Month: July 2015

Cruise through Raritan Bay with Cornucopia

The cruise experience — made up of gourmet meals, formalwear and coveted time with family and friends — is usually one that comes with a hefty price tag attached to its time overseas to faraway destinations.

However, you don’t necessarily have to pack an overnight bag to go on a cruise, nor do you need to take a flight to a cruise terminal. Instead, you can just drive to Perth Amboy.

Cornucopia Cruise Line operates four vessels that travel through Raritan Bay and down the Staten Island coastline toward the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, where its 35,000 annual guests have enjoyed a four-hour dinner cruise or 2 1/2-hour Sunday brunch cruise since 1998.

The Cornucopia Princess, the line’s starship, has three dining rooms, two dance floors with a live band or a DJ and a 15,000-square-foot observation deck for the 400 guests that can be accommodated onboard. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

The Cornucopia Princess, the line’s starship, has three dining rooms, two dance floors with a live band or a DJ and a 15,000-square-foot observation deck for the 400 guests that can be accommodated onboard.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

The Cornucopia Princess, the line’s starship, has three dining rooms, two dance floors with a live band or a DJ and a 15,000-square-foot observation deck for the 400 guests that can be accommodated onboard.

The line also owns the Cornucopia Destiny and Majesty, the latter of which is one of the largest dinner cruise ships in the New York Harbor area and can accommodate about 1,000 people.

Plus, they operate the Casino St. Charles, a dockside venue, and coming soon is the Star of America, a ship that sank during superstorm Sandy and is being refurbished. It should be open for business in about a year-and-a-half.

Cornucopia Cruise Line commonly hosts events such as weddings, corporate gatherings, bar or bat mitzvahs, retirements, showers, graduation parties and birthdays. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

Cornucopia Cruise Line commonly hosts events such as weddings, corporate gatherings, bar or bat mitzvahs, retirements, showers, graduation parties and birthdays. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

So what is it that makes people flock to ships that can hold hundreds for a few hours? Cornucopia Cruise Line commonly hosts events such as weddings, corporate gatherings, bar or bat mitzvahs, retirements, showers, graduation parties, birthdays or, as Mehmet Kilic, sales and operations manager, said, when people are just “looking for something different to do.”

However, the cruise line wasn’t always able to host so many. But today, after almost 20 years of growth, they employ over 100 people and constantly work to expand and renovate.

“We are currently focusing on improving our operations and we are always looking renovate the interiors of our vessels,” said Kilic.

About 35,000 annual guests have enjoyed a four-hour dinner cruise or 2 1/2-hour Sunday brunch cruise since 1998. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

About 35,000 annual guests have enjoyed a four-hour dinner cruise or 2 1/2-hour Sunday brunch cruise since 1998. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

Kilic said that because Cornucopia is a young company, they work hard to build long-term relationships with their guests so that they choose to come to them over and over again for various special events.

For very special events, cruises out of Hoboken are also offered for private charter, where guests can see the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn, Williamsburg and the Manhattan Bridge as they sail through New York Harbor.

The highlight of any cruise or special event is the food and alcohol selection. At the Sunday brunch buffet, which has a casual dress code, Cornucopia Cruise Line provides items such as omelets, pastries, fresh fish and a carving station, as well as a complimentary glass of champagne or a mimosa.

Anywhere from two to 10 people may be seated at a pre-assigned table, depending on the number of people on a ship during a given cruise. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

Anywhere from two to 10 people may be seated at a pre-assigned table, depending on the number of people on a ship during a given cruise. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

At the dinner cruise, which has a business casual dress code, dishes such as Atlantic salmon, Angus boneless short ribs or French-cut chicken are offered. A cash bar is also provided that is stocked with premium liquors, a wine list and domestic and imported beers.

Entrée orders are taken after guests board the ship and cruise line staff then cooks meals onboard. Anywhere from two to 10 people may be seated at a pre-assigned table, depending on the number of people on a ship during a given cruise.

Cornucopia Cruise Line sails year-round, rain or shine, but guests are recommended to make their reservations as early as possible or at least two weeks in advance.

