Well, as it turns out, there was a cool ocean breeze that knocked the 75-degree New Jersey temperature down to about 60 degrees but that was okay with me- the sun was still shining and it was still a gorgeous day. Linette had never been to Coney Island before and it had been a few years since my last visit. I know, I’m a bad enthusiast- I live about an hour from the place but don’t go on a regular basis. Last year, I realized that I had a true gem of a traditional park in Rye Playland not too far from where I live and just now am I realizing the value of the gem that is Coney Island. Besides, it’s not like there’s a plethora of amusement parks in northern Jersey. Where was I supposed to go? Bowcraft?
We didn’t have a lot of time so we knew that there would be things that we’d have to pass on. Traffic through Staten Island, over the Verrizano Narrows Bridge and on the Belt Parkway as well as the need to be back in New Jersey by 6:00 left us with just a couple of hours. It seems like a lot of people had the same idea we did- Coney Island was pretty packed. After driving around for a parking space for about 15 minutes, I pulled into the Keyspan Park parking lot- something I should have done from the very start. Yeah, it cost $8.00 but it was empty, clean and pretty secure-looking. I couldn’t see wasting any more time driving around when I could spend more money and be done with it.
The refurbished Parachute Jump structure looks good- almost brand new! Too bad it shows no signs of being brought back to life. But at least the structure was stabilized and will be around for many years in the event that someone eventually decides to do something with it. We ventured onto the boardwalk and passed by the weed-infested site that was once home to the Thunderbolt. It’s a shame to see that real estate go to waste- something should be done with it. Anyone have the money to have GCII rebuilt the Tornado?
The first order of the day was Nathan’s. There were lines inside the building and lines outside the building but they moved relatively quickly. Four dogs, a medium fries and two medium drinks cost $16, which is pretty much on par with the prices you’ll find at theme parks and anywhere along the Jersey Shore. The good thing was that the “medium” servings were huge, easily trumping the size of many parks’ so-called “large” servings. Linette couldn’t taste any difference in the quality of the food when compared to Nathan’s more humble mall-based counterparts (I could) but she did claim the lemonade was among the best she ever had. Pretty high marks, considering she is THE lemonade connoisseur.
We took a stroll through Deno’s, eventually ending up at the Wonder Wheel. Pretty sweet, considering that is where we wanted to be. Throughout all my past Coney Island excursions, I never took time to ride the Wonder Wheel or the Spook-O-Rama darkride (I know… bad enthusiast) so I purchased two tickets for each, which cost $18 ($5 for the Wonder Wheel, $4 for Spook-O-Rama). The Wonder Wheel had a short line for the swinging cars but I figured that was the only way to ride. The loading area of the Wonder Wheel has a neat hand-painted sign that explains a bit about the ride. That’s the kind of stuff I eat up. I wish that all parks would do stuff like that for their classic, historically-significant rides. It’s the type of small detail that makes all the difference.
The ride seems to be in fantastic condition. The wheel and support structure seem to have been painted in the past couple of years and the cars looked as though they were repainted over the winter- they looked to be right off the showroom floor! Each ride on the Wheel involves one rotation for loading and a second non-stop rotation at a very slow speed. The “swinging cars” concept is pretty unique at first, even a little unnerving, but by the second rotation, it becomes more of a gimmick. Considering how much more complex the swinging cars make a simple ferris wheel, I can see why another ride of this type wasn’t built until 2001 (DCA’s Sun Wheel). Still, it was a great experience, one that is not to be missed while at Coney Island.
Spook-O-Rama is… old. It reminds me a lot of Spook House at Keansburg- an old Pretzel that somehow managed to survive despite the odds stacked against it. And for that, I can respect rides like these. The ride certainly has it’s charm that is common to all Pretzels that I’ve ridden- heavy cars that sound as though they are straining, track layouts that twist and turn every which way, simple props inside black boxes- but there really isn’t much to this darkride other than the fact it is dark and a ride. Only a few of the scenes (out of a dozen or so) were working, even fewer were timed right (the organist at the very back of the ride happened to illuminate when we were about to emerge from the building. facing away from it). The first scene where something jumps out of something (I obviously forget what it was) was a startling surprise but the rest of the ride worked on the simple concept of shining lights on still objects. The ride is pretty short, too. Did I read somewhere that this ride used to be a lot longer in its heyday? All said, it’s a great relic- definitely worthy of riding once- but it could be a lot better if the owners traveled up to Sylvan Beach to see what a Pretzel could (and should) be.
