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Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

The Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge drew 3,000 swimmers and 10,000 spectators, and raised nearly $90K for Camp Sunshine. January 1, 2016. Photo © Norman Blake

Coney Island drew an astounding total of more than 28,000 visitors to its new New Year’s Eve Celebration and long-established New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. The district’s City Councilman Mark Treyger tweeted the official tally that “Over 15,000 people turned out to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Coney Island!” Temps in the 40s and the promise of free rides, sideshow performances and fireworks helped triple attendance for the New Year’s Eve Party at the Parachute Jump, which was started by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and is in its second year. The free, family friendly celebration was sponsored by the Borough President along with Councilman Treyger and the Alliance for Coney Island.

On New Year’s Day, the Parks Department estimated there were 10,000 spectators at the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. “We had almost 3,000 swimmers participate in the plunge this year,” Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas tells ATZ. “I am sure it is a record. The past few years we have been averaging a little over 2,000 swimmers.” What’s more, the funds raised by the Polar Bears for Camp Sunshine have far exceeded their goal of last year’s total of $70K. Nearly $90K has been received so far, with donations still being accepted here. If the trend continues, next year the Bears could break $100K for the camp, which hosts children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

The novelty of major rides –the Wonder Wheel, B&B Carousell and Thunderbolt roller coaster– being open on New Year’s Eve and offering a free spin was a big draw. When we got here around 8:30pm, the atmosphere was festive but the crowd was still sparse, evoking memories of the first years of the Mermaid Parade, before it grew into the world’s largest art parade. Around 11:15, the vast majority of revelers began to arrive and gather around the dazzlingly lit Parachute Jump, Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, for Coney’s countdown to 2016.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel’s white cars rode approximately 2,000 people for free on New Year’s Eve, with the line snaking towards the boardwalk. On New Year’s Day, just over 500 tickets at $5 per ride were sold, with 50% of the proceeds — $1262.50 — donated to the Polar Bears’ charity Camp Sunshine. Over 400 cups of hot chocolate were handed out to guests. Will winter rides become an annual tradition? That depends: Coney’s outdoor rides operate “weather permitting,” and luckily this year’s weather permitted the first-ever New Year’s spin.

As for the Polar Bear Plunge, Thomas says the event has been growing every year. “Part of the increase in funds may be due to increasing number of plungers, but, again, all donations are voluntary and no one has to pay to participate, and some don’t,” he notes. “Participation by teams from Coney Island Brewery, Peggy O’Neill’s and Reyka Vodka helped with the fundraising. Generally, Coney Island is back on the map as a NYC destination like it hasn’t been in decades. People are not fearful about coming anymore, and the summers have been so popular, maybe some of that is rubbing off on the winter plunge there as well.”

Happy New Year to and from Coney Island! Stay tuned for a photo album of some of the best pix of this year’s plunge.

Thunderbolt Luna Park NYC

Crowds line up to ride Luna Park’s Thunderbolt for free on New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

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December 29, 2015: Coney Island to Ring in 2016 with Parties, Free Rides, Light Shows, Fireworks, Polar Bear Plunge

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Coney Islan New Year's Eve

Ringing in the New Year in Coney Island with the Parachute Jump’s dazzling display of 8000 LEDs and fireworks shot off from the beach. January 1, 2015. Photo © Jim McDonnell via Coney Island Fun

For the first time in decades, Coney Island will offer a glittering array of parties on New Year’s Eve and for the first time in the winter, weather permitting, a trio of major rides –The Wonder Wheel, B&B Carousell and Thunderbolt roller coaster–will be awhirl. These additions to Coney’s entertainment calendar coincide with the trailblazing New Year’s Eve celebration started last year by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and now in its second year.

On New Year’s Day, the annual Polar Bear Plunge into the not quite as icy as usual Atlantic-the water temp was only 51 on Christmas Day- is likely to draw more participants than ever, and will be accompanied by the traditional parties at Ruby’s Bar and Peggy O’Neill’s and the first spin of 2016 on Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the Eldorado Bumper Cars.

