Each year, 3 million people make their way to Morey’s Piers in Wildwood and North Wildwood, and most of them will spend time screaming on roller coasters or racing family and friends in go-karts.
In a bid to get more visitors to spend time in its water parks, Morey’s is transforming an old attraction into a new one, called River Adventure. The change is among $6 million in improvements the pier is making this year, said Jack Morey, vice president of the company.
Farther north in Atlantic City, Steel Pier owners are also preparing to open next month. Owners are investing $22 million into the pier this season — and a total of $102 million over the next three years.
Parks elsewhere — from Ocean City to Beach Haven — have something new for the 2012 season. For several, that season begins this weekend.
“We’re really excited for this season,” said Jay Gillian, owner of Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City and Gillian’s Funland of Sea Isle City, where he said they have made more than $1 million in improvements since last year.
Wonderland Pier and Playland’s Castaway Cove, also in Ocean City, opened this past weekend. Morey’s opens Saturday, and Steel Pier will host Atlantic City’s best-dressed Easter contest Sunday before opening May 12.
Fantasy Island Amusement Park in Beach Haven opens May 19, and Gillian’s Funland in Sea Isle City will open Memorial Day Weekend. All the parks will be fully open after Memorial Day.
Adding new rides and fixing old ones is essential to keep families coming back year after year.
At Morey’s, River Adventure and the six-lane Wipe Out! Racer Slide planned for Ocean Oasis on Surfside Pier, will cost about $2 million, Morey said.
“It’s been a number of years since we’ve had this kind of investment in the waterparks,” Morey said.
Chief sculptor Joe Pezz and his team have turned ordinary concrete into distinctive shapes from concrete trees to a secluded grotto, and when visitors first enter the river they will be greeted with a tropical waterfall, another new feature.
“We wanted a greater sense of adventure,” Morey said.
Visitors will have a choice of riding in an inner tube or swimming at their own pace. And up and down the river, seating has been carved into the walls and a swim-up restaurant of sorts will offer snacks along the way. “To my knowledge, this has not been done before,” Morey said.
Before making the changes, Morey went on what he called a “photograph adventure,” recording the features he loved at water attractions in Sea World and Walt Disney World in Florida.
“Then, I walked ours and photographed everything I hated,” Morey said.
The photos were the starting point for the new design.
At Ocean Oasis, meanwhile, crews will soon build the new Wipe Out!, a six-lane water slide and a nod to the Giant Slide (also known as the Wipe Out) that sat on Surfside Pier from 1969 to 2010.
The attraction will open with an inaugural speed slide competition in mid-June, while the River Adventure will be open for Memorial Day Weekend.
“In the last 10 years, most of our focus has been on the rides,” Morey said. “The waterparks are no different. You have to continually invest.”
Reinvestment is also behind the addition of eight new rides and a host of other amenities being added to the Steel Pier.
Anthony Catanoso, principal of Steel Pier Associates, said that after the company bought the pier in 2011, it decided to revamp the landmark.
“This is the time to do this, with the Tourism District coming in. This is the right time to make our move,” he said. Changes will include the addition of four children’s rides, two family rides and two thrill rides along with four new food and beverage service areas, complete with beer and wine.
At the end of the pier, a chaise lounge area with 50 lounge chairs will be added, along with food and beverage service. Four retail kiosks will be added, and the pier will get new lighting, paint and other improvements.
The improvements at Playland’s Castaway Cove and the Gillian’s properties will be more modest this year.
Gillian took the children’s rides on the top deck of his Ocean City park and put in new rides geared more for teenagers. At the same time, he added four children’s rides to the Sea Isle park and bought a new Wacky Worm Roller Coaster for Wonderland Pier.
“It’s back by popular demand,” he said. There was an outpouring from disappointed families when the ride was removed last season, he said.
Playland owner Scott Simpson said his staff is reassembling the park’s carousel, which was outfitted with all new LED lights in the offseason. The lights are brighter and use less energy, and Simpson said he’s replaced tens of thousands of incandescent lightbulbs with them in recent years.
“And you know what? My electrical bill is the same,” he said.
Simpson also owns the Pirates of the Golden Galleon miniature golf course one block south on the Ocean City Boardwalk. He is hoping to build an elaborate pirate ship entrance once he receives city approval.
All the parks will have the benefit of being exempted from the state’s noise-control laws after Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in January to protect amusements and beach bars from complaints.
The parks are exempt from May 15 to Oct. 15, but park owners said that hasn’t been a major concern for them, or at least not yet.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, sponsored the law because he said there were issues in North Jersey as homes and condominiums were being built closer and closer to parks.
He said he didn’t want that to start becoming a problem down here.
“I don’t want to be so blunt about it, but if you don’t want that (noise), then really you shouldn’t build or live right there,” he said.
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