On Friday, June 21st, the Show Me the Coasters tour set off from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over the following week, the tour took my friends and I through Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Iowa, before returning to Minneapolis very late on June 28th. While we were back where we started, the tour was not yet over. A two night stay at the Crowne Plaza Aire near MSP airport would allow for us to check out a couple more parks located in the twin cities. After a dozen previous stops, you might think we'd be tired of parks by now, but Andrew, Rob, and I still had one more Cedar Fair park to conquer.
Show Me The Coasters
Part 8: A Fair, a Town, and a Mall
Saturday was our final day together, as Rob would be departing that evening and Andrew had an early flight out the next morning. Therefore, we decided to spend the day at Valleyfair, the second park in the Cedar Fair chain and the last in the chain I had left to visit. This park opened in 1976 with 20 attractions on 26 acres, and with significant investment has grown to feature 75 rides on 125 acres. While originally one of the crown jewels of the chain, since the early 2000s the park has grown somewhat stagnant as Cedar Fair has focused their capital expansion elsewhere, thus Valleyfair has not installed a major attraction in nearly a decade. For a local, that is a frustrating turn of events, particularly when the nearest park of comparable size is two states away. As a first time visitor, however, I was quite curious to see what the park had to offer.
Before we get to that, I must make a confession. While Valleyfair was the final major park of the tour and was a new park to all of us, this was actually my second visit to the park. On the first day of the tour, Rob's flight was delayed several hours, so I opted to secretly head over to Valleyfair for an hour and attempt to credit run the place. I wound up getting six of seven possible credits before I had to return to the airport, but it gave me an impression of the place.
Knowing what laid in store, I tried my best not to upsell the park, because, well...Valleyfair feels like a park lifted directly out of Roller Coaster Tycoon. Nothing about the park stands out as particularly unique, and with the exception of isolated buildings it is utterly devoid of theming. Attractions are plopped down wherever there's available space, and nothing feels particularly creative in layout or look.
Valleyfair's layout resembles a box and whisker plot oriented roughly east-west, with the entrance located on the eastern end of the box. A midway extends east from this point, and another at the far end of the box dead-ends at the far west corner of the property. Therefore, we decided it was best to approach this park systematically rather than trying to head straight to the headliners. Our first coaster therefore was Steel Venom, located near the entrance in the eastern whisker. This was my last of the five North American Impulse coasters to try, and it felt mostly similar to the others. The ride gets bonus points for still having an operational holding brake on the rear spike, but beyond that there's nothing new or different here. To our surprise, Rob was able to ride this one despite being denied on SFGAm's identical ride...I guess the belts are longer here.
We were planning to hit Wild Thing next, but it was experiencing a minor delay. With super short lines despite it being a Saturday (we didn't encounter a wait over 15 minutes), we headed further west to Mad Mouse. An Arrow mouse identical to the one at Michigan's Adventure, this completed yet another set for me. Unfortunately, heavy trim brakes and a slightly rough ride rendered this a dull coaster not even worthy of a re-ride from Andrew, our resident Arrow fanatic. Plus, due to an incredibly slow loading procedure, we spent about two and a half minutes on the brakes waiting to unload (keep in mind the ride is only a minute and a half). Yeah...next!
Further down the western whisker lies Renegade, Valleyfair's GCI and the last in North America I had left to experience (see a pattern here?). After riding Prowler, I had warned Rob and Andrew that Renegade would be underwhelming, and while Prowler is the better ride Renegade is not far behind. The first half of the layout is GCI's take on an out and back coaster, with a few twists thrown in for good measure. After that, Renegade turns into a pure twister, winding around close to the midway and fitting in well next to one or two western themed buildings. It isn't the longest or most extreme ride out there, but it's a good length and a very good coaster. We ended up with seven rides total on this one, including the last train of the night (which even at 10 P.M. was still somewhat light due to the high latitude).
Excalibur (the one credit I missed on my initial visit) doesn't open until noon, so we were prevented from proceeding further west. Instead, we backtracked to the box and took a ride on Valleyfair's other woodie, High Roller. The largest ride at Valleyfair on opening day, today this ride is more of a family coaster. A fairly smooth out-and-back, the ride contains several trim brakes that rob the layout of airtime. If it was longer or more exciting I likely would have given this multiple rides, but with the longest line amongst the park's coasters one lap was sufficient.
By the time we got off High Roller, Wild Thing had returned to service so we hit that next. This was the last American Morgan I had left to ride (surprise surprise), and it rode very similarly to Mamba just a couple days earlier.
Unlike the other Morgans, Wild Thing actually featured a bit of floater airtime once it got warmed up, but the ride was still on the weaker end of hyper coasters in my book. Still, it was the best steel coaster at the park and worth a few rides given the short wait.
We now had two Arrows remaining before conquering Valleyfair. Since it was closer, we started with Corkscrew. An older Arrow looper (and the last in North America I needed to ride), Valleyfair's Corkscrew was more or less a smoother version of Cedar Point's Corkscrew.
The very short ride features a drop, loop, turn, double corkscrew, and helix in that order. Surprisingly, this is Valleyfair's only inverting coaster to this day. It was okay...not bad, but not great.
Lastly, we turned our attention to Excalibur. Essentially a single tracked version of Cedar Point's Gemini, Excalibur is what happens when you make a mine train into a thrill ride. It was jerky with some abrupt airtime and a very unusual layout, but had just enough good elements to recommend taking it for a spin. Unfortunately I only got one ride on it since this coaster operates very limited hours, but it is certainly the oddest among Valleyfair's collection. And no, it wasn't my last North American Arrow...I've still got a handful I need to hit (including two that didn't quite make the cut for this trip).
The coasters complete, we took another lap of the park to hit a few of the park's non-coaster rides. Most significant among these were a pair of S&S creations: Power Tower and Xtreme Swing. Power Tower is an S&S triple tower, featuring a space shot tower and two turbo drop towers. While not quite as tall as the identically named ride at Cedar Point, the ride is still plenty tall enough to provide a thrill. Next door, Xtreme Swing is a Screamin' Swing just slightly smaller than Cedar Point's Skyhawk and just as intense.
We also checked out Northern Lights, a Disk'O Coaster that some parks count as a roller coaster. I don't count these, but they are still fun rides with a spinning car traversing an extended halfpipe. Lastly, Andrew and I took a ride on Valleyfair's railroad, which was nothing to write home about.
By 2 P.M., we'd completed most of Valleyfair's notable attractions, so we headed out for a bonus park. Located 45 minutes away in nearby St. Paul, Como Town is a small park attached to the much larger Como Park Zoo. If we'd had more time, I would have gladly spent a few hours exploring this zoo and checking out all the animals. Unfortunately, we had just enough time to enter the amusement park and ride Tiger Trax, the park's Zyklon style coaster.
There are some that look down on enthusiasts who seek to ride out of the way credits, particularly when said rides are small stock model coasters. However, occasionally that sort of thing has unexpected rewards. This particular day was one of those. As we approached the coaster, we saw a couple kids walk up the ramp and get turned away. Unfortunately, they were too short to ride without an adult, and neither of the parents wanted to ride. As the tears started, the dad noticed us walking up the ramp and comes running over, asking if the kids can ride with us. In essence, we were borrowed to chaperone the kids on what may have been their first roller coaster (or at least their first full size one). It doesn't matter that the coaster was mediocre, the experience was absolutely memorable, and had we had more time I'm sure the kids would have loved two or three more laps. Sadly, we had to say our goodbyes and head out.
Rob's flight was departing Saturday evening, so we took a detour to drop him off at the Mall of America so he could collect a few last credits before flying back to Virginia. Andrew and I then headed back to Valleyfair, returning around 5 P.M. Once through the gate, we parted ways as I wanted to check out Valleyfair's waterpark and Andrew wanted tons of re-rides. On the way to the waterpark, I stopped by Chickie and Pete's for a sandwich, then got suited up for some wet action.
Valleyfair's Soak City is among the smallest waterparks in the Cedar Fair chain, but still provides enough attractions for a couple hours of fun. I started off with Breaker's Plunge, a nine story free fall slide. I do not get intimidated by slides, but staring down a cliff is always just a tiny bit unnerving. A couple girls in front of me stood at the top of the slide freaking out for about two minutes before stepping aside and allowing me to take the plunge. Unlike older free fall slides, this one was very smooth and provided a short but exciting thrill.
On a lower platform from the same tower was Breaker's Pipeline, the park's trapdoor slide complex. I don't always bother with speed slides (particularly if there's a wait...these were about 20 minutes), but trapdoor slides are among my favorite due to the dropping sensation as the floor pulls away. I did two rides on this one, one to experience the straight drop slides and one for a helix slide.
Next was Panic Falls, the original body slide complex at the waterpark. Riders have their choice of five ways down from the six story platform...two speed slides and three serpentine slides. Having had enough of speed slides, I did two of the three serpentine slides here. Honestly, they were a bit on the dull side, though I attribute that to their age more than anything else.
Lastly, I took a ride down Raging Rapids, Soak City's lone innertube slide. Built into the side of a small hill, Raging Rapids is less a slide and more like a river rapids ride ridden on a single tube. The ride is turbulent, with small drops, obstacles, waterfalls, and a tunnel, but is a lot of fun and very different from modern waterslides. I would have given this a second ride had I reached it earlier, but it was nearing closing time for Soak City and I still had a few coasters I wanted to ride.
Night began its slow descent as I reunited with Andrew outside of Soak City. He'd been spending the last couple hours re-riding his favorite coasters and hitting some flats. We essentially did the same, grabbing multiple rides on Renegade, Steel Venom, and Wild Thing. Eventually, we decided to just camp at Renegade for the rest of the evening, winding up with back row seats on the last train of the night. It was a great way to wrap up the official part of the tour.
Overall, Valleyfair is the best example I can think of when it comes to an average park. There isn't anything wrong with the place, and it is an enjoyable park to spend the day at. However, there's nothing that sets the park above others, and even their top attractions aren't among the best of their type. I'm certainly glad I visited, and would likely stop by for a couple hours if I found myself in Minneapolis again, but there is little reason to travel out of the way for this park unless you're a completionist. Sure, you'll have a fun day, but you can get better coasters, better theming, and better atmosphere at almost any other Cedar Fair park.
Valleyfair Coaster Rankings:
2. Wild Thing
3. Steel Venom
4. High Roller
7. Mad Mouse
Upon returning to the hotel, I said goodnight and goodbye to Andrew. He had a morning flight out, and would be taking a shuttle from the hotel to the airport before I woke in the morning. After plenty of non-stop action the past few days, I got caught up on my trip updates and then went to bed.
The next morning, I took advantage of a 10:45 departure and my own room to sleep in. However, the last park of the trip called, so once I was packed I loaded up the car and made the five minute drive to the last park of the trip.
If you've been to Minneapolis (or even if you haven't), you're most likely familiar with their largest tourist attraction: the Mall of America. When I picked up the rental car, the agent asked if I'd be visiting this place, and due to the location directly adjacent to the airport it was my scheduled activity for the final day. Up until very recently (or perhaps until next spring), it was the largest shopping mall in the United States, with nearly twice as many stores as my local mega mall (South Coast Plaza, the third/fourth largest in the US). Granted, I have no love for shopping, so there must be another reason for me checking this place out. This is a theme park tour, so...
Yep, Mall of America houses its own theme park. Occupying 7 acres at the center of the mall, the park is completely indoors and able to operate year-round even in Minnesota's climate. Originally started by the Knott family and called Camp Snoopy, Cedar Fair sold the park in the mid-2000s due to difficulty operating the park in such a limited environment. Today, the park is known as Nickelodeon Universe, and houses two-dozen rides themed to Nicktoons past and present.
