Where we’re at: I’m recapping my summer of 2018, starting with June in New York City. In other news: sign ups are rolling in for the latest Wander Women Retreats. Join us in Florida, or come diving in Egypt!
An excuse to go to the beach? Check. Fuels my mermaid obsession? Check. Reminds me of everything I love about the weird and wonderful city of New York? Check again.
The annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade is one of my favorite events of the year because it just checks so many of my “things that make me smile ear to ear” boxes. I first discovered this parade in 2013, then brought a crew again in 2014, and in the summer of 2018 I was lucky enough to attend for the third time.
What is the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, you ask? Well! Founded in 1983, this beachside bacchanal is now the largest art parade in the country, with around 1,500 official participants — and many more on the sidelines. There is no ethnic, religious, or commercial basis to the Mermaid Parade — it’s just a beloved New York holiday created by artists; celebrating the sea.
To me it is a celebration of everything I love about New York — the passion, the creativity, the community, fun just for the sake of it. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s all done with an aquatic theme. Every year, I find myself in absolute awe of what New Yorkers create! Plus, I love kitschy and historic Coney Island.
If you’re heading to the Mermaid Parade, you need to brace yourself for the most extreme of crowds. I’m not sure if this is backed by numbers or if it was just my perception, but this year the parade seemed exponentially busier and more popular than the previous years I’ve attended. Getting from the subway station to the parade less than two blocks away took over half an hour, and then it took nearly an hour for my friend Amanda, who was meeting me for the day, to get across the street to meet me after arriving from a different subway stop.
While it was extremely crowded and people were notably pushy and (perhaps on-brand) salty for a group of people watching a mythical mermaid procession, I did enjoy my hour spent on the street watching the incredible dance performances, enormous motorized floats, and the fresh energy of the participants.
Once Amanda and I were united, we decided to head to the boardwalk to watch the rest of the parade. There are pros and cons to watching from each location, which is why I found it nice to split it up.
The Mermaid Parade begins at Surf Avenue and W 21st Street, traveling along Surf Avenue and turning east at West 20th Street before turning south to the Boardwalk before ending at Steeplechase Plaza. The boardwalk only features pedestrians and push-pull floats, while watching from Surf Avenue you can spot motorized floats and antique cars as well. I’m pretty sure the full dance performances that some of the groups perform don’t happen on the boardwalk either — I think once they hit that part, a lot of paraders kind of go into party mode and it gets a little less organized.
That said, it’s a much more lighthearted and relaxed experience — the crowds are insane on Surf Ave and like I said, this year in particular I found the other observers to be fairly aggressive and unpleasant. Lighten up y’all, Spongebob just bopped by! For the best chance at nabbing a great spot, arrive early, or if you really want to splash out, become Coney Island USA member for $200 and snag a spot in the covered Judge’s Stands.
Of course, you can also be IN the parade, which is what I did the first year, and is an incredible way to beat the crowds! If you do so, remember that anything goes — including bribing the judges (it might just be not-so-subtly encouraged.)
Once we hit the boardwalk, having pushed our way through the crush of humans and the police barricades, we too were ready for a drink! While many participants were grabbing on-theme mermaid pilsners from Coney Island Brewing, we opted for pina colada slushies from the boardwalk bar with the shortest line, and then watched the final moments of the parade roll through.
I love the chaos and party-like atmosphere of the post-parade boardwalk. Some mermaids strip right down and head back to the sea, some make a b-line for the bars, some linger on the boardwalk where spontaneous dance parties erupt. It’s the busiest day of the year in Coney Island, and everyone is there to enjoy it.
Things were getting a little steamy down on the street, so we sought a higher vantage point. We got in line to get on the roof at Tom’s, but one of the bouncers clearly had the foresight to see that we were a roaring good time and ushered us straight in. We bellied up to the bar and when the bartender saw us discussing the hot dog he was about to eat, he insisted we have it! The hospitality continued when we went to the roof and were immediately poured free shots.
It’s settled — Tom’s Coney Island has lifetime customers in both of us for being charming and fun even on their busiest day of the year.
Eventually, we made our way back down to sea level. Just look at those crowds! I know it sounds crazy, but in this case they actually made me so happy — I love seeing people outside, enjoying their community and a sunny day.
After a few final piña coladas on the boardwalk surrounded by lingering off duty mermaids, it was time for a Nathan’s hot dog and tipsy carnival rides — arguably the perfect summer day.
Last Mermaid Parade, I talked Amanda into a roller coaster, and this time I got her on the pirate ship. In a few years, we’ll hit the whole park!
Okay but really — cheers to Amanda for always being up for an adventure, and for actively encouraging me to crimp my hair for this event. Every girl needs at least one friend who’s willing to ride the subway all the way to Stillwell Ave once a year.
This was one of my favorite memories of summer! Not only is this a day at the beach and on the boardwalk, which is always a good time, it’s also a reminder that New Yorkers are weird and wonderful and there are hundreds — nay, thousands! — of them willing to spend time, money and effort creating masterpiece sea creature costumes, floats, and dance routines… just for the joy of it.
From the Ruth Bader Finsbergers to the Salmon Witch Trials, there was some incredible creativity on display and I loved every sweaty sandy second. I swear, I’m going to walk in the parade again someday… though I have to say it’s a blast even just being a spectator.
The next parade is June 22, 2019 — mark your calendars!
Do you know any events like the Mermaid Parade? Tell me so I can add them to my bucket list!