Image: SpongeBob SquarePants
Dave Hogan  /  Getty Images file
From amusement parks and cruises to rental cars and resort hotels, Nickelodeon — and specifically, SpongeBob SquarePants — is is working hard “to be where kids are.”
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/11/2008 10:02:18 AM ET 2008-03-11T14:02:18

Ohhhhhhhhh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

If you answered SpongeBob SquarePants, congratulations on your knowledge of cartoon theme songs. If not, don’t worry; you’ll probably be hearing that refrain soon enough. That’s because the porous one is hitting the road — not to mention the mall, the high seas and hotels from coast to coast — as an absorbent ambassador of all things Nickelodeon.

Presumably, complete world domination would just be a bonus. Consider:

Slime marches on
On March 15, Nickelodeon will open Nickelodeon Universe, its first-ever standalone theme park. Set on seven acres in the middle of the Mall of America, the park will feature nearly 30 rides, along with live performances, visits from costumed characters and a retail store.

Among other Nick-inspired attractions, the park will unveil two new roller coasters — the Avatar Airbender and the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge — and a 60-foot spring tower called the Splat-O-Sphere. From dizzying spins to spring-loaded launches, eating too many Krabby Patties beforehand is not recommended. (And no double chili kelp fries, either!)

The March 15 festivities kick off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. SpongeBob will be there, of course, along with Diego, Dora the Explorer and other popular characters. There will be performances by Ashlee Simpson, meet-and-greet sessions with Miranda Cosgrove (star of “iCarly”) and Nat and Alex Wolff (“The Naked Brothers Band”) and a “virtual slime machine” that will recreate the network’s signature experience.

Once the opening festivities are over, Nickelodeon Universe will be open daily 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Unlimited-ride tickets will be $29.95, with SpongeBob and his pals expected to appear regularly during peak periods. Visit the Mall of America Web site for more information.

Sun, surf and slime
Not enough Nick? Not to worry. This summer, SpongeBob’s emissaries are teaming with Royal Caribbean to put on the inaugural Nickelodeon Family Cruise. Departing Miami on August 10, the 4,000-plus-passenger Freedom of the Seas will set sail for the Western Caribbean and seven days of “sun, surf and slime.”

The ship, one of Royal Caribbean’s largest and newest, is a veritable amusement park in its own right, complete with a climbing wall, ice-skating rink and 9-hole miniature golf course. It’s also a floating waterpark, with a FloRider surf simulator, interactive water-play zone and more pools and spa tubs than most land-based resorts.

But all that will just be sauce on the Krabby Patty come August 10 when the ship’s complement is expected to include SpongeBob, his slow-witted starfish pal, Patrick, and several other Nick stars. There will be Nickelodeon movies in the ship’s 1,800-seat theater, live game shows pitting kids against their parents and — did you even have to wonder? — plenty of slime.

The ship will call at four ports, including Cozumel, Mexico; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman, and Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private island in Haiti. Alas, there won’t be a port call at Bikini Bottom, although the word is that Labadee will be given an extreme makeover à la Nick. No doubt there will be plenty of bright-pink, slow-witted characters wandering around, although they’re more likely to answer to “Dad” than Patrick.

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The Nick Family Cruise runs August 10–17 with family packages starting at $2,699, plus taxes, fees and prepaid gratuities. For more information, call (866) 770-NICK or visit nickfamilycruise.com.

All Nick, all the time?
Amusement parks, Caribbean cruises — what’s next, resort hotels with waterparks? Funny you should ask. Currently in design and set to break ground later this year, the first Nickelodeon Resort by Marriott will open its doors in San Diego in 2010. It will offer 650 kid-friendly rooms and suites, along with a 100,000-square-foot waterpark, entertainment studio for live productions and a slew of Nick-branded stores and services.

And it’s only the first of 20 such resorts that Nickelodeon and Marriott hope to open by 2020. Other potential outposts include Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East, more U.S. cities and various resort areas in Mexico and the Caribbean. As his legions of fans know, SpongeBob has never been one to step away from a challenge.

Think about it: We’re talking about a growing presence in nearly every aspect of family travel. In fact, just last month, Hertz announced it was nearly doubling the size of its Nick on the Go program, which features portable media players pre-loaded with more than 40 hours of Nick programming. Available for $16.95 per day, the service is now available in 43 cities across the U.S. Can Airbender Airways and Blue’s Clues Zoos be far behind?

SpongeBob, for one, isn’t talking, although it appears that his surrogates at Nickelodeon headquarters have given the idea a lot of thought. From amusement parks and cruises to rental cars and resort hotels, it’s all part of the company’s mission “to be where kids are” and to meet families’ “growing entertainment, recreational and vacation needs.”

I’m sure world domination has nothing to do with it.

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