Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Hidden Rides and Themed Attractions of...New Jersey

We've done it. After 34 pieces, we've finally started to arrive to the Fatherland. Wait, you say - you already did Florida and California. Those are the two states most synonymous with the theme park industry in North America. And yet, in terms of raw numbers, the combination of population and infrastructure has and will always favor the likes of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York as being where what certainly seems like a disproportionate number of parks are located. This is where people were in the late 19th Century, where commerce and industry was centered, and thus also where urban railroads and trolley parks blossomed. It's also where America learned to love seaside amusements. These places are full - Full! - of stuff.

We first delve into the "known" quantities: Six Flags Great Adventure is the region's largest theme park. Intended to be only a small part of an overall Disney World-esque facility, the big dreams never totally came to fruition. There are two significant indoor attractions (Justice League and Houdini's) and a whole slate of big impressive coasters, including the world's tallest, Kingda Ka. Other exemplaries (is that a word?) are one of the longest log flumes, the tallest drop ride (strapped to Kingda Ka, in fact), and a Safari ride/experience that's somewhere around 45 minutes in length. Meanwhile, down at the far southern tip of the state, there's Wildwood and Morey's Piers. Jack Morey started with a large fair slide in the 50s and has turned it into an empire of three amusement piers and water park equipment spanning much of the Wildwood boardwalk. Wildwood is in fact one of my favorite seaside towns, in that there are tons of amazing arcades, great food, and of course an outstanding collection of roller coasters, flat rides, dark rides, walkthroughs (Ghost Ship is likely the best permanent one in North America), and more.

With all that out the way, onto the fresh stuff:

New Jersey has no shortage of boardwalks or seaside parks. There are 7 such places outside of Wildwood, with the biggest collections of rides being in the towns of Seaside Heights, Keansburg, and Ocean City, NJ. Two of the three (Keansburg and Seaside Heights) were heavily affected by the landing of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and their amusement zones have undergone extensive repairs and replacements. Keansburg wound up replacing its Wildcat coaster with a heavily travelled Looping Star Zyklon model that had previously run with Amusements of America, Beech Bend Park in Kentucky, and Sauble Beach in Ontario. The park's dark ride was basically wiped out as well as their walkthrough scare house, but the latter has been restored with the intent of the dark ride joining it at some point in the future.

Seaside Heights, on the other hand, was flat out devastated. Images of the Star Jet coaster falling into the sea became the symbol of the storm's fury and were plastered on every news service imaginable. The Star Jet, as well as multiple other coasters, had belonged to Casino Pier, one of two amusement parks on the boardwalk. The other, Funtown Pier, existed in a different township, and following its complete destruction at the hands of Sandy, was never replaced. Casino has a different story - while still struggling to get visitors back who recall a more vibrant area, they've managed to rebuild much of the pier and installed a number of new attractions. 2017 has seen the opening of Hydrus, a Gerstlauer Eurofighter coaster with a beyond vertical drop; this should go a longer way in bringing back interest to the community.

One of the more well known dry communities in the state, Ocean City is considered exceptionally family friendly and the existence of two big amusement piers only solidifies that further. Playland's Castaway Cove has seen the most activity in the last two years, replacing their entire adult coaster lineup with a trio of new rides. Whirlwind, a kiddie spinning coaster, and the presently still under construction Wild Waves, a Miler family coaster, act in the supporting/family ride role. Meanwhile, there's GaleForce, a much more thrilling multi inversion, multi launch coaster that's a first of it's kind from S&S. Delayed heavily due to construction issues and track fit problems, it wound up opening over a year behind schedule on Memorial Day Weekend of 2017. Just down the boardwalk is Gillian's Wonderland, home to an awesome grouping of rides - there's a rare L&T Systems mine train, a monorail, ARM Drop Tower (the best kind!), and the Haunted Dark Ride, a recently built in-house production filled with new variations on classic stunts and gags.