Cornucopia Cruise Line operates four vessels that travel through Raritan Bay and down the Staten Island coastline. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

Cornucopia Cruise Line operates four vessels that travel through Raritan Bay and down the Staten Island coastline. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Cornucopia Cruise Line)

CORNUCOPIA CRUISE LINE

Where: 401 Riverview Drive, Perth Amboy

Travels through: Raritan Bay and down the Staten Island coastline toward the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

Cost: From $29.95 to $74.95

Children: Under age 2 are free and a 25 percent discount is offered for children under 10

Contact: 732-697-9500 or cornucopiacruise.com

Hike through history up N.J.’s lighthouses

From our cozy nests of chairs and towels on Jersey Shore beaches, we sometimes look past N.J.’s 11 historical lighthouses, which have watched over the coast for more than 100 years.

However, they’re much more than an outdated presence or a tourist attraction .

“They are one of the most visible elements of a very important heritage in New Jersey — its maritime history,” said Michael Zuckerman, director of Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities in Cape May (MAC), which manages the Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859.

Beginning as American lookouts for British troops, N.J.’s lighthouses have been protecting the 144 miles of the Jersey coastline for generations. They served the state’s fishing industry, were part of the defense line in World War II, and were an intergral part of New Jersey’s shipping and commerce sectors.

“The maritime history of the U.S. is so tied to its commerce and growth as an international power and none of that would have happened without lighthouses,” said Mark Stewart, secretary of the Executive Board of Twin Lights Lighthouse, built in 1828.

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Besides learning about American history, New Jerseyans also hike lighthouse steps to get a stellar view of the Jersey Shore.

Jean Muchanic, executive director of the Absecon Lighthouse, built in 1857, said that comments in the Absecon Lighthouse guestbook are often, “amazing,” “fantastic,” and “had no idea how beautiful this would be.”

From the top of the Absecon Lighthouse’s 228 steps, there is a 360-degree view of Atlantic City. It is also the state’s tallest lighthouse and the third-tallest in the country.

At the summit of the 199 steps of the Cape May Lighthouse, visitors can see the Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay, Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal and up to the Wildwoods. Plus, Stewart said that “there is different view from every angle, which tells the stories of beach erosion, World War II and Cape May Point.”

The Twin Lights Lighthouse is one of the highest points of the Eastern seaboard at 200-feet above sea level, granting it views of New York City, the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding beaches.

About 2 million artifacts will be brought into the Twin Lights Lighthouse museum tentatively by the end of the summer.  (Courtesy of Twin Lights Historical Society)

About 2 million artifacts will be brought into the Twin Lights Lighthouse museum tentatively by the end of the summer. (Courtesy of Twin Lights Historical Society)

An influx of visitors

The interest in visiting lighthouses is a hobby that continues to grow, especially through television shows such as “Boardwalk Empire” and the annual lighthouse challenge.

Stewart said that since Twin Lights Lighthouse is free, visitors have continued to climb its stairs, particularly for the great view. But he said the board sees these visits as opportunities to educate visitors and help them make modern connections. About 80,000 to 90,000 people visit the lighthouse every year.

“People go up and they look at the boats coming into New York, realizing it’s where the pledge was said for the first time and they find these connections that they didn’t know before,” he said.

Although Twin Lights Lighthouse is free to climb, there are donation boxes, which Stewart said are “filled every day.” He said, “That’s how overwhelming the amount of stuff we have is and the quality of the displays.”

Since casinos Revel and Showboat have closed, Absecon Lighthouse has faced some challenges since they are now four blocks, rather than two blocks, to the closest casino, lessening the pedestrian traffic. About 25,000 to 29,000 people have visited the lighthouse annually for the last three years.

But Muchanic isn’t worried. “It’s just something that fascinates people and they do find them to be beautiful and be beacons of hope,” she said. “What’s neat is that there are some kids who are 3-, 4- or 5-years-old and are telling their parents that they want to see a lighthouse.”

The Cape May Lighthouse is MAC’S most popular attraction and one of the most visited historic sites in the state with 87,000 climbers in 2014 and just as many visiting the site at Cape May Point State Park.

Zuckerman said, “Some people view the Cape May Lighthouse as a spiritual experience since there is this notion that this structure was there to save lives. This tall tower of this beaming light has helped thousands.”

Cape May Lighthouse had a $2 million 15-year restoration.  (Courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts in Cape May)

Cape May Lighthouse had a $2 million 15-year restoration. (Courtesy of Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts in Cape May)

Restoration and preservation

The preservation of lighthouses has been supported by substantial efforts of local boards and historical societies.

Cape May Lighthouse had a $2 million 15-year restoration to repaint the lighthouse, restore the windows and doors, the oil house, lantern roof and windows, interior walls and staircase, grounds and add safety improvements.

