The American Dream has been no more than a pipe dream for the majority of my adult life. Everyone knows that I've spent a lot of time mocking this disastrous project and still spend a lot of time mocking their equally disastrous marketing team but after staring at this thing for decades there was no way we weren't going to eventually cave and check it out now that it's finally open.
I feel like coaster enthusiasts mostly fall into two groups with this place, people that had to get their complimentary blowjob and lifetime of accolades for being first and went during the preview period or shortly thereafter (kidding, but y'all are crazy) and people who are like "Sixty bucks??? Put the crackpipe down. I guess we'll go when Sandy's opens and probably never again or once per year in the winter when the offseason blues get especially brutal".
I was in that second group. The price point for the American Dream was high and Holiday in the Park is the best time of year at Great Adventure so if we were going to a local theme park in November or December you could bet that we were going on a 70 mph joyride right past the American Dream so that we could go on an 80 mph joyride through the frozen tundra of south Jersey on Six Flags most explosive coaster™. In late January though, that's no longer an option and there's only one game in town.
We had planned to wait for Sandy but we had to drive Brit's parents to Trenton airport yesterday (We got them on the Frontier bandwagon lol), and on the way home we'd be passing the place at like one in the afternoon with no plans for the rest of the day. I tried to be good and wait but it was pretty much meant to be so I caved and bought two tickets for $127 (lol).
Let's see how things are going at Nick Universe now that it's had a few months to iron out the kinks...
It felt surreal to actually be pulling in to this mall. I was sure that once we got into the garage someone would tell us that they were closed, this was all just a big joke and construction was halted for 2 years due to a labor dispute. Amazingly though, that didn't happen. The mall is still very much under construction so the parking situation is a little convoluted but after driving around for a bit and eventually driving through a red light that after 5 minutes we realized was probably never programmed to actually change we made our way into the (currently free) garage and into the mall.
You would think that a massive empty mall with only a few things open would be weird, but they actually did a pretty decent job of covering everything with fun, colorful work walls so it's not quite as odd as you would expect. For example, this work wall had a giant cat on it in a flying saucer because... reasons.
Eventually we came to the end of the weird walkway and out to the ice skating rink which (despite the fact that it was finally a perfect day for outdoor skating), was very popular (Big Snow was too even though Saturday was the closest thing to a powder day we've had all year in this unseasonably warm winter, I wanted to personally shake everyone in there).
Anyway to the left of the rink there's also a large viewing window into the (impressive) waterpark and then a split where you can choose to head left for Nick Universe and right for Big Snow. We took a quick detour to check out Big Snow and it's pretty cool looking but after a minute or two we made our way back over to Nick Universe.
We had pre-purchased our tickets but we still had to stand in a brief line to scan our QR codes and receive our wristbands. While there we noticed that there were employees with height sticks in the sales line which was a great idea as there are different pricing options depending on what rides you want to ride and by pre-measuring people they could attempt to prevent a flood of irate guests screaming at customer service employees later in the day, though given the clientele of this place it probably didn't work (maybe it was just a bad day but holy crap does this place attract an entitled clientele).
I'll say this, the park has a really impressive reveal. I'm sure people have noticed that everyone likes to take the same picture from the top of the escalators right in front of the entrance and I see why. It's impressive, seriously impressive and it's the first think you see when you walk into the park. My picture is less impressive though because the sun wouldn't cooperate no matter what I did. You'll have to excuse us, we're not used to seeing the sun in January or February in the northeast. We don't know how to handle it...
The first thing that struck me was now nice the place looked. I don't know if it just doesn't photograph well or what but whenever I saw a picture of the park online it looked like a giant soulless warehouse with rides plopped down in it but that's not how it feels in real life. We went to Nick Universe at Mall of America a few years ago
and my biggest takeaway was how nice of a park it was which I didn't expect from a theme park in a shopping mall.