Deno's Wonder Wheel

Deno’s Wonder Wheel will be open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for the first time in the ride’s 95 year history. Photo © Jim McDonnell

The fun begins this New Year’s Eve at 9:00pm with music and giveaways at Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, the Parachute Jump, located on the boardwalk just west of 16th Street. After performances by Coney Island USA’s Circus Sideshow, you can ring in the New Year watching the Parachute Jump’s dazzling display of 8000 LEDs featuring a digital “ball drop” at midnight and fireworks shot off from the beach. The free, family friendly celebration is sponsored by the Borough President along with Coney Island’s City Councilman Mark Treyger and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Kicking off the countdown to its 100th anniversary in 2020, Deno’s Wonder Wheel will spin for the first-time in its 95-year history on New Year’s, including free rides on New Year’s Eve from 9:00-11:00pm. The antique B&B Carousell, which until about 15 years ago was open year round, and the new Thunderbolt roller coaster will spin on New Year’s Eve for free from 8:00-11:00pm. Abe Stark, an indoor skating rink on the Boardwalk, will offer free ice skating from 7:00-11:00pm. There will be free parking at MCU parking lot.

Thunderbolt Luna Park NYC

Luna Park’s Thunderbolt roller coaster and B&B Carousell will be open on New Year’s eve for free rides from 8-11pm. Photo via Luna Park NYC

Among the Coney Island venues holding ticketed events on New Year’s Eve are Eldorado Auto Skooters, Coney Island USA, Coney Island Brewery and Gargiulo’s.

Eldorado Auto Skooters (1216 Surf Avenue) will host Studio 54 DJ Nicky Siano’s Last New Year’s Eve Disco Extravaganza with singers Rochelle Fleming, Melba Moore and D.C. LaRue performing their hits from the disco era of the ’70s. “We will be dancing on the floor, not riding,” says the invite. The Eldorado is home to a one-of-a-kind sound system built by Paradise Garage and Studio 54’s Richard Long. “Our sound is extremely powerful yet very easy to listen to, it doesn’t hurt the ear,” as Eldorado’s Scott Fitlin told ATZ in an interview before he died in 2010. “Our bass is tremendous, and I play dance music, the sound that has energy and life, and POSITIVITY!” (10:00pm – 6:00am; $75 in advance, $150 at the door, includes drinks and food. The arcade’s Skeeballs, Basketballs, and a couple of video games and cranes will be available to play.)

Nicky Siano

Banner for DJ Nicky Siano’s Last New Year’s Eve Disco Extravaganza at Eldorado. Photo via Nicky Siano

Popular arts organization and Mermaid Parade producer Coney Island USA (1208 Surf Avenue) is having its first-ever “How Cool Is This New Year’s Party.” Entertainment includes “New Year’s Eve in Heaven,” a performance art collaboration featuring Dick Zigun as Father Time vs Eckszooberante as Baby New Year; a rock and roll themed laser show; a hike to the Parachute Jump to see the ball drop; and the first performance of 2016 by the Coney Island Circus Sideshow at 1:00am (Doors open at 8:00 with half-price beer and wine till midnight for all ticket holders, at the Freak Bar. $40 in advance, $50 at the door)

The Coney Island Brewery (1904 Surf Avenue) is throwing a Coney Brew Year’s Party at their new brewery, with unlimited craft beer from eight taps and food catered by Gargiulo’s. The outdoor beer garden will be heated so guests can step outside to see the Parachute Jump’s light show and the fireworks. (9:00pm – 12:00am, brewery open till 2:00am. Tickets are $77.87 via eventbrite.)

Coney Island USA Ray Valenz

Coney Island USA Fire Breather Ray Valenz performing at last year’s New Year’s Eve Celebration in Coney Island. Photo © Norman Blake

Having served classic Neapolitan cuisine since 1907, Gargiulo’s Restaurant (2911 West 15th Street) is a veteran when it comes to New Year’s Eve parties that are elegant and old school. “Champagne all Night” is at the top of the menu, followed by Cocktail Extravaganza, dining and dancing to live music, party hats and noisemakers, and “Gargiulo’s Special Venetian Hour.” (7:30pm – 2:00am, $200 per person, tax, gratuity and valet parking included.)

A number of local bars and eateries will be open for New Year’s Eve with their regular menus and offering extended hours. Tom’s Coney Island, the Boardwalk outpost of the Prospect Park eatery, which has a full bar, will be serving till at least 12:30am. The original Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue will be open till 1:00am, as will Wahlburger’s, the celebrity eatery across the street. Surf Avenue restaurants with bars keeping later hours–till at least 1:00am include Peggy O’Neill’s (1904 Surf Avenue), Footprints (1521 Surf Avenue) and Applebee’s (1217 Surf Avenue), which is offering a free champagne toast at midnight. Grimaldi’s Pizzeria (1215 Surf Avenue) is open for a prix fixe dinner of pizza, appetizer, drinks and a glass of champagne for $30 per person. All will be open again for New Year’s Day.

