July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Summer Fun at the L.E.A.D. Fest Carnival

Summertime has finally arrived, and what better way to kick off the season than by visiting the nearby L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) Fest Carnival at the Garden State Plaza Mall? The L.E.A.D. Carnival features dozens of fun rides for little ones and more thrilling ones for adults. This vibrant carnival takes place at night, and once darkness falls, all the attractions come alive with beautiful lighting, creating a picturesque scenery. I have now been to the fair twice: once in 2019 with my good friends Jared and Gabby, and more recently on a Wednesday evening with my wife, Ahuva.

Ahuva and I opted to purchase the Mega Pass, granting us unlimited rides upon entry, as we were eager to experience as many rides as possible. Alternatively, there is an option to pay a $5 entry fee per person and then purchase individual tickets for the rides. Locating the actual carnival within the expansive mall proved slightly challenging. However, after driving around for a few minutes, we finally located it on the side of Garage A, situated between Columbus Way and Garden State Plaza Parkway. Upon entering the fair, we underwent a security check through metal detectors and presented our tickets. As Mega Pass holders, we were provided with special wristbands, which distinguished us and ensured that the ride attendants would allow us access to every attraction.

We arrived when it was still daylight out at 7pm. Immediately when we walked in, we saw the carnival’s circus show had just begun where a maestro with one of the largest handlebar mustaches was standing in front of a mini circus tent. With a commanding voice, he asked audience members to partake in the show by dressing up kids as animals, having adults hold up fake clowns supported on poles, and using rubber dumbbells for the strongmen act. Ahuva and I didn’t stick around for the entire show, but later I returned after the 9pm show to lift the dumbbell and pretend to have super strength.

The way the carnival is set up is that the left side was more kid-friendly with rides such as a merry-go-round, a kiddie coaster, and a train ride. After strolling through that section, we reached the more thrilling rides around the bend. For our first ride, we did a small coaster called Wacky Worm. It provided a decently fast-paced experience with a few gentle drops, completing the circuit in approximately 25 seconds. To our surprise, the ride didn’t come to an end as expected; instead, the ride attendant pressed the button to send us looping again. And again. And again. It wasn’t until the fourth repetition that the attendant finally allowed us to disembark. Ahuva and I couldn’t help but find the situation quite hilarious.

With Wacky Worm vanquished, I headed over to the neighboring ride “The Beast,” a pendulum claw ride that spun around and even hung me upside down a few times. I hung on for dear life on this vomit-inducing ride but had an awesome time (warning: this ride is not recommended for those with a weak stomach). In a nice change of pace, Ahuva and I rode the Dutch Wheel, a ginormous ferris wheel. As we ascended to the top, the sun was setting, treating us to breathtaking views of the New York City skyline. The Ferris wheel made approximately four or five rotations. Unfortunately, a bee attracted to the wooden floor arrived in our pod. Panic set in, and we attempted to seek assistance from the ride attendant, but he didn’t speak very good English and just smiled at us with a thumbs up. Ahuva looked up how to say bee in Spanish and on the next go around, we began shouting the translation, “abeja” at him, and then he understood why we were freaking out. Fortunately, the bee didn’t sting us and we rode the ferris wheel again later that night without any unwelcome visitors. I actually found it to be more fun and exciting with the bee and being terrified of the prospect of being stung with nowhere to escape.

After the ferris wheel, we continued our adventure with a variety of other attractions, including the swings and bumper cars. Then, we grabbed a sack and climbed up the metal stairs to ride the giant fun slide. Placing the sack on the slide, we sat on it and raced down, with Ahuva narrowly beating me to the finish line. The exhilaration continued as we hopped on the music express ride, which spun forwards and backward while playing popular hit songs. Next, I conquered Starship 3000, a ride that resembled a massive UFO. Stepping inside, I found myself in a pitch-black room, illuminated only by eerie flashing lights. As the ride’s doors sealed shut, the spinning madness began. The rotation was so intense that seat belts were unnecessary, as the centrifugal force kept us firmly pressed against the walls. I even stretched out and lay flat, experiencing a remarkable sensation akin to zero gravity which was extraordinary.

My favorite ride was the Wild Mouse coaster. It began with a relatively calm series of turns, lulling us into a false sense of security. Suddenly, there was a giant drop, and from then on the ride got chaotic with many rapid-fire sharp turns and even going backward at one point. This is the only ride that took your picture, so Ahuva and I made sure to buy it as a keepsake of our fun evening.

There was one ride that I wanted to do that I didn’t get to ride. If you are familiar with the book or movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” you might recall that there is a scary attraction that Greg and Rowley go on called the “Cranium Shaker,” a circular ride that continuously flips with cages that also flip while riders are seated inside. Well, L.E.A.D Fest had that exact same ride. I wanted to do it, but the attendant said I could not ride it alone and that I would need to ride with someone else, which Ahuva did not want to do (and I must admit, it’s hard to blame her since it did look pretty terrifying).

What I was disappointed about was the lack of quality shows. When I went with Jared and Gabby in 2019, there was an incredible motorcycle stunt show where they performed tricks around a giant wooden barrel stage. That was my favorite part of the fair, and I sorely missed it this year. Also, Pickle Licious had a stand set up then where we purchased delicious Kosher pickles, but this year they didn’t set up one. I hope next year that they bring those back. Still, I overall had more fun this time around because back then I did much fewer rides due to long lines, but this year the wait times were much shorter.

If you enjoy carnivals like I do, this is a must-do local event that finishes on June 11. The rides were quite thrilling, and walking through the carnival with the beautifully illuminated attractions created a serene ambiance. The festival closes on Sunday, so make sure to add this to your weekend to-do list if you are a carnie person too!

Dates: Through June 11, 2023

Admission: $5 Entry (Free admission all night on just Thursday, 6/8) and can pay for tickets (11 ride tickets for $15.00, 22 ride tickets for $25.00, or 55 ride tickets for $55.00)

Or upgrade to Mega Pass for $35 a person

Address: Between Columbus Way and Garden State Plaza Parkway


Zachary Greenberg is a consultant at Semler Brossy and the TABC track coach. Recently, Zack participated in the Cedar Lane pickle eating contest finishing 7.5 pickles in 3 and a half minutes. Additionally, Zack recently watched the film “The Flash” in theaters at an early screening. If you have any recommendations of fun places for Zack to cover, email him at [email protected]. For more content, follow Zack @FunZacktivities on Instagram.

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