would be if it weren’t for sponges?
It was time to see what had changed at Nickelodeon Universe. It’s easy to get to. Fly into the Minneapolis-St Paul airport and a shuttle bus will take you directly to the mall. Once inside I found 25 rides including three, for me, new coasters. SpongeBob greeted me on the way in. The theming was pervasive and very well done, and the rides a welcome diversion for shoppers, especially those with children.
Most impressive is that Nickelodeon Universe is on the forefront of new ride technology. Under the ‘Nick’ watch four cutting edge new attractions have been added. They opened in 2008 with Avatar Airbender, the second Intamin Halfpipe shuttle coaster in North America. SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge coaster was the second Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter in North America, though others have since opened. In 2009 the park installed The Flying Dutchman Ghostly Gangplank, the tallest Sky Trail ropes course in the world at 56ft in height. In 2010 they shoehorned in BrainSurge, Chance Morgan’s first Unicoaster flat ride.
Adjacent to Nickelodeon Universe, the former Underwater Adventures Aquarium reopened in March 2011 as Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium after a $5 million renovation by Merlin Entertainments. Among the latest renovations is the state’s only Giant Pacific octopus, a stingray tank and an Atlantis theme. Merlin purchased the 1.2-million-gallon aquarium in December 2008 and doubled the number of animals to 10,000. Attendance has risen 10% over the last two years, and aquarium officials expect an additional 10% increase this year.
There are many other diversions in the Mall of America, including more than 400 stores, restaurants and theatres. Whilst walking past the perfume counter in one of the department stores I could not help but overhear a teenage girl shopping for perfume. She’s obviously reading the labels that say “My Sin,” “Desire,” “Obsession,” and “Ecstasy.” Undecided, she explains the salesperson, “I don’t want to get emotionally involved …I just want to smell nice.”
Operating a park year-round in a climate-controlled environment may sound ideal, but there were a few compromises evident. During slower times of the year, the number of ride operators is reduced. As a result, the less popular rides operate for 20-minute periods either at the beginning or end of the hour. During operating hours new ride construction continued behind temporary barricades.
Visiting an indoor park was a great change-of-pace, but the sun, wind and occasional downpour make the outdoor experience better. SpongeBob may disagree.