Rainforest Cafe at Menlo Park Mall – Edison, NJ

I’ll admit I have a soft spot for themed family restaurants.  That may be why I love almost every restaurant in Disney World.  I also luck out by having New York City and Philadelphia so close by that they also have quite a few of these, Gump & Co, and the Jekyll & Hyde Club are just a couple I can think of.  I’m no foodie but as long as the atmosphere is fun, service good and the food at least edible I’ll give the place a chance.  Once of my all time favorites is the Rainforest Cafe chain.

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I remember the first time visiting one of these as a teenager and just being blown away, and I think that initial experience stuck with me that I keep going back whenever I can.  We used to have quite a few of these nearby but over the years they have been slowly closing up.  There is one in Atlantic City that I visited earlier this year and posted about, but this time I visited the only other location in Jersey which is located at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison.

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The fun begins as soon as you walk up to the restaurant.  Even if you  There is front desk to check in and “Start you adventure”, and in the event you need to wait for your table, not to worry there is a nice big gift store filled with all sorts of things your kids will beg you for.

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Right next to the gift shop is a very nice bar with all sorts of Rainforest-y inspired drinks both alcoholic and non.  The animal themes even continue in here, I mean who wouldn’t want to sit on one of those chairs.  Not much lumbar support but you should be leaning forward enjoying your drink anyways so no biggie.

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We eventually made it to our table in the middle of the jungle and Hanna was immediately given a special Cha-Cha piece of headwear to put on.  Cha-Cha is one of the Rainforest Cafe mascots and I believe is some type of tree frog.

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As you wait for your food there is a lot of things to look at.  Luckily when we went it was early so there weren’t too many people there and we were able to wander around without intruding on anyone’s lunch.

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There are some animatronic Elephants, Butterflies, and even some Gorillas that come to life periodically and keep things interesting.  Every 30 minutes or so there is even a thunderstorm that really gets the animals riled up.

Lunch eventually showed up and everyone enjoyed their entrée.  When we were done Hanna asked for one last tour around to say goodbye to all the animals.  Then we headed back out to the gift shop area.  Just like every other Rainforest Cafe location I have ever visited they have a penny machine.  One really cool thing about their machines are that the designs always includes the location of the restaurant.  This makes a cool subset of coins that can be collected as you check out all their different locations across the country.  Plus they take up a lot less room than the souvenir glasses they always try to get you to buy.

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The machine worked really smoothly and pressed the designs nicely.  There were some children nearby that immediately ran over when I started using the machine.  They wanted to asked questions and I walked them through what the machine was doing and showed them the final products.  They seemed impressed and ran off no doubt to ask their parents for some extra change.

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The designs include: Bamba the Gorilla, NJ Turnpike, Cha-Cha the Frog, and Nile the Crocodile.  You can also get Rainforest Cafe penny booklets in the gift shop.

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This location only had the Second Edition available, but I have seen the First Edition available from time to time you just have to keep looking.

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Here’s a close up of the special penny available on the Second Edition booklet.  It has three of the Rainforest Cafe characters: Tuki the Elephant, Cha-Cha the Tree Frog, and Rio the Macaw.

Here’s a little secret.  I can’t guarantee this is even still available but a few years ago when I visited this location to use the penny machine I also bought the penny booklet.  While at the register paying for the booklet the cashier asked if I collected pressed pennies.  I told her I did and she pulled out a bag from under the counter and offered me a special gift.

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The Rainforest Cafe used to have a Safari Club that you could join and accumulate points with each meal that would be used to pay for future appetizers and other things.  This was a special pressed penny they would give to anyone that signed up for the Safari Club.  The cashier didn’t make me sign up for the club (although I probably would have if needed to get the coin), I was truly grateful to her for offering this to me.

I have talked with other collects and not many people seemed to know about this coin.  I still don’t know if all their locations offered this at some point, or if you can even still get it.  I have asked from time to time hoping to try and get another one, but I always get a confused look from the employee so I think this may not be available anymore.  But it doesn’t hurt to ask, and don’t be afraid to tell people you collect pressed coins, you never know who may have a special one to give out.  You’ll never know unless you ask.

Insectropolis – Toms River, NJ

Looking for something different to do with the kids?  Well located in Toms River New Jersey is a really neat little place, although some people may find it a bit creepy crawly.  Insectropolis is completely filled with bugs, but in a good way I guess.

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The outside doesn’t do this place justice, but as soon as you walk in you are transported into a bug-themed city.  There are thousands of bugs on display both alive and not but beautifully displayed with a lot of detailed information.

Insectropolis Butterflies  Insectropolis Bettles

They do also offer a learning session that also includes the change to touch some unique bugs like large millipedes, beetles and of course a tarantula.  I will be honest I’m not much of a bug person especially spiders so I kept my distance but there were many people much braver (and younger) than I that couldn’t get enough of the bugs.

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After you have had your fill of  bugs there is a penny machine located right inside the main door.  No admission is required to use the machine so if you are squeamish and not up to seeing the bugs you I guarantee you the machine is in a bug free zone.

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The machine pressed 4 designs.  They did press a little short but the designs still appeared mostly complete.  The designs were: Monarch Butterfly, Ladybird Beetle, Emperor Scorpion, and a Tarantula.

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These pennies are also knows an mules as they also had a back stamp on each coin.  The back stamp listed “Ozane’s bugseum of New Jersey”.  I’m not sure if this was the original name of the place or not but either way still pretty cool.

Whether you’re an entomology fan, or just trying to face your fears (One of these days I’ll touch the Spider…nah who am I kidding) I’m almost positive your kids will love it.  They also offer birthday parties and an overnight sleepover for the truly brave.  Or just run in and press the pennies, I won’t think any less of you as I would probably do the same more often than not.

Camp Taylor Campground – Columbia, NJ

Just the other day I had to take a trip up to northern New Jersey to visit a government building as the next required step in getting my American Citizenship.  For those of you that may not know I’m originally from Canada and relocated to the States almost 20 years ago.  So we figured it was about time to finally take the plunge, but unfortunately it is an extremely slow process.  Anyways, after my appointment to get fingerprinted I had the rest of the day off from work so I figured I would stop by and acquire a new set of pressed pennies from a place I had never been to before.

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Located in Columbia, NJ is a place called Camp Taylor Campground.  This place is located up in the mountains and it did put my car to the test driving up some pretty steep climbs.  But once I arrived I could see why this is a popular place to come and camp.  However one thing did make me a little nervous about potentially camping here in the future.

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It is also home to the Lakota Wolf Preserve.  Unfortunately I didn’t have much time so I couldn’t go and see exactly what it was all about.  From what I read off their webpage they offer guide tours to see wild wolves in their natural habitat.  Hopefully they don’t come too close to the campsites, but I’m sure that has been well planned out in advance.  Anyways, as I pulled in off the main road I parked outside the main store.

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It’s set up almost like an old fashion general store, and I was immediately greater upon entering.  I said I had just stopped in to use the penny machine.  The nice woman there asked if I needed any shiny pennies for the machine which was very generous and something I don’t experience too often when using the machines.  I thanked her but explained I had come prepared with my own.

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The machine was located right inside the front door of the store.  This place had a lot of stuff for same and wasn’t big on space, but when rolling pennies you don’t need much room.  The machine worked very smoothly which isn’t surprised as I was also told that machine had just recently been services.

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Each coin pressed with a bit of a tail on each one but the designs still appears without too much distortion.  The found designs included: A Camp Site Scene, A Bear, A Wolf Howling in the Woods, and a Wolf Face.

