#FrugalCongressLife Survival Guide: New Jersey Bachata Festival

[Originally published 8/6/2018, re-written with updated info 10/15/2018]

[10/15/2018 – Travel and pass sections re-written entirely, minor updates to lodging and food sections, tips for pedestrians added, dates changed to reflect dates of 2019 festival]

[Disclosure statement: As of the time of this writing, I have no direct affiliation with New Jersey Bachata Festival, Mike Gil, or Pura Vida Dance Company, other than being a loyal yearly attendee of NJBF. I have not been hired by them to promote NJBF in any way, and everything you read is my objective advice. As of the time of this writing, I am not directly affiliated with nor have been hired by any other companies or organizations whose services I mention in this article – everything you read from me regarding these companies is my objective advice. Any advice in this blog does not constitute legal or medical advice and is provided as is with no liability to #FrugalCongressLife or the author.]

New Jersey Bachata Festival is an excellent mid-size bachata festival held at the Hotel ML and Coco Key Water Resort in the township of Mount Laurel, NJ, on the Philadelphia side of New Jersey. The festival, organized by Mike Gil of Pura Vida Dance Company, and happening from October 10th-October 14th of 2019, features 4 days of workshops by world class national and international instructors and 4 nights of social dancing including the Thursday night pre-party and Thursday evening workshops.

With the right logistics, those living the #FrugalCongressLife within a 6 hour driving or bus radius of Mount Laurel can do this excellent congress covering the entire Quadforce of Dance Congress Expenses for under $200 — that’s with an early bird individual pass, 4 person rideshare from anywhere in a 3-4 hour radius, 4 person roomshare, and ~$50 worth of total personal food expenses.

You can save even more with this festival’s unique pass/hotel room combos. If you are fortunate enough to jump on the cheapest early bird room/pass combo you can do the entire weekend with the above logistics for as little as $170!

This all makes NJBF one of the frugalest congresses on the east coast giving attendees the maximum bang for their bucks. Don’t confuse “frugal” with cheap or lacking in experience – this congress is one of my top five favorite congresses on the east coast and y’all know I don’t say things like that lightly!

Below are the particulars on how to do this excellent festival with maximum frugality while still having an amazing and unforgettable congress experience, covering all four sides of the Quadforce.

ESSENTIAL WALKING INFORMATION FOR MOUNT LAUREL:

One thing to keep in mind about Mount Laurel, and particularly the area of Mount Laurel directly around the Hotel ML, is that it was not designed with pedestrians in mind. It was likely built as a hub for motor vehicle traffic coming off the turnpike (with an assortment of restaurants and hotels to cater to road-weary travelers) and walkability almost certainly wasn’t a factor in Mount Laurel’s design or planning.

Fellowship Road is a high-speed six-lane road located between the Lukoil station and Miller’s Ale House – use caution when crossing this road and do not jaywalk.

The Hotel ML is located on NJ-73, hereinafter referred to as 73, a high-speed high-traffic divided state highway with no crosswalks. Crossing 73 on foot is very dangerous and is forbidden by local laws. If you didn’t drive and want to go to Wal-Mart, Bob Evans, or any other business located across 73 from the hotel, your best course of action is catching a ride with someone who drove. Safety first! Live to see another edition of NJBF!

Additionally, sidewalks along 73 are mostly un-paved. It’s still possible to walk on them, but it’s not ideal – be prepared for this.

See food section for info on all of the above businesses.

Looking at street views of the area in detail on Google Maps or an equivalent service, a good idea in general, is especially helpful for this particular location.

PASS:

Of course, the earlier you buy, the cheaper you get your pass, but there are some other options for passes for this festival that are definitely worth mentioning.

Unique to New Jersey Bachata Festival are pass/hotel packages offering two full passes and two nights at the event hotel for one price, an arrangement with the potential for big savings, especially for those who don’t mind sharing a room.

Package deals for 2 full passes and 2 nights at the Hotel ML for the 2019 festival were sold cash-only in person at the 2018 festival on Saturday and Sunday to the first 20 people to jump on each deal for $250 and $300, respectively. I am not sure if they are offering this deal again in 2019, but come prepared and save big if they are!

If you were fortunate enough to jump on the Saturday deal or if you know someone who is, you can knock out your pass and two nights of lodging right at the event hotel with only one roommate for $125 all in (or reduce costs even further by bringing 1-2 more people into your room). Amazing deal!

Individual full passes were also sold in-person cash-only at this year’s festival for $69.

10/18/18 – Early bird full passes are available online now for $89 for the first 50 passes and $99 after that at http://www.njbachatafestival.com … prices for a full pass will go up to as much as $159 in the weeks before the festival and will be even more at the door.

Buy now!

TRAVEL:

CAR:

Driving and/or ridesharing is the most ideal way to get to this festival, as there is abundant off-street parking all around the event hotel and pretty much everywhere else in Mount Laurel, and also because Mount Laurel is very un-walkable and you will need a car or access to one to go even to places across the street.

