It looks like 2017 is the year of the roller coaster at the Jersey shore.
A new coaster that has changed Ocean City’s skyline is now open, as is a revamped coaster on the Wildwood Boardwalk, after a $5 million renovation.
But the biggest change took place in Seaside Heights, where the roller coaster made nationally famous when Hurricane Sandy dropped it into the sea has been replaced. Earlier this year, Gov. Christie was on hand to help open the big new ride Hydrus, and what local officials hope is a new chapter for the shore community.
The image of the damaged former coaster, the Jet Star, became a symbol of the massive October, 2012 storm’s impact on the shore, and on New Jersey as a whole.
“I think that’s always going to be in people’s minds,” said Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz, at least until a new generation comes of age. He hopes time will eventually replace the image of the huge ride sitting in the waves under hurricane -gray skies with images of summer fun on the renovated pier.
The storm destroyed the and several other rides at Casino Pier, and hit Ocean County’s shore communities hard. Years later, Vaz said his borough is only about 70 percent recovered, with many people still waiting for insurance or other funding to repair their properties. He said his own house was badly damaged in the storm, and the borough lost about $200 million worth of ratables in the storm.
But he feels confident that the town will recover all the way, and gives a lot of credit to the Storino family, owners of the Casino Pier, for making the investment in the new coaster. Along with the Ferris wheel, he said, it makes a great view for visitors and locals.
“It’s an amazing sight to see when you’re coming over the bridge, particularly at night,” he said.
The Storino family told the New York Times, “It was a very big moment. We can now say we are fully back and can close the books on the superstorm era.”
Times writer Nick Corasaniti wrote that the new ride looked like it belonged in Great Adventure, the Central New Jersey amusement park in Jackson known for its massive roller coasters. The new coaster is just one of the notable new rides at the Jersey shore.
In Ocean City, after an idle summer in 2016, the huge Gale Force is running, and on the Wildwood Boardwalk, Morey’s Piers spent the winter revamping its landmark Great Nor’Easter roller coaster, to offer a faster, smoother ride.
The amusement pier launched the renovated coaster by inviting grandmothers from throughout the area for a ride, with the tagline, “so smooth, even your granny can ride it.” Second generation owner Jack Morey was in the front car with Denise Spaulding, a grandmother from Camden, for that first ride. He said at the opening that they could have built a new coaster, but wanted to keep the Great Nor’Easter in place, saying it had become part of Wildwood’s landscape since it was built in 1995.
Brian Hartley, a vice president at Playland/Castaway Cove, said Gale Force opened on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, almost immediately after getting the OK from state inspectors, and said he’s been getting good reviews from riders.
“Everybody who got off the ride loved it,” he said. At 125 feet, on a relatively small patch of ground near the Ocean City Boardwalk, the ride required extensive engineering to fit in the space available. Designed for the park, the ride was set to open last summer, but that opening was delayed several times. According to Hartley, owner Scott Simpson was not satisfied with a section of track. He said the ride would have been safe, but was not as smooth as they wanted, so a new section was manufactured in Italy over the winter. The ride includes a top speed of 64 mph, and a drop steeper than 90 degrees. It launches at close to top speed, before taking riders backward and then forward again. Riders also get a sweeping view of Ocean City and Somers Point, he said, but with only about enough time for a glance.
He would not say how much the amusement park spent on the new attraction.
“The owner is not revealing that. Obviously, it was quite an investment,” he said.
Tim Baldwin, the communications director for the national group American Coaster Enthusiasts, is full-on psyched about all three rides. He loves the look of Gale Force on the Ocean City Boardwalk, and gave credit for the investment in the Great Nor’Easter in Wildwood, but it’s the new Hydrus that captured his imagination.
“I just think it’s admirable. I have to give New Jersey credit for its spirit and don’t-give-up attitude. New Jersey just stepped forward and said we’re not ever going to be defeated,” he said in a phone interview.
He said ACE members have given high marks to the renovated Great Nor’Easter, describing it as an entirely different experience than the previous incarnation, which he said could be a little rough. The 1:30 minute ride kicks off with a 95-foot drop overlooking the ocean, with the riders’ feet dangling over empty space, and runs through a series of rolls, inversion and spins.
He also spoke highly of Playland’s Gale Force. Baldwin described the design as innovative.
“That’s really a unique ride,” he said. “It’s like a huge hunk of modern art. It looks really cool.”
But he also spoke highly of the smaller coaster that wraps around the base of Gale Force, Wild Waves, saying that one is a fun, well designed ride. Baldwin believes there’s more to roller coasters than just being the biggest or the fastest, citing a kiddie ride at Storybook Land in Egg Harbor Township as an example of a small, fun ride that kids will remember.
That said, he added that you can’t talk New Jersey roller coasters without touching on Great Adventure, the home of the tallest coaster in the world.
According to Six Flags spokeswoman Kristin Siebeneicher, Kingda Ka is 486 feet tall, with speeds of 128 miles an hour, the fastest coaster in North America. The park also includes Nitro, a 230-foot steel coaster and El Toro, often voted the world’s top wooden coaster, although it is a mix of steel and wooden construction.
New this year are a virtual reality ride called Drop of Doom, which will drop riders 90 miles an hour while VR goggles give them the view of battling giant, mutant spiders, and an interactive ride, Justice League: Battle for Metropolis, in which riders will join DC Comics heroes to save the city, in a combination ride and immersive high definition animated game.