I’ve been blogging for over twenty years now, and over those two decades, my website’s focus has definitely changed. Or, narrowed, at least. I used to write up long, fun articles about whatever I found inspiration in. Now, I mostly just list video games that I’ve played and occasionally fart out some ramblings about movies or donuts.
One of my favourite things I’ve ever written was the 6-part summary of the trip that my family took to Walt Disney World in the spring of 2004. It was an incredible adventure, and being able to read it over and over again brings me so much joy. Especially since it’s so long ago now that the memories are starting to fade. So it strikes me as odd that I haven’t written a single word about the trip that I took to New Jersey and New York last year. Super weird, right?
Welp, it’s time to correct that. Now, you will get the chance to read all the grimy details of the first real vacation I’ve taken since… Minneapolis 2012, I guess? Now I’m wondering if I wrote anything about that one.
Our adventure actually begins in December of 2021, when I was writing my 24 Days of Gluttony feature. One of the entries was about BAND-MAID, one of my all-time favourite bands, and how I felt as though I’d never get an opportunity to see them live. As luck would have it, only a couple of months later, they announced a US tour! That alone wasn’t especially helpful to me, being a Canadian citizen. But then I said to myself “Ryan, nobody is going to make your dreams come true but you!” and as soon as tickets went on sale, I secured a couple to the BAND-MAID show in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Now the trick was figuring out who would want to go with me. I have a handful of people that I know will tag along to local concerts, but asking someone to spend a long weekend and a cubic buttload of money to go see a band they’ve never heard of is a huge ask. It took a couple months before a flash of inspiration hit: I’d convince my brothers to all come along with me as a cool adventure that we could all go on together. To make a long story short: only two of three were able to come, which isn’t the worst turnout. It would still be a great little vacation!
Now, I’ve never planned a real trip before (only short road trips), so I had a lot of anxiety when it came time to booking flights and a hotel and creating an itinerary. It was a pretty daunting task, but apparently I did a pretty great job, because everything went exactly according to plan. Well, aside from the fact that I’d initially rented a car, but was quickly convinced to cancel it and just Uber everywhere. That turned out to be very sage advice, because I think that I likely would have had an emotional breakdown trying to drive on the New Jersey turnpike. I’m a perfectly competent driver, but only in small-scale traffic. The roads down there were like nothing I’d ever seen!
Actually, I made another mistake at the very outset of the trip that could have very well tanked the whole thing. Apparently, you need a very specific proof of COVID vaccination app to get on an airplane these days, and I had the wrong one. Also, I didn’t have the documents needed to register on said app on me at the time, so it was only through an extremely fortunate series of coincidences that I was able to get that all squared away in time to board the plane.
Other than that little snafu, though? It was all smooth like buttah. The screening line to get into the airport proper was insanely long and slow, but we had showed up plenty early so it wasn’t a problem. Getting on a plane for the first time in roughly 18 years was incredibly exciting, and I have to say that my appreciation for air travel is just as strong as it was all those many years ago. Flying was great fun, even though much of it came down to the distractions that I’d brought with me (several books and a Nintendo Switch). Takeoffs, landings, being above the clouds, looking down on the world below; I just can’t get enough of the romance of it all. Admittedly, I don’t think I’d enjoy a flight that lasts longer than a couple of hours quite as much, and since I fly so rarely the experience is that much more special, but still, it was great!
Our first layover in Montreal airport wasn’t terribly exciting. We had a ton of time to kill, but failed to realize that all the most interesting shops and restaurants were before we went through the customs line. So we had to settle for a comparatively small selection of food vendors for snacks. I did end up getting a really good (but insanely overpriced) sandwich, so it could have been worse.
The second flight was even more impressive than the first, as we flew over the Catskill Mountains, which was an incredible sight to behold. I quite honestly wanted to jump out the airplane, parachute down into the middle of all the golden trees, and start exploring. That’s not very realistic, of course, but that’s what putting like 300 hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will do to a person.
