30th Annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade – An Original American Spectacle

Take Disney’s Voyage of the Little Mermaid, whir it in a blender with New Orleans Mardi Gras, and you can begin to picture the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, New York.  Billed as the largest art parade in the country with 4,500 – 5,000 merfolk strutting down Surf Avenue and the Coney Island Boardwalk.  The Coney Island Mermaid Parade takes place once/year – the 1st Saturday of summer, and has kicked off the summer season for the past 30 years.  I was in town when it was held this year, and had to check it out.  Wondering if the Mermaid Parade is a good place to bring your family?  Keep reading to find out.

The Mermaid Parade is one of the busiest days of the year at Coney Island, and traffic can be terrible.  Therefore, I arrived very early, parked my car, and walked to the beach and boardwalk.  I passed iconic landmarks such as the 85 year old Cyclone Rollercoaster, Nathan’s Famous, and Deno’s Wonder Wheel.  As I walked further and further west towards 21st street, more and more sparkly bedazzled mermaids emerged from the sea (presumably).

As I reached 21st Street, a building loomed large, a building festooned with nautical decorations, and images of King Neptune.  Was this the hangout for young, hipster mermaids similar to the California amusement pier vampire hangout in “Lost Boys” or the theater of the macabre where the Vampire Lestat gathered with his followers?

I’m not sure, but it certainly was the gathering place for this year’s mermaid appearance.

Before the parade, there was such a positive energy in the streets, a true buzz, and the costumed participants were excited to be a part of the spectacle.  You could find a little bit of everything in the costumes.  Many played off the 2012 Mayan calendar end of the world theme, and there were many references to Mayans and “Mermageddon.”  Some costumes were glorious and spectacular…

Friends dressed up with friends, families dressed up together, Mothers dressed with daughters, and there was even a pair of mermaid twins.

Not all mermaids were women, and not all men were mermen.  Even pets got into the act – the importance of this day was true exhibitionism, see and be seen.

Similar to the mermaids in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, not all of these nymphs were friendly.  Hear the crack of the mermaid’s whip!

Anything goes in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, and there were many interpretations of the mermaid.  Some were confused at the definition of a mermaid and wore Captain America or Transformer costumes.  Others wore clothes evoking the spirit of the 1940’s or 50’s.

Still others wore very few clothes at all…

But I loved the self-confidence, creativity, and free-spirit on display, and admired their exuberance.

Helium balloons debuted this year for the 30th edition of the Mermaid Parade…

unleashing the inner Katy Perry in some.

A Steam Punk pirate band performed sea shanties.

While antique, classic, and funny cars rolled down the parade route.

Along with plenty of floats… do you think the kids in this family have ever seen “Gilligan’s Island?”

The end of the parade processed before Judges seated in the reviewing stand in front of the Cyclone.

Presumably those judges were more honest souls than the folks waiting for a bribe, handout, bottle, or beer.

In the end, is the Coney Island Mermaid Parade a family destination?  To each their own, but there were certainly plenty of families and children both in the parade as well as watching from the street.  As you can see from some of the photos, merfolk are not known for modest attire, and they also partake in a wee bit of the drink.  However, as a display of artistic expression, I’d be thrilled for my children to experience this event.  The parade featured music, cars, floats, mermaids, pirates, more mermaids, and lasted nearly 3 hours.  It easily makes for an entertaining and memorable family experience, and you know what would be even more memorable?  March in the parade with your family.  Anyone can register on-line in advance to be in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, and you can even walk up and register on site the day of the parade (although expect to wait in line for day of event registration).

If you just want to watch the parade, come early.  Arrive around noon, bring your folding chairs and a cooler, find a spot in the shade, and wait for the show to start.  It’s a unique expression of the celebration of life.  Believe me, it will be something your family will remember for a long time.  For more photos of the 30th Anniversary of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, click here or on any of the photos in the gallery below.

So what do you think?  Have you been to a Mermaid Parade at Coney Island?  Have you been in a Mermaid Parade?  Please share you thoughts below, I’d love to hear more about your experience.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.