Summer at the Shore: This year towns up the ante

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CAPE MAY, N.J. - The Jersey Shore is one of those places where you can walk the fine line between taking a sentimental journey or setting a course for something fresh, different.

It can charm you like an old friend with favorite haunts: The bird's-eye view from a Ferris wheel. A particular mini-golf course where you seem to always get a hole-in-one. Viewing a calming sunset at a favorite fishing pier.

You want to go back to the boardwalk of your dreams - whether it's Atlantic City, Ocean City, or Wildwood - and savor another slice of the pizza that tasted so good last summer. Ride those rides till they shut the place down. Once and for all, climb to the top of that lighthouse. And fall in love with summer all over again.

Whenever you return, you'll expect to find it just the way you left it.

But the Shore is not a stagnant place.

It ebbs and it flows and the salt air eats at the old steel and the young wood. Tides wash away former glories and reshape things. Every summer the ante gets upped. A new metaphoric red carpet is unfurled. And different splendors emerge.

Since as many as 77 percent of the Jersey Shore's vacationers are repeat visitors, tourism officials are very acquainted with that fine line between favorite oldies and exciting, new experiences.

"Many of our visitors come back year after year simply because they love the Jersey Cape region," says Diane F. Wieland, director of Cape May County's Department of Tourism. "But it is still very much about keeping things fresh and new for our visitors. They come back for the memories, but they still want to see upgrades, too."

Revel. This summer, the centerpiece of all that is new - and splendid - along New Jersey's 127-mile Atlantic coastline may be the $2.4 billion Revel hotel and casino. It is perhaps the pinnacle of what a seaside Atlantic City casino should look like. Big and swank, its architects and designers have gone to great lengths to make sure you never forget you are gambling, dining, shopping, or sleeping steps from the roiling sea - and not on some former big-city industrial site. This is the Shore, baby. And like any seaside hostelry worth its salt, every room has a view.

Golden Nugget. Maybe it's not quite as big as Revel's spa, but there is a hushed elegance about the new and luxurious Salon & Spa at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. The newly refurbished Nugget, where a $150 million redo of the former Trump Marina Casino Hotel is just in time for Memorial Day weekend, is a refreshing alternative to the gigantic Revel. The Nugget spa tips its golden cowboy hat to its western roots with services like facials and massages that use lotions and potions infused with actual 24-carat gold. There's also a Cactus Firming and Toning Wrap, a Bourbon Bubbler scrub, and a Desert Hot Stone massage on the lengthy services menu. Prices range from $35 for a spa manicure to $220 for a 24-carat facial.

Visitor Ambassadors. Atlantic City wants to make sure all its visitors feel really welcome - and safe - this summer, so they have introduced a squad of 60 uniformed Visitor Ambassadors trained to interact with guests in the newly created Tourism District along the Boardwalk and Atlantic and Pacific Avenues. They will be on the scene from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week to guide visitors to casinos, restaurants, and other attractions and answer questions about the resort while keeping an eye on the area and reporting anything suspicious. There is also a new $30 million, 1,180-space parking garage at The Walk outlet shopping area, a $90,000 spruce-up of the Absecon Lighthouse, and $5 million worth of bigger, brighter Boardwalk lighting.

Six Flags Great Adventure. The amusement park in Ocean County is introducing its 24-story "SkyScreamer," an extreme swing ride that whisks riders 242 feet into the air and spins them up to 40 m.p.h. The ride at the Jackson Township park is part of the renamed "Adventure Alley," with rides like Ferris wheels and bumpers cars where all ages can ride together, said spokeswoman Kristen Siebeneicher. The ride previews to season ticket holders this weekend and opens Wednesday.For information, call 732-928–1821 or go to www.sixflags.com.

This is always the perfect time of the year for Shore towns such as Ocean City, Stone Harbor, and Wildwood to put their best foot forward with spruced-up downtowns. They fill the potholes, put up the hanging baskets of flowers, fly the flags, and declare themselves open for business. Wildwood wants you to see its improved downtown along Pacific Avenue between Cresse Avenue and 26th Street. There are several new shops and restaurants including the interestingly themed "Cattle n' Clover," a steak and Irish pub-style eatery. The 26-block-long area along Pacific Avenue has undergone an extensive makeover with new banners, curbing, decorative lighting, and other eye-catching elements to attract new shoppers and diners.

Wildwood. For the first time, it is hosting a "Celebration of Heroes Festival" to launch the summer season on Memorial Day Weekend. The event will salute America's military servicemen and women and their families with a fun-filled weekend of free and ticketed concerts, celebrity entertainment events, and other activities. Food, fireworks, and a military parade are planned. For more information, call 609-729-9000 or www.wildwoodsnj.com/heroes.

Avalon. Anthony and Steve Cozzi are preparing for the opening of their second Avalon restaurant. Fuse Italian Ristorante is scheduled to open this month at 2901 Dune Dr. featuring "new American" cuisine inspired by their mom's Italian family recipes. For more information call 609-368-1919 or www.fuzerestaurantandlounge.com.

Wildwood Boardwalk. One of the Wildwood Boardwalk's newest attractions is called Boardwalk Central and features Philadelphia favorites Chickie's & Pete's and Potito's Italian Pastries. Located on the boardwalk between Schellenger Avenue and Cedar Avenue, the revamped facilities have the Super Bull, a mechanical bull ride, and other amusements; Five Mile Marketplace, a market-style retail store, and such classic Wildwood favorites as Kohr Brothers Ice Cream and Little Roma Pizza.

Cape May. Talk about extreme makeovers. The former Atlas Inn on the beachfront in Cape May underwent such an extensive, multimillion-dollar renovation over the last two years that it wasn't completely finished in time for the start of the summer season last year. But the hip Ocean Club Hotel and its chic Sea Salt Restaurant are certainly ready for prime time this year. Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Lulzim Rexhepi specializes in pairing indigenous ingredients with specialty cocktails and wines.

Convention Hall. They'll start the summer in grand style in New Jersey's southernmost Shore resort with the opening of the much-anticipated $10 million Cape May Convention Hall with a concert by Peter Nero on Memorial Day weekend. The 20,000-square-foot center was designed to complement the resort's collection of Victorian architecture with a nod to the original 1917 convention hall, destroyed by the infamous 1962 Ash Wednesday nor'easter. Officials are hoping the new hall, which features an exhibition hall, private function space, retail space, and information center, will stand the test of time.

 


Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at www.philly.com/downashore.