Xak and I have played Pokemon Go since 2016. Pokemon has been a huge part of our relationship. We started dating on Squirtle Squad Community Day in 2018 and celebrated our honeymoon with the return of Squirtle Squad Community Day in 2023.
We often participate in community days, raid trains, and plan several weekends around Pokémon go events (and food!) However, as big fans as we are, we have never been to Pokémon Go fest… until this year.
Our friend, Pablo, also joined us. Although he recently started playing Pokemon in 2023, he was already at level 38! While Xak was just excited to attend, both Pablo and I had big plans for this trip: use up all our raid passes and level up to 39 and 42, respectively. But first, we had to get there.
Departing Union Station, Arriving in New York
Union Station is located in Washington DC, right off the Red Line and a few blocks away from the Capitol. I’ve been here before on previous Amtrak trips, but I always think “wow, what a cool place.”
The trip to New York’s Moniyhan Train Hall is about 3 – 3.5 hours. Plenty of time to listen to an audio book and do a little travel crafting. While on the train, I remembered that I had pocketed the fizzy candy from our afternoon tea trip to Mocatinas, so Xak and I finally got a chance to enjoy it. Delicious!
We also distributed out our train snacks amongst ourselves. Sadly, I realized I forgot my fruit snacks, however we still had plenty of sweet and sour offerings to choose from.
We arrived in New York around 7:20, meaning just in time for dinner. Luckily, our hotel was a short 0.3 mile walk away from the train station.
Staying at the Courtyard Marriott
We chose this hotel since it was listed on the official Pokemon Go Fest website and we liked the proximity to the train station. It wasn’t too close to Randall’s Island Park (the event site), but I figured we would be able to get a ride.
I also was super excited for breakfast the next day!
Dinner at Goldie’s Tavern
After dropping our stuff in our rooms, the next priority was to eat, plan out our day for tomorrow, and get plenty of rest. We decided to go to the attached restaurant downstairs, called Goldie’s Tavern.
There was a large lingering crowd wearing name tags in the back, likely remaining from an event, but we found a table pretty easily, and sat down near the connecting hotel door.
We ordered loaded tater tots, fried pickles, and burgers and fries. Xak and Pablo also got a fried egg on their burgers while mine was egg free.
During dinner, I mentally thanked the dish washer who painstakingly hand washes these cast iron skillets.
Overall, the food was fine, although I question why I ordered a burger and fries when I don’t even like burgers and fries (weird, right?). My favorite bite was the fried pickles since they had a sweet aftertaste that I normally don’t encounter whenever I eat fried pickles.
We planned our agenda for the day:
- Breakfast at 8:30 AM
- Head out for city play at 9 AM
- Lunch “whenever we’re hungry”
- Somehow get to Randall’s Island Park (The event site)
- Do 18 raids with our Raid Lovers pass and complete all the timed research
- Leave Randall’s Island Park and eat yummy food somewhere
After polishing off the remaining fried pickles, we headed back to the hotel, full and ready for tomorrow’s events.
Breakfast at the bistro featuring 6 dish oatmeal
The next morning, we ate breakfast downstairs in the hotel just as we planned. There’s probably a handful of people who look forward to ordering oatmeal at a hotel, and I am one of those people. Courtyard Marriott serves what we affectionally coined “6 dish oatmeal,” something that Pablo and I discovered on a business trip a few years ago.
- Oatmeal (topped with cinnamon)
- Brown Sugar
The friendly people working the bistro seemed surprised that all three of us wanted oatmeal. I guess it’s not a popular breakfast choice, but it really should be.
This is how oatmeal should be consumed! Perfect breakfast for a day long walking tour of New York.
Citywide Play around New York
Before we headed out we made sure we had the essentials:
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Bottle (for water)
- Backpack (to carry swag)
- Battery Packs (for when your phone inevitably dies from playing for 10 hours)
Something I should have brought (but didn’t) was a blanket for sitting on the ground. Sadly, I didn’t think about this before we left the hotel.
Exploring Central Park
Our hotel was about 6 miles from the event zone. I like walking and regularly do about 3-5 miles a day (sometimes 6-8 on weekends), however that’s without playing Pokemon Go.
In New York, there are Pokestops on every street, every corner, every store, every landmark, every fire hydrant, etc. There are so many raids going on at once, and you are surrounded by non-stop spawns. It’s really quite overwhelming.
Central Park is a tourist magnet, however we also knew it would be a safer location to walk through while doing our Pogo tasks. It was a great choice and we had a wonderful time. Plenty of Pogo fans were out and about. We spent about 4 hours exploring the city and Central Park, catching the whole time.
