I had originally scheduled a half-day on Friday and the whole day Monday off, flying to JFK on Friday afternoon and home Monday afternoon, hanging out with my friends Jim McDonnell (jimvid), Dave "Flare" Frasier, and company. Dave wasn't able to get away until Saturday afternoon, though, which necessitated a change of plans -- for one thing, we now needed to rent a car (easily remedied)
I was able to get the whole day off on Friday, though, and with JetBlue's easy change policy (a mere $25 change fee plus the difference in airfare, if any), I was able to change that to a Friday morning flight. Jim and I then settled on a plan where I got a car at JFK on Friday, dropping it off at a location conveniently located near his apartment on Sunday night. There was no extra fee for doing so, and this saved parking the car overnight to return it to JFK (or returning it to JFK on Sunday and having to take the AirTrain & LIRR back in).
Granted, if I'd known I was going to be driving all along I'd have skipped the flights altogether and driven my car (it's not THAT far to NY from Pittsburgh), but given JetBlue's fares and an insane promo they were running out of PIT, this actually worked out BETTER for me(1), plus I wasn't subjecting my own car to the miles and the abuse of New York traffic/parking :)
The flight out on Friday was uneventful (the plane was slightly delayed getting into PIT from JFK, but JetBlue turned it right around and got us back to NYC pretty much on time. Gotta love the in-flight DirectTV(2) and blue Terra potato chips for snack service. Did I mention I love JetBlue?) I picked up the car, easily found my way over to Jim's place to pick him up, and we were through and out of Manhattan before the insane Friday afternoon exodus was in full swing (traffic reports not 10 minutes after we were through to New Jersey were already saying the delay through the tunnels was over 30 minutes!)
We checked into our hotel, the Hyatt Recency in New Brunswick, and then headed down to Jenkinson's Boardwalk for a few hours before hitting Great Adventure.
Jenkinson's is one of the seaside parks in New Jersey that I had NOT been to. Like the others, it's small but cool. The Flitzer was fun enough, and the sweet potato fries I had for dinner were excellent -- just sliced sweet potatoes, deep-fried (I told them to hold the marshmallow fluff :) ). Jim had fried clams that he said were very good, but I had to pass (breading).
After Jenkinson's it was off to Great Adventure for the evening. $15 (ouch!) later, we were parked and heading into a surprisingly empty park. I don't have exact totals in front of me, but before the park had closed at 10 we had taken multiple laps on Nitro, El Toro, and Great American Scream Machine (yes, GASM), and also had ridden the Mine Train, Batman, and Medusa (all walk-on). The park was clean, the rides all had multiple trains even if they didn't have lines, the landscaping was in great shape, and all the employees were smiling and busting their asses. Several times we asked ourselves "Where are we again?" I'm really starting to think good things about the new management. El Toro was running even better than last time I was there, but I still prefer Voyage. Nitro and Batman kick ass as usual, Medusa is still fun (but seemed a tad rough in the back), and Mine Train and even GASM are good for fun.
I spent my entire Saturday morning ERT racking up laps on Nitro -- Batman was also included, but as much as I love that ride, I can get its clones/cousins in plenty of places, Nitro is unique. Nitro was really flying on Saturday -- Jim and I both actually had brief greyout moments in the helix. Sadly, Chiller is still down (the one negative to this visit, and one I can live with), which means that I was once AGAIN denied the full credit.(3) We did a cursory lap of the park, hitting Skull Mountain, Medusa, the Mine Train, El Toro, Rotting Lumber (sorry, I STILL hate that pile of crap), and some flats before lunch.
Lunch was burgers, grilled chicken, vegetarian baked beans, pasta salad, and ice cream. I ate the chicken, beans, and ice cream, passing on the burgers (red meat, but see below :) ) and pasta (wheat). The food was tolerable for the price, but typical event stuff -- can't these parks change it up a bit more? Still, when faced with a large group I guess this kind of food makes sense... We skipped out of the park quickly after eating to head over to Seaside Heights for the afternoon. We heard the park filled up quickly after we left with the old-school Great Adventure gang-style crowd, so we were glad to avoid that mess.
I'd been to both Funtown and Casino Piers before, but it was good to be back. The new Pirate's Hideaway coaster is...well...there. Star Jet is easily the best coaster there, and we took multiple laps on it. We also hit plenty of flats, the funhouse, and I had a great meal of shrimp cocktail and Manhattan-style clam chowder.(4) We loaded up on candy on the way out, and it was back to Great Adventure for some night rides and our evening ERT. More Nitro and GASM rides before park close, then some waiting around for the park to clear. We got a full hour of ERT, which I spent exclusively on El Toro, most of the time without getting out of my seat, and closing out the night with two consecutive back-row rides. Awesome, simply awesome.
After getting back to the hotel, a few of us hung out in Dave & Martha's room for a while chatting before heading off to blissful (if insufficient) sleep.
Sunday morning we made the trek over to Coney Island. I'd been there before, but it had been nearly 10 years since my last visit.
For Coney Island, we were given ride wristbands, good for unlimited rides on any Astroland ride except Cyclone (4 rides, enforced by putting a mark on the band with a black Sharpie) and the bumper cars (2 rides, blue Sharpie), outside of morning ERT.
ERT on the Cyclone was a bit of a disappointment, although I can't complain too much -- at least we were getting SOMETHING. An hour of ERT with one train. Beth (Bethtoons) and I squeezed in two laps, and were on the very last train out before they started marking wristbands.