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The back of each design had information about the camp.  It said “Camp Taylor Campground Columbia, NJ” and also listed their website www.camptaylor.com.  This was the third campground I have visited that has had a penny machine.  There was of course a few machines in Florida at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground, and another near Gettysburg, PA that I will write about at another time.  We used to camp a lot when I was a kid, and now that I have a little one of my own once she’s a little older  I’ll definitely be taking her out of the city to the great outdoors.  Maybe we  can catch a glimpse of some wildlife and you never know maybe another penny machine.

Staten Island Zoo – Staten Island, NY

With the summer slowly passing us by before we know it the temperature will begin to drop and we’ll be stuck inside more often than we would like.  With the weekends we have left my family has been trying to do as much as we can.  Just this past weekend we visited for the first time ever the Staten Island Zoo.

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This zoo was about an hour drive from our house in central jersey, straight up the turnpike and over the Goethals bridge.  This isn’t a large zoo but still has a wide variety of animals and things to do.  After arriving one of the first exhibits we came across were the river otters.

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As you can see above Hanna had a great time playing with one of them through the glass.  Primarily the zoo has a central building with different wings that branch off in different directions.  Each wing houses a specific genre of animal for example the Reptile wing,  or the Tropical Forest wing.  While in the Tropical Forest wing I came across the first of two penny machines available at the zoo.

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We visited the zoo right as it opened so there wasn’t a lot of traffic.  This area of the zoo was pretty empty so while I pressed the pennies I only had the nearby monkeys as an audience.  They didn’t look too impressed.

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The three designs at this machine were: A Leopard, Mandrill and an Emu.  The coins pressed very nicely and the machine was in pretty good shape.  We continued walking around the zoo and Hanna saw her most favorite ride of all, a carousel.  So we took a quick break to go for a ride.

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After taking a spin we headed to the last part of the zoo which was called the Kids Korral.  We had to first travel over a covered bridge which is also where we found the second penny machine.

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I always come prepared with enough quarters and pennies (plus some extras just in case), but in case you need it there was a change machine located right nearby.

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The three designs at this machine were: The Staten Island Zoo Logo, A Red Panda, and a Horse.  With the last set of pennies in hand we went to the Kids Zoo to feed and pet some barnyard animals before heading home.

If you’re looking for a zoo to spend an entire day at this wouldn’t be the place to go.  But it was nice for a few hours which is just enough time to see a decent selection of exotic animals and of course press some coins.

MLB Hall of Fame – Cooperstown, NY

The first weekend in August every year for the last 37 years has been reserved for my mother’s side of the family to get together rain or shine for a family picnic.  My immediate family moved away from Canada about 19 years ago down to New Jersey and this makes for a great excuse to go back and visit.  The drive from New Jersey to Ottawa is about 8 hours give or take depending on how many pit stops need to be made along the way.  The last couple years we have tried to break up the trip back to Jersey by stopping someplace for the night and of course I take the opportunity to find a penny machine I may not get to visit again.  Last year we stopped by the Finger Lakes region in New York state and I posted a visit to a Bass Pro Shop in Auburn, NY which you can read about here.  As I have also posted in the past my family are pretty big baseball fans and this year we decided to make a little detour before heading home to visit the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

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This truly is a baseball fans paradise.  The hall of fame sits right on Main Street and is surrounded by amazing little stores that contain anything baseball related you could think of.  Our first stop of course was the Hall of Fame itself.

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The weekend before we arrived had the induction ceremony for the new 2015 class that included four great players.  Craig Biggio, Randy “Big Unit” Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz.  The Hall of Fame has three floors with some really great memorabilia, history, interactive exhibits and even a loop of the classic Laurel and Hardy sketch “Who’s on First”.  We spend a good two hours checking everything out but to be honest we could have been there all day there was just so much interesting history to see.

