The Jersey Shore Is Back, Sort Of

If you’ve written off the Jersey Shore as a summer getaway, please think again. Though Sandy did grievous harm to Jersey’s 127-mile coastline, most of the damage was done to the northern coast; the southern Shore was relatively unscathed.

To the north, the beaches are significantly narrower than they were before Sandy; one survey puts the number at 30 to 40 feet. But in spite of the fact an estimated 10 million cubic yards of sand were lost, most of the northern towns plan to open their beaches by May, even if repairs and reconstructions have not been completed.

Unfortunately, in good-as-new Atlantic City, where all 12 casinos reopened about a week after the storm, post-Sandy surveys showed that much of the public believed that the boardwalk had been destroyed (thank you, Al Roker). Competition from Pennsylvania’s casinos had already triggered a six-year decline in gambling revenues; consumer perception that A.C. was seriously damaged cost even more precious business.

To attract visitors, the city’s top properties are offering bargain basement prices. The drop-dead-gorgeous $2.4 billion Revel is showing rooms at $129 a night, with a $50 food and beverage credit (with restrictions); the Vegas-sleek Borgata is close behind at $119 (or less on daily deal sites), while other properties are offering nightly rates between $60 and $100. As before, the casinos are booking headliners like Beyonce, Rihanna, Jackson Browne and Sting.

Shops and restaurants are open, so is the iconic Steel Pier, with new attractions including The Mix, a thrill ride that spins like a propeller and swings riders out over the ocean.

The barrier island communities known as the Wildwoods, with their sprawling (free) beaches, 8,000 hotel rooms and 3,000 condos are open for business, along with the two-mile boardwalk and the roller coaster. A major campaign – “The Wildwoods – Think Summer & Join Us!” – targets the New York Metro area with billboards and television spots.

Sea Isle City is also advertising its beaches and other attractions on billboards in the New York area. While the undamaged towns of the southern Shore need to get their message out, they are doing it discreetly, so as not to seem crass or insensitive to their hard-hit neighbors to the north.

It will be summer-as-usual in Victorian Cape May, which was ready for visitors almost immediately after the storm. Unlike other Shore towns, which hibernate during the winter, Cape May has a year-round calendar of events, including a Dickens Christmas Extravaganza and a Valentine’s Weekend. So for that little town, the problem this year was not Sandy damage, but the cold winter weather.

In Ocean City, which did suffer significant damage, the boardwalk is intact and city officials say the beaches are ready for summer visitors.

Seaside Heights, which had been famous/notorious for the fist-pumping crowd from Jersey Shore, became the symbol of Sandy’s power when its JetStar roller coaster slid into the ocean. Removal of the coaster and work to rebuild the boardwalk are underway. Though only about half the borough’s rides will be open by Memorial Day, Snooki’s favorite Club Karma had a grand reopening on March 9, just in time for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

In Point Pleasant Beach, Jenkinson’s boardwalk, including the aquarium and some arcades, is open. Most of the kiddie rides, which had been stored when Sandy hit, will be back. However the popular train ride, one of the arcades and a miniature golf course were lost; work continues on those.

Belmar bravely held its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and party on March 3. Beaches will open by Memorial Day; officials expect boardwalk repairs to be completed by that date, though rebuilding of restrooms, pavilions and other structures will not. Neighboring Avon is making no predictions.

In affluent Spring Lake, aka The Irish Riviera, reconstruction of the two-mile boardwalk will be complete before Memorial Day weekend.

According to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Associate, the beach and some sections of the boardwalk will be ready by Memorial Day weekend. The fishing pier will not be rebuilt this year, but a temporary roof on the Great Auditorium means the annual summer concerts, featuring such acts as the Beach Boys and Tommy James and the Shondells, will go on.

In Asbury Park, the Shore town beloved by Bruce Springsteen, Mayor Ed Johnson has declared that, while full recovery has yet to happen, the beaches and boardwalk would be open this summer, with an elaborate ribbon cutting ceremony on May 18.

Long Branch’s beachfront will be open by Memorial Day; however, a one-mile section of lost boardwalk, from Melrose Terrance south to Brighton Avenue will not be repaired by this summer. All the restaurants and shops at Pier Village are open.

