Coney Island - A Dream Come True

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 12:00 PM
I have been a coaster enthusiast, officially, for almost ten years now. I have had a love for coasters and theme parks a lot longer that; since fourteen to be exact.

I am also a history buff. I love American History and especially love history about how people lived in various periods of history.

So, it was no coincidence that I started learning about Coney Island. The history of this small strip of beach in New York City is so rich that I could not help but research the place to death. I have collected books, watched television programs, and done internet searches all regarding the history of the most famous amusement district in the world.(Although, Disney probably owns that title now :))

Anyways, I learned all about the tragedy that was Dreamland. I learned about the wonders of Luna Park. I read all I could about George Tilyou's Steeplechase Park. I've often wished I could go back in time to visit these long gone parks.

Parks still exist, however, at Coney Island. There is Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. There is also Astroland Park. For longer than I can remember I have wanted to visit Coney Island and visit these parks. I wanted to soak in the experience of Surf Avenue in the summer.

Going to New York has not been a priority in our vacationing plans. Even though riding the Cylcone has been on my list of "things to do before I die", it never became important enough to schedule a trip to New York over say, Disney. When Hilton offered to have us come out to New York to hear their spiel on timeshares we jumped at it.

Now, the trip was about more than my dream. My wife had a dream, too. She wanted to see a show on Broadway. We also wanted to see the city and both of us wanted to pay our respects at Ground Zero.

So, the first two days we were in New York we did tours. We did an evening tour the night we arrived and then a day tour the next day. I am happy to say that my wife's dream came true when we scored Phantom tickets at TKTS the day of the show. Even I like "Phantom of the Opera" so it was not a horrible experience for me. In fact, I loved the show and my wife was blown away. Her dream definitely came true.

The next day was our timeshare spiel. I am happy to inform you that I do not own property in Manhattan, nor will I ever at the prices they were asking. :)

After the spiel it was time to head out to Coney Island. Unfortunately, the sky was darkening as we made our way to the subway station on 57th and 7th Avenue. For those of you planning a trip and staying in Manhattan, it seems that the Q line is the fastest way to get to Coney. We were planning on taking the N line, but a local said that the Q was a faster way out there. It took is about 45 minutes to get to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue terminal.

The terminal was a lot bigger than I was expecting. It utilized a lot of glass and steel and had a Victorian feel to it. In a way it spoke a lot of the early history of Coney Island. I noticed on the outside of the terminal that it was once the BMT (Brooklyn Metro Transit?) so maybe the terminal is historical? I'll have to do some research on that.

Anyways, the first stop was Nathan's for a hot dog in the birthplace of the frankfurter. It was a normal hot dog, nothing special. It was more the nostalgia of being there. There was a sign for their hot dog eating contest, along with a countdown to the next contest on July 4th. Lets hope Joey Chestnut can repeat this year and bring glory to the US efforts!

When we were eating it started to rain out. And it rained hard. I was starting to worry if my day was going to be shot. Still, I was in Coney Island and that was most of my dream. I decided we should check out the Coney Island Museum. For a buck entry it at least got us out of the rain. There were some cool ride parts and old tickets and brochures and what have you, but not a lot. They are doing some remodeling, so it is possible that not all of their exhibits were out.

The next stop was the freak show. This was one of my must-do items. Unfortunately, because of the rain, they were not going to do another show because of the lack of people to show up. I was pretty disappointed. I talked with the person working the cash register there and told her I had come to New York just for Coney. She took pity on me and told me to slip in for the end of the show that was going on. I tried to pay her but she would not take my money. Who said New Yorker's weren't nice? :) We saw a juggling act, a woman who conducted electricity, a girl that ate fire, and a guy with only two fingers on each hand and a thumb, so it looked more like he had claws. All in all, way cool. I'm glad I got to experience it.

Next up we ran over to the Cyclone, where we were told there was a historical exhibit. There was a nice collection of pictures and posters of the old Coney Island there. Also, Charles Denson, author of "Coney Island - Lost and Found" was there. I bought his book and he signed it for me. We talked for about a half hour about the "lies the city is telling" and about his efforts to protect Coney Island. More on this later.

