Special to USA TODAY
Published 11:49 AM EST Nov 8, 2019
It is perhaps fitting that the first thing to open at the American Dream mall, located just over the New York border in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is Nickelodeon Universe.
Packed with roller coasters, spinning rides, a nine-story-tall ropes course, and other amusements, the 8.5-acre facility is the largest indoor theme park in North America. The three-million-square-foot American Dream is allocating 55% of its massive space to entertainment and 45% to retail, and Nickelodeon Universe is its featured entertainment venue.
This is not your father’s mall – especially if your father is a ride wimp who would rather shop for clothes than test his mettle aboard the world’s steepest coaster.
Entering the park, visitors are greeted by a giant Nickelodeon blimp suspended in the air that has been splattered with the cable network’s signature green slime. The place is a kinetic cacophony of whirling rides and screaming riders.
It’s not so much a theme park with story-based attractions as an amusement park with Nickelodeon-branded coasters and mechanical rides. You won’t find elaborate attractions such as Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. But you will find TMNT Shellraiser, a world-class roller coaster that delivers major thrills and is the park’s highlight.
American Dream mall: Nickelodeon Universe giant indoor theme park sells out for first weekend
American Dream is open – at least part of it: Here’s what’s happening at the mega mall opening
For its first act, Shellraiser sends riders immediately into a slow roll (one of seven inversions) and a giddy magnetic launch that accelerates the eight-passenger car from 0 to 62 mph in two seconds. That’s followed by twists, turns, and more inversions. A break in the action allows riders to catch their breath and prepare for the second act.
The vehicle ascends a slow, 141-foot climb up a vertical lift hill into a pop-up tower above the park’s roof that offers commanding views of the Manhattan skyline. The car teeters just over the edge, comes to a halt, and leaves passengers pondering their fate for a full 14 seconds. Finally, the car releases and dives down a 121.5-degree drop – the steepest in the world – and navigates more inversions and other elements. Shellraiser was a tad rough, but a load of fun.
A second coaster, The Shredder, snakes in and around Shellraiser. Billed as the world’s tallest (85 feet) and longest (2,247 feet) free-spinning coaster, the ride combines Wild Mouse-style hairpin turns with the discombobulating sensation of rotating cars. If you want more aggressive spinning, make the four-passenger vehicles unbalanced by placing two heavier riders across from two lighter riders.
The two roller coasters, which take up about a third of the compact park’s footprint, both feature a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” theme. But like most of the attractions at Nickelodeon Universe, the theme is incidental.
Other coasters include Nickelodeon Slime Streak, a fairly gentle ride, and Timmy’s Half Pipe Havoc, a more thrilling ride that sends passengers in a skateboard-like car racing back and forth on a U-shaped track.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
A fifth coaster, the Sandy’s Blasting Bronco – named for SpongeBob Sparepants’ squirrel friend, wasn’t open during the park’s initial preview period. Nor was Nickelodeon Skyline Scream, which American Dream claims is the world’s tallest indoor spinning drop tower. (Note that any ride may be closed on any given day during or after the preview/shakedown period, which ends on Nov. 14.)
Most of the other attractions are park staples such as a small Ferris wheel, a “Rugrats”-themed carousel, and a swing ride. The park’s 22 rides offer a mix that equally targets thrill-seekers, those who prefer more toned-down thrills, and younger visitors.
Most of the food concessions and souvenir stands weren’t open during the preview but characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants’ sidekick Patrick were on hand to greet guests.
According to Jeff Davis, director of attractions for American Dream, a “Slime Time Live” show is in the works, along with a nighttime light extravaganza.
If you thought New Jersey-based park employees might be on the surly side, well, fuhgeddaboudit. The Nickelodeon Universe folks were especially friendly, polite, and helpful.
Along with Nickelodeon Universe, The Rink, an NHL-sized skating and hockey facility, is open. But the rest of American Dream is launching in phases. The DreamWorks Water Park (which looked spectacular on a walk-through tour) is scheduled to debut on Nov. 27, followed by the indoor skiing and snowboard park, Big Snow, on Dec. 5. By March 2020, more than 450 entertainment experiences, restaurants, and shops will complete the mix.
Davis expects that guests will spend about three hours at Nickelodeon Universe. But, he says, there “will be a different dynamic than a standalone theme park. (People will) come here and play, then do something else – eat, shop – then they’ll come back.”
While it lacks Disney-style “E-Ticket” attractions, Nickelodeon Universe is charging near Disney-level prices. Starting November 15, an all-access pass will cost $79.99. A general access pass, which excludes the major thrill rides, will cost $59.99. Admission is free for children two and under.
Are those prices sustainable? Time (and the market) will tell. But come February, after a few blizzards and frigid temperatures pummel folks in the tri-state area, there could be incredible demand to ride roller coasters in American Dream’s 73-degree comfort.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe