Fairly Odd Coaster
Please note, after this review was written, both the theme park and roller coaster were renamed. Camp Snoopy is now Nickelodeon Universe and Timberland Twister is now the Fairly Odd Coaster.
The Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota houses Camp Snoopy, which is widely regarded as one of the most unique theme parks in the country. The gigantic shopping structure is shaped like a square and in the middle of sits the family park. Seven fun acres are spread out under glass and the facility houses twenty-one kiddie and family amusement rides.
When Mall of America opened in 1992, it was the biggest in the country and today it bills itself as "the nation's largest retail and entertainment complex." While the mall has many shops and attractions the facility's keystone attraction is the theme park. This park ranks with the Magic Island/Adventure World complexes in Lotte World (South Korea) and Galaxyland in the West Edmonton Mall (Canada) as one of the world's largest indoor amusement complexes.
Type of Coaster:
Height: 54 feet
Descent angle: 50°
Top speed: 31 mph
Length: 1,345 feet
Spinning cars with passengers seated two abreast facing each other.
Number of Vehicles:
6 - 4 passenger
720 per hour
Camp Snoopy originally opened in 1992 under the planning and leadership of Knott's Berry Farm. The Minnesota park opened with a large ride package from Chance Rides, Zierer, O.D. Hopkins and Morgan Manufacturing. Five years later Cedar Fair of Sandusky, Ohio acquired both the California park and management rights for Camp Snoopy in the Mall of America. Cedar Fair later added several Zamperla kiddie pieces and one of three Zamperla Rotoshakes in North America. Since opening day Camp Snoopy's marquee attraction was the Zierer custom Tivoli Coaster called the Pepsi Ripsaw (aka Orange Streak), which traveled above the park.
General Manager Craig Freeman, who has been with Camp Snoopy since it opened, wanted a new roller coaster at the park for a few years. However, the amusement park's unique space and noise restrictions created some problems with finding the right ride. After talking with several companies Freeman and Cedar Fair officials met with Siegfried Gerstlauer and Franz Maier of Gerstlauer Elektro GmbH. Everyone involved discussed the various layouts that could be squeezed into the park and about the different ride vehicles Gerstlauer offered, which consisted of their standard Bobsled rolling stock or a concept that was on the drawing boards–the Spinning Coaster.
Coasters that feature an independently spinning body have been around since 1996. That year Reverchon debuted its Crazy Mouse coaster with Spanish Showman Signor Lopez, who named the ride Raton Vacilon. Zierer also debuted their spinning coaster, called the Drehgondelbahn (German for Spinning Gondola Coaster) at Freizeit-Land Geiselwind in Germany. While the Reverchon concept sold well Zierer's version never picked up in sales. In 1999 the Germany company Maurer-Sohne sold their first spinning coaster to showman Fraguas e Hijos of Spain. All three of these coaster vehicles looked different. Reverchon used rolling stock that looked like a Tilt-a-Whirl seat (without the high back) and seated four across, Zierer featured larger versions of their Tivoli coaster car connected in a train and seated two across and Maurer seated four riders back-to-back.
The watershed in the concept came with the development of Gerstlauer's innovative face-to-face seating. Siegfried Gerstlauer said, "We felt that the group seating let riders feed off each other's excitement and enjoy the ride together." He also noted that the cars are designed in such a way that they direct all forces through the seatback and that riders are never forced forward into the lap bar.
Building inside is easy- except when you have to do it at night. Franz Maier, the man that heads Gerstlauer's installation team, said, "The park was open everyday during our construction, so we had to erect the ride from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. Despite the fact that we had to bring cranes, concrete footers and huge sections of steel track indoors the Gerstlauer and Cedar Fair teams worked together to open the ride on time." In addition to erecting the structure overnight the ride was designed to fit in a one-of-a-kind footprint. Gerstlauer designed the Timberland Twister so that the unique tree support columns that held the "wild mouse turns" took up little surface room, the layout allowed for walkways under the structure and the area between brakes two and three accommodated the Zierer Wave Swinger (known at the park as the Kite Eating Tree).
As winter storms blew outside Camp Snoopy got ready to debut their largest investment since the park opened. Inside the mall signs advertising the Twister hung from the ceiling and upright ads were all over the floor. Across the Twin Cities both the park and the mall built a marketing campaign around the new coaster. According to the Star Tribune it featured "magazine advertisements, television ad spots, coupon books and tourism literature" targeted at "summer tourists" and families with children in the tween and teen age brackets. When the coaster was planned Freeman said he hoped would grow the park's overall attendance by six percent and later told one local newspaper "We needed something for the 11-, 12-, 13-, 14-year old who is part of a family outing…So we had to find something that was unique."
So what is a ride on the Timberland Twister like? After waiting in line watching the cars spin wildly overhead guests step into the unique rolling stock. The lap bars are lowered, checked, and a tire drive dispatches the car. It rounds a snappy u-turn and quickly heads up the surprisingly steep lift hill. As the car crests the lift a mechanism unlocks the vehicle, allowing it to spin. The first drop is quick and punchy, but riders get a chance to catch their breath as it pulls up far above the ground. Guests scream delightfully as the car careens through some simple switchbacks and pass through brake one. But that is the last reprieve they get.
The pace picks up as passengers tear down a drop into a first helix. The ceiling and floor blur as the car rolls over a transitional trick track that dumps them into a lower helix that turns in the opposite direction of the first. The car is spinning with regularity now and clicks through brake two. Gerstlauer noted that the next section of the track is the most deceiving. While the gentle undulations around the Kite Eating Tree look tame, by now most cars have picked up a good spin and the turn radii and height variations are designed to keep the car body spinning above the chassis. After flying parallel to the mall's second level passengers breeze through brake three and head toward the grand finale.
Screams are heard as a surprisingly deep drop dumps the cars off the third brake. Guests then get some of the ride's best airtime as the pink and yellow train pops over a bunny hop. Amazed onlookers can watch riders close-up as the car heads through the last element, a 270-degree turn around one of the roof's main support columns. Three sets of magnetic brakes slow the cars and ecstatic riders regain their composure as the vehicle slowly spins to a stop while held by drive tires.
One of the coaster's most innovative features comes at the end of the ride- the alignment system. It is surprisingly simple both in concept and execution. Drive tires roll the car into place next to a tire that sits on the same level as a drum on the car. The tire spins until the car body is parallel with the track, an aligning bar swings into place and the vehicle advances to the unload position.
During Timberland Twister's first weekend of operation a wide variety of happy guests got off the ride. It seemed that an amazing range of riders enjoyed the coaster. Groups of teenagers liked the shared experience of the Gerstlauer coach and children just over the 43-inch height limit were giggling with their parents as they stepped out of the car. Maier pointed out that, "When you have children with smiles on their faces as the car pulls into the brakes you know you have created something more than a coaster ride- you've created memories."
The Timberland Twister is sure to be a hit with guests of all ages at Camp Snoopy and we can't wait to see where else this exciting Gerstlauer coaster will go.
Chin, Richard. "Spin City." Pioneer Press
March 13, 2004.
Harlow, Tim. "Megamall rides into next phase." The Star Tribune March 13, 2004, 1, 14.
O'Brien, Tim. "Decade of Acquisitions Continues to Roll." Amusement Business May 4, 1998.
Photos copyright © 2004 Ultimate Rollercoaster.
Timberland Twister logo courtesy of Knott's Camp Snoopy. All rights reserved.