By Nathan Storey
About a decade ago some said Wildwood, New Jersey, had seen its best days. Judging by the new boutiques and restaurants, fresh amusement rides and hoards of visitors flocking to the beaches annually, they were painfully mistaken. The Wildwoods' facelift has managed to strike that perfect balance between tradition and modern, retaining the carnival mystique so popular in the past while retrofitting and expanding its attractions to match desired family entertainment. “The Wildwoods has transcended to a place that will appeal to the most discerning indivduals,” said Jack Morey, executive vice president of Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Waterparks.
The Wildwoods' status as the tri-state area’s premier family destination has been cemented for some time. Generations of families return year after year to rehash old memories while creating new ones. “It’s kind of an old-time family vacation with fun and sun during the day and visits to the boardwalk at night,” said Patty Polizze, part owner, along with her sons, of Granada Ocean Resort, Coliseum Ocean Resort and Paradise Inn Ocean Resort in Wildwood Crest. “We like to say Wildwood is where family memories are created and last a lifetime.”
Family fun is what the Wildwoods prides itself on; everything about the five-mile island off New Jersey’s southern tip is centered on family entertainment. “We try to gear everything towards the family and try to keep it affordable,” said John Siciliano, executive director of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority.
Morey’s Piers and Waterparks (moreyspiers.com) is a trifecta of piers with three amusement parks and two water parks at different points off the famous Wildwood Boardwalk.
The Ocean Oasis Waterpark and Beach Club on Surfside Pier is adult orientated, with wading pools to relax in and sip a drink from the bar while Raging Waters Water Park on Mariners Landing Pier features twisty waterslides to keep kids happy. The aforementioned Jack Morey and his brother Will Morey are the owners. Their father and his brother built the first pier in 1969, which featured one ride. Today, Morey’s Piers and Waterparks have over 100 attractions.
The Wildwoods Boardwalk that runs adjacent to the expansive Wildwood Beach features a carnival-like atmosphere with salt water taffy, chance games and cotton candy. In addition, there are many diverse shops and restaurants that line the boardwalk. “You can get a $5 T-shirt next door to a boutique where you’re going to spend $150,” said Tracey DuFault, director of the Greater Wildwoods Chamber of Commerce.
“Watch the Tram Car please,” is a phrase boardwalkers are destined to hear numerous times as the famous boardwalk tram car hustles up and down the 2-mile stretch, delivering families to their destinations. Thus is the draw of thr Wildwoods' newfound diversity. Families can still enjoy the old-school fun while indulging in its new, upscale amenities. However, the Wildwoods won’t ever be confused with a glitzy, upscale snobbery, nor does it want to.
“It’s a seaside carnival; very unique,” said Morey. “We recognize our attributes.”
A couple of the Wildwoods' many pleasurable attributes are the outstanding beaches and the sand-side resorts. Besides having some of New Jersey’s widest beaches, the Wildwoods' beaches are all free, which is a rarity these days. “With the high gas prices, families don’t want to get to their destination and pay an extra $60 to $80 to get on the beach,” said Siciliano.
Besides being free, the beaches are also New Jersey’s best. Wildwood Beach is ranked number one, Wildwood Crest Beach number two and Wildwood North Beach number four according to a survey conducted by Richard Stockton College and New Jersey Marine Science Consortium. With various ocean-front resorts in the area to choose from, getting to the beach is no hassle. The Copacabana décor of the motels lends a Miami Beach feel and is the staple of the low-key atmosphere. The Grenada Ocean Resort (granadamotel.com) is a family friendly, 1950s-style motel only steps from Wildwood Crest Beach. It features a beachside pool and Jacuzzi to relax in after the sun sets on your beach day. Also on Wildwood Crest Beach is the Coliseum Ocean Resort (coliseumoceanresort.com). Built in 2000, the Coliseum is a throwback to the South Beach Miami-style vacation and like the Granada is directly at sand’s edge. The Paradise Inn Ocean Resort (paradiseoceanresort.com) is family friendly, with a kiddy pool and game room, while catering to adults with an Olympic-sized pool, oceanfront sundeck and barbeque patio. The Florentine Family Motel (florentinemotel.com) is located in North Wildwood within the boardwalk and beach block. Guests can lounge in the pool or hit the boardwalk where myriad entertainment opportunities await. The recently renovated Shalimar Resort and Conference Center (www.shalimarresortmotel.com) exudes a retro feel even as it features modern conveniences like wireless internet, a fitness center and steam room.
Wildwood is known to have outstanding food, whether it be carnival foods like hot dogs and popcorn or more upscale dining. That said, the Wildwoods truly is famous for its savory pizza. “Coney Island has the corn dogs, we have the pizza,” said DuFault. With that in mind, La Piazza Cucina (609-522-8300) at 4600 Pacific Ave. offers Italian specialties and seafood dishes. Performers who appear at Oceanfront Arena and Fox Park often stop by afterwards to eat and even take the stage for improv performances. Juan Pablo’s Margarita Bar (juanpablos.com; 609-729-6500) at 3801 Pacific Ave. features frosty margaritas, perfect to chill your body on a hot summer’s day. It would be extremely unwise to leave without tasting the tequila-soaked pineapples. Marie Nicole’s (marienicoles.com; 609-522-5425) at 9501 Pacific Ave. is an elegant restaurant featuring new American cuisine. It’s a perfect place for adults to escape the wily kids for a meal. Flip Flopz Beach Bar & Caribbean Cuisine (609-522-3350) at 300 North New Jersey Ave. is a restaurant with Caribbean flair. Grab a tropical drink and take a splash in the pool among the authentic palm trees at the Tiki Bar.
Throughout the year, and especially in summer, numerous free events and festivals take place all over Wildwood. Disney’s “Magical Mondays” is a series of free concerts at Mariners Landing on Morey’s Piers July 7th, 14th and 21st. In addition, the modern Oceanfront Arena at Wildwoods Convention Center will host the Doodlebops on July 13th and Raven-Symoné from Disney Channel’s hit series That’s so Raven in Disney’s concert series finale on July 26th. Tickets for both events are already on sale. A ’50 s weekend takes place every fall and a ’60 s weekend signals that it’s springtime. A seafood and blues festival, beach soccer tournaments, a kite festival, block parties, Italian and Irish festivals; there’s truly never a dull moment on the shores of the Wildwoods. Every Thursday in the summer is family night and every Friday night the sky is decorated in colorful explosions from fireworks.
“We’re known for family events and festivals,” bragged DuFault. Besides the waterparks, rollercoaster rides and usual beach activities, Wildwood is chock full of recreation options. Bayside Sunset Lake is a haven for Jet Skis and boating jaunts. Just because it may be a lazy summer day doesn’t mean there has to be a void of physical activity. Rent a two- or four-pedal bike from Crest Bike Rental (609-522-5763) and ride along Wildwood’s pristine coastline. Escape the heat and take in Wildwood’s history at the George F. Boyer Historical Museum (the-wildwoods.com/history/museum.html) for a trip through Wildwood’s past.
With all that’s going on in the Wildwoods, it’s easy to see why it’s the gem of the Jersey Shore. Plain and simple, you’d be pressed to find another family destination that’s packed with as much entertainment at such an affordable cost. “We’re big on keeping things free-ish,” said Siciliano. “And definitely family-ish.”