Sunday, July 08, 2001

Ride the Wild Cheerio

I have to admit that I'm not much of an amusement park fan. I get vertigo on a Ferris wheel. I get a headache from being whipped and rocked on a roller coaster. And I admit that I'm even prone to bouts of motion sickness sitting on a carousel... all that up and down, and round and round. So I let the kids run off and stand in line to get mixed-up, tilt-a-whirled and bumper car-ed, while I find the food stands and a nice bench in the sun.

That being said, I recognize that there are thousands, even millions of people who can think of no better way to spend a few idle hours than hurtling down a set of steel tracks, screaming their lungs out. In fact, last year some 317 million of you spent over 9.6 billion dollars at the nation's approximately 450 parks. And that doesn't include the scores of other establishments located outside these shores, from Legoland in Sweden to Port Adventura in Spain, from Het Land van Ooit in The Netherlands to Parque du Gugu in Brazil.

So all of those of you who enjoy being dropped, shocked and jolted should note with glee the opening of the latest park here in the states. No, it didn't feature the planet's longest, tallest and fastest full-circuit roller coaster, the Steel Dragon 2000 that premiered at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan. Nor did showcase the Monsunen, a 40 rider suspended leg-dangling contraption that revolves through a circular arc and soaks its riders' feet with jets of water, as happens at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. What it did feature was a "magically delicious" ride down a rainbow colored slide into a giant pot of marshmallow shapes. Now, if that sounds suspiciously like a cereal commercial, it is... in the form of "Cereal Adventure," a new attraction at Mall of America in Minnesota.

Underwritten by cereal giant General Mills, whose headquarters is close by in Minneapolis, Cereal Adventure is a 16,000 square foot attraction "where your favorite cereals come to life." Ever better, according to Ami Miesner, president of General Mills Entertainment, is that it is a "playful, interactive learning experience where kids can immerse themselves in the exciting world of cereal." Now, I have to confess that as I sit and stare into my bowl of Rice Krispies in the morning, the word "exciting" has never some to mind.

But perhaps you're of a different mind, and see it as a relative bargain to pony up $5.95 for adults or $3.95 for kids to check out the different areas of the place. There's the "Cheerios Play Park," which includes a timeline of Cheerios' 60-year history, as well as the chance to slide down a giant spoon into a Cheerios-filled cereal bowl. Or the aforementioned "Lucky Charms Magical Forest" with its slide, plus a maze of giant shamrocks on a special floor that makes visitors feel like they're walking on marshmallows. And the "Trix Fruity Carnival" offers a festive atmosphere under a carnival tent, with games including fun house mirrors, skeet ball, and a zoetrope, which is a moving flip book seen through a special viewfinder.

Inside "Cocoa Puffs Chocolate Canyon" kids can sit and play a video game featuring Sonny the Cuckoo Bird on three different chocolate adventures. The "Wheaties Hall of Champions" includes lockers packed with vintage Wheaties boxes, sports artifacts, and information on past Wheaties champions, as well as the opportunity to pose for your own souvenir Wheaties box for just $19.95. And for the ultimate in cereal fun, a visit to the "Make Your Own Cereal" center allows visitors to create a unique cereal brand, including its name, box design and contents, then take home a box of the stuff for $6.95.

Maybe all that fun and games gives you the munchies. Well, fear not, because the Cereal Adventure Café features breakfast all day, including such hard-to-find favorites as BooBerry and Kaboom. In addition, visitors can snack on special treats like Indoor S'mores (made with Golden Grahams), Trix on a Stick, and Wheaties Breakfast of Champions Bars. And you thought that Disney figured out the perfect system, didn't you?

It's a little too early to know if this thing will catch on, and families will start to plan annual pilgrimages there as they do to Epcot Center. But it's a trend to be watched. One can only imagine the brainstorming that's going on all over corporate America. In boardrooms and glass towers throughout the country, the best and the brightest in brand extension strategy are looking at new ways to build on their franchises. And while I have no corroboration on any of these rumors, it's not hard to imagine that the wheels are in motion.

First up is "Wound World," brought to you by Johnson and Johnson. In the "Band Aid Bario," kids will be able to cut themselves on a variety of objects, and choose their favorite adhesive bandage to cover the wound. Meantime, in "Minor Injury Theatre," the audience will be able to vote on whether the stuntman performer falls, gets run over or crushed... and which type of anti-bacterial gel to use on the resulting boo-boo.

In "Kitchen Country" from Cuisinart, thrill seekers enter the park by walking under what looks like a giant faucet. Then they can choose to be dried off on the "Salad Spinner," enter the "Whirling Knives" ride, where they dodge giant peelers and paring knives, or simply bask in the sun with their choice of tanning oil and vinegars.

And finally, at "Hardware Heaven" from Black and Decker, the target audience isn't kids, but dads. All the attractions at this park are falling apart... but right next to each are a full range of snappy new power tools plugged and ready to go, along with an attractive female assistant in bib overalls and a nail belt.

Far fetched? Perhaps. But I'm sure that the folks at General Mills didn't commit milions of dollars to this lightly. And if the coffers in Minnesota start to fill up, it's only a matter of time before Mickey Mouse ears get a run for their money from a similar set of appendages based on the Energizer Bunny.


Marc Wollin of Bedford prefers rides where they have waitress service. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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