Nickelodeon Universe NJ

28th December 2019

Nickelodeon Universe is an indoor theme park located within the American Dream Meadowlands complex a few miles outside of New York City. The official premiere for the facility took place on 25th October 2019, almost fifteen years after construction began, though the only portion of the development that was ready for the big day was the amusement park, and even then a number of the rides had yet to receive operating permits. Though the doors are now open it's fair to say that place remains a work in progress; the launch of a DreamWorks-themed waterpark was postponed indefinitely a week before the planned debut in November, and though an ice rink and indoor ski slope opened in December the majority of the shops are not expected to be trading before the middle of next year at the earliest.

The complex is served by a direct bus service running from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan, making it an easy hit for tourists in the area. Route 355 (departing from gate 305) operates every thirty minutes on weekdays and every twenty on weekends. Round trip tickets cost $18 and can be purchased from vending machines or using a mobile app (though at present this is only available from the domestic version of the App Store). The outbound journey on a Saturday morning took less than thirty minutes, though the return at lunch time took over three times that due to congestion on the entry to the Lincoln Tunnel; readers considering their own adventures should plan accordingly.

Emptiness

The bus let us out at the base of an unmarked staircase that was blocked off by traffic cones, and there was absolutely no signage to indicate where we were supposed to go. The best bet seemed to be a walk in the general direction of the car park, and though the first two entrances we reached were similarly out of use we eventually located one at ground level that was open. An escalator inside the door led to a large atrium surrounded by what will presumably be shops in due time. Today all were blocked off by canvas, giving the place a vaguely apocalyptic feel. The only other person immediately visible was a staff member working on a Christmas tree, and though we did see guests in the ride area it's fair to say that staff outnumbered patrons until mid-morning, which I'd argue to be a very poor sign on the Saturday after Christmas.

We claimed all-access wristbands from the ticketing desk then set out on a quick exploration to ascertain the lay of the land. There were a handful of rides out of service, but the only real loss among them was Sandy's Blasting Bronco, a launched coaster with four inversions that can be thought of as Intamin's answer to the Skywarp. Subsequent research has revealed that this machine has yet to open to the public, though it looks like it should in the very near future; trains loaded with S&S-branded test dummies were being cycled throughout the first hour of our visit. The train was turned around for every other dispatch using a turntable mechanism; it'll be interesting to see how (or indeed if) this is operated with guests.

Our first tick became Shredder (#2846), a spinning coaster designed to wrap around the larger TMNT Shellraiser. Though it pains me to say this, the word "tick" is an eminently appropriate description for a ride that does nothing of consequence despite having more than two thousand feet of track. The installation sets a new record for the tallest and longest free-spinning coaster in the world, which just goes to reinforce how statistics mean very little in the real world; the layout is beyond dull with limited spinning, no full height drops, and an incredible five mid-course block brakes that prevent the cars building up much speed. It is telling that the quoted maximum velocity of thirty-six miles per hour equates exactly to that achieved by Cagliostro, which is just over half the height; Gerstlauer engineers could (and should) have done far better.

The other major criticism I have of the ride, which applies in equal measure to its neighbour. is the fact that it has been installed over unadorned concrete with no theming outside of the station and queue. In a money-no-object world it might have been fun to see the Foot Clan represented in animatronic form, but if that was beyond the budget even a painted floor surface would have been a significant upgrade. To add insult to injury the track was covered in a thick layer of muck today, which one presumes to be residue from the construction process; it's a shame that the powers that be didn't feel the need to give it a thorough clean ahead of opening day.

Coasters

Coaster number two became Timmy's Half Pipe Havoc (#2847), a second generation U-shaped shuttle from Intamin that opened just weeks after the retirement of the first example of the genre in Finland. The ride was running a lengthy programme today, and while I didn't count the launches my guess is that we got at least five in each direction, with most pushing the car to within inches of the stopper at the end of the track. The experience was fine, though it would have been better if the seats had spun as designed; today a half-rotation during the first launch was apparently the limit. During my lunch break I watched two dispatches from ground level, and in both cases the seats might as well have been welded in place. (The ride went down for maintenance a few days after my visit; with luck this will have been sorted out by the time these words are read.)

The signature attraction in the park is TMNT Shellraiser (#2848), a production model Eurofighter that is virtually identical in design to Takabisha; the only official difference is an increase of half a degree in the angle of the beyond-vertical drop, a change made to claim a new world record. Sadly the build quality falls a long way short of the magnificent original, and while most of the bumps are manageable there is a significant pothole in the aftermath of the big drop that is less than pleasing, especially in the front half of the car. I found the back to be better, though it was still not a machine I felt compelled to marathon; three laps over the course of an hour was more than enough. (As an aside, I was refused permission to wear my glasses on board despite having a safety strap, apparently due to park policy. I made a mental note to log a complaint at guest services then promptly forgot about it; maybe next time.)

As things turned out we'd saved the best for last. Nickelodeon Slime Streak (#2849) is a custom layout family coaster from Chance Rides that officially supports nine hundred passengers per hour, though this figure is marketing gone mad given that it is completely impossible to achieve in practice. The ride has a single twenty passenger train and an eighty-five second cycle time, giving a theoretical maximum (assuming an instantaneous load/unload process) of 847 per hour. A more realistic target based on sixty seconds in the station between each dispatch is around five hundred per hour, which was at least double what the crew on duty today were managing.

Adult readers should be aware that the trains have extremely limited leg room. I was able to board without problems, but my knees were wedged in place; anyone taller than my 6'2" should probably try the test seat at the entrance before joining the queue to avoid embarrassment. Those that do fit will enjoy a seventy foot climb to roof level followed by a respectable drop and a series of airtime hills and turns that route most of the way around the park, interacting with a number of other attractions along the way. Though not extreme in any way the experience is pure fun, and exactly what a quality coaster should be; I could have stayed on board all day.

Skyline Scream

Our only other hit today was Skyline Scream, a new generation combo tower from S&S that rises approximately forty metres into a extended roof box with a view of New York City as well as some token theming. The programme features a forceful upward launch (albeit one devoid of airtime), a slow rotation at the apex, and an unexpectedly intense boosted drop that delivers strong negative forces all the way down. The compressor mechanism was noisy even by the usual standards of the genre, with a steady hiss issuing from the tower while the car was at the top, though that constitutes a minor nitpick for what was is a perfectly respectable attraction.