A few particulars about driving in Mount Laurel and NJ in general:

– Some of you will be taking the New Jersey Turnpike to get to Mount Laurel. Expect to pay a lot of money in tolls… the 2.5 hour trip from the DC area to ML for example costs about $25 in tolls each way.

DO NOT MISS YOUR EXIT ON THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE. I can not emphasize this enough. The exits on the turnpike are spaced as much as 25 miles apart and you can spend upwards of an extra 40 minutes turning around and getting back to your exit if you miss it and probably will have to pay more in tolls too. Be extra vigilant as you approach your exit on the Turnpike and be in the right lane well in advance of your exit. You should generally not daydream while driving as a rule, but the New Jersey Turnpike is an especially bad place to do so.

– Be careful driving on 73 as well; because of the way it is laid out, turning around if you miss a turn or get lost can add upwards of 10 extra minutes to any car trip you take. Follow your GPS directions *EXACTLY* and do not daydream or go into autopilot while driving here. You really shouldn’t be doing that anyway, but you especially want to avoid it here. Also, there are exits to the turnpike located at various points on 73. Avoid these exits at all cost; for the reasons noted above, you are really screwed if you end up on the turnpike unintentionally and can spend upwards of 40 minutes turning around and getting back to Mount Laurel and likely will have to pay a toll as well.

– New Jersey is one of two states where full-service gas stations are the prevailing norm and it is actually against state law for people to pump their own gas. If you go to a gas station, expect to be approached by a full-service attendant and let them pump your gas. Make sure you tip your attendant as well. If you do not like this rule, make sure you get gas in another state and don’t do so in NJ.

BUS/TRAIN:

IMPORTANT UPDATE: #FrugalCongressLife no longer recommends Greyhound as a travel option for this festival.

Long story short, I attempted to use them to travel to NJBF in 2018, enticed by the allure of a slightly cheaper pre-payable trip to and from a location a short walk from the event and being able to relax and watch movies on the trip up instead of driving. I bought a ticket online to and from to the Mount Laurel station, located a three minute walk from the Hotel ML, in July 2018. My destination was abruptly changed from the Mount Laurel station to the Philadelphia station about a 30 minute drive away (one way) on the day of departure (10/12/18) without advance warning or explanation and I had to take a combination of public transportation and an UBER to the hotel for an extra $20 (most of that was the UBER though) and another hour or so added to my trip.

On the return trip, delays of over an hour and a resulting missed transfer in Baltimore extended my four hour trip to over 6 hours. Several other buses were delayed as well. I am definitely driving next year.

That said, if you’re lucky enough to catch them when they’re on point, Greyhound might save you about $10 each way vs. the cost of gas and tolls from anywhere in a four hour driving radius and will drop you a short walk from the Hotel ML, but you really take it at your own risk. In my experience, Greyhound has been one of the most inconsistent, unreliable, and capricious private companies I have ever dealt with and I know I’m not alone – using them is a gamble.

If you try to take Greyhound to ML, there’s a good chance your inbound destination will change to Philadelphia forcing you to find another way from Philly to ML and completely negating Greyhound’s one advantage over the other cheaper AND better bus lines.

If you are riding the bus to NJBF, I recommend saving yourself a lot of potential headaches and taking Bolt Bus or Megabus to Philly and using a combination of Philly and NJ public transit and UBER to get to the hotel, as convoluted and impractical as these options seem on paper. If Greyhound was actually reliable, it would be your de facto option for this congress, but sadly it is not.

Those riding Bolt Bus from NYC have the option of stopping in Cherry Hill, NJ, which is a 14 minute Uber/Lyft ride from the Hotel ML. Otherwise, Philly is your best option for Bolt Bus and MegaBus, both of which will drop you at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. 30th Street Station is also your best destination for Amtrak trains.

DIRECTIONS FROM 30TH STREET STATION:

Try to arrive during the day when PATCO and the El are still running. You will have to take an UBER if you arrive late at night when they stop running and this can get very expensive.

IMPORTANT: there are separate ticket machines for PATCO and SEPTA (the El is a SEPTA train); make sure you are buying your tickets from the proper machine for each train as SEPTA tickets are not honored by PATCO and vice versa. PATCO tickets are red cards that say “PATCO Freedom Pass” on them. A station employee can direct you to the proper gate for Lindenwold and the proper ticket machine for PATCO. A one-use one-way ticket for PATCO is about $3 and about $2 for the El.

– Exit 30th Street Station at Market Street and walk to the 30th Street Trolley station at Market Street and S 31st Street

– Take the El toward Frankford Trans Center 4 stops to 8th Street Station

– Take PATCO toward Lindenwold.

– Take PATCO 6 stops to the Haddonfield station.

The Haddonfield station is personally where I threw in the towel and jumped into an UberPOOL at a cost of about $10 in 2018, but if you’re a determined and enterprising frugal traveler with another 83 minutes to spare and exact change for the 457, read on…

– Take the NJ Transit 457 bus toward MOORESTOWN MALL-Exact Fare. Yes, as the name indicates, it’s cash-only and you have to have the EXACT fare. This is an old-school bus. If you decide to go this route be prepared and have dollar bills and quarters on you.

