The Park at Mall of America

September 4, 2007

Well, this is it the final day, or should I say half day as I need to be on an airplane at 3:30, in Minnesota. Not wanting to waste the morning, Jerry and I went to the Mall of America. Yes, you can be assured there is an amusement park in that great big mall. So, being my final morning, I had to get all packed up and moved out, then we headed to the Mall.

We arrived at the mall shortly before 10 and parked in the East garage. I noted the garage entrances now have several sternly worded signs warning against overnight parking. Jerry told me that both the airport and the mall are on the same light rail line, about 1 station apart, and so the mall had become an unofficial long term parking option. The mall is responding with strict parking enforcement. We pull into the garage, and the sections are named after states, for example we wound up in the Indiana section, which coincidently, is the state I would be spending the night in, not my home state of Ohio.

We entered the mall using the bridge from the parking garage and wound up on the second floor, a quick ride down the escalator, walk around the elevators and special events area and there we are at the entrance to the park. The Mall of America, toted as five floors of shopping. The entire complex is a gigantic rectangle with the anchor stores on the corners, and in the middle a gigantic courtyard under a glass skylight. This courtyard houses the amusement park, and has entrances from several points along the shopping concourses, but the East entrance has the main ticket office, which on slow days like today, may be the only ticket booth open.The Park is a free admission park, so there is no barrier at any of the access points, and you just walk on in. The overall theme of the park is an outdoor summer camp theme. Even though you are clearly inside, the landscape is lined with trees, and buildings that look like log cabins. It’s a very rustic feel, and in some parts it can temporarily fool you into thinking you are really outside. I refer to it generically as "the park" because that is its real name. Gone are the days of Knott's and Cedar Fair management, and gone are the rights to the Peanuts characters, so what they did was go through the park and did a quick removal/cover up of anything Peanuts related, then rename the park, "The Park at Mall of America" How creative, and as it turns out only a placeholder name as the park has signed a deal with a new thematic license, and will become a "Nickelodeon Universe" but more on that later.

We go up to the ticket booth, Jerry has the annual pass, so he is covered but he gave me a coupon for $6 off the price of a wristband. My, this park has gotten more expensive, the price with coupon is just shy of $21, I remember that when the price was about $16 with coupon. Seems the full price goes for about $28 after taxes, but at least the parking is free. Being a mall amusement park, they also accommodate the short term visitor who only wants a ride or two, with an all electronic barcode based pay per ride system. This system you buy a bar coded ticket which is scanned at every ride you take, and as you ride points are deducted from your balance. Incidentally, the wristbands and annual passes are also bar coded and all must be scanned at every ride. Pay per ride tickets deduct points and show points remaining, wristband show the number of minutes remaining, and annual passes show the number of days remaining. I noticed that the per point price on rides has remained pretty steady, which means the gap between pay-per-ride and pay-one-price is getting larger instead of smaller as the trend seems to be in those very few parks left that offer both systems.

Having my wristband, we head directly to Timberland Twister and right into an empty car. Ahh, I like slow days! At the boarding area we get lucky and we sit in the right hand seat, and no one sits in the left hand seat. We fasten the seatbelts and lower the lap bars. Soon the car is on its way out of the station and through a turnaround to the right to go up the lift hill. The lift hill almost takes you up as high as you can go given the ceiling, then at the top of the lift a turnaround to the right starts the ride. Unlike other companies spinning coasters, on Timberland Twister the car is unlocked and free to spin as soon as you crest the lift hill. With our car about as out of balance as you can get, we started spinning like a top the moment the car left the lifthill. The ride consists of a lot of gradual turns, but nothing as orderly as the sets of zig zags on most wild mouse type rides, then there is a helix, then the ride actually has a few drops and hills, who knows which way you'll be facing for any of them. There is a mid course brake, but don't let it worry you any, and we came into the final brake still spinning. You then advance from the final brake onto a positioning brake. Here your car is held while the coaster attempts to gently stop your car from spinning, then realigns it so that the car will reenter the station in the same orientation it left. After the car is aligned correctly it advances to the unload area, where the bars open and you unload. Mall of America has both load an unload on the same side, though I notice a platform was built on both sides of the track in the station, but the platform on the wrong side has no easy access back to the midway. So it sorts signs "EXIT OTHER SIDE" while the side with the load and unload areas reads "EXIT THIS SIDE"

The park operates Timberland Twister just a bit different on slow days with only one operator. That operator runs the ride like a cycle ride. Which means they load one of the 2 cars operating, send the first car on its way, and stop it on the lift while they load the other car, then the restart the lift, and dispatch the second car as soon as the block is clear. Thus both cars are running as close together as is safe. Then the operaor goes and opens the gate, and admits the next group of riders, closes that gate, and comes back to the console in time to bring both operating cars into the two loading areas in the station. Then after both cars are parked, the bars are opened and riders are requested to open all 4 bars, even those in empty seats. Both groups of riders exit and the cycle repeats. As we were the only riders on the ride we loaded the car for maximum spin potential and had a very fun ride exited, rode again. In fact we rode again and again and again, I'd say for at least an hour or more straight.