The weather was perfect and I honestly wouldn’t have minded just catching and raiding throughout Central Park for the whole day, however we noticed the time was quickly approaching and it was probably wise to eat now.
A Leisurely Lunch at El Paso Taqueria
After a quick decision for lunch (“Burritos?” “Sure!”), we found a restaurant called El Paso Taqueria that fit the bill. The restaurant was a mile walk, but was in the direction of Randall’s Island Park which was also a deciding factor.
The restaurant wasn’t too busy after 1 pm, and we were able to sit down and peruse the menu immediately.
Unfortunately there were no free chips and salsa at this restaurant, so we had to order that separately. The salsa was pretty good! After some deciding, we got a carne enchilada burrito, carne asada burrito, and a carnitas burrito. Beans/rice are a separate side for an additional cost, however the burritos were enough for us. Pablo also ordered a margarita and a flan and Xak ordered the house made lemonade which he said basically tasted like the margarita without the tequila.
Overall it was a pleasant lunch, and we were grateful for a chance to hydrate and relax. Since the time was approaching 2:15, we knew we had to head over to Randall’s Island Park soon and looked for an Uber as we paid our bill.
Arriving to Randall’s Island Park
After getting into our Uber, we realized we weren’t certain where we needed to be dropped off. We knew we had to go to “Randall Island Park” and that was really about it. Our Uber dropped us near a corner facing a bridge that was full of people walking and staring down at their phones. Our people!
Unfortunately, we were dropped off nowhere near the bridge entrance, and had to walk quite a ways away, passing a delicious smelling barbecue along the way. (maybe those burritos weren’t enough for me after all.)
We finally found the entrance to get into the park and joined the masses of people trudging along the bridge. We walked alongside plenty of Pokemon attire clad fans, which gave me plenty of reassurance that this was indeed the entrance. The walk was roughly a mile, however we were safe from cars.
Upon entering, we were ushered to the right and then dumped into a very large field, with flags, tents, blaring music, a ton of Pokestops, and a whole lot of people!
Finding a map
Although I’ve been to conventions before, I still felt overwhelmed in an unfamiliar place, and I was also completely aware that the time on our ticket was ticking. Xak had luckily found a map with the different zones after googling about Pokemon Go fest. We also found the same map in certain locations of the park, but it was by complete chance, meaning I literally ran into it.
I was hoping that we would receive an in-game notification for map information or something to let us know where we needed to go, but no such luck.
Research Tasks and Diancie
Like any convention, you will be tempted by photo opportunities, free swag, trivia events, or buying merchandise, etc. However, all of these can be enjoyed AFTER you do your research.
For the event, we had to catch specific Pokémon from each zone, spin Pokéstops in each zone, and take a photo of a Pokémon in each zone. While some lines moved faster than others, I wanted to make sure we got all of our tasks done instead of waiting in line within one location.
The reward ended up being super cool: a Diancie!
Confusion and Goletts
When walking into the park, we were ushered into the North entrance which contained the location for the research quests, however we did not receive any help in finding certain locations, such as how to pick up our pre-ordered shirts.
When asking for help from the official info desk, we were told “it’s over there near the south entrance (gestures vaguely in a direction)” which was no help at all. We struggled to find clear signage for “the south entrance” and when we tried to explore, we again were told we could not go in certain directions and pushed back by the crowd to the area where we started.
Luckily, the other confused flow of people we were forced to walk with managed to make their way over to the South Entrance. We also picked up a Hundo Golett along the way!
The South Entrance
Through the South entrance, we discovered the Athletic Field and the Poison Zone, which were two places we needed to catch Pokemon.
We also found a hydration station without a line (whew), and also a very long line protruding from of an unidentifiable tent. Pablo and I went to save our place in the line (just in case) while Xak went to investigate the tent.
As Pablo and I approached the questionable line, we asked the person in front of us “what is this line for?” since there were no representatives around. They said it was for merch and they hoped to also pick up their pre-ordered shirts, but apparently that was NOT the case!
Luckily, Pablo and I left the line and joined up with Xak who had found another very long line, only this line was to pick up our shirts and it actually moved with relative speed.
Unfortunately, I could not find the person that was originally in front of us (in the wrong line) to warn them, and I sincerely hope they were able to pick up their pre-orders.
The Verizon Outage
I feel lucky that we had Xak to do reconnaissance. Traveling with friends is a great way to split up and discover new things, like you’re in the wrong line.
However, I experienced another unintended benefit of going to PoGo fest with friends: surviving the Verizon outage.
About 30 minutes after we arrived and deep in our research quests, Xak and I noticed that our phones were in SOS mode. We weren’t able to catch, spin, or do anything in the game. We performed the normal troubleshooting tips:
- Restart the app
- Restart the phone
- Walk to a different location
Curiously, we noticed Pablo’s phone was working just fine. The difference was that Pablo did not have Verizon. As we continued to walk to different parts of the island to see if we could get better service, we noticed several other people grumbling loudly about “Verizon outage” and realized that this was a widespread thing.
In Panic Mode, I started to wonder if I would finish the timed research quests or use up my raid passes. We paid money for these things!
Luckily, Pablo (not in Panic Mode), had the foresight to set up a hot spot for Xak and me. Once we were successfully connected, we were able to continue catching.
It certainly pays to have friends on different networks.
Exploring the Park and Raiding
Earlier in Central Park, we had done quite a lot of raids thanks to our Raid Lovers add-on. Ultimately though, we wanted to save up our 18 raid passes for our event (Spoiler: big mistake!)
Depending on if you get the Raid Lovers add-on or not, there will still be benefits just for being in the event city. Since so many Pokemon Go players are congregating together for the event, gyms will constantly be under attack, lures will be placed on every stop, and you will ALWAYS have almost a full group to raid with for any raid at any time of the day.
This is the absolute best time to pop an egg and use up all your green raid passes that you’ve been saving. You will also likely get some additional free orange (daily) raid passes depending on active event bonuses, even without having a Raid Lovers add-on. Any Pokemon Go player knows that raids are the absolute best way to gain massive amounts of XP and this is the best time to get it. I cannot stress this enough: Do not save your raid passes! Use them up!
Making New Friends (in Pokemon Go, of course)
Raids are an excellent way to get a ton of XP (5k-10k for a normal egg-less raid can suddenly turn to up to 36k with the event boost and an egg!). However, another great way to farm XP is through leveling friendships. Since you’re doing a ton of raids, you’re also able to make a ton of new friends in game.
There’s a new-ish feature added to the game where you can scroll down to the bottom of the results screen and send friend requests to people who participated in the raid with you.
If you feel comfortable sending gifts to these friends (note: your postcards show your location), you can send at least one gift/open a gift from them, and now you have 3k XP for “good friends” status, or 6k XP if you used an egg.
If you friend even just 2 people per raid, that’s 12k XP. Amazing.
During the event, we noticed some of the quests required making friends, so friend requests were being sent all throughout the park.
In fact, now I have about 3x as many friends in Pokemon Go than I do in real life. (sad laugh)
As the end of our ticketed event was quickly approaching, we headed back to the bridge to make the long trek over for an Uber to pick us up.
As we got into our Uber and headed to our hotel, we reflected on how great the day was and also debated an even more important topic: “what should we eat for dinner?”
Dinner at Piggyback by Pig & Khao
Across the street from our hotel was a restaurant called Piggyback which specialized in Asian cuisine. The restaurant had an industrial, cool vibe and I felt very uncool in comparison. There was some impressive wall art in the back and some Star Wars posters in different languages.
The restaurant was narrow but long, and we walked by the bar to the back area where we were seated and looked at a small menu. All the offerings seemed tasty enough and my burrito was long gone.
Pablo and I decided on Lumpia Shanghai and Shrimp Fried Rice. Xak decided to get the Restaurant Week special and chose Korean honey butter wings for his appetizer, mushroom dan dan noodles for his entree, and a s’more sundae (of course). The always kind Xak offered to share his wings, which I gladly took up.
The food was AWESOME! The Lumpia Shanghai was nice and crisp and served with a sweet chili sauce. The wings were an absolute delight with a flavor I’ve never had at any Korean restaurant, including all the fried chicken I ate in Korea. The wings had a nice sweet, buttery, and spicy flavor that ultimately tested my self-control. I thought about exchanging another of my lumpia for one of Xak’s wings, but held off because I would likely eat the whole plate.
For the main course, the shrimp fried rice was delicious. Fried rice is my baseline/go-to for most Asian restaurants and something I often make at home. The fried rice at Piggyback did not disappoint. It had some crispy bits of Chinese sausage, egg, spicy chili, and fragrant thai basil. The serving size was plentiful, but after a long day of walking, I INHALED the rice and waited (im)patiently for Xak to finish his mushroom dan dan noodles so we could move onto his dessert course.
The dessert course was a s’more sundae which included square marshmallows, vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate fudge, and coconut, on top of bits of graham crackers. It was basically a deconstructed cold s’more, and I was loving it! I’m very glad that our hotel just happened to be across the street from such a fantastic restaurant.
