Coney Island- Free* Admission Day
When Coney Island announced free admission on opening day a few thoughts ran through my head. At first I thought it was a scam. I mean technically the park is free admission every day; it's the cost of the wristband that will burn a hole in your pocket. The person in the PR department truly was an evil mastermind if that's what they meant. But upon closer inspection, I realized the park really was offering free wristbands*.
* Technically each wristband required a $5 donation to the Girl Scouts of America. But really are you going to object when they're normally $70, especially when all of the proceeds go to the Girl Scouts and charity?
The offer sounded amazing. Too amazing. I was honestly terrified just how crowded Coney Island would be. I've seen just what lengths people will go to for free pancakes at IHOP of National Pancake Day when they're only saving a few bucks. Here, the savings per person was equivalent to 65 items on McDonald's dollar menu.
But the real reason I wasn't planning on attending was that I had a schedule conflict. March 24 was Six Flags Great Adventure's opening day. Or I should say that it was supposed to. Unfortunately one of the rare snowstorms that actually missed Massachusetts this winter dumped 8-10 inches on New Jersey, delaying Great Adventure's opening until Easter weekend. We were already planning to visit a friend in New Jersey and I wasn't going to be cheated out of some coaster rides, so Coney Island it would be.
This would be my third visit to Coney Island, but my first time driving there. Every other time I've taken New York's amazingly efficient subway system. I fully expected to be bent over a barrel and shown the 50 states while paying for parking, but I honestly didn't mind in exchange for the dirt cheap wristbands. Yet miraculously I somehow found free parking. So almost free wristbands and free parking? This seemed too good to be true.
We started down by the Thunderbolt. We only had to wait about 5 minutes for our wristbands. The process was quick and painless...as long as you asked for a wristband. If you didn't ask for a wristband, they were more than willing to sell tickets for the normal rate. I saw plenty of people tricked into paying $10 per ride on the Thunderbolt or the Cyclone over the course of the afternoon.
Well since we were by the Thunderbolt, we decided to start there as the wait was only about 10-15 minutes. I know this coaster seems to be maligned by a majority of coaster enthusiasts. Yet in 2016 I rode it with two others on the US TPR trip and we all loved it. There were some bits with noticeable shuffling, but overall it was a fun and very intense coaster. Would lightning (err thunder) strike twice?
I'm not going to lie, I became nervous once the restraints were secured. I remembered them being tight, but this took stapling to a whole new level. My legs felt trapped between a panini press without the heat on this cold March day. The vertical lift was particularly sweet on this day. One, the sun wasn't shining directly in our eyes like it has a tendency to do on vertical lifts. Two, the adjacent Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team was in the midst of a game. I got so sucked into the one pitch I saw that I forgot about the leg-numbing restraints.
The train crested the drop and I was treated to a nice pop of air. I did feel a trim kick in that I don't recall being there on my ride in 2016 though. The rest of the ride did have a pretty consistent shuffle to it, but the lack of real OSTR's (those jokingly useless comfort collars are barely noticeable) ensured the coaster never became uncomfortable. That allowed me to enjoy the good hangtime on the inversions and nice airtime on the bunny hills.
Well thunder did strike twice as I again enjoyed Thunderbolt. Either the cold weather, the new trim, or maybe a combination of both didn't have the coaster running as fast as my 2016 ride, but Thunderbolt was still a nice steel coaster. For such a compact coaster, Thunderbolt really has a little of everything if you can look past the shuffling. 8 out of 10
We followed that up with our lone flat ride of the day, the classic B&B Carousell. 9 times out of 10, a classic carousel is superior to the modern ones. It's hard for me to go against history, provided it is well maintained. The pavilion looked fantastic and the horses were beautiful, but something was missing.
I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but as I heard the reving of the motor, I realized what it was. There was no music. Now I'm a sucker for band organs, but I understand not all parks have those beauties. Those that don't typically have a recording, which is a decent alternative. But here it was uncomfortably mute. I'm not sure if it's usually like this, but in a way it felt sort of ominous. 5 out of 10
We decided to make our way towards the Scream Zone area. The full queue of the go karts we passed served as a reminder that the (almost) free wristband was bringing people out in droves. As we reached the Scream Zone, we saw a queue spilling out onto the boardwalk. Was that for a ride? No that was the line to buy tickets. It looked like the 10-15 minute waits to start our day would be a thing of the past.
All the rides in the Scream Zone had full queues. It was definitely tempting to hit the Slingshot or Zenobio (Skyscraper) since they're rare inclusions with a wristband, but those lines easily looked to be 1-2 hours long because of their putrid capacities.
That narrowed our choice down to Soarin' Eagle or Steeplechase. Now I actually enjoy volares (I'm not kidding, I really do), but my girlfriend absolutely detested the one we rode at Canada's Wonderland so we went with the Steeplechase. This queue moved at a snail's pace due to the single 12 person train. We passed the 30-40 minute wait people watching, which is an easy thing to do at Coney Island. The highlight were the four teenage boys who went twelve rounds slap fighting ahead of us.
Soon enough we were fortunate enough to have been assigned the front row, which is always the money seat on a launch coaster, even the smaller ones like Steeplechase. But before we could enjoy the launch, we were treated to another case of extreme stapling as the operators gave 2-3 firm shoves per rider.
