By Pamela Jacobs
There is more to see and do in the Wildwoods than can possibly fit into one story, but I’ll give it a try. Basically, for anyone looking to spend time with his or her family in a quintessential American beach town doing anything and everything that makes summer a great season, there is no need to look any further than the Wildwoods on New Jersey’s shore—they simply have it all, and they have lots of it.
For starters, the Wildwoods’ beaches were recently voted “Best in New Jersey,” the voting of which was done by beach-goers and experts, and backed by scientists and researchers who took the task seriously. What’s even better? All of the Wildwoods’ beaches are totally free. They are the largest, safest, and cleanest of the beaches on the entire Jersey Shore (and beyond), and are maintained with strict standards and a perfectionist’s passion. And did we already mention, they’re free?
Beyond the beaches, there are 2 miles of boardwalk overflowing with every type of family entertainment imaginable—and it’s the good old fashioned kind. With rides, games, arcades, vendors, waterparks, restaurants, and unlimited activities, parents can rest assured that their kids are having a good time in a safe environment, and kids will actually enjoy—or love—spending time with their families.
“The Wildwoods are family…we are youth,” says John Sicliano, Executive Director of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. “There are well over 100 events throughout the year, and we have built our season around special events.” Sicliano also pointed out that most of these events are free, which is a huge bonus when planning a family vacation. Families from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania can come to the Wildwoods and be entertained day and night, at no extra cost. Who knew that still existed in this day and age? According to Siciliano, “there’s value here in the Wildwoods.”
Among other recent and distinctive awards given to the area is the recent naming by AOL of Wildwoods’ Doo Wop architecture among the “Ten Architectural Wonders of the United States.” Out of what must be thousands and thousands of architectural wonders throughout the country, to be in the top ten is more than a little impressive. And if you don’t know what Doo Wop architecture is, head to the Wildwoods and find out.
The Wildwoods area was mainly built up in the 50’s and 60’s, and the architecture was created as a colorful, unique, flashy way to draw visitors into its motels and other buildings. Neon signs, lack of straight lines, distinct features—these were all part of the architectural plan. When many of these buildings from the 50’s and 60’s were being demolished and replaced by more modern structures, the Doo Wop Preservation League was formed, and the term “Doo Wop,” taken from music from the 1950’s and 60’s, was applied to this style of architecture, forever preserving it physically and emotionally as a Wildwood staple.
And like the simple, albeit exciting and alluring, fun of the Wildwoods in general, this architecture invokes in people a feeling of safety, of an era gone by but not forgotten, and appreciated in the Wildwoods. Chuck Schumann, of the Doo Wop Preservation League in the Wildwoods, says “When you think of Doo Wop, we hope you are placed in the Wildwoods.” Many people, indeed are. “There are lots of ‘born again doo-woppers’” stated Schumann, and this history and preservation brings them to the area, and helps send them back to those simpler times.
Visitors interested in the architecture and culture surrounding it can visit the Doo Wop Experience, an interactive museum located across from the Convention Center, which houses nostalgic memorabilia, offers a one-of-a-kind “Back to the 50’s” bus tour, and keeps the Doo Wop spirit alive. “Born again doo woppers” can also rock around the clock at the 50’s Weekend in the Fall and the 60’s weekend in the Spring, each of which are fabulous, music and fun filled events not to be missed, transporting people to a time when, according to Chuck Schumann, “rock and roll ruled, and coca cola came in a bottle.”
When people think of Doo Wop, they think of the Wildwoods, and when they think of the Wildwoods, they think of Morey’s Piers, a mega-center of family entertainment encompassing over 18 acres, 6 beach blocks, 3 amusement piers, and 2 waterparks. It’s one of the largest seaside parks in the country, and yet keeps with the overall theme of good old fashioned family fun that is Wildwood: this is not a cold, concrete and metal theme park that lacks heart and soul; in fact, it’s the antithesis of that. Says Jack Morey, second-generation owner and operator (along with his brother), Morey’s is “not a carnival, not a theme park; it’s more culture-controlled than design-controlled.”
The Morey family, which opened Morey’s Piers in 1969, has put a lot of love into the place, and it shows. Additionally, families who have been coming to the Wildwoods for years and years wouldn’t miss spending time at their waterparks, on their rides, and playing their games. Many adults and children alike feel that it wouldn’t be summer without Morey’s.
And while they are steeped in tradition and good old-fashioned fun, they are constantly adding new and exciting features and attractions. This Memorial Day they unveiled a huge project that was shrouded in mystery during its construction: Morey’s Ghost Ship, an interactive attraction that features 8-15 actors who are constantly creating live, always-changing, ultra spooky scenes (no blood or gore though!), which Jack Morey described as “haunted street theater.” The construction and planning of the attraction was a labor of love, and seems to have been worth all of the work; it’s been extremely well received.