A 1999 multi-million dollar restoration of the Absecon Lighthouse included a replica of the Lightkeeper’s dwelling, an educational museum, Fresnel Lens exhibit in the original Oil House and expansive grounds.

About 2 million artifacts will be brought into the Twin Lights Lighthouse museum tentatively by the end of the summer, giving it the opportunity to constantly rotate exhibits. This way, visitors could be incentivized to return to the lighthouse just months later since new exhibits will constantly be on display.

With a complete enhancement of Twin Lights Lighthouse’s museum, Stewart said he hopes visitor numbers will be bumped up by about 30 percent.

“We see this as a way of helping the community,” Stewart said. “We are very tied in to the Highlands part of the Jersey Shore that got hit by Hurricane Sandy and the more people that spend in the local economy with us, the more we can give back.”

The Absecon Lighthouse is the state’s tallest lighthouse and the third-tallest in the country. (Photo: ~File photo)

The Absecon Lighthouse is the state’s tallest lighthouse and the third-tallest in the country.
(Photo: ~File photo)

N.J.’S LIGHTHOUSES

Absecon Lighthouse is at 31 S Rhode Island Ave. in Atlantic City and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays during July and August. Admission ranges from $3 to $7. Visitabseconlighthouse.org or call 609-449-1360 for more information.

Cape May Lighthouse is at 215 Lighthouse Ave. in Cape May Point and is open everyday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children 3-12. Visit capemaymac.org/attractions/capemaylighthouse.html or call 609-884-5404for more information.

Twin Lights Lighthouse is at Lighthouse Rd. in the Highlands and is closed Monday and Tuesday and open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Visit twinlightslighthouse.com or call 732-872-1814 for more information.

THE STATE’S OTHER LIGHTHOUSES

  • Barnegat Lighthouse
  • Sandy Hook Lighthouse
  • Sea Girt Lighthouse
  • Tucker’s Island Light
  • Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
  • East Point Lighthouse
  • Finn’s Point Rear Range Light
  • Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse

Hot air balloon over the hills of Central Jersey

With its rolling hills, sparkling streams and peaceful woodlands, Central Jersey is a hub of hot air ballooning, where travelers make the trip to the region to float along with the wind over Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

However, every year, during the last weekend in July, a lot more than a few travelers make their way to Central Jersey to celebrate over 100 hot air balloons from around the world — about 165,000 people.

The QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, which is the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America, will be held this year from July 24 to 26 at Solberg Airport in Readington.

Twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, the balloons will take to the sky with pilots from 21 states and four countries at the 33rd annual festival. However, a few balloons will stand out from the crowd — an 86-foot-tall Darth Vader, a 62-foot-tall Master Yoda, a 121-foot-tall seahorse and a five-story-tall PNC American flag, the world’s largest free-flying American flag that was built following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Although those who are afraid of heights may be hesitant to hot air balloon, Jon Radowski said that in his 17 years of flying balloons, he has never had a passenger panic, even those who said they were afraid of heights. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Hunterdon Ballooning)

Although those who are afraid of heights may be hesitant to hot air balloon, Jon Radowski said that in his 17 years of flying balloons, he has never had a passenger panic, even those who said they were afraid of heights.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Hunterdon Ballooning)

One-hundred and sixty-five thousand people in attendance is no shock to Russ Mensch, media director for the QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.

“There is just this magic of ballooning. One balloon up in the sky is beautiful, but 100 are spectacular,” he said. “They all start out in an empty field in duffel bags and when they’re up in the air, there is this ‘aweness’ and it even holds true for those of us that are working there. We are in the middle of everything and we just stop and look up at it — it’s that appealing.”

There’s a lot more to do at the festival than watch hot air balloons, however. Each day, headlining performers and rising stars will take to the main concert stage, and each night fireworks will light up the sky. Also, visitors can head to the JCP&L Family Fun Center, an air-conditioned QuickChek store and hospitality tent, or check out the crafters, food vendors, amusement rides and interactive exhibits.

“We have to think about what there is to do for the other seven-and-a-half hours for our guests, so it is pretty much a state fair with a balloon atmosphere and hundreds of crafters and vendors,” said Mensch. “People actually say that there is too much going on and they can’t see it all.”

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However, the last weekend in July isn’t the only time to spot a balloon, or even ride a balloon, in Central Jersey. In the region, the hot air ballooning season is generally May through October, which offers the most consistently ideal weather conditions for balloon flights.