Mall of America's park is very well landscaped with tons of trees and so much natural light that you often forget that you're indoors. It doesn't seem like it in pictures but we were really pleased to see that this place is much the same way and very comparable to MOA. It's a work in progress as there were even people planting trees during the day yesterday while the park was open and obviously the trees haven't had time to mature but it's very nice. Between that and the amount of natural light we often forgot that we were indoors and that it was actually 20 degrees outside a̶n̶d̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶c̶o̶a̶s̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶w̶e̶a̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶N̶J̶ ̶a̶t̶ ̶a̶l̶l̶ ̶(you know what, nevermind, I won't even doubt Nitro at this point, I should word that better. You know what I mean though).
We did a little backtracking so I won't go blow by blow, but I'll go ride by ride and then at the end I'll give some additional thoughts on the place.Nickelodeon Slime Streak:
This ride seems to be a big fan favorite and I can see why as it's a family-friendly ride but it's also large enough that pretty much anyone would be drawn to it. This is sort of the "Pepsi Orange Streak" of the east. It travels over a decent amount of the park, interacting with a few rides and (like Orange Streak) the trains aren't the best for taller riders. Well, "not the best" is an understatement.
A few words of caution:
1) If you're 6 feet or under you'll be fine. If you're around the 6'2 to 6'3 range like me then proper riding position means you have to ride with your knees back inside of your asshole. If you're over 6'3 or maybe 6'4 I think you might be out of luck. This ride seems to be more of a tight squeeze for tall people than guests of size that would have issues with other rides but either way there is a test seat and a sign pleading with you to use it and you should if you're tall or have a large waist.
2) This ride has one train (and no transfer so it won't ever run two). If you expect crowds you should ride it early. We waited almost an hour. Because of the pricing structure and capacity this will have a much longer wait than TMNT Shellraiser which is probably what your gut will tell you to rope drop. PS: Remember this freebie for when I start "Americandreamtouringplans.com" and charge you $15 a year for my patented American Dream strategies. I'm totally going to get rich off of this.
That said, the ride is fun and not much of a knee banger even if you're riding with your knees up against the front of the train. It's short and it's kind of a family coaster but it's still almost 70 feet tall so it's no slouch. It won't blow you away but it's worth a ride.Timmy's Half-Pipe Havoc:
Avatar Airbender was our favorite coaster at Mall of America but this ride is even better. The lap bars make a huge difference. It feels totally out of control. One spike also comes very, very close to the roof supports which is cool to watch.Shredder:
Shellraiser gets the accolades but Shredder is an outstanding ride. I've never met a Gerstlauer spinner that I didn't like but it's nice to ride one with such a cool layout and the interaction with Shellraiser makes it even better. It feels like it goes on forever.TMNT Shellraiser:
This won't be breaking news to anyone who's been on Takabisha but this ride is phenomenal. The ride has two distinct sections, first (after going through a great jojo roll) it enters a ridiculously abrupt and powerful launch into a series of massive elements.
Despite their size though, they're still fast paced and incredibly disorienting, probably in part because that entire area is a twisted mess of Shredder and Shellraiser track, both of which would be twisted and compact rides on their own but it's insane seeing them mashed up together.
At one point you come to a stop, and honestly had the ride been over then it would still have been awesome but it's best trick is yet to come. You ascend the vertical lift facing the ceiling as the structure lights start flashing and changing colors, letting everyone all around the park know that there are 8 crazy people on their way to experience the world's steepest coaster drop.
Eventually you reach the top where you hit a downslope and come to a stop in front of some giant windows that give you a great view of the Manhattan skyline. At night we noticed that the lift lights shut off to make sure you get a great view and there's no glare. A few seconds later you inch forward and eventually release into a ridiculously steep drop followed by another dizzying sequence of huge elements and inversions before finally hitting the brakes.
The "steepest drop" thing is gimmicky but still a lot of fun and the hold at the top is one of the more memorable coaster elements out there just because of the incredible view and the cool buildup surrounding it.