After purchasing an unlimited ride wristband with an add-on attraction, I headed to Avatar Airbender to start with what I believed to be the lowest capacity coaster at the park. Themed to the Nickelodeon show Avatar, The Last Airbender and not James Cameron's movie with a land larger than this whole park in Florida, Avatar Airbender is an Intamin Surfrider.
The ride seats a dozen riders at a time and shuttles them back and forth along a U-shaped track. The resulting ride felt halfway between a Disk'O and an Impulse coaster, with plenty of spinning on vertical spikes. It wasn't spectacular, but it was fun.
Next up was the park's other big coaster, SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge. A Euro-Fighter by Gerstlauer, this one begins with a 75 ft. beyond vertical drop leading to a loop, heartline roll, and helix in quick succession.
While not as impressive as some others of the type I've experienced, the ride was fairly smooth and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that this was where I should have started my day, as the park was operating this coaster with a single eight-passenger car (it can run up to four). On a fairly busy Sunday, this meant a 30 minute wait even shortly after opening.
Quickly realizing what was in store, I crossed the park to Fairly Odd Coaster, a Gerstlauer spinner identical to two I'd ridden earlier in the trip (though this was actually the first installed by the company).
To my horror, this ride was running just two of its six cars (each of which seats only four riders), making the family-friendly coaster a 45 minute wait. Like the Euro-figher, this one was middle of the pack for the type, though probably the weakest of the three on the tour.
Three coasters down, one left to do. But first, I opted to hop on Ghost Blasters, the park's Sally shooting dark ride, as the line was nearly non-existent as I passed. This is a stock shooting dark ride, similar to the Boo Blaster rides at Cedar Fair parks but with a catchy theme song and a bit more cheese. Not spectacular by any means, but one of those rides I have a bit of a guilty pleasure for. Plus, it was nice to see a proper dark ride at this small park after several larger parks on the tour failed to feature one.
Anyway, on with the last coaster. Pepsi Orange Streak opened with the park in 1992, and as such it is integrated into the structure of the mall. This large sprawling junior coaster gives a similar vibe to Jaguar at Knott's Berry Farm, but runs smoother and includes a short dark ride segment half way through. Single train ops (no surprise) meant a 30 minute wait, but sometimes such is necessary as a credit counter.
The four coasters complete meant there was one other priority ride at the park. An indoor park is a curious place for a water ride, but Nickelodeon Universe features the Log Chute an indoor log flume and the only ride not rethemed to Nickelodeon. Instead, the ride is themed loosely to Paul Bunyan, with several indoor scenes to fill sections between the ride's two lifts and two drops. As an original attraction, the ride felt very much like Knott's Timber Mountain Log Ride, and while not quite as good it still ranks among the better log flume rides out there.
With all the must-do attractions complete and queues growing to an hour for top rides, I opted to leave the park and hunt for something to eat in the mall. One lunch later, I returned, but not for any of the park's rides. Instead, I used the add-on to experience the nearby Flyover America attraction. A flying theater very similar to Soarin', the ride is an aerial tour of many famous sites scattered across the United States. Unlike the former, this one features a full motion base on the seats, leading to a stronger flying sensation and a slightly more thrilling ride. Is it better than Soarin'? Tough to say...it's longer and feels more like a ride, but it's also less immersive and lacks the music and scents that make Soarin' so great. I'm going to call it a draw, and I do think the film is worth seeing. Would I pay to do it again? Probably not, but I might consider the Canada film that's also an option.
With about an hour and a half until I needed to be at the airport, I tried out a few of the park's less crowded flat rides and then left the mall.
Overall, Nickelodeon Universe is a decent park given the space constraints, with several decent rides and better theming than a fair number of major parks. The problem is largely the operations, as this place had the slowest dispatches of any park on the trip. I would have loved to experience several other rides at the park, as well as grab re-rides on a couple coasters, but it just wasn't possible due to queue times.
I hope this was just a fluke and not indicative of how the park usually is, because it would be a very enjoyable half-day experience if you didn't have to wait 30+ minutes for anything remotely large.
