This article is the first in a series by Mpls.St.Paul Magazine celebrating MOA’s 30th birthday. Join us as we ride through some of our favorite memories of the last 30 years.
Some say it takes a brave parent to venture to Mall of America with the sole intention of shepherding the Littles in your life through the heart of the beast—otherwise known as Nickelodeon Universe. But we see you, dear parents, and we salute you. The memories your kids will make on the bounty of rides, and the smiles you’ll catch as they do, is beyond worth it. But first, to understand the greatness that is a theme park located smack in the center of our country’s largest mall, it’s important to grasp its history and understand how clever and wholly unique this outing is for you and your kids.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Knott’s Camp Snoopy
When construction commenced on Mall of America, organizers turned to local comic strip artist Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts characters as a foundation for the seven-acre theme park. The park was designed with a woodsy feel, featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and Lucy. After more than a decade of rides that highlighted the charming white dog, his lovable yet uncertain owner, and all manners of comedic fun, the Mall parted ways with the franchise in 2006. (Cedar Fair, an Ohio-based company that operates theme parks nationwide, owns the exclusive rights to use Peanuts characters and failed to reach a new agreement at the end of their contract.)
A New Name
The Mall renamed the area “The Park at MOA” until 2008, when it was rebranded Nickelodeon Universe. And what a successful rebrand it was. Cue the orange! The characters! The slime! Now known by kids and parents alike, the mighty and entertaining space features all varieties of characters kids love—Paw Patrol, SpongeBob, Bubble Guppies, Dora, and more—with a mix of new rides and a refresh of many of the iconic originals. Averaging about 8.5 million rides a year, it’s no wonder that a specific plan is almost a necessity to reach every attraction the notoriously fun theme park has to offer.
Now here’s our advice for a successful Nickelodeon Universe adventure…
It may seem obvious, but knowing what rides you want to hit will make the whole park feel less overwhelming. Thrill-seekers won’t want to miss the Spongebob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge, which includes a 90-degree climb followed by plummeting loops, twist, and turns. The more cautious should try the Pepsi Orange Streak, which still offers the novelty of riding a roller coaster in a mall but doesn’t boast the same drops and flips as Spongebob. Meanwhile, tinier tykes can set their eyes on the Guppy Bubbler for some fun floating toward the Mall’s ceiling.
Tuesdays are a great day to visit if you have a toddler, as the Mall celebrates Toddler Tuesdays at 11 a.m. This weekly event includes free entertainment and the occasional, but oh-so-exciting character appearance, so you’ll not want to miss it. As an added bonus for your patience, discounts geared toward toddlers and their caregivers are available.
By planning ahead, you can also determine if an all-day wristband is a more economical option than merely purchasing individual ride point passes. Most rides cost between three to six points.
We also suggest designating what other kiddie attractions within the Mall—think The Crayola Experience and The Lego Store—pique your interest so you can allot your time accordingly.
To ensure your plan isn’t thrown a closure curveball, the Mall also posts a maintenance schedule for when each ride is shut down for repairs and fine tuning. Check it out to make sure you (and your kids!) aren’t caught by surprise.
Coordinate a Meeting Spot
Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, the Mall has phones throughout the entire facility that connect directly to security, so help is just a phone call away. Nickelodeon Universe also has a circular shape in the center of the Mall, so it’s trickier to lose your bearings. However, if you’ve got a wanderer—and many parents do—it’s wise to have a predetermined meeting place.
The Carousel ride is an oldie but a well-known goodie. It’s also prominently located, which makes it easy to spot should you lose members of your squad. One final bonus: It’s a great photo opp, so once you’re reunited, you can smile in relief for the cameras.
Check the Senses
Rides, lights, noise, and chaos are all part of the amusement park package, but the Mall is also a very sensory-aware destination for all families. It’s the first location in Minnesota to become a Certified Autism Center, which means its staff and surroundings are equipped to offer families with children who have autism and other sensory disorders an enjoyable visit. Each attraction at the park has insight as to how a child with sensory processing issues may be affected, so be sure to check the scale and see how you and your family might be impacted.
Discuss Rides (and Height Requirements) Ahead of Time
No kid likes being told they’re too small, so if your child is going with the intention of riding the tallest, baddest, raddest roller coaster—only to discover at the front of the line that they are too short—meltdowns may abound. Instead, take a look at this list and determine which rides are best for your child’s size and ability ahead of time. Then spend the days leading up to your adventure as that ride’s hype man. Bad surprises avoided—good surprises celebrated. It’s a win-win for everyone.
The staff at the Mall of America knows how to clean up in a hurry when a child tosses their cookies. (We speak from experience.) But if an upset stomach can be avoided—it’s most certainly advisable. While the delicious scent of cookies from Nestle Toll House Café wafts over the park and snack kiosks dot the periphery, we suggest a promised treat for the completion of your Nickelodeon adventure. Did someone say Sugar Factory? Otherwise, try the old swimming adage and stay off the rides for a half hour after eating. Kids will have plenty of time to digest—and you just may score a few extra minutes of shopping.
If you find yourself resting on one of the park’s many benches as your tots take on Adventure Bay with the Paw Patrol, see if you can get your hands on a map of the Mall and choose which store is home to the wonderful gift your future-self will acquire for being the top-notch parent you are. Consider it an added bonus.