Making our way to the front of Deno’s and to the entrance of Astroland, we passed by the site of the Jumbo Jet, still empty and very much available, or so the “For Lease” sign indicates. That site looks perfect for… a Jumbo Jet! Does anyone know what made the owner of the ride remove it? What ever happened to those plans to replace it with something new? Anyway, it’s a shame to see that site looking so lonely. A Crazy Mouse or one of those Maurer-Sohne spinning coasters would fit there perfectly. Heck, I’d even settle for a regular Mouse… anything to fill the coaster void.
There was a three-train wait for the Cyclone, which is still $5 for the first ride and $4 for rerides. Linette and I hopped into a seat in the middle of the middle car and I was instantly reminded of how tight those heavily padded seats are for someone 6’3”. While I was definitely riding in one of the smoother (non-wheel) seats, the ride seemed to be running a lot better than it had last time I was at Coney. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that the ride just received some off-season work- the true test will be riding it sometime late summer.
I’m not the biggest fan of the Cyclone. It’s a powerful ride- the first drop is one of the best around, no doubt about that- and some of the other drops are frighteningly steep as well. But other than that, I can’t think of too much that stands out in my mind. The first and second turns are very slow (the second of which is trimmed, by the way) and any airtime is killed by the luxurious padding in the tight seats (although smaller riders are most likely not as confined as I am and probably get more out of the ride’s suicide plunges). I appreciate the Cyclone for being an exciting, sometimes terrifying coaster experience that harkens back to the first Golden Age of coasters, but I think that a lot of rides built during the past decade blow it one away. That said, last time I was at Coney Island and marathoning in the very last seat, I couldn’t have been any happier. Perhaps if I were able to have done that yesterday, I would be singing the praises of Keenan’s masterpiece instead of pointing to its faults.
One thing about the Cyclone that I first noticed yesterday- the entire structure isn’t made of steel. In fact, a good amount of the structure seems to be made of wood. Without taking a leisurely walk around the entire thing, it appears that only the tallest bents are made of steel (lift hill & turnarounds) while the lower ones and the bracing (what small amount of bracing there is) are made of wood. Does anyone know why this is? Was the Cyclone built that way? Did some of the steel bents rust away over the years and it was deemed easier to replace them with wood instead of steel? Are the wood bents a result of the work that was done in 1937 that created the Cyclone we know today? Maybe there is no story behind all of this but I did find it odd that the Cyclone’s structure isn’t close to being “all-steel”. But anyway…
Linette found the ride to be very rough on her neck but admitted that it wasn’t nearly as bad as she had expected it to be. I explained to her that the Cyclone is like black coffee- it’s strong but something you eventually acquire a taste for. After a reride somewhere in the middle of the first car, we headed over to Astroland so I could check out a few flat rides before heading out. Two rides on the Cyclone certainly isn’t enough but we were running out of time and I knew that we’d be coming back soon enough so I didn’t let it bother me.
I’ve heard stories about the Astroland Break Dance so how could I pass it up? Linette isn’t a fan of spinning rides so I bought one $4 ticket and was seated within a few minutes. The ride ops, while not the most professional-looking bunch you’ll ever come across, seemed very enthusiastic about what they were doing, which was very refreshing. The “DJ” in the booth seemed to want to keep a good mix of music playing, going from dance and hip-hop to metal and classic rock (he thankfully passed on a Rick Springfield song that started playing). My ride featured Tool and The Doors- which should give you an idea of how this ride is run. Each ride is long- “two songs” long- and by the time you stumble out of your car and down the exit ramp, you will have seen pretty much everything Huss designed this ride to do. There were times when the cars were spinning slow and the table spinning fast and times when the cars were spinning fast and the table spinning slowly. I can’t remember the last time a flat ride made me feel downright dizzy and weak in the knees.
Which is probably why following it up with a spin on the Power Surge (another $4) wasn’t the best idea I ever had, but I’m a sucker for Power Surges. After riding the one at Knoebels last year, I’ve been hooked on those things, but nothing could prepare me for Astroland’s. Again, the ride was run all-out and full-tilt… this Power Surge did things that I didn’t think Power Surges could do. The ride lasted about five minutes but it felt more like fifteen. Not that it mattered though, since I was feeling the effects of the ride after the first minute or so. Would I go on again? Absolutely. But next time, I’ll space my Astroland flat rides a little better.