Then it decided to clear up, so I decided it was time to make the ride that I had come for and that I had dreamed about for so long. The Cyclone costs eight dollars to ride. If you want to reride, it costs you five bucks. You merely hand the ride operator a five dollar bill and you get to ride again without getting off, whether or not someone wants to ride in your seat.

The coaster was in a lot better shape than I had thought it would be. It was well painted and clean. The station was very clean as well. I love the padded seats in the train. The single shared lap restraint is a huge plus!

I came to ride the Cyclone. This was a dream coming true. There was only one place I was going to ride: front car, front seat. My heart pounded with excitement as the train left the station and made the turn around to the lift. The train quickly ascended the lift. I tried to take in everything at once. The ocean view. The rest of Astroland. I wanted to experience it all at once.

The first drop packed a lot of punch; a lot more than I expected. I imagine it would be pretty incredible from the back, but I was riding in front. I wanted the visuals. I wanted the experience. We rushed up to the first turn around and I was thrown to the side of the car. Yes, I was riding alone. My wife chickened out on this one. I was giggling like a little girl as we made the second drop. I was surprised at how much force that drop had.

The second turn around gave just as much force, throwing me into the side of the car again. The intermediate hills between the turnarounds were small pops of airtime, but had incredible forces on the way down.

When the ride was over I was winded but wanted more. I had a five dollar bill. I handed it to the ride op and I was on my way for the second ride. It was just as good, if not better than the first.

Overall, the ride would be considered bumpy by many. I think it was the true definition of what a wooden coaster should be. It was a bit rough and had some wonderful forces, both lateral forces and positive G-forces. The ride seemed completely out of control and I mean that in a good way. Normally, my judgment of a good wooden coaster is how much airtime it has. This coaster redefined my perceptions a bit. It's not my favorite wooden coaster, but it is definitely up there; probably top three.

I took some time to reflect on my ride as my wife and I headed for the boardwalk. I thought of all the pictures of World War Two soldiers riding the Cyclone before departing for Europe and how much they enjoyed it. I remember the comment that one rider made, saying that "Hitler and the Germans don't scare me nearly as much as the Cyclone did." This ride has a healthy reputation among New Yorkers as being extremely terrified, a perception that lasts even to this day. I think in a way that it does deserve that reputation.

We walked the boardwalk and grabbed a few things to eat. I kept wondering how many of those places would be shut down if a health inspector rolled by. We spent a little time looking at the ocean before getting on the Wonder Wheel.

I hate ferris wheels, but my wife loves them. A ferris wheel with moving gondolas scares the hell out of me worse than any coaster I have ever ridden. Still, I rode it with her. I was white knuckled the entire time. I dreaded each time we would crest the rise and the car would careen down the inner track and then rock back and forth violently. All in all, good fun. I don't know if I will ever do it again, but I love getting scared like that.

I watched some of the other fair rides and decided that none of them looked safe enough to ride. I hate carnival rides and most of the rides in Astroland are of the carnival variety. The only promising ride was the Top Spin, but it had a program that looked even too insane for me. I LOVE top spins, but that one looked like it would be barf-a-rama for me. My wife opted to just take some more pictures and then head out for the day.

It turned out to be a good decision as we got over to Radio City Music Hall (two blocks from our hotel) in time for the red carpet arrival of all the celebs for the Tony Awards. We saw several celebs including Patrick Stewart, Barry Bostwick, Lawrence Fishburne, Harry Connick Jr, Justin Timberlake, and John Lithgow.

My overall impression of Coney Island was mixed. It was definitely a dream come true. The dream, however, was a bit tarnished by the carnie atmosphere of Astroland and the people operating most of those rides. It seemed like a prison release program. There were some scary guys that looked like they were probably on the sex offender registry. Deno's Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone, the freak show, the boardwalk, and Nathan's were the highlights for me. I could do without the rest.

That brings me back to the proposed closure of Astroland. It is my understanding that Deno's Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone are protected landmarks and will not be removed or torn down. I would imagine that Nathans may be under the same protection.