Coney Island Polar Bear New Year’s Day Plunge

Coney Island Polar Bear New Year’s Day Plunge, January 1, 2013. Photo © Bruce Handy via Coney Island Photo Diary

if you plan to join the annual January 1st Polar Bear Plunge, it is at 1:00pm sharp, with on-site registration from 10:00am, the same hour when Ruby’s Bar opens for libations on New Year’s Day. Did you know the Bears’ hugely popular swim is also a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can enjoy a summer vacation? You can save time with online registration and make a suggested $20 pledge for this year’s Plunge or help teams like The Ice Warriors, Never Too Cold for the Bold, and the Empire Strikes Coney meet their fundraising goals. Last year, the club raised over $70,000 for the camp and hopes to exceed that amount this year.

On January 1st, the New York Aquarium is offering free admission to all registered Polar Bear Plungers with a wristband (10:00am-4:30pm). It will cost $5 to ride the Wonder Wheel, which will be open from 11am to 2pm, and is donating 50% of the proceeds to the Polar Bear Club’s fundraiser for Camp Sunshine. The Coney Island History Project will have interviewers at the Wheel recording New Year’s messages for their Oral History Project.

On West 12th Street, “Miss Coney Island,” the legendary dancing doll whose twin mottoes are “25¢ to Fall in Love” and “Don’t Postpone Joy,” will be open on New Year’s Day, along with the animated amusement park “Coney Island Always” (25 cents). Also on New Year’s Day, the Eldorado Auto Skooter will be open for the first ride of 2016 ($7.00 per ride) and the Coney Island Circus Sideshow will be performing from 2:00pm-6:00pm ($10 for adults, $5 for kids).

A look at last year’s Parachute Jump light show and fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Coney Island via a video by dutchmazz…

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January 5, 2016: Coney Island New Year’s by the Numbers: 28K Visitors, Nearly $90K Raised for Charity

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Coney Island Parachute Jump French Tricolor

Coney Island Parachute Jump –Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower– Lit at Sunset in French Tricolor. November 15, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Sunday we happened to be on the Boardwalk in Coney Island at the very moment the lights on the Parachute Jump were switched on. Known as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, the Jump is being lit in France’s tricolor to show solidarity after the Paris attacks.

Although Coney’s rides are now closed for the season, the Parachute Jump’s 8000 LEDs are lit year round with lighting schemes varying by the day. occasion and season. One of our favorite shots of the Jump is through the loop of Luna Park’s Thunderbolt roller coaster, which is on West 15th Street off the Boardwalk.

Coney Island Parachute Jump and Thunderbolt at Sunset. November 15, 2015 .  Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island Parachute Jump and Thunderbolt at Sunset. November 15, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

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In this home movie shot in Coney Island in March 1973, a group of kids climb through a broken fence and cheerfully ride the heck out of an abandoned giant slide. The cameraman even manages a few POV shots and pans up at the abandoned Parachute Jump next door. The derelict attractions were their playground. The short film, which was posted by YouTube user huntersgodfather, brings to life scenes glimpsed in remarkable documentary photos from the same year by Charles Denson.

Retired arcade operator Stan Fox tells AtZ the Giant Slide was operated for only a few years by longtime Island concessionaires the Garto brothers, who also had rides at Wonderland, the predecessor to Astroland Park.

Arthur Tress Coney Island

1973 Photo by Arthur Tress for Environmental Protection Agency Project DOCUMERICA of abandoned slide in Coney Island


“It was an abandoned slide that went in after Steeplechase was demolished. Please don’t confuse with the original Steeplechase!,” says Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project, who grew up in the neighborhood and recalls the Slide and the Jump being wide open. His photo of kids climbing the stairs to the slide against the backdrop of the neglected and vulnerable Jump appears in his book Coney Island: Lost and Found.

“I first attempted to climb the Parachute Jump in 1973, when it was a rusting, abandoned ruin. It was too dangerous,” says Denson in an intro to his film Climbing the Parachute Jump.

Parachute Kids. Photo ©  Charles Denson

Parachute Kids. Photo © Charles Denson

“In 2002 I finally realized my childhood dream and got to climb to the top of the tower. The Jump was a nature preserve. The motor room base was filled with pigeon nests and covered with muddy footprints of the raccoons who fed on the eggs. A raptor circled us at the top as we disturbed its perch, and the feet of the many small birds it had caught and devoured were spread out across the catwalks.”

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Out of Disorder (Coney Island) 2012 by Takahiro Iwasaki.

Out of Disorder (ConeyIsland) 2012 by Takahiro Iwasaki. Asia Society Museum, thru April 26, 2015

The 150-foot tall steel Wonder Wheel inspired Takahiro Iwasaki’s ethereal ten-inch tall sculpture made of fibers pulled from the beach towels on which it is perched! The miniature landscape also includes neighboring Coney Island landmarks the Parachute Jump and Cyclone.