Little Sea Bright, which saw all its beachfront facilities and most private beach clubs destroyed, will open its beaches Memorial Day; since restrooms were also destroyed the borough will bring in temporary facilities.

Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook sustained severe damage to roads, concessions, utilities, the wastewater treatment plant and the potable water system. The goal – not written in stone – is to open the park for summer, with temporary restroom facilities.

The Keansburg Amusement Park, which the storm left under up to 6 feet of water, is open, though the Wildcat roller coaster is gone and not all rides are operational. A new looping steel roller coaster may be in place by Memorial Day weekend, and the damaged carousel should be ready to ride.

Tourism is a $38 billion industry in New Jersey, and the four coastal counties – Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May – account for half of the state’s annual tourism earnings, so a successful summer 2013 is critical, not only to the communities still struggling to rebuild, but to the entire state.

So if you have fond memories of walks on Jersey Shore beaches, boardwalk food and drunken evenings at oceanfront dive bars (just kidding), don’t assume you can’t enjoy the same unique-to-Jersey fun this year. As Governor Christie has said: “No one is conceding the summer of 2013 to Sandy. My commitment is to try to restore the Jersey Shore stronger than it was before but with the same character that it had before.”

United Passenger Flies A Million Miles In One Year

A United Airlines passenger who takes the term “frequent flyer” very seriously has racked up a million miles in the sky during 2012.

Tom Stuker, an automotive sales consultant who lives in both suburban Chicago and New Jersey, reached the record-breaking number earlier this month on a flight between London and Chicago, United announced in a press release.

This is just the latest milestone for Stuker, who is one of commercial aviation’s highest-mileage travelers. In July 2011, he became the first person to fly 10 million miles on United and United Express. He began clocking his miles after joining United’s loyalty program in 1983. Since then, he has logged most of his miles flying to Asia and Australia and has flown to all 50 U.S. states.

Stuker estimates he has been on board 6,000 United flights, including about 400 flights this calendar year alone.

“It has been a phenomenal year flying with United,” said Stuker in the statement. “Everyone at the airline, from the customer service agents to the flight attendants to the ramp workers, has made my travels feel effortless.”

For those of us unable to comprehend just how far Stuker traveled this year, United has offered some insight, pointing out that “a traveler would need to trek around the world about 40 times” and “[c]ruising at 570 miles per hour, a single nonstop flight of [one] million miles would land 73 days after takeoff.”

Our kudos to Stuker, who must have also spent a great deal of time going through airport security and sitting on the tarmac this year.

[Photo credit: United Airlines]

Airbnb Offers Free Housing For Victims Of Hurricane Sandy

Last week, thousands of residents along the East Coast had their homes destroyed or were left without electricity and heat by Hurricane Sandy. This week brought yet another injustice as a vicious Nor’easter storm bearing snow and frigid temperatures left victims scrambling for shelter. That’s why we were heartened to hear about a just-announced partnership between NYC.gov and apartment rental service Airbnb to coordinate free housing for New York area storm victims.

Since the storm hit New York and New Jersey last Monday, Airbnb has seen a surge in last-minute bookings in storm-affected areas like Atlantic City, New York City and the Hamptons. As a result of the surge, Airbnb announced it was partnering with NYC.gov to waive all fees for all Sandy victims looking for shelter on the service and put in a new call for generous New Yorkers with extra space to donate extra rooms and couches to those in need.

Airbnb is one of several services that let savvy apartment owners make money off their unused space, but what sets them apart is the site’s emphasis on community. Rather than just a place to rent apartments, the site’s users can now help displaced New York, New Jersey and Connecticut residents find help in a time of need. We hope more travel brands will look to this example and continue to encourage this kind of generosity and community among members.

[Photo credit: Randy Le'Moine Photography]

Greetings From The Jersey Shore

I’m one of the lucky ones. No power, no heat and no phone service – but I have a (damaged) roof over my head, a bed and blankets, sweaters and coats to keep me warm, food to eat and potable water to drink. Yesterday, spotty cell service returned, so I could phone loved ones and friends to assure them that I was safe. (I even got a phone call from Bill Clinton, urging me to vote for Obama.)

