American Dream Meadowlands, End Of Week One: No Lines, But You Pay For The Privilege

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The American Dream Meadowlands “soft launch” continued on Thursday — very softly.

As was the case during the opening weekend, parking remained free, though it’s not clear how long that will last.

There wasn’t as much of a Halloween theme in the air as one might expect. A few employees wore costumes, and giant spiders hung over the ice skating rink. Some young children wore costumes — or parts of costumes (with other parts sensibly removed by parents for safety reasons on the rides).

But what stood out most was that the roughly 300,000 square feet of space now open with the indoor amusement park called Nickelodeon Universe contained so few visitors.

Empty space abounded Thursday in Nickelodeon Universe

And for those who did stop by, the pricing of $39.99 for limited rides or $49.99 for “All-Access” for up to five hours was difficult to justify, given the number of shuttered rides and limited amount of food and drink.

The upside? Imagine going to an impressive amusement park and not having to wait in any lines. In fact, the rides often took off without all of the seats filled.

When I was covering the NBA All-Star Game Weekend in San Antonio in 1996, the league rented out the Great Adventure amusement park outside of town for a private party on Saturday. No lines, for NBA folks only. So lots of very tall people wandering about — hey, that’s Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell! — and plenty of elbow room.

But that was free — just as American Dream Meadowlands was last weekend to those who wandered in without purchasing a ticket. It’s not free anymore.

What’s it worth to get such a park almost to yourself?

What was open, what wasn’t

Let’s run down a list of the open and closed rides to help in decision-making:

There are eight “All-Access Thrills Rides” listed on American Dream’s website.

But three stand out:

  • The Shellraiser is the one New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife rode last Friday. It boasts “the record for the world’s steepest drop.” If you see the ride, you can believe it. And it was open on Thursday afternoon.
  • The Shredder’s claim to fame is as “the world’s tallest and longest free-spinning coaster traversing hairpin turns, plummeting spirals, and speeding spins.” Plausible, but in four visits, I’ve yet to see anyone get to ride it.
  • The Skyline Scream is “the world’s tallest indoor spinning drop tower.” Again, still not open.

So that’s a mere 1-for-3 so far for those paying the extra 10 bucks.

The Shredder is one of many rides patrons can’t count on enjoying yet

The other All-Access rides are a mixed bag in terms of what’s operating and what isn’t.

Sandy’s Blasting Bronco and Timmy’s Half-Pipe Havoc were both closed. These two look like the next-most intense rides. Havoc is reminiscent of pirate ship rides that lurch way up, then hurtle down faster.

The good news is that Kraang Prime Pandemonium!, Aang’s Air Gliders, and Jimmy Neutron’s Atom Smasher were all operating (for a final score of 4-for-8 among the All-Access rides). These won’t frighten ardent thrill-seekers, but they look as if they provide a decent adrenaline rush.

Family rides

The next level is “Family Friendly Rides,” and the score was mixed here as well.

There also are eight of these.

The Nickelodeon Slime Streak is a mid-level rollercoaster. You won’t go upside down, but you’ll get a head of speed up and tilt sideways on some sharp turns. This ride was open when I arrived — and back in testing when I left.

Ren and Stimpy’s Space Madness is another “compromise ride,” with the cars going vertical, then dropping and rising intermittently. There were adults as well as tweens enjoying this one.

Spongebob’s Jellyfish Jam would qualify, too, but the offshoot of the classic theme park “swing ride” wasn’t operating. Ditto for Bikini Bottom Crosstown Express; the submarine-shaped ride wasn’t open.

Dora’s Sky Railway, which takes you across the park on what resembles a rollercoaster track, moves at a glacial, tot-friendly “speed.” This monorail-style ride seemed to be open all weekend — but not during my visit on Thursday.

At least Rugrats Raptor Go-Round was taking passengers, and there was also the Legends of the Hidden Temple Challenge, a rope-climbing attraction that teens seemed to like.

The Adventure Bay Play Area, like a playground one might find in a local park, was popular over the weekend. But at one point on Thursday, your children could have had the place to themselves.

The Adventure Bay Play Area looks like fun for the little ones

And what about the “Just for Tots” rides?

Those open Thursday included Pup Up and Away mini-Ferris wheel, Shimmer Shine Jumping Genies (think Tilt-a-whirl), Blaze’s Monster Truck Rally (a train ride that toddlers can handle), Fairly Odd Airways, Blue’s Skiddoo, and Invader Zim’s Flip & Spin of Doom (a modern version of bumper cars, with more interactivity).

So a little more that half of the two-dozen attractions were open for business, which is not an ideal track record — even given that these are the “discount prices” for the Special Preview. Plus the open rides skewed heavily to toddlers.

The price is right?

As of Nov. 15, prices are scheduled to leap up to $59.99 and $79.99 — though those prices will cover all-day passes.

That means all or virtually all of the rides will need to be fully operational. Even then, the relative lack of hoopla — only 10 days ago, there was some internal panic about massive traffic jams entering the Meadowlands Sports Complex — and the aggressive pricing may produce more “elbow room” than a developer would desire.

How do these prices compare to Triple Five’s Mall of America and West Edmonton Mall?

In Minnesota, patrons are charged $36.99 for an All-Day Wristband — so not even half the price being advertised at its American Dream cousin. A two-day pass for “unlimited rides” costs just $49.99, less than what it will cost for one day of limited rides at American Dream.

Meanwhile, the American Dream’s Dreamworks Water Park opens on Nov. 27. Employees said they don’t know about pricing yet, with one noting, “That’s 27 days away!”

Let’s head to western Canada, where that West Edmonton Mall also features such an indoor water park. All-day passes there go for $39.99 and $49.99, for older and younger visitors.But the options are far more numerous.

Their Galaxyland amusement park, meanwhile, also goes for $39.99 and $49.99.

Bottom-line takeaways, a week into the project:

  • Youngsters seemed universally thrilled with the indoor amusement park, especially when the random Ninja Turtle or other Nickelodeon character would pop up for photo ops. But is it worth the cost? That’s a different question.
  • The pricing may have been planned to be higher because of the relatively high cost of living, affluence, and size of the market. But North Jersey and New York also contain more demanding customers, so opening without full access to the rides may not go over so well if that happens.
  • Even after the water park opens — and then the indoor snowdome on Dec. 5, more than a decade after it was constructed — that won’t even account for half of the 3-million-square-foot footprint of this behemoth. Still to come are hundreds of retail outlets next spring, along with a 300-foot observation wheel, an aquarium, a Legoland Discovery Center, Angry Birds Mini-Golf, and other options.
  • Lastly, the jokes about the garish multi-colored facade at the site can now be put to bed. The snowdome’s all-shades-of-orange look was the last to go this month, leaving an innocuous mix of white, gray, and glass.
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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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