I wanted to ride the Saturn 6. And the B&B Carousel. And the Zipper. And the “Bump bump bump yer *ss off” bumper cars. But it was getting late and I didn’t know how long it would take to get back to Morristown (55 minutes without traffic, as it turns out). Besides, like I said… it wouldn’t be long before we’d be back, perhaps with our friends who have this mysterious aversion to cool ocean breezes.
Coney Island is one of the most unique amusement parks in the world (even though that’s not entirely accurate since many parks and individual vendors comprise “Coney Island”). There are high-rises and clogged highways on one side and the boardwalk and the beach on the other. There are wide-open lots with nothing but weeds right beside lots that have twice as many rides as you think could be squeezed together in such a small space. There is the exciting history and mystique that make Coney Island so legendary and the sobering realization that it will never be that way again.
Which is really pretty frustrating when you think about it. Here is Coney Island- a seaside paradise in the middle of one of the largest and most populous cities in the world, accessible not only by car but also by a comprehensive public transportation system- and as wonderful as it is, it could be so much more. The city of New York, and the entire NY/NJ/CT tristate area in general, could easily support a huge amusement center- something much larger than Coney Island currently is. Why some investor hasn’t gone in there and figured this out is beyond me.
So as I wait for the day when Coney Island surprises me with more coasters, or even a simple drop tower and Crazy Mouse to occupy one of those sad empty lots, I’ll gladly go back and enjoy what is already there. Because I can’t think of a better way to spend a warm, sunny spring afternoon than with a stomach full of Nathan’s, a spin on the Wonder Wheel and a few trips on the Cyclone. No, Coney Island isn’t as great as it once was, but it’s not nearly as bad as it once was either.
*** Edited 4/11/2005 4:05:28 PM UTC by Rob Ascough***
Glad you enjoyed Coney. I heard that the Cyclone was built with the wood/steel combo because Brooklyn (or NYC, not sure which) building codes of the time prescribed that wooden structures could only be X feet high, after that steel was required.
All of the Coney coasters were primarily steel frame, wood track (Thunderbolt, Tornado, Cyclone, Comet). I believe there is some truth to Adam's claim, but also I believe that the corrosive salt air would have made the upkeep on entirely wood frames cost-prohibitive. Also, with a steel frame - you can really use a lot less real estate for the supporting frame structure - as real estate is a prime commodity anywhere in NY. The one big difference between the older woodies with steel frames and the newer CCI batch is that all of the bottom of the drops use wood supports which I think really gives more give than a completely steel structure (just my 2 cents).
In regards to Spook-a-rama - here's a great article from laffinthedark:
The first building was long gone by the time I first rode it (late 70's), but the long outside portion of the ride was there until about 5 years ago when Deno's removed it. Also, the interior used to have many room dividers which have all been removed for insurance/fire reasons.
Hoping to get out there again next weekend.
Jim 'jimvid' McDonnell
I was always under the assumption that the coasters were built with steel frames because of the corrosive salt air but Adam's claim does make a lot of sense. I'm sure there were a number of factors that came into play at the time. Are you saying that the older steel-structured wood coasters use wood at the bottom of the drops or the newer CCIs?
Interest Spook-a-Rama article- I forgot that site had an article on the ride! Too bad about the removal of the dividers since I'm sure they would have made it a lot better. The article shows a lot of stuff that I didn't notice- is it possible that some off-season rehab work wasn't performed and the ride isn't doing what it should?
Spook-a-rama was never all that even back in the 70's and 80's, but it's definitely lacking a lot now. I always ride it once a season for sentimental and historic reasons, but it seems to be in a continual decline.
Jim 'jimvid' McDonnell
That's really too bad about Spook-a-Rama, especially because that Laff in the Dark article makes it sound as though the owners are pretty intent on preserving the classic experience. Like you, I will probably ride it once on a yearly basis but it's not at all like the nearby Rye Playland darkrides that are fun to experience over and over again.
Obviously, I've never been to NYC =)
Have you considerd stoping at Lake Compounce? It's right by the ESPN studios.
P.S. I saw Mitch less then a year ago here at the Cleveland Improv. Very sad that he passed. :( *** Edited 4/15/2005 5:13:58 PM UTC by Joe E.***
I have Sirius radio and they play Mitch a LOT on their comedy channels. The day he passed, they did a lot of tributes to him and stuff, it was really sad, one of the few times I've been truly bummed about someone I didn't actually know per-se passing. :(
No possible way to do that with any traffic in or around NYC. I personally would much rather drive in L.A. traffic than New York Traffic.
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