But wait: There's more! Point Pleasant Beach also has an amusement park of it's own with Jenkinson's Boardwalk, in continuous operation since 1928. While there isn't that much to be excited about in the dry or water ride department, there is a really cool Funhouse constructed by the park in 1998. Not a typical year to build a scratch funhouse, but they did it, and bless them for it. Beach Haven also has a park called Fantasy Island, which isn't anywhere near as classic (it opened in 1985), but does have a mammoth arcade as seemingly all of these places do. Speaking of arcades, Asbury Park, NJ has one of the best in Silverball, which allows you to play tons and tons of arcade games for one low entry fee. Gaming begets mention of Atlantic City and Steel Pier is what is left of its fine amusement history. There's not much here, though a new ferris wheel is being installed to replace the Reverchon Spinning Mouse removed at the start of 2017.


The interior of New Jersey is not exactly beloved by most people. There's some pine scrub forests and touches of the Appalachian foothills at points, but it isn't exactly any kind of traditional outdoor paradise. However, that doesn't mean there aren't parks. Of course there's parks. Oh so many parks too. Since we're in 2017 and we flying towards its oblivion, Bowcraft Amusement Park in Northern New Jersey will start it off. This park is slated for sale and redevelopment after this season, making it obviously endangered. It has surprisingly nice grounds (concrete pavers!) and a punchy adult non-looping roller coaster from Zierer called Crossbow. But time is ticking to get there; who knows where the rides will turn up next?

New Jersey, like everywhere in America, had an array of kiddie parks spring up in the 1950s. Two have stuck around ever since: Hope, NJ's Land of Make Believe and Egg Harbor's Storybook Land. Land of Make Believe is water park-centric these days but still possesses some dry rides like the Miler kiddie coaster "Thriller" and a CP Huntington Train. There's also a walkthrough haunted house called inventively titled "Haunted Halloween House." Storybook Land is the more impressive of the two, sporting well-kept storybook theming pieces (many with push button story telling mechanisms and motion effects) and a train ride that is both adorable and surreal. Along with Idlewild and Enchanted Forest Water Safari, they're easily the region's (and maybe nation's) best examples of this disappearing breed of park.

New Jersey is home to the traditional and extremely non-traditional. When it comes to water parks, Funplex in East Hanover is fairly traditional, all things considered. Slides are primarily Whitewater West built, with the most "special" being a Constrictor tube slide. Mountain Creek, on the other hand? Traditional sorta - there's concrete slides here. Those are kinda traditional. Thing is, they're wild. They're so wild in fact that one of them requires helmets for riders. If you're thinking "that sounds crazy, like that Action Park I once heard of," guess what? This is Action Park. Yes. The same one with a wiki a mile long about all the accidents, injuries, and deaths that occurred on its plainly insane attractions. The same Action Park that once built a water slide with a vertical loop. It was closed, sold, and rebranded. There is just nothing else like it.

Again: Traditional, non-traditional. Clementon Park opened way back in 1907 as a trolley park, and at one point had the longest continuously operating roller coaster in the Americas - the 1919 Jackrabbit, which didn't even have upstops to prevent trains from flying off. Now home instead to the strange S&S Wood Coaster Hellcat and a collection of flat rides, it is run by the resurgent Premier Parks, a sort of band return for the ex-Six Flags executives that managed the takeover from Time Warner in the late 1990s.  In 2014, Diggerland USA opened in West Berlin. Diggerland is a theme park based around heavy construction equipment. People ride in seats attached to front end loaders and dig holes with small excavators. The idea was ported over from the UK, where 4 Diggerlands operate and do solid business.

Stanhope, NJ is home to Wild West City, a small kid-geared theme park that tries to simulate Dodge City in the late 1800s. There's not much for rides - a narrow gauge train runs there and that's about it. There are, however, gunfights. Of course there are, right? Also geared for kids:

-Soupy Island in New Jersey has a carousel as well as crazy slides,
-iPlay in North Laurel has some kids rides including a kiddie coaster
-Funplex in Mount Laurel has a knock-off of the Reverchon/Zamperla spinning mouse.

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