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Mermaid Parade 2018: What to know about the Coney Island ritual

Mer-people by the hundreds of thousands are expected to descend upon Surf Avenue.

Creative New Yorkers will descend upon Coney Island

Creative New Yorkers will descend upon Coney Island for this year's Mermaid Parade. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Yana Paskova

Hundreds of thousands of “mermaids,” including “Queen Mermaid” Amanda Palmer and “King Neptune” Neil Gaiman, are expected to stream into Brooklyn for the 36th annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which is set for June 16.

Founder Dick Zigun said the parade has “gone the rock and roll route” this year by choosing Palmer (singer for the Dresden Dolls) and renowned author Gaiman, who have supported the arts and Coney Island for the past several years.

Starting at West 21st Street and Surf Avenue, the parade will snake toward West 10th Street and the boardwalk and will disband at Steeplechase Plaza.

Zigun recommends bringing what you need for the entire day — sunblock, food, water — because lines are long. The parade’s record attendance is 800,000 people, though it’s hard to say how many will show up this year, he said. But when it’s sunny out, the parade is one of the largest outdoor events in New York City, according to Crain’s New York.

So prepare yourself for some “goofy fun” as New Yorkers turn up on floats dressed in glitter, wigs, fins and pasties, Zigun said.

Even if you don’t march, you “should get in the spirit and somehow dress up, even as a can of tuna fish,” he said.

Here’s all you need to know:

Where is the best place to watch?

While the boardwalk is a popular choice for many, it’s not where the bulk of the entertainment takes place. Surf Avenue is really where you want to be, but it gets crowded (think of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, according to Zigun). If you don’t want to stay for the whole thing, stand on the north side of Surf Avenue (not the beach side). If you want to be comfortable, you can buy a judgeship that’ll allow you to be “one of the unique elite” who get to sit down in the shade and get the best view, Zigun said.

Can I take pictures?

Yes, you can from the sidewalk, but if you want to have marchers pose, you’ll need to get a $40-$50 staging area pass. That’s where participants will gather from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., on West 21st Street and Surf Avenue. No one is allowed to be in the street taking photos except for the press.

How can I march in the parade?

Register online and check in at the parking lot on Surf Avenue, between 21st and 22nd streets before 1 p.m.

You don’t need to be in a group to march — you can sign up as an individual for $30-$35.

There’s also a family-friendly section for adults and children who want to be away from the louder and sometimes partially nude “artsy” participants.

Getting there early is a good call since traffic ramps up the closer it gets to 1 p.m.

And for the first time since its restoration, the Ford Amphitheater on West 21st Street will be open to marchers so they can have a place to get dressed, eat and use the restroom before the parade begins.

How do I win the costume contest?

You must blow the judges away (and maybe bribe them, too) — that means coming up with a creative mermaid or merman costume that transforms you into a mystical being and also throwing them some booze, food or trinket.

Bribing is a very real thing and those who have done it in the past have gone home with the top awards. In the past, judges have been offered booze, food, “weirdo kitschy” gifts, crafts and even sex and illegal drugs.

OK, so how can I be a judge then?

It’ll cost you. It’s $200 to be a judge, but you’ll get a ton of benefits: free admission to Sideshow performances and the Coney Island Museum all season long, a 20 percent discount on gift shop items, a judge T-shirt, a Coney Island tote bag, key chain or mug, and recognition on Coney Island USA’s website and materials.

Once the parade is over, then what?

Not only are you surrounded by fun (Luna Park, the Circus Sideshow, the boardwalk) but the ocean is right there, so make a day of it.

Gaiman and Palmer will join Zigun in a ceremony to officially open the ocean for the season (even though it opened on May 26) after the parade ends.

A West African ceremony for summer solstice takes place at the same time. The drummers leading the march carry baskets of fruit to be offered to the water gods, and when the parade ends, the king and queen cut four ribbons and Zigun holds up the “key to Coney Island” to open the ocean for the summer.

There’s also an after-party you can hit up called the Mermaid Parade Ball, which runs from 5 to 11 p.m. on Kitchen 21’s rooftop. For $25 and up, there will be unlimited drinks, a live burlesque show (featuring Miss Coney Island, Gigi Bonbon), live bands (The Gotham Rockets, Roy Wilson and the Buzzards, the Coffin Daggers) and DJ La La La Linda. Space is limited so don’t wait.

What’s the point of all this?

Glad you asked. The parade and all the hoopla is about the mythology of the sea, but it celebrates self-expression and Coney Island itself. It also serves to boost pride for the district, which has streets named “Mermaid” and “Neptune,” and give artistic New Yorkers a place to express themselves fully in public.


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