In addition to the Ghost Ship, Morey’s is introducing the fantastically-named Wiki Kiniki Kabanas for the summer season, which are private beach and river cabanas made from South African eucalyptus that are perched high atop a platform and allow families to be on the scene, and above it. Morey’s has pretty much thought of everything a family could possibly want on their summer vacation. (www.moreyspiers.com)
Be sure to come to the Wildwoods ready to have a good time, and also be sure to come hungry! There are some really great options. New this summer is Joe’s Fish Co., which is owned by the Morey family. This latest addition to the dining scene is somewhat unique, in that it’s one of the few sit-down dining options on the actual boardwalk, and unlike the rest of the boardwalk, Joe’s serves wine, beer, and cocktails—including a fantastic margarita. It’s the perfect choice on the boardwalk for a family to enjoy a nice meal, where both the parents and kids will be satisfied. Located on Surfside Pier at 25th street, Joe’s has great food, fine wines, over 20 beers, and a truly marvelous view of the ocean. Jack Morey calls it “architectural eye candy.” (http://www.moreyspiers.com/s1/146/Joes-Fish)
A longtime family-favorite in the Wildwoods, Little Italy restaurant serves up high quality, authentic Italian cuisine that continuously pleases picky parents and kids, and never disappoints. Owner Giovanni Sanzone and wife Sandy transport their customers to Italy in the form of Italian flavors and tastes, sounds, smells, and visuals. Families line up week after week, year after year, to have a taste of traditional cooking at Little Italy. What they find once inside, beyond great ambiance and music, is large, generous portions of consistently delicious, high-quality food. (www.littleitalywildwood.com)
Fans of “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” absolutely must stop at Maui’s Dog House, a hot dog heaven where owner Maui serves gourmet dogs with a whopping 29 different toppings, in all sorts of wacky—albeit delicious—combinations. Maui’s Dog House is a Wildwood staple and reason enough to visit the area, as did Guy Fieri, host of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” Kids and adults alike flock to this hot dog utopia where the frankfurter is king. (www.mauisdoghouse.com)
Take a step back in time and enjoy a shake, malt or ice cream sundae at Cool Scoops, a 50’s ice cream parlor. Enjoy the jukebox and dine in an original car booth. Housing one of the largest collections of 50’s memorabilia on display in New Jersey, Cool Scoops was voted #1 Ice Cream Parlor at the Shore. The shop appeared on TLC’s Trading Spaces “Doo Wop Episode” in 2006, and on the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown’s Great Weekend “Rockin’ the Jersey Shore “ episode in 2010, with special guest Chubby Checker. Having founded and hosted the Wildwoods Music Awards, Paul Russov, owner of Cool Scoops states,” We do this to honor those artists who made Wildwood the Doo Wop Capital of the World!” Check out www.coolscoops.com for “Cool Events” and “Fabulous Artists” who visit annually...from Chubby Checker to Bobby Rydell, and more...even the Monkees and the Monkee Mobile were there!
Basically, there’s something for everyone, and lots of it, at this all American family haven where fun, relaxation, food, entertainment, and activities are the name of the game. Go to the Wildwoods for the quintessential summer fun you’ve always dreamed of. In the words of John Sicliano, their “commitment to continuing events, to making them free, and to making them family friendly started over ten years ago. That commitment has not faded and will not fade.” Now go see for yourself.
What’s New in the Wildwoods:
Saturday July 17 and Sunday, July 18, head to the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse for the first-ever Wildwoods Maritime Festival. The two-day celebration of the sea is set to feature unique historical displays from assorted maritime and lighthouse museums from around the country, as well as crafters and vendors selling nautical-themed merchandise. There will also be Lighthouse and Garden tours, food vendors, live musical entertainment and much more.
Enjoy the high-speed action of beach lacrosse during the First Annual Beach Lacrosse Summer Tournament, hosted by Morey’s Piers, Saturday, July 17 and Sunday, July 18. About 1000 people will be competing in this exciting event, the first of many of its kind.
Wildwoods’ Irish Summer Fest. Taking place at the Wildwoods Convention Center Friday, August 13 and Saturday, August 14, the festival will include two days of Irish music, Irish dance workshops, competitions and a one-of-a-kind Celtic Marketplace selling Irish Crafts and other collectibles. The Irish Summer Fest will be highlighted by a concert performance of the internationally renowned Celtic Crossroads Band from Ireland. Stunningly youthful and exuberant, “They are to Music what River Dance is to Dance.” Tickets for the concert can be purchased for $25, $35, and VIP seating for $45 at www.TicketMaster.com or charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. For more information on this brand new Wildwoods festival, visit www.irishsummerfest.com or call 609-849-6365 or 609-846-2602.
Sweet Soul and Rock ‘n Roll Concert will take place Saturday, September 4 in the Wildwoods Convention Center’s Oceanfront Arena at 7 p.m. Featuring three legendary groups spanning four decades and producing a combined fifty smash hit records, the Sweet Soul and Rock ‘n Roll Concert will star Little Anthony & The Imperials; The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards; the sensational Spinners; and celebrity impersonator host Linda Axelrod as Joan Rivers. Tickets are available at all TicketMaster Outlets, online at www.TicketMaster.com or Charge-By-Phone at 1-800-745-3000.
Be sure to check out the Wildwoods Country Music Weekend – Friday, October 22 through Sunday, October 24. Country music fans can head to the shore for a weekend full of down-home fun including a ”Starlight Roadhouse Dance Party” with live country dance music and line dancing lessons; an all-day Country Fair on Saturday and Sunday with live music, vendors selling country attire, contests, memorabilia, crafts, food and more; and a Vintage Pickup Truck Show. Enjoy a Saturday night concert inside the Wildwoods Convention Center’s Oceanfront Arena starring country music headliner Sawyer Brown, along with singer/song-writer Josh Gracin. Visit www.WildwoodsCountry.com or call toll free 888-448-7641 for more information and updates about the event.