Image: SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge
Jim Mone  /  AP file
Visitors walk near the SpongeBob SquarePants Rock Bottom Plunge roller coaster at the Mall of America's Nickelodeon Universe.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/15/2008 9:59:57 AM ET 2008-04-15T13:59:57

Led Zeppelin has one; Batman and Bart Simpson are each getting a pair; and even Evel Knievel, that high-flying (and hard-crashing) daredevil of the ‘70s, is getting his due.

No, they’re not awards or other accolades. They’re new attractions at the nation’s theme parks and, it seems, the ideological descendants of a certain market-savvy mouse. After all, as Walt Disney (certainly could have) said, it’s a small, cross-promotional, brand-extending, multi-channel-merchandising-and-licensing world. Whether you’re into Jimmy Page or Jimmy Neutron, there’s now a theme park or thrill ride with you in mind.

Hard Rock Park
Opening today (April 15), Hard Rock Park, in Myrtle Beach, S.C., bills itself as the place “where rock comes to play.” At 55 acres big and $400 million expensive, it promises to be quite a show.

The headline act, so to speak, is Led Zeppelin-The Ride, a 155-foot-high roller coaster inspired by everybody’s favorite icons of ‘70s heavy metal. Guests enter through a big, silver airship — think Zep’s first album (without the flames) — and board a 3,738-foot-long coaster with six loops and a top speed of 65 mph. The entire ride is set to the thundering riffs of “Whole Lotta Love” — although some riders may walk away feeling “Dazed and Confused” is a better fit.

The rest of the park follows a similar motif, with more than 50 rides and attractions, several stages and a soundtrack that ranges from Chuck Berry to Kid Rock. A special Grand Opening Celebration, complete with concerts by the Eagles and The Moody Blues, is scheduled for June 2–3.

In the meantime, the park is in rehearsal mode, aka “Sound Check,” through May 7 with all areas open 4 p.m.–10 p.m. and tickets priced at $40 (weekends excluded). After May 8, the park will open at 10 a.m., with regular admission of $50.

Universal Studios Hollywood
The Happiest Place on Earth may be down in Anaheim, but if you’re looking for the Krustiest Place on Earth, head to Hollywood and The Simpsons Ride, which is set to open at Universal Studios on May 17. (The ride will also debut next month at Universal Orlando.)

The $40 million attraction is a theme-park-within-a-theme park known as Krustyland. Inside, posters tout purported rides like the Tooth Chipper Roller Coaster and live shows by the likes of Impervo the Painless (aka Groundskeeper Willie). There’s even an information booth where Moe the Bartender is available to answer questions. (Just don’t ask him if he can help you find Amanda Hugandkiss.)

The ride itself is a six-minute motion-simulator in which guests “ride” along with Homer and the gang as they careen through the low-budget park and around Springfield. Not surprisingly, and despite the pre-ride safety video — produced by Itchy & Scratchy, of course — things quickly spiral out of control.

General admission tickets for Universal Studios Hollywood are $64. Order online before April 30 and your ticket will also serve as an annual pass good until December 31. Woo-hoo!

Nickelodeon Universe
Compared to a $400 million theme park and a pair of $40 million rides, a seven-acre park in a shopping mall might seem like small change. But when the mall is the Mall of America and the theme park is Nickelodeon Universe, you’d be hard pressed to find a more potent promotional partnership.

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The park, which opened a month ago, features 24 Nick-themed rides, plus live performances and meet-and-greets with SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends. As noted in this space a month ago , it’s also part of Nickelodeon’s larger plans for world dominati ... I mean, brand extension.

Admission to the park is free with individual rides priced according to a point-based system. One-day unlimited-ride passes are $29.95.

Six Flags
“The Dark Knight,” the new Batman movie, doesn’t open until July 18, but you can get a scary sneak peak as early as mid-May. That’s when the Dark Knight Coaster is expected to open at Six Flags theme parks in New Jersey and Illinois.

The indoor coaster is a dark ride designed to transport guests to a Gotham City under siege by The Joker. Riding vandalized train cars, they’re taken on a chaotic journey, complete with hairpin turns, unseen plunges and hallucinatory images. Presumably, the Caped Crusader comes to everyone’s rescue before the ride ends.

The Dark Knight Coaster is scheduled to open May 15 at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., and tentatively scheduled to open May 17 at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill. Adult admission tickets are $60 at Great Adventure, $55 at Great America and $40 online.

Finally, for scariest commercial tie-in, consider the Evel Knievel coaster set to debut at Six Flags St. Louis on June 20. As if the 80-foot first drop, 16 hills and 50-mph speeds aren’t enough to give pause, there’s always the entry-area monitors that show the legendary daredevil’s biggest jumps and most dramatic crashes.

If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is.

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