TMNT Shellraiser is a great ride and a great headline attraction for the park. I had heard some complaints about roughness and while it's not Gatekeeper-smooth or anything, I didn't find it rough at all. Full disclosure though, these things rarely bother me. The one at MOA was pretty jerky but not enough to kill me enjoyment of it but otherwise I find them all to be smooth, including Mystery Mine which I absolutely adore (buckle up and get ready for my TPR Coaster Poll ballot if you're wondering how much). Your mileage may vary but I didn't think it was rough at all and neither did Brit. We did; however think it was awesome.Kraang Prime Pandemonium:
If you think that this place is all about coasters then you're wrong. I don't care if you're the whoriest whore who has ever whored this whory planet, I forbid you to go to this park and not ride Kraang Prime Pandemonium.
This is the best frisbee ride that I've ever been on that's not sitting on a Wildwood pier across the state. Better than Maxair, better than Wonder Woman, better than the Huss ones, seriously... it's ridiculous. The ride is wedged between a support beam, a massive ceiling fan with probably a 10-15 foot diameter and it comes within what feels like inches of both of them. It also comes within what feels like inches of the ceiling. You really feel like you had better move your legs and pull in your hands so you still have them at the end of the ride. This ride would be good in an open field, but thanks to it's location I don't know how any other Frisbee could ever be this cool (again, unless you put lap bars on it, crank it up to 11 and put it in Wildwood).Skyline Scream:
Skyline Scream is the park's drop tower and probably their signature attraction (aside from maybe TMNT Shellraiser). It's one of the new S&S towers with the circular ride vehicle and it runs in drop mode (as they all should).
There's something about the ascent that really got to me. Drop towers never bother me but for some reason perilously ascending up over the ceiling support beams makes you feel much higher up than you actually are. It's a weird feeling and I suggest trying to sit facing the park to experience it. If you sit on the other side they put a window all the way up so that you can see the lovely Turnpike toll plaza and the soul crushing traffic leading into it. Still cool, but not as cool
Once you reach the top you're treated to a 360 degree view of Manhattan, Metlife stadium and the mosquito-infested Meadowlands in the foreground. In addition, they added some fun Nickelodeon figures right under each of the windows that add a fun little touch. The ride comes to a stop and then rotates slowly so that everyone gets to see out in every direction before it finally comes to a stop and drops you back down.
I'll admit, the drop itself feels like it's on the weaker side for a drop tower but despite that I still consider this to be one of my favorites just because of the perceived height and awesome views from the top. They should shoot a POV, edit it into one of those "ATTN" type videos and make it go viral but they won't because their marketing team is horrific. Lucky for them, people are going to this place in droves anyway.
In addition to those rides, they also have a great collection of other flats including an Air Race (which I'm thrilled to have so close to the house), Unicoaster, crazy ropes course and a cool flipping bumper car thing which was down and probably will always be down because it's the prototypiest prototype that's ever prototyped and I don't see how anyone could have taken a single look at that ride and expected it to actually operate ever.
Overall we were really blown away with Nick Universe. It's much nicer looking than you would think based on photos, the cute little Nickelodeon details everywhere are a lot of fun and the ride lineup is legitimately really solid. I think we can anticipate lots of Minnesota vs New Jersey debates for years to come as the parks have a lot of similarities. I'd take our thrill ride lineup in a heartbeat as I think that the drop tower, the frisbee, Shredder, Shellraiser, Halfpipe and (by the looks of it) Bronco might all be better than any thrill ride at the Minneapolis park but the atmosphere is better there (at least for now) as the trees have had decades to mature and Log Chute is still the best ride at either Nick Universe park.
That said, the point isn't really which park is better, the point is that I remember being pretty jealous of the Minnesota park when I first went there and I'm thrilled to have something on that level an hour from the house where you can even have that debate. The offseason is a thing of the past in the Northeast and that's something we can all be tremendously thankful for.