There’s that excruciating moment of doubt before the adrenaline kicks in that comes just after you’ve decided to seat yourself on that Tilt-A-Whirl, gigantic roller coaster or dangling-feet swing ride.
But it’s too late to change your mind and exit when that safety bar slams down. And within seconds you’re off, whizzing five, six, then seven stories above all those tiny people on the beach and boardwalk.
This isn’t too bad, you think. The view’s pretty good and then — slam.
So it has gone for decades on amusement piers all along the New Jersey Shore, summer after summer, when thrill seekers and those less accustomed to the high voltage world of such rides converge.
New Jersey’s are among the oldest amusement centers in the nation, dating to the 1890s when Ocean Pier and Steel Pier opened on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and entrepreneurs for the first time extended piers out over the ocean and crammed them full of attractions like midway games and such rides as the “Roundabout,” a wooden precursor to the Ferris wheel.
Nowadays, at places such as Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, and Steel Pier in Atlantic City, the young and the not-so-young can find the ride that suits them, from the kiddie cars to the 20-story Ferris wheels.
And the in-betweens — teens and mostly young adults — will go for the high-flying, fast moving (speeds up to 100 m.p.h.) thrill of coasters, spinners, and pendulum rides. And they will seek out what is new this summer, joining an estimated 297 million people who visit about 400 U.S. amusement parks annually, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
The summer of 2014 brings a push toward “multi-generational attractions” that all members of a family may enjoy together, said Paul Noland, president of the IAAPA, a trade and support organization for amusement operators across the globe.
“The diversity of new attractions opening for families to enjoy together this summer is incredible,” Noland said.
The state Department of Community Affairs provides one of the most stringent amusement ride registration and inspection policies in the nation. There will be an estimated 100 million rides taken on amusements in New Jersey — from Shore rides to carnival events — by the end of the summe, officials said.
With a manager, an engineering staff of four, and 17 inspectors, the state DCA’s Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Unit last year performed 12,685 inspections on 3,271 rides that had been issued operating permits in New Jersey, according to Tammori Petty, a DCA spokeswoman.
Petty said that every ride is inspected before the beginning of the season and that the agency then performs as many inspections as possible throughout the year.
Inspectors visually scrutinize each ride and make thorough examinations of welds, fasteners, and moving parts for wear and tear. They examine clearances around a ride, both with and without passengers aboard, making sure it is functioning properly. They examine maintenance and operations logs and manuals, and inspectors also research whether the manufacturer has issued any safety bulletins regarding a particular ride.
Similar inspections are performed on portable rides used in carnivals and traveling shows.
The agency also performs operational inspections while rides are in use to determine whether manufacturers’ guidelines such as height restriction are being followed, Petty said.
“Look at how long rides have been around…. People love that adrenaline rush,” says Maggie Warner, a spokeswoman for Morey’s Piers, the family-owned powerhouse amusement company that dominates six beach blocks over the Wildwood Boardwalk, with more than 100 rides and attractions and a water park, spread over 18 acres.
“I think here in New Jersey, at the Shore, in particular, it is also very strongly a generational thing of people who came to the Shore with their parents as children now returning with their grandkids,” Warner said.
So on Morey’s piers, often everything old is new again.
The centerpiece ride this year, the Wave Swinger, is a brand new remake of a 30-year-old version that swings passengers 50 feet above the beach and boardwalk — 11 feet higher than the previous ride — from a rotating carousel-like top on which seats for riders are swung. A version of this ride has been adorning amusement parks since 1908 when its German design was called the “Flying Swing” and made its debut in Idora Park in Oakland, Calif. Morey’s latest version is decorated so the state-of-the-art LEDs look like vintage bulbs, and the 72 vignettes painted on the side of the center column tell the story of Wildwood’s history.
Owners Jack and Will Morey took over the operation from their father, Will, and uncle, Bill Morey, who started the amusement company in 1969. Over the years, the family has striven to retain a classic seaside amusement park feel mixed with the “evolving rhythm of beach life,” Warner said.
That’s how Anthony Catanoso, of the historic Steel Pier in Atlantic City, sees it.
“It’s always been our dream to restore it to its original glory as ‘the showplace of the nation’ and that is what we are really working toward,” Catanoso said.
The Catanoso family leased the property from Donald Trump for 20 years and ran the amusement park before buying it in 2011.
Once home to the infamous Diving Horse, the Steel Pier these days features about two dozen rides and a variety of midway attractions and games. Pier officials are preparing for the start of construction of a 200-foot tall observation wheel that will be the first of its kind in New Jersey and will be completed by next summer, Catanoso said.
In the meantime, the pier this year has added extensive food and beverage service areas, including the Steel Pier Pub where families can dine on pizza and other tavern food while adults can enjoy beer and spirits in a seaside atmosphere. Both it and the new Ocean Reef Bar & Grill on the pier will offer live music all summer.
At Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, the focus remains on families and recreating traditions, according to Mimi Berenato, director of promotion and ticket sales.
The tradition there dates to 1930, when David Gillian, who had worked on Ocean City’s boardwalk for other amusement companies as early as 1914, decided to open a place called Fun Deck with amusements for children, such as a small Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round. Operation of Fun Deck eventually passed to his sons, Bob and Roy. In 1965, Roy Gillian decided to strike out on his own and opened Wonderland Pier at 6th Street and the Boardwalk, with 10 rides and a parking lot. Wonderland has grown to include 38 rides and attractions, with a nearby water park that offers 10 slides and a miniature golf course, Berenato said.
One of the most enduring rides at Wonderland may be one of its oldest. Its fanciful carousel, a 1926 Philadelphia Toboggan Co. model, still includes the original wooden carousel horses and chariot seats.
“The carousel still has the brass rings that riders can grab and keep for sentimental value,” Berenato said. “There’s not too many brass rings left in the world for people to grab onto.”
Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or email@example.com.