The cold took 1/3 of my breath away, the kidney punch from the restraint stapling took another 1/3 of my breath away, and the launch took the final 1/3 away. The launch had far more zip than any 40 mph launch has the right to be. The rest of the ride is pretty repetitive, but the descending figure 8 pattern is significantly more enjoyable because of the seating arrangement. 6 out of 10
With the crowds multiplying like clones at a Six Flags park, we made the legendary Cyclone our top priority. We were greeted by a full queue, but the line flew. It couldn't have taken more than 20-25 minutes. Dispatch times rivaled those of Knoebels. I'm not even exaggerating when I say this, but I really think they had something like 12-15 crew members on the platform loading and checking restraints. With that many people, dispatch times better be fast!
While they weren't assigning seats per say, they were forcing you to move to the end of the platform. For our first ride, we were seated in row 3. We sunk into the cushy trains, pulled down the single position lap bar, and were treated to a middle-of-the-pack wooden coaster. It was smooth, had some strong laterals on the turns, and even a few pops of air. It was a good warm-up for the airtime buffet that was about to occur.
Anyone familiar with the Cyclone knows just how critical it is to ride this coaster in the back. If you ride in the back, you will wonder just how something like this was designed in 1927. After another 20-25 minute wait, I'd say an angelic choir sang out but we were at Coney Island. We heard an ambulance and some dudes rapping in the street. Nonetheless we were at the back end of the platform and secured the money seat, the very back row.
As any good boyfriend would, I didn't tell my girlfriend what was about to happen. It made her reaction all the funnier. The scream of pure terror as we were completely ejected out of our seats on that first plunge was perfect. A similar scream was heard on the ride's other drops, and there were a lot of them. A majority of them provided, at least, a pop of air. The drop before the third turnaround and the tiny little hill before the fourth turnaround in particular give two of the ride's strongest airtime moments.
It's impossible not to come off the Cyclone laughing. At one point, the Cyclone was my number 1 coaster. It's still a fantastic coaster, but it now falls just outside my wooden top 10. Everything about the experience combines to make the Cyclone one of the most memorable coasters out there- the history, the couch-like trains, the roomy lap bars, the crew, the crushing laterals, and the terrifyingly steep drops. Just make sure you get the back. 9 out of 10
We decided to head over to the main Luna Park area and quickly realized we made a grave mistake. It was almost impossible to navigate. It honestly felt as difficult to traverse as Disneyland is during Fantasmic. While I wanted to ride a few of the flats like Air Race or the Brooklyn Flyer, we had absolutely no clue where the queues began. Even if we could find the starts of the queues, it was apparent the wait wouldn't be short. My girlfriend and I both agreed we would rather spend that time queuing for a coaster.
We were thirsty so we decided to make our way back to the car for a drink, but not before stopping at It'Sugar. Now I had absolutely no intentions of buying candy. But even I was impressed by some of this store's merchandise. Tell me another store where you can buy a plush bag of cheese puffs or "liquid filled" camel balls.
We also passed the El Dorado Bumper Cars on the way. If they were included on the wristband, I'd ride them in a heartbeat. Turning a standard set of bumper cars into a rave? Sign me up! But it would have felt weird to pay more for a single 5 minute ride on a set of bumper cars than all the coasters I could ride in 6 hours. Someday I will ride these bumper cars. Someday I will ram all those Yankee supporters out there.
We did make one last pit stop on the way to the car in Nathan's. Now I got my obligatory Nathan's hot dog in my first visit to Coney Island in 2012 and it was just ok. For a Nathan's, the place is incredible. All of the hot dogs I've had at their other mall locations are either soggy grease pits or shriveled up like a raisin. For that reason, I abstained. If I were to have ordered anything, it would have been the frog legs because where else would I get to order something like that? My girlfriend meanwhile got the obligatory hot dog and shared the same sentiments as me. It's decent, but not a must in a future visit.
After fueling and hydrating up, we made one last loop around the attractions. We considered a second ride on the Thunderbolt, but the line stretched to the edge of the boardwalk. We also considered a ride on the Wonder Wheel, but skipped for the same reason as the bumper cars.
Instead we finished with back to back rides on the Cyclone and we were lucky enough to have received the back car both times. Though it wasn't without a bit of good fortune on our last ride.
There was a group of six behind us that threw an absolute tantrum when someone cut them in line. One of the dudes, who was wearing a cheetah print shower cap (you couldn't make this up), climbed on top of the railing and started a verbal shouting match with "wannabe Martha Stewart." I'm against line cutting as much as the next person, but usually I'll start with the volume at level 10 instead of immediately starting at level 100.
The six behind us successfully thwarted the line jumper, but they then proceeded to push their way past us on the ramp entering the station. We didn't bother saying anything for two reasons. One, I really didn't want to start a brawl. Two, I realized it resulted in them being assigned the middle car and us receiving the back row. I guess I'll just chalk that up to karma and we were rewarded with another breathtaking ride. It's truly impressive how well this 90 year old coaster runs. It has the perfect balance of smooth and wild.
Despite much higher crowds than usual (anyone who passed kindergarten would realize the crowds "free" admission would bring), we both enjoyed our time at Luna Park. Honestly I enjoyed having the cheap all-inclusive wristband and waiting maybe 20-30 minutes per ride as opposed to forking over $10 per ride with a zero minute wait. The latter is the normal conditions on a summer day and the costs rack up quickly when you want to reride the Cyclone.
Visiting Coney Island is an experience. I think we rode just 7 rides in 6 hours, but that also included a good chunk of time walking the boardwalk and checking out shops. So I'd like to thank Great Adventure for closing on a sunny 45-50 degree day to make our wonderful visit to Coney Island possible.