Because of the updrafts and downdrafts of sunrise and sunset, these are the times when hot air balloons can take off. These times of day also lend themselves well to stellar views, which will include small cities, villages, agricultural and wooded areas, forests, lakes, streams, grain fields and wildlife.

“Our visitors will see rolling hills, the Delaware River and even the New York City and Philadelphia skylines, but it’s all rural countryside,” said Kevin Olsen, owner of Alexandria Balloon Flights in the Pittstown section of Alexandria. “People will literally be picking leaves from the tops of the trees.”

Generally, the entire hot air ballooning experience will span two to three hours from the initial meeting time, with flights ranging from 45 minutes to two hours in the air depending on wind and weather conditions, potential landing sites, remaining daylight and other factors.

In the region, the hot air ballooning season is generally May through October, which offers the most consistently ideal weather conditions for balloon flights. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Alexandria Balloon Flights)

In the region, the hot air ballooning season is generally May through October, which offers the most consistently ideal weather conditions for balloon flights. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Alexandria Balloon Flights)

Anywhere from two to 20 miles will be covered with altitudes ranging from right above the treetops to thousands of feet in the air.

Olsen said customers have told him that their hot air balloon ride was one of the highlights of their lives since they are seeing the world from an entirely new perspective, literally skimming the tops of trees and becoming one with nature.

Although those who are afraid of heights may be hesitant to hot air balloon, Jon Radowski, owner of Above and Beyond Ballooning in Readington, said that in his 17 years of flying balloons, he has never had a passenger panic, even those who said they were afraid of heights.

“All passengers who express some hesitation due to a perceived fear of heights come away very surprised at the lack of sensation of height,” Radowski said. “Everyone who thinks they are afraid of heights instead finds they are just afraid of falling from high places. There is no possibility of being able to fall out of the basket, so it is a very stable and secure feeling.”

Wind speed must be less than 8 to 10 mph, the ground cannot be wet and there must be no thunderstorm activity within 100 miles in order for hot air balloons to fly. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Alexandria Balloon Flights)

Wind speed must be less than 8 to 10 mph, the ground cannot be wet and there must be no thunderstorm activity within 100 miles in order for hot air balloons to fly. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Alexandria Balloon Flights)

The same misconception applies for motion sickness. Mike Zemlanchanko, owner of Hunterdon Ballooning, said that since there really is no motion because the balloon is floating along with the wind, there is no motion sickness.

“There is less motion than an elevator ride,” Zemlanchanko said. “You could light a candle in a hot air balloon and it wouldn’t go out. The wind is at a slow, steady pace.”

Zemlanchanko said that although many are apprehensive before their first ride and worried about jostling, they tend to be happily surprised that the ride is much calmer and smoother than they imagined because the conditions needed to fly are very stable.

However, because hot air ballooning is highly weather dependent, cancellations happen about 30 percent of the time, most occurring during afternoon flights when weather tends to be less cooperative.

Twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, the balloons will take to the sky with pilots from 21 states and four countries at the 33rd annual festival. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Rebecca Mensch/Mensch & Company Inc.)

Twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, the balloons will take to the sky with pilots from 21 states and four countries at the 33rd annual festival. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Rebecca Mensch/Mensch & Company Inc.)

Wind speed must be less than 8 to 10 mph, the ground cannot be wet and there must be no thunderstorm activity within 100 miles in order for hot air balloons to fly.

“It is unlike flying in any other type of aircraft, and it has been described as like being on top of the world,” said Radowski. “There are many ways to explain the experience, but none can accurately describe it. Every flight is a different adventure from the last, with the landing site being unknown until we get there. Being in the sky in a silent, floating bubble of air is a magical feeling.”

 

QUICKCHEK N.J. FESTIVAL OF BALLOONING

Where: Solberg Airport; 39 Thor-Solberg Road, Whitehouse Station

When: July 24 to 26

Contact: balloonfestival.com; 1-800-HOT-AIR-9

Tickets: Purchase here for $24 for adults and $15 for kids or purchase at QuickChek to avoid convenience fees

 

HOT AIR BALLOONING IN CENTRAL JERSEY

Above & Beyond Ballooning at Solberg Airport, 39 Thor-Solberg Road, Whitehouse Station; njhotair.com or 908-208-1869

Alexandria Balloon Flights at 48 Sky Manor Road, Pittstown; njballooning.com or 908-479-4878

Hunterdon Ballooning at 111 Locktown Flemington Road, Flemington;hunterdonballooning.com or 908-788-5415