Created in 2012 during the Hiroshima-based artist’s International Studio and Curatorial Program residency in Brooklyn, “Out of Disorder (Coney Island) 2012” is among the works on view at Asia Society in the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the U.S. A newly commissioned piece created from kimono fibers takes its inspiration from a pair of 17th century Japanese folding screens from the Asia Society Museum Collection and will be shown alongside the six-panel screens.

Asia Society Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11am-6pm and on Friday from 11am– 9pm. General admission is $12, seniors $10, students $7, and admission is free for members and persons under 16. Free admission Friday evenings, 6pm – 9pm.

“Takahiro Iwasaki: In Focus,” January 27 thru April 26, 2015 at Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue New York, NY, 212-288-6400

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Snowy Cyclone

Snowy Cyclone. January 24, 2015. Photo © Bruce Handy

In this striking photo of Saturday morning’s snowfall by Coney Island resident Bruce Handy, the Cyclone is transformed into veritable “Russian Mountains,” as the world’s first roller coasters were called. The Beach and Boardwalk are a Winter Wonderland. It was a perfect day for Brooklyn’s Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, who brought their homemade sleds to Coney Island for the annual Klondike Derby. More snow is predicted for Monday and Tuesday.

Snowy Parachute Jump

Snowy Parachute Jump. January 24, 2015. Photo © Bruce Handy

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New Years Eve 2015 Coney Island

Preview of New Year’s Eve light show and ‘ball drop’ on Parachute Jump. Photo via Alliance for Coney Island

Already world-famous for its New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge, Coney Island is having its first-ever New Year’s Eve celebration on Wednesday and first fireworks show of 2015. The free event will feature a digital “ball drop” on the illuminated Parachute Jump, live entertainment by the Coney Island Circus Sideshow and a fireworks extravaganza. The idea originated with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who vowed to bring a New Year’s Eve celebration to Coney Island when he was elected last year.

“Now that we have our very own seaside ball drop, why be squished like a sardine in Times Square when you can rejoice like royalty in the County of Kings!” said Adams, who plans to make it an annual tradition. The 1939 Parachute Jump, which is known as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, is bedecked with 8,000 LEDs and lit year-round, but this is the landmark’s debut as the centerpiece of a celebration.

coney Island Fireworks Jim McDonnell

Fireworks on Coney Island Beach. Photo © Jim McDonnell

Adams teamed up with Coney’s City Councilman Mark Treyger and the Alliance for Coney Island to sponsor the festivities. The fun starts at 9:00pm with a DJ spinning at the Jump, which is located on the boardwalk just west of 16th Street. Revelers will be treated to giveaways as well as complimentary hot chocolate. Sideshow performances and live music begin around 11:00pm 10:30pm with the ball drop at midnight followed by fireworks shot off from the beach.

A number of local bars and eateries will be open for New Year’s Eve and offering extended hours. Tom’s Coney Island, the Boardwalk outpost of the Prospect Park eatery, which has a full bar, will be serving till 12:30am. The original Nathan’s Famous on Surf Avenue will be open till midnight. Surf Avenue restaurants with bars keeping later hours–till 1 or 2am– are Peggy O’Neill’s (1904 Surf Ave.), Footprints (1521 Surf Ave.) and Applebee’s (1217 Surf Ave.). Dunkin Donuts in Stillwell Terminal is open 24 hours. Eldorado Bumper Cars (1216 Surf Ave.) will be open till 1:00am. All will be open again for Thursday’s Polar Bear Dip.

On New Year’s Day, the fun starts up again at 10am, when Ruby’s Bar, Coney Island’s oldest, will open early to welcome participants of the Polar Bear Dip. Swim time is 1pm sharp and you can avoid long lines by registering in advance online and making a minimum $20 donation to the fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can enjoy a summer vacation.

Coney Island USA’s Sideshow and Freak Bar will be open from 2-6pm on New Year’s Day. Coney Island’s official parking lot next to MCU Park will be open and FREE for both New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dip.

Fire-eater at Coney Island USA Gala

Fire-eater at Coney Island USA. Photo © Norman Blake

Related posts on ATZ…

January 5, 2016: Coney Island New Year’s by the Numbers: 28K Visitors, Nearly $90K Raised for Charity

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December 10, 2014: ATZ’s 12 Days of Coney Island Christmas Gift Guide

November 28, 2013: Photo Album: Parachute Jump Lights Way to Year-Round Coney Island

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