The Deliveranceville home that I grew up in only got two TV channels until I was about seven years old, and one was from Montreal and therefore useless to me. Finally my parents invested in a satellite dish like you’d see in stock footage from a 1950s sci fi movie — a giant vegetable strainer of a thing. That satellite dish gave me Nickelodeon.
Nickelodeon couldn’t air a show that I wouldn’t adore. I wanted more than anything in the world to climb the Aggro Crag on Guts, and to have Marc Summers root me on as I picked the giant nose on Double Dare. I hated Angelica Pickles’ chichi attitude on Rugrats, wished that someone would pop Roger Klotz in the face on Doug, and suspected that some of the humor on The Ren & Stimpy Show was going right over my head. Some episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? were so spooky that I couldn’t get to sleep at night. What a perfect channel!
I’m not holding my breath until Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America themes one of their roller coasters after The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. This isn’t to say an old chunk of coal like me didn’t love it there. As part of my undaunting commitment to journalistic integrity I went to Nickelodeon Universe and rode all the rides — not alone, mind you. That would look weird, so I brought another fully grown man with me.
We started out with the rides themed after shows that we recognized, which for two — and I shudder to use the phrase — “90’s kids” meant beelining directly toward the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles rides. (The statues depicting Raph, Donnie, Mikey, and Leo make the turtle boys out to look a lot more athletic than they did back in the day, a difference attributable to their more judicious selection of pizza toppings.) In the Shell Shock you take control of the ride, operating two wings so that you can roll around like some dreadful thing falling out of orbit. I spent large chunks of time totally upside down, happy as could be and wondering if there was a Lenscrafters in the mall. Shredder’s Mutant Masher arranges its riders at the end of a claw, twirling them as pendulates. Those brief moments where you hang weightless 75 feet up in the air, drunk on inertia, are what rides are all about.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge is an intimidating thing, a string of sky blue track that starts with a vertical plunge and snakes all around itself. I judged that surely I, an extremely tough guy, could brave a ride mascotted by a giggling buck toothed invertebrate. It’s that initial climb up, and then sitting on top of the parabola before gravity gets to shiatsu you, that gets you on a ride like that. The little girls sitting next to me proved to be tougher guys than me.
We did the Fairly Odd Coaster, where you not only move forward but spin around like the blade of an overturned lawnmower. We did the Avatar Airbender, where you seem to rock around in every direction simultaneously. (This ride is exactly like one episode of the TV show that it’s based on, where Aang, Katara, and Sokka are strapped into a giant amusement park ride in Bloomington, MN.) We did the Splat-O-Sphere, where we were lifted 60 feet straight up into the air and then dropped back down faster than I dropped high school algebra class. We did the Pepsi Orange Streak, a decidedly relaxed romp that spans the entire park and provides picturesque views of everyone milling around. It was from that vantage point which we judged the Brain Surge, where you move around like a squirrel trapped in a truck tire, to be a bit outside the scope of what our rapidly draining constitutions could handle.
Fortunately Nickelodeon Universe has some more laid-back rides for people whose spines have been partially gelatinized. We got fiercely competitive during our pass through Ghost Blasters, where you’re asked to help cope with a nasty paranormal infestation by shooting at it with a big plastic pistol. Little LED panels kept track of our scores; I won because I am better. At Crazy Cars I got to engage my superior knowledge of how a car works in order to give children hands-on lessons in Newton’s First Law. I got the dirtiest look from a nine year old whom I rear-ended, but kid, listen: that’s Crazy Cars for you. Finally we rode the Log Chute, which hasn’t been Nickelodeon-ified at all — it’s got the same Paul Bunyan and Minnesotan wilderness motif that it always has, which is nice. Maybe they’ll theme it after The Angry Beavers one day.
We were too big to do the little kids’ rides, but the little kids seemed to be enjoying them just fine without our 500 pounds’ combined weight slowing them down. We’d have looked very out of place on Swiper’s Sweeper, Diego’s Rescue Rider, and the Back at the Barnyard Hayride, and it was time for a beer anyway. When circumstances eventually give me control over a small child, I’ll make sure to plunk his or her person in all of Nickelodeon Universe’s wholesome rides for small children.
Nickelodeon Universe is only a three and a half hour drive away from the Fargo-Moorhead area, and because the mall it’s in is Minnesota’s top tourist destination there are countless hotels nearby it. You can even stay at a hotel with an indoor water park, if you think your heart can handle that much concentrated fun over the course of one trip. You ought to go to Nickelodeon Universe the next time your kids are shrieking for amusement like frenzied bonobos, or with your adult friends as well — it’s good old-fashioned fun and a great homage to a great TV channel. Visit nickelodeonuniverse.com to learn more and to plan your trip.
By David Scheller