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The day before we visited the Hall of Fame we had actually arrived in Cooperstown in the late afternoon.  After checking into our hotel and a quick rest in the room to recharge, we headed down to Main Street to check out all the stores and attractions that filled the town.  Were there any penny machines?  Oh you bet.  I had done my usual research before our trip but found that there were a couple of machines that had seemed to move around from store to store over the years.  Most of the machine notes hadn’t been updated in over a year or two so I didn’t know if they would still be there or not.  Luckily they were still in their most recent locations and weren’t too hard to find.

Yastrzemski Store

First was the Yastrzemski Store.  This wasn’t a big place but did have some nice little souvenirs.  The penny machine was located inside the front door to the left.

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The machine worked very nicely.  It cranked smoothly and made almost no noise which I wasn’t used.  The designs came out very nicely and of course were baseball related.

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The 4 designs included: I caught this in Cooperstown NY, Peace Love Baseball, No plate like Home Plate, and Abner Doubleday the Father of Baseball.  We continued walking along Main Street checking out other stores when they peaked out interested, then crossed the street and started to head back.  Eventually I came to the next potential penny machine location in the Pioneer Sports Cards store.

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The machine was located towards the front of the store but was in among a lot of other things handing all around it.  For some reason I didn’t see it when I first walked in and ended up wandering around the entire store until my father thankfully pointed it out.

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Now this machine is a 4 die model.  However as you can see from the Marquee in the picture above one of the designs is covered up, and there is also a note right above the handle stating that one of the designs doesn’t work.  I had read about this online and initially was going to try pressing it anyways, but once I was there I didn’t want to run the risk of damaging the machine.  So I only pressed the 3 known working designs.

Pioneer Sports Cards

The designs were: Doubleday Field, Play Ball and Sand Lot Kid.  Each penny also included Cooperstown, NY in the designs.  I was a little disappointed at not being able to acquire the full set but I’ll be on the look out for it online or maybe at a penny trading session with my fellow TEC members at a future get together.  I was able to find a picture of the fourth design through a quick google search.

Pioneer Fan Penny

It’s a pretty nice design and would have made a nice additional to my collection but sometimes it’s just not meant to be.  I’ll keep my eyes open and I’m sure at some time I’ll be able to find it.  I may even send a letter to the store in a few months to see if the machine is fixed and hopefully they will help press it for me.  It never hurts to ask.

After a nice long weekend trip of visiting family and indulging in some baseball history it was nice to get home.  I’ve already catalogue these new coins and have some other adventures scheduled for the next few weekends.  The end of summer is quickly approaching and I still have so many places to visit.

New York Mets 2015 – Flushing, NY

I’ve posted in the past that my parents are big New York Mets fans.  They visit Citifield a few times a year to watch their beloved Mets and this current season was no different.  The Mets were recently playing their west coast rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers on a beautiful Saturday afternoon game.  No nicer way to take in a baseball game.

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Before each game my parents always go into the team gift shop and check out the penny machine located there.  I will say that Major League Baseball Stadiums do a great job of having the penny designs updated each year.  I guess with most of the designs having the players faces and likeness on them, if the player is traded the design must be updated.  But whatever the reason when my parents visited this time they noticed the machine has a big “New Design” sticker on it so they took the little bag of change I give them in preparation for a new machine.

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Unfortunately when they went to use the machine it was jammed with someone else’s coins.  They walked over to a staff member to let them know and to their surprise they immediately called someone up to look at the machine.  Within about 10 minutes the machine was fixed and the nice man who worked on the machine gave my parents all 3 designs for free because of the inconvenience.  My parents thanked him and headed to their seats to enjoy the game.

NY Mets 2015 Pennies

Two of the designs are the same as last year (2014) which are the Mr. Met 50, and #5 Captain David Wright.  The New Design sticker on the cabinet of the machine referred to the third available design which is of the National League 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom.

With the playoffs coming soon to the baseball season it means the end of the line for a lot of the teams.  Be sure to visit your local ball park and see if there are any designs.  In my experience these change quite often and really make for a nice set of coins and are fun to compare throughout the years.