Cyclone still kicks ass and takes names after all these years. I had forgotten how much I love that ride, and all fears of triggering negative memories were quickly lost on the very first drop. Later in the day I made sure I got all four rides allowed by my wristband (including once in the very last row, which beat the hell out of me but in a good way).
Immediately after ERT, we decided to grab our free lunch. We were given a coupon for a hot dog and fries. Normally I would pass on these (most hot dogs contain gluten filler, and have red meat (or at least red meat derived tidbits)), but it was the ONLY food option included with the event (at least that I knew of), AND it was my favorite hot dog in the known universe -- Sabrett's. Gluten-free and bringing back fond memories of childhood in New Jersey, I HAD to have one (sans bun, of course). Yum -- worth the cheat.
We spent the afternoon walking around a very crowded Coney Island, soaking in the atmosphere and riding the flats. Dante's Inferno was great, as expected, and the Breakdance was absolutely insane all four times I took a spin on it. Muy friend Ellen and I took our first ride together, took one look at each other, and ran right back around for another go. :)
The Top Spin was running flat-out killer. Someone watching the ride commented that they had never seen a Top Spin do things that one was doing. I also made sure to get both rides on Astroland's bumper cars (hey, they were included), which was great too.
We also took in the freak show, which was fun. The woman fire eater was hot ;)
We were supposed to be able to get cheap unlimited ride wristbands at Dino's with the event, but by the time we went over there they said it was over. Oh well, we still paid for and took a ride on the Wonder Wheel. I didn't get rides on the Saturn 6 or Zipper, so I may need to go back before the end of the season to pick up those :)
By about 5pm, Jim and I decided to call it a day. We were flat-out exhausted from all the riding we'd done, it was hot, and a baseball game was about to get going, so we headed back into the city and dropped off the car. We had an awesome dinner at Two Boots Pizza -- I had the jambalaya (after verifying it didn't have flour in it) and the chicken & portobello salad (giving Jim the included garlic knots). Great stuff.
Next morning I had a few hours to kill before my flight home. I spent my time walking around Chinatown, visiting some places I'd been to before, reliving some memories (possibly not wise, but nothing bad), buying some awesome tea at Ten Ren Tea,(5) and eventually working my way up towards the West Village for a delicious lunch of pizza and beer (!!!) at my new favorite restaurant in all of Manhattan, Risotteria.(6) I enjoyed my meal so much I even got a shirt. :)
After lunch I walked back down to Jim's place to pick up my bags, repack with my new purchases, and head off to JFK for my flight home. Unlike when I was visiting NYC regularly years back, JFK is the best option for out of towners headed into the city -- just $10 (off-peak) to get to/from the airport and Manhattan (via the AirTrain and LIRR)? Great deal!
I get to the airport quickly and easily, only to run into the aforementioned 2 1/2 hour delay. Sigh. Oh well, at least the flight home was quick once we were in the air, and I kept myself entertained watching a new episode of Good Eats (have I mentioned I love JetBlue? :) )
Great weekend with a few credits, some amazing rides, some new good memories of New York to replace older sadder memories (I REALLY needed that!), and lots of good times spent with great friends. Special thanks to Jim for being a great host/ride partner/navigator, and to everyone I was able to spend time riding and talking with.
And now I even have a free round-trip on JetBlue to use in the next year. Not sure what I'll do with that yet, but the options are plenty. Have I mentioned I love JetBlue? ;)
(1) To try to drum up business, JetBlue ran a "one year anniversary of service to Pittsburgh" deal where if you booked and flew any round trip out of PIT by the end of August, you earned 100 BluePoints, enough for a round trip reward ticket on their Frequent Flyer program. The points have already been credited to my account, expiring in August 2008. Did I mention I love JetBlue? :)
(2) For the really obsessive among you, I spent the hour-long flight engrossed in a documentary on the History Channel on the sinking of the Indianapolis (and subsequent travesty court-martial of her captain).
(3) I rode the Robin side years ago, pre-restraint-change; Chiller has never been operating when I'm at Great Adventure since.
(4) This was a bit of a gamble, to be honest. Generally speaking, "Manhattan-style" clam chowders (red broth, etc.) are safe for me, although New England ones (cream-based) aren't (thickened, usually with flour/roux), but there's always a chance that some flour could have been in this chowder. It also certainly contained bacon, breaking my red meat embargo, but I'm not so strict on that as to worry about a little bacon fat in soup. I cheated a lot worse on Sunday anway...
(5) I love tea, and have a nice selection of loose-leaf teas at home. There are some very good tea stores in Pittsburgh, but whenever I'm in New York I have to stop at Ten Ren, the variety there just isn't available back home. This time I picked up some nice pouchong (my favorite style of tea, and very hard to find in Pittsburgh), some oolong, and some nice Japanese green tea (both of those are available in Pittsburgh, but it's hard to not buy them at this place :) )
(6) Not that I've tried a bunch of places, of course, but it's been a LONG time since I've been able to just walk into a place off the street and order myself a pizza. I can make my own, of course, but I really miss the pleasure of getting home after work and just calling up and ordering myself a quick pizza for delivery. Risotteria still doesn't get me that, of course, but the simple pleasure of sitting down at a restaurant and nibbling on breadsticks and sipping a beer while waiting for a pizza is something you don't realize how much you love until it's gone. Good pizza, too. Next time (whenever that is) I'll try a panini and save room for dessert. :)
*** Edited 8/8/2007 4:27:18 AM UTC by GregLeg***
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