Thousands, I don’t know how many, are not so lucky. They are still in shelters, in motels, scattered refugees, their homes either swept away by a ferocious ocean and swollen rivers or damaged beyond repair by trees uprooted and turned into deadly missiles by Sandy’s savage winds.

Everywhere are the empty shells of homes, restaurants, beach cabanas, boats; miles of broken boardwalk; shattered pieces of amusement park rides – everything that was part of the “old normal” at the Jersey Shore that I’ve loved since I was a little kid.

As the storm approached, I was ordered out of my 70-year-old oceanfront apartment building. I had weathered Irene at home with very little damage. But this time, I believed the dire warnings and went to my daughter’s house, about a mile inland. As we hunkered down on Monday evening, Sandy began battering the towns and villages along Jersey’s 127-mile shoreline. All around us, power lines fell, sizzled and arced, looked like cartoon lightning against the blackness of the sky. Lights went out, furnaces died, power was gone.

When the winds subsided into an eerie stillness, we ventured out to see what was gone and what had been spared. My building was still standing, though a cascade of broken roof tiles scattered the street and destroyed a car in the parking lot. A giant tree yawed crazily toward my second floor apartment. On the oceanside of the building, the idyllic grassy knoll where my neighbors and I had picnicked was gone, swallowed by the ocean, and all that remained was rubble and the rusting skeleton of the destroyed bulkhead.

Driving around, trying to assess damage was difficult; fallen trees and downed wires blocked almost every thoroughfare; yellow police tape limited access to the worst areas. So much bad news: the Asbury Park boardwalk, the Ocean Grove fishing pier, Seaside Park boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach – on and on. Deaths from falling trees and other storm-related causes.

I found an old battery-powered radio, and listened for hours to 94.3 FM, “The Point,” heard Governor Christie and President Obama assure us that help was on the way, listened to the concert that Bruce and Bon Jovi and others gave in NYC to benefit the Red Cross and victims of Sandy. “That’s us,” the announcer declared. I didn’t feel like a victim. I was one of the lucky ones. The victims were the dead, the disabled, those who were suffering the kind of tragedies that I had been spared.

As always happens during and after disasters, Sandy brought out the best and worst in people. My son-in-law, a nurse who worked 12-hour shifts at a nearby hospital, came home and helped clear branches and tree limbs from the homes of older neighbors. He filled cans of gasoline and gave them to neighbors who had generators. Neighbors shared food and firewood.

Wegmans supermarket remained open after the storm, using generator power to prepare hot food, to bake bread and pastries and to welcome one and all to use their Wi-Fi, to charge phones and laptops – and to get warm.

The worst: fights in stores over limited supplies of batteries, fights at long gas lines – so many of our stations were closed, either because they had run out of gas or because they had no power for the pumps – looting in some areas, dangerous cowboy driving because traffic lights were out. Power has been coming back, slowly, but not here in Interlaken. This town of 400 homes is a low priority for JCP&L, which is necessarily focusing on bigger towns and commercial areas.

Traffic on the Turnpike and Parkway has been bad, even on the weekend, as New Jersey Transit train service to and from NYC is suspended, the tracks badly damaged, with no estimate of when service on the New Jersey Coast Line will be restored. The traffic problem is compounded by the long lines for gas along both major roadways.

Anyone planning to travel to the Shore, perhaps to check on relatives and friends should be prepared for a long and possibly difficult trip. Drivers should fill their tanks before they leave, as gas is rationed, with purchases allowed on odd or even days, determined by the odd or even final numbers on license plates. (Vanity plates are odd, so are plates that have no numbers.) Some roads are still closed or only partly open.

Traffic will be heavy as residents try to get back to work. There is no train service to the Shore. Academy busses are operating between NYC and some Shore towns, though some busses will be rerouted due to storm damage. Check www.academybus.com for schedules (such as they are) and routes. Be aware that a curfew is in effect in all the coastal Monmouth County towns, with non-essential travel banned between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Tonight, when temperatures drop to the 20s, we will pile mattresses on the living room floor and sleep in front of the fireplace, and hope that pipes will not freeze or burst. Thanks to a kind neighbor’s donation of firewood, we will keep a fire going through the night. On Tuesday we will vote, using paper ballots if necessary.