We did have one ride interruption. It is rumored that if the car comes into the positioning brake spinning too fast it will cause the ride to fault. We're not sure that’s what happened but we came into the brakes spinning like you would not believe. Next thing the ride went down for about 5 minutes while the operator called in a fault and the key operator reset the ride. What made it funnier is the maintenance people stood and observed operations for awhile, and they left just as we were getting into a car.

So, as I said we rode till like 11:15 solid, then we headed to Ghost Blasters, imagining the person monitoring the ride ticket computer "You know those crazies who just rode the spinning coaster for an hour or more straight, well now they are headed to Ghost Blasters where you have to see straight!"

We next came to Ghost Blasters, a Sally interactive dark ride. The remodeling efforts have taken away some of the queue area, but we merely had to wait for the next cycle. Yes, in slow days Ghost Blasters is also a cycle ride, where they first load all the cars, or all the cars they have guests for, then dispatch them into the show building one at a time, then wait for all the cars to come out of the show building, then come around and unlock the lapbars, to unload and repeat the process. I was having fun with the practice targets outside the ride when Jerry said don't get too excited those don't count, as the scoreboard gets reset as you enter the ride.

Ghost Blasters and Scooby Doo and the Haunted Castle share a lot of the same scenes, just in a different order and obviously without the Scooby themeing. This is the more traditional style dark ride, so the ride is punctuated by several crash doors. I hate to admit it, but I lost to Jerry again this year, however Jerry didn't tell me until we were three fourths of the way through the ride that the park had disabled rapid fire shooting. See, most Sally dark rides have guards in place to prevent rapid fire shooting, but this particular model didn't have that in place, well it does now.

From Ghost Blasters, we head to the Treetop Tumbler with the goal of being there when it opens at 11:30. The Treetop Tumbler is I think the last remaining Zierrer Hexentantz in the United States. It's a very neat looking flat ride that consists of a multitude of cars that go around a center spindle. After the ride starts the ride cars are raised up about halfway on this spindle through a really neat folding legs aranagment. Then each pair of cars is mounted on opposite ends of secondary booms that are connected to the main spindle. Those secondary booms rotate in such a manner that the two cars on that boom start leapfrogging each other as they go around with one tub going over the other. Yes this can provide airtime if run fast enough, and Camp Snoopy runs it fast enough for some minor airtime. It’s a very rare ride piece, and part of the reason for that rarity is how finicky the ride is about proper balancing. It seems both tubs on each pair set have to be balanced. Riders are secured with seatbelts and a lap bar. We sat in separate cars both for comfort and so that we could balance each other, and the operator looping the unused seatbelt around the lap bar, and told us at the end of the ride to unfasten that belt first. It won’t win any intensity awards, but it is a very fun ride.

From the Treetop Tumbler, we went to ride the Pepsi Ripsaw. This is the parks older coaster. It’s a 5 point ride, and the entrance is on the second floor above the shooting gallery. Ripsaw is what looks like one of those Zierrer coasters with the 20+ car long trains. The ride is more like the parks train ride and does a better job of taking you around the park on an elevated railway than at being a coaster. Sure it has a helix, it has a tunnel, and has some neat curves, but no real drops. We take seats towards the front of the train, and lower the two ratcheting lapbars in each seat. Odd that it has separate ratcheting lap bars for each rider but no seat divider, but considering the size of the car, if it had a seat divider that would preclude bigger riders from riding at all. It's a better solution than what Zamperla came up with that puts the support bar in the center of the car, with a policy that in most cases both riders legs are supposed to be in the same side of the center bar. We made sure each half of the bar was ratcheted equally. The ride, as I said isn't thrilling at all, but it’s a coaster and you get to see the park. Watch your eyes for the high beam in ride photo lamp right after the helix. Man that thing can blind somebody. About midway through the ride is a long tunnel were you can get a sneak peak of the theming inside the log flume ride. I hear the train storage, transfer track and other service areas are hidden inside the lengthy tunnel. It is also noteworthy that you are powered all the way through the tunnel on drive tires. So I guess it barely counts as a coaster. We meander around and over the park some more before arriving back at the station.

