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CYCLONE 101

Sunday, August 4, 2002

The stock market isn't the only thing having some momentous ups and downs this summer in New York. Coney Island's famous Cyclone roller coaster is celebrating its 75th birthday. Here's how to get in on the fun.

BACK STORY: The Cyclone debuted on June 26, 1927, instantly becoming a thrill-seeker's must-do and a New York icon. The fare: 25 cents. Still, it almost joined Manhattan's old Pennsylvania Station on the scrap heap; plans were to tear it down for the expansion of the New York Aquarium. In 1991, the coaster was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Today it's part of Astroland, the sole survivor among the neighborhood's amusement park triumvirate.

TICKETS: Astroland (718-265-2100, http://www.astroland.com/) is open every day through Labor Day. During September, the park is open on weekends only. Pay-one-price ride tickets are $14.99 and can be used for all major attractions -- except the Cyclone. That'll cost you $5 per ride -- if you can stomach a second (or third) go-round, it's $4.

RIDING TIPS: For the scariest ride, sit in the front car -- you see the big drop coming. The wildest ride is in the last car as it bounces around when hitting a curve. Children are allowed, but only with an adult (this ride ain't kid's stuff). Be prepared for long lines during the summer, though they move quickly. And whatever you do, ride the Cyclone first, then grab a dog at Nathan's. Trust me.

As for the other fear factor: Although Coney Island still has a somewhat negative reputation, many police officers patrol the area. As in any major city, it never hurts to be alert to your surroundings.

NEARBY ACTIVITIES: Shake off the Cyclone with a boardwalk stroll . . . Window-shop or dine in Brighton Beach, home to a large population of Russian immigrants . . . Go to a ballgame. Though the Brooklyn Cyclones -- who play in a new minor league stadium off the boardwalk -- are sold out for the season, fans can purchase tickets from season-ticket holders online (http://www.brooklyncyclones.com/, $8-$10) . . . Check out the New York Aquarium (718-265-FISH, http://www.nyaquarium.com/; $11).

GETTING THERE: If you're staying in Manhattan, taking the subway is the easiest way. Jump on the F train to the West Eighth Street station in Brooklyn; it's $1.50 one way. The ride from Herald Square takes about an hour, and much of it in Brooklyn is above ground.

Drive time from D.C. is about four hours. Take I-95 north to Exit 13 (Goethels Bridge) of the Jersey Turnpike. Follow the Staten Island Expressway (I-278) east across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, to Belt Parkway east to Exit 7S (Ocean Parkway south).

WHERE TO STAY: While the days when Coney Island had first-class hotels are long gone, you need not stay in Manhattan, unless you really want to. The New York Marriott-Brooklyn (333 Adams St., 888-436-3759, http://www.marriott.com/) is minutes from Manhattan and near the Jay Street-Boro Hall subway station. Rooms are $149 to $259, double.

If Midtown is your choice, the New Yorker (481 Eighth Ave., 800-764-4680, http://www.newyorkerhotel.com/), just steps from Penn Station, is offering a Cyclone discount. Rates are $109 to $139, and if you mention the coaster when you reserve, you get a $6 subway pass at check-in.

WHERE TO EAT: Old-timers will tell you that Nathan's, next to the Cyclone, "ain't what it was" -- and they're right, to a degree. Originally, there were separate lines for hot dogs, fries and drinks. Now, it's all one. But the hot dogs and fries are still worth the trip -- just don't eat 50, as the winner of a recent hot dog eating contest did.

For a more elegant meal, walk to Gargiulo's (2911 W. 15th St. and Mermaid and Surf avenues; $15-$35 a person). Fairly formal, it serves old-fashioned Italian food. You'll be looking for Tony Soprano and the gang. Also nearby is Totonno's (1524 Neptune Ave.), known for its classic thin-crust pizza and little in the way of creature comforts. About $15 will get you filled up.

INFORMATION: Go to http://www.coneyisland%20usa.com/ for a summary of what to do and when to do it. General info: 212-484-1222, http://www.nycvisit.com/.

-- Steve Viuker

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