And then we will pray that the Nor’easter that’s headed our way will not flood any more homes, will not knock down any more trees or power lines, will not batter people and places that are already down for the count.

[Photo Credits: Lillian Africano]

Roadside America: Princeton, New Jersey, The Quintessential College Town

Breathe it in: the warm aroma of fall leaves and cable-knit sweaters, the musty scent of old buildings and library books, and the added jolt of freshly brewed coffee.

It’s the smell of a college town, but not just any college town: Princeton, New Jersey, home to the fourth oldest Ivy League university in America.

Princeton particularly shines in the fall, when the energy from the start of the school year is fresh and deciduous trees light up the collegiate Gothic campus in shades of red and orange. Driving into town on Washington Road, it’s clear why the Princeton Review consistently ranks Princeton University among the ten most beautiful college campuses in the country.

Located in the south-central part of New Jersey, Princeton is an hour-and-a-half drive from both New York and Philadelphia and an even easier train ride, making it the perfect city getaway. A day trip into town isn’t complete without the following stops.

%Gallery-168518%Nassau Street and Palmer Square

The epicenter of Princeton, Nassau Street is a charming road dotted with restaurants, boutiques, bookstores and a fantastic independent movie theatre. Much of the action is clustered around the historic Nassau Inn in Palmer Square, with artisanal chocolate and olive oil shoppes, along with preppy chains like J. Crew and Kate Spade.

Food-wise, you have an extensive menu to choose from. For a quick bite, grab a salad or sandwich at Olive’s, at 22 Witherspoon. A few doors down, Small World Coffee offers the perfect caffeine fix; try the Grumpy Monkey Blend. For a sit-down meal, Teresa Caffe is a popular date spot among students, with thin-crust pizzas, inventive pastas and delicious house bread, freshly baked down the street at the Terra Momo Bread Company.

And then there’s the ice cream. Three different shops cater to different tastes. Thomas Sweet, at 183 Nassau Street, offers an extensive menu of classic and wacky flavors, including their signature “blend-ins” with candies, nuts or fruits. Halo Pub, at 9 Hulfish Street, excels at richer, heavier flavors, like classic chocolate and vanilla. And my personal favorite, The Bent Spoon at 35 Palmer Square West, specializes in local and artisanal flavors, like New Jersey honey and heirloom tomato sorbet. Their cupcakes are ridiculously delicious too.

Princeton University

The best way to enter Princeton’s campus is through the FitzRandolph Gate on Nassau Street, which leads you directly to the front lawn of Nassau Hall. For several months after the American Revolution, this colonial landmark served as the capital of the United States, hosting the early American government and Congress of the Confederation. It is now home to the university’s administrative offices.

Just to the right of Nassau Hall is a pathway leading to “up-campus.” The imposing Alexander Hall sits on your right. According to Princeton lore, a student designed the building for his architectural thesis and received a failing grade. Later, when the student amassed his fortune, he donated a large sum of money to the university, on the condition that it be used to bring the building to fruition. It holds the Richardson Auditorium, which hosts campus events.

On the left is Blair Arch, one of the university’s prettiest and most photographed landmarks. The arch often plays host to university a cappella groups, who take advantage of its incredible acoustics to perform preppy favorites from days gone by. If you happen to be on campus late on a Thursday or Saturday night, you might be able to elbow your way through the crowd of tipsy coeds to catch a performance.

Left of Blair Arch is a small road leading to the Princeton University Art Museum, which is home to a tightly curated but impressive array of artwork. Current exhibitions include “Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom” and “The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art and Society.”

For a full tour of the Princeton University campus, book a free Orange Key Tour, intended for prospective students, at the Frist Campus Center.

Carnegie Lake

Canoeing through the foliage of the D&R Canal to the man-made Carnegie Lake is a quintessential fall experience. Princeton Canoe & Kayak Rental offers four-person aluminum canoes, three-person adventure canoes and kayaks for reasonable rates until November 4. Go in the afternoon, and you may catch the Princeton Crew teams at practice.

[Photo Credit: Flickr via Calgary Sandy]