The fares are determined by a “zone” system measuring how many “zones” your bus travels through. Trying to figure it out is giving me a headache, so I’m going to just list all the fares and advise you to be prepared to pay any one of these fares in cash with exact change: $1.25 for one zone, $1.75 for two zones, $2.10 for three zones and $2.55 for four zones.

From what I can gather from the map, the route from Haddonfield to Mount Laurel appears to be a two-zone route, but be prepared for any one of those four payments.

– Take the bus 35 stops to Fellowship Road and Century Parkway – 14647, and you’re about a 10 minute walk from the hotel, but for safety reasons, have a driving friend pick you up or call an UBERPool rather than attempting to cross 73 on foot.

Follow the reverse of these directions (457 toward Camden to Haddonfield, PATCO toward Philadelphia to 8th Street, to get back to 30th Street Station.

No one said the #FrugalCongressLife would be entirely easy.

Philadelphia is a city supported by Citymapper at the time of this writing. Philadelphia’s surrounding New Jersey suburbs, including Mount Laurel, Haddonfield, and Cherry Hill, and all public transportation infrastructure from these areas, are part of Philadelphia’s Citymapper package.

If you took Greyhound against my advice and had the misfortune of being dumped in Philly instead of taken to Mount Laurel, you will be dropped at the Greyhound station at 10th Street and Filbert Street. To get to the 8th Street Station, make a left out of the station onto Cuthbert Street, make a right onto 10th Street, make a left onto Filbert Street, walk two blocks to 8th Street and make a right, and the 8th Street station will be on your right; follow the above PATCO directions from there.

FLYING:

Fly into Philadelphia International Airport (PHL); that is your most practical option for this festival.

The Rapid Rover shuttle service picks up from PHL and goes to the Hotel ML at a cost of about $22-30, which can be split with other attendees coming from the airport. You should have no problem coordinating a Rapid Rover share as this will be the most popular and the most economical option from the airport.

Uber/Lyft directly from the airport or train/bus stations is not recommended as prices start in excess of $35 one way and can even go as high as $99 one way (!!!!) during a surge.

LODGING:

A big plus for NJBF is the relatively inexpensive cost of lodging, especially if you got one of the aforementioned pass/hotel packages.

Even if you didn’t, the Hotel ML only costs about $100-120 per night for a room depending on when you book. Book far in advance for cheapest rates!

Whatever you pay for your room, it can of course be brought down even further by room sharing with other attendees.

Although there are some other offsite options near by, as always, per my personal code of ethics, and to encourage people to support the event hotel, I will offer no info on offsite options until the Hotel ML fully sells out for that weekend, if that happens.

A pass/hotel package will put you right in the center of the action at the event hotel for a lower price per night than all the budget options nearby anyway.

If the Hotel ML fully sells out before the festival (that means all rooms completely filled), and there is no official overflow block available, I have a separate post detailing the various offsite options nearby written and ready to go. It will go up when the hotel sells out and disappear right after the festival. You are on your own until then if you seek offsite lodging.

The only advice regarding offsite lodging that I do have at this time is that if you are going to insist on staying offsite, seeking only hotels located on the same side of 73 as the Hotel ML is highly recommended for safety reasons if you are not driving to the festival, due to the aforementioned dangers of crossing 73 on foot.

FOOD:

One relatively new addition to the landscape directly around the festival that will be an utmost boon to those living the #FrugalCongressLife is the new Walmart Supercenter across the street from the Hotel ML. This brand new Wal-Mart, built in the spring of 2018 and opened the following summer, is your de facto grocery shopping option in Mount Laurel due to its proximity to the hotel, but walking there isn’t recommended due to the aforementioned safety issues with crossing 73 on foot. Drive there or have someone with a car drive you there.

For your coffee needs, there is a Starbucks a short walk down 73 on the same side as the hotel and across Fellowship Road, as well as a Lukoil gas station with a convenience store nearby for last minute food staples that also houses a Pita Pocket.

As for your one meal out, Miller’s Ale House is located about a 2 minute walk from the event hotel at 554 Fellowship Road and serves American comfort food staples, as well as some Mexican dishes. For me, Miller’s is the dining option I most look forward to, and not just because of how close it is to the hotel. The food is excellent and service is very fast – I was in and out in about 40 minutes on Saturday evening in 2018. Although it’s a chain, I personally do not have one in my area, so eating there is a different experience for me. Because it is so close to the hotel, it is a very popular food option with congress attendees, so if you want to make your meal out a social experience, you will likely have no problem finding someone to go with you.

There is also a Bob Evans located across 73 next to the Wal-Mart. As with Wal-Mart, attempting to go there on foot is ill-advised.

Popeye’s, Burger King, Uno Pizzeria, 7-Eleven, and Dunkin’ Donuts are all located further down the road if you have a car or access to one.

That’s all I got for this survival guide, hit up the comments if you got any other info or can fill in any gaps in my personal knowledge, and I’ll see you at NJBF!

– Owen

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