I know this may be an unpopular opinion, but I think the removal of Astroland, minus the Cyclone might be a good thing. Turning the area into a shopping district might be a good thing, anchored by the two rides, and the ballpark which is already responsible for the revitalization of the area. If you could some how work the freak show in, that would be awesome. I think it's obvious that most visitors to Coney aren't even coming for the rides. Most of the rides there only had one or two riders for each cycle, yet the beach was packed with people. Retail ventures in this area would generate much more income, I think, and would do even more to revitalize the area, and maybe even bring back more riders for the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 12:28 PM
That was a great TR!!! I have only seen New York from the tarmac of La Guardia a couple times when I was flying Learjets, but my dad has been a Yankees fan since he was little and has never seen a game in Yankee stadium. So I bought tickets for us in Sept since they are tearing down the stadium at the end of this year! Part of my plan is to do exactly what you did! Coney Island, Nathan's, Ground Zero and maybe a broadway show if we have the time. That TR has gotten me so excited for the trip!!! Thanks
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 12:55 PM
I only live about two hours away from New York, and my best friend is from Staten Island originally, so someday soon I am going to go to Coney Island as well. This was a great trip report. Perhaps you should be a writer (or are you...?).

I thought Phantom was closed, that they weren't doing it anymore. Now I must go see it. That's been one of MY dreams, to go see Phantom of the Opera. I'm envious of you for this trip, KTS! So glad you got to go though. :)

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 2:08 PM
KtS - I recall you posted that your wife was concerned about safety at Coney and on the subway. Did everything turn out OK, as I and others predicted?
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 2:18 PM
S&SFan: Glad I could be an inspiration for your trip. I hope you have an awesome time. Let me know how it goes!

Bunky: Writing is a bit of a hobby for me. Maybe someday I will actually get the gumption to get published. I mostly write fiction.

As for Phantom, I was quite amazed that we could get tickets at TKTS at all. From most Broadway fans I have talked to, it is almost impossible to get Phantom tix from there and if you do you are almost always sitting apart from one another. But paying 125 for 2 tix was much better than paying the full price of 175 per ticket (with broker fee).

Moosh: The subway was 100% safe. My wife was put off by the dirtiness of the subway, though. I just thought it was cool.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 2:41 PM
Some of the older metro systems I've encountered (NYC, London, Paris) definitely seem a big...grimier...than their more modern counterparts (see BART, Los Angeles Metro). Maybe like trees at an amusement park we should just consider grime part of a subway's charm? lol

Glad it all worked out ok ;)

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008 3:19 PM
I made the trip to Coney Island last year when I heard the chance of it being closed and I also felt it was very carnival like but there in lied the charm of it.

I loved the Cyclone which I only rode 2 times both in the back seat. I will say it was probably the most violent ride I have ever had on a wooden coaster but it was violent in a good way not a painful way.

I did ride a few of the flats at Astroland and it wasn't the Top Spin that got me to near puke level. It was the Breakdance.

The Wonder Wheel was a blast even with my fear of heights kicking in since I didn't feel restrainted when the gondolas moved.

I really hope the situation gets resolved soon in a good way for amusement park lovers as that area just seems right as an amusement district.

Nathan's was also a must hit on my trip and I wasn't expecting anything but a decent hotdog and the location having seen it on ESPN during the Hot Dog eating contest.

As for Broadway living outside Philadelphia and being from a family that supports the arts I used to go to Broadway a few times a year until family matters slowed the trips. Phantom wasn't one of my must see shows after seeing it in Philadelphia, but Les Mis, Spamalot, Mamma Mia, The Lion King and The Producers (saw twice, once with Broderick and Lane) all were must sees and excellent. A few others were better than expected.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008 12:31 AM
KTS, check out Writerscafe.org if you're ever in the mood. I've been really slacking on the writing thing lately, but I'm on there...I'm just "Jaclyn". :) I lost my best stuff to a virus, so don't judge too harshly, but some day I'll repost it and you can read my accounts of various animals attacking me. It happens a lot. Hehehehehehe...

I CAN'T WAIT TO GO TO CONEY ISLAND!!!!

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