Nickelodeon Universe Coaster Rankings:
1. SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge
2. Avatar Airbender
3. Fairly Odd Coaster
4. Pepsi Orange Streak
And thus was the end of the Show Me the Coasters tour. I filled the car up at a nearby gas station, then headed back to the airport. Before long, I was on a plane back to the west coast. It was the end of a great tour, but it was time...15 parks in 10 days is quite tiring.
Over the course of the tour, I managed to visit a total of eleven full theme parks (nine of them new to me), many of which I'd consider underrated to some degree, plus visit four additional FEC-type locations that featured amusement rides. I collected a total of 51 new credits, bringing my coaster count to 529. I rode four new coasters that made it onto my top 25 list. I also got to complete several sets when it comes to North American installations, and got to finish my goal of visiting every Cedar Fair park in the world (I'm still two short on Six Flags, and since one's in Mexico it will probably be a while). I got interviewed by a news outlet. And I proved that I can organize an amazing theme park road trip on a budget that most interested in such a thing could afford. It wasn't flawless, of course, but overall this trip was a huge success.
Now, to wrap this up, a few lists of favorites from the tour.
1. Silver Dollar City
2. Six Flags Great America
3. Six Flags St. Louis
4. Worlds of Fun
7. Arnolds Park
8. Michigan's Adventure
9. Bay Beach Amusement Park
10. Nickelodeon Universe
11. Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park
12. Como Town
13. Little Amerricka
Top 20 Coasters:
1. Outlaw Run (Silver Dollar City)
2. Time Traveler (Silver Dollar City)
3. Monster (Adventureland)
4. Hades 360 (Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park)
5. Raging Bull (Six Flags Great America)
6. Goliath (Six Flags Great America)
7. Shivering Timbers (Michigan's Adventure)
8. Prowler (Worlds of Fun)
9. Patriot (Worlds of Fun)
10. Renegade (Valleyfair)
11. Mamba (Worlds of Fun)
12. Batman The Ride (Six Flags Great America)
13. Wild Thing (Valleyfair)
14. Viper (Six Flags Great America)
15. Powder Keg: A Blast in the Wilderness (Silver Dollar City)
16. Batman The Ride (Six Flags St. Louis)
17. Steel Venom (Valleyfair)
18. Mr. Freeze Reverse Blast (Six Flags St. Louis)
19. Wildfire (Silver Dollar City)
20. Superman-Ultimate Flight (Six Flags Great America)
Top 10 Non-Coaster Rides:
1. Justice League (Six Flags Great America)
2. Sidewinder (Adventureland)
3. Spinsanity (Six Flags St. Louis)
4. Splash Over (Adventureland)
5. Zulu (Worlds of Fun)
6. Falcon's Flight (Worlds of Fun)
7. Space Shot (Adventureland)
8. Northstar (Valleyfair)
9. Power Tower (Valleyfair)
10. Sky Ride (Adventureland)
Additional rankings can be found in the appendix post below.
Now, before I go, two last orders of business. First off, with the success of last year's Keystone, Timbers, and Vengeance Tour, as well as this year's Show Me the Coasters tour, I finally feel ready to open these up beyond friends. For 2020, I will be attempting to organize a massive east coast trip that will feature parks in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia. Stops will include Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Hersheypark, Kennywood, Kings Dominion, Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park, Six Flags Great Adventure, and more. I'll be posting the trip interest survey to this thread next week, but feel free to email me directly at email@example.com if you want more information.
Lastly, I must make a bit of a sad announcement. After much consideration, I have decided that this will be the last trip for which I'll be writing a long format trip report, at least for US trips. Over the past few years, I've managed to visit a majority of the noteworthy parks in the United States and have chronicled many of them here. Between that, the limited time I have to work on these reports, and the relatively small readership size, it just doesn't make sense to continue them any longer. Do not worry, I will still be sharing the interesting and quirky out of the way parks with everyone here, but they will be shorter one-off pieces rather than multi-part installments.
Thank you for reading if you've stuck with this all the way through! I hope this inspires some to look into a theme park road trip in 2020, and if not, at least it shows what is really out there beyond CaliFlorida.Tweet