Many hours later, we landed in Newark Liberty International Airport. We were now squarely in good ‘ol ‘Murica, which meant that unfamiliar restaurants were everywhere in said airport, and good gravy did I ever want to start eating everything in sight. But we dutifully soldiered on to collect our bags and hailed a cab to take us to our hotel. Fun fact: this was the first time I’d ever taken a taxi anywhere. Many firsts for me on this trip!
While I said before that all my planning turned out very well, I did learn a lesson about booking hotels. Namely, make sure that your hotel is not situated in the middle of absolutely nowhere. In the name of efficiency, I opted to book a hotel very close to both the American Dream mall and MetLife Stadium, both places that we were going to visit over the course of the weekend. Unfortunately, I had failed to realize from the Google map that this hotel wasn’t within (reasonable) walking distance of anything, and even if we did want to hike anywhere, there were no sidewalks at all. Just roads and ditches. So a car would have actually been kinda nice to have. In the end, we spent less on Uber rides than the rental would have cost, so it did work itself out.
That nonsense aside, we arrived at the hotel and took a load off for a while. The Marriott where we stayed was… well, it was fine for the price we paid. The room was nice enough and was overall pretty clean. There were a few things that caused me to cock an eyebrow in suspicion; namely the bathroom that seemed to have been in desperate need of a renovation for many years. Also, the television knew my name, which caught me off guard. I didn’t know that kind of personalization was possible. I hadn’t been in a hotel for about a decade! We would also learn before long that whoever had been in our room previously had presumably used the mini-fridge to store open pepperoni; we put some water bottles in there and upon retrieving them, they were thoroughly coated with a strong scent of pepperoni. Not exactly what you want to be smelling when drinking water.
The evening was then spent checking out the Amercian Dream mall. We Ubered our way over there (my first Uber ride!) and discovered it to be surprisingly empty for a Friday night. It was also surprisingly empty as far as shops go. The place is massive, the second-largest shopping mall in the US, but probably half of the retail spaces were blocked off and empty. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a good selection of things to see! It’s just that the actual “shopping” part was a little underwhelming. Here are a number of other attractions you can find at American Dream:
- Nickelodeon Universe theme park
- DreamWorks water park
- An indoor skiing/snowboarding hill
- At least two mini-golf courses
- Escape rooms
- A giant Ferris wheel
- A three-story candy store (IT’S SUGAR)
- A skating rink
- A mirror maze
- LEGOLAND Discovery Centre
- An indoor wave pool for surfing
- Probably a bunch of other things that I missed!
We wandered around for some time, doing a little shopping, getting the lay of the land, and seeing the sights, but for the most part just looking at all the restaurants and trying to figure out how we were going to eat that much food over the course of two and a half days. The only things that I bought that evening were a huge bag of candy and a giant slab of a cookie pizza, but it was one of the most satisfying cookies I’ve ever eaten (half of it was saved for a post-breakfast snack the next morning). We ate dinner at the “legendary” Mr. Beast Burger, and it wasn’t bad. It was just… nothing really special. If I’m remembering correctly, I had a bacon burger with fries on it. Good, but like, there would be no hype around it if not for the major YouTuber branding.
Heading back to the hotel once we were all walked out for the day, we began tossing around ideas of how to go about the next day’s adventure, which was heading into Manhattan to do the tourist thing. With a vague sense of which landmarks we’d be visiting, we drifted to sleep to the humorous antics of The Office and American Dad, which would become a trend for the whole weekend.
The next morning… Well, that’ll have to wait for Part 2. I’m already about 1700 words deep here, and that’s probably more than everything else I’ve written to date this year. So, to milk this one for a little more “content” I’m going to cut it off here and make it a two-parter. Those are always more exciting anyway! So be sure to check back in like, I don’t know, four months?, when I finally get around to writing that up!