While riding the Pepsi Ripsaw it would be a good time to fill you in on the park's future. As I mentioned it is about to become a Nickelodeon Universe, with an extensive make over. The Mystery Mine Ride (motion simulator) is already gone, and most of the area from the Mystery Mine to Ghost Blasters is completely ripped out, as are the big fountain in the middle of the park and much of the theme work in the center of the park. The walkways in the middle of the park are closed off, but they have kept as many rides as possible open. As the signs say "All attractions are open, please refer to the signs for access to rides. The center walkways are closed, please use the main walkway around the perimeter of the park" It seems like they are doing all they can to keep operations as normal as possible during the big make over.

We then head to the Mighty Axe. Mighty Axe is a Zamperla Roto Shake. We board the ride, the shoulder bars come down and lock, or so we think. Apparently the ride is not happy with the second locking position any longer. With that we are rejected from the Mighty Axe and head back to Timberland Twister.

We have another Timberland Twister marathon for at least an hour straight. By now a line has been forming but it never gets much past the ticket scanner. They also now have two operators, so the ride is now running interval more like a regular coaster. Recall that I have that 3:30 flight. At about 12:45 I decide I need to ride something different. We head to the Paul Bunyan Log Chute. I am very surprised that Jerry, Mr. I Hate Water Rides, is so willing to ride the log chute, and sit up front even.

Here I drag Jerry into a cave labeled "Log Chute" It's my least favorite style queue, a long twisty cave where you can't really see your progress. We were relieved to see the big room in the cave with a queue maze closed off. After no wait at all we found ourselves approaching the loading area. Log Chute uses a non-stopping loading system and we were soon in a log, with Jerry up front for a change. We leave the station and enter a long themed tunnel like a cheap Splash Mountain but if you recall quite similar to the log flume at knott's, you come out of the themed tunnel, (the Knott's product placement theming has been removed), take the tour past the food court, go floating atop the mountain looking structure, and eventually re-enter the interior of the cave which hides drop 1. You're ride is not over as you then climb an even bigger lift, travel along the mountaintop some more, pass by a different food court, then you turn and go down the BIG drop. This log flume however, has been designed to not get a rider too wet. Its really neat with the theming in the tunnels, and its really long path. You make one turnaround to the station.

Like last time, they made us exit back to the entrance side, then climb up and over a bridge, then back down to the platform on the exit side. It seems totally idiotic, but I at least got an explanation this time. In minimal staffing days like this, they don't have an unload side operator (not that that stops other parks), so they have you exit back to the load side so they only need one station operator. While exiting I must have braced on my arm wrong as I was exiting the log and I heard the snap of a wristband come flying off. Oh NOOOOOO!!!!!! I did learn the park is quite prepared for this to occur as a manager was paged and arrived at the Log Chute within minutes with a replacement wristband. She had been over at the Twister most of the morning and for small talk commented that "You finally wore it out, huh?" To which I responded, well after 25 or more Timberland Twister rides, she did not dispute the total.

Speaking of Timberland Twister, although I had only a few drops of water on me, we went back to Twister for a couple more rides on the spin dryer. In fact we rode about as long as we could before Jerry said "You know, we really ought to think about getting to the airport" So we left the park and headed to the third floor for the food court. I grabbed a quick cheesesteak and Great Steak and Potato Company (The steak was great, the potatoes were awful), and Jerry had some Long John Silvers. From the food court on the south side, we walked around to the east side, down an escalator, and back out into the parking garage.

We made the quick trip to the airport and I'd say we arrived at the airport around 2:15 (for a 3:30 flight). Luckily for me there was no line at all for security, and luckier still for me, it was the person behind that came up behind me that was chosen for all the extra screening. As I went to pick up my luggage to put it into the X-ray machine, my second Mall of America wristband snapped off. Man, they must be using the world's flimsiest wristbands.

But I get through security with no problems and head back to the waiting area next to my gate, pausing only to grab a soft drink from a news stand. I get to the gate with about 20 minutes to spare before they start boarding procedures.

As I start to board the plane, I get to the top of the stairs of the plane and the stewardess comments favorably about Americana Amusement Park, I quickly remember which shirt I have on. I comment that she must be from Cincinnati. From then on every time she passed me on the plane we would work in 5 or 10 seconds of chat about Americana Amusement Park.

Then some three hours later, thanks to the time zone change, I arrive at the "Cincinnati" airport around 6:30, which is not in Cincinnati at all. Then instead of going home, I head to Grand Victoria Casino for the night, in Rising Sun, Indiana.


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