We headed back to our hotel rooms to relax, watch Shark Tank episodes with some chocolate covered raisins (courtesy of Pablo’s train snacks), and fight in the Poke gym we were on top of. Since Shark Tank was a rerun, I tuned into the American Cornhole League on ESPN and pondered if I found my calling in life before falling asleep.
Leaving New York
We went downstairs to have 6 dish oatmeal part 2, and the bistro workers seemed happy to see us again. I was also happy knowing I’d be full while we were on the train.
Our train was heading out around 12 pm so we planned to checkout around 10:30 AM. As we were walking back to the train station (less than half a mile), we noticed that there were plenty of raids going on around us including one mega Rayquaza raid. I finally caught a shiny to add to my collection of New York Shinies!
All the shinies I caught in New York!
As we were playing in the train station, we continued to get raid passes after every gym spin and the 5000 XP bonus for every raid that was part of our Raid Lovers add-on. Uh oh.
It then dawned on us that our Raid Lovers pass was still in effect! Apparently the bonuses were available Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! Unfortunately, our train was coming soon, so we tried to do as many raids as possible. Pablo took this to heart and even did some 1 star raids like Alolan Grimer, but I scoffed at the idea of wasting a raid pass on a Grimer.
Since the Raid Lovers pass said it would extend for the full day, I figured it was ok to save some raid passes for when we arrived home. Surely we would be able to complete the raids at home! (Spoiler: we didn’t)
The Train Ride Home
On the train ride home, Xak and I wore our Pikachu hats and chatted with a few other Pokemon Go Fest visitors, reminiscing about the Verizon Outage meltdowns, the raids, and the overall experience.
We settled in for the 3.5 hour ride home eating the remainder of our train snacks including trying Pablo’s EXTRA CHEESY Cheez-its.
After one bite of the EXTRA CHEESY Cheez-its, I said something I rarely ever say
No offense to anyone who enjoys this flavor, but it is NOT for me. I immediately turned to the comfort of my ORIGINAL Cheez-its to drown out the flavor. Much better!
Pablo too realized the wisdom in mixing the foul EXTRA CHEESY Cheez-its with the ORIGINAL Cheez-its for a more balanced blend. He will never make the mistake of buying EXTRA CHEESY Cheez-its again.
When we arrived back at Union Station, the three of us strategized the best way to help Pablo and I achieve our ultimate goal: LEVEL UP.
We decided to Uber back to Pablo’s house, find some local raids, and pick up some dinner.
As we raided, we realized there was no 5k bonus. There was also no more free raid passes when spinning the gym. 🤦🏻♀️ I immediately cursed myself for my poor reading comprehension skills and thought regretfully about the stupid Grimer raid I passed up.
The last painful lesson
When we initially booked our travel tickets, we planned around our timed event ticket for Saturday (3-7 PM). We then added the Raid lovers add-on afterwards. Looking back, this was a big mistake.
At the time, we didn’t fully understand how the Raid lovers add-on worked and thought we were just granted 18 passes on our event day at the actual event. In fact, you get up to 18 passes each day while you’re in New York during the event for a total of 54 passes.
We likely only used up about 20-25 passes total for all 3 days since we arrived to New York around 7:30pm on Friday and left around 12 pm on Sunday. After we got back on the train, we tried to do some raids as we headed back to DC in hopes of getting the most of our passes, but unfortunately another painful lesson that the extra 5k XP bonus is only active in New York (sigh, reading is key)
Since we now know (and totally regret!) how the raid lovers add-on works, we will definitely be adjusting our arrival and departure time to make sure we capitalize on ALL THE RAIDS in the future!
Leveling up… at last!
Since we had exhausted all the current raids in the area, we decided to move up dinner and check out a nearby pho restaurant. Uncharacteristically, I did not order fried rice and actually ordered pho.
After we ate, we patrolled around the area to see if we could do any more raids. This was a big change from our experience at New York. Just a few hours earlier, we were fighting to be placed in the same raid group, whereas now at home, we were the only 3 in the raid group. However, Xak’s pleas of help in the Campfire app seemed to round up some troops.
After popping yet another egg and doing 2 more raids, this finally happened:
AT LAST!!! Pablo also leveled up to 39, and our mission was finally complete!
After Pablo dropped us off at home, Xak and I unpacked (sorta), and excitedly discussed our plans for next year’s PoGo fest. Now that we’ve had our first experience under our belts, we know just what we need to do for our future trip.