Amusement, Water Parks Prepare to Reopen July 2

Ryan Protasi, left, and Kevin Kelly, right, install hand sanitizer stations throughout Morey’s Piers in anticipation of reopening July 2. 

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WILDWOOD - The sounds of summer will be back July 2, when amusement piers and water parks will be allowed to reopen at limited capacity and with other restrictions by Gov. Phil Murphy.

So far this summer, absent have been the screams of Morey’s Piers rollercoaster riders, the rattling of the Great White, the roar of the Great Nor’easter, the splash of the log flume and children’s shrieks as Splash Zone’s giant bucket dumps hundreds of gallons of water onto their heads. 

“The boardwalk feels like a bad movie when you don’t hear the sounds of the amusements,” said Jack Morey, the second-generation owner of Wildwood’s iconic tourist attraction. “I was on the boardwalk the other night, meeting some people, and without that background of lights and sounds, it’s surreal.”

Wildwood Mayor Peter Byron said he is excited to see the rides reopen and thinks it's one of the towns distinguishing factors.

“I might make the argument that the true reason people come to the Wildwoods is because we have this fabulous boardwalk. People come here. There are a lot of beaches between here and North Jersey, but there are not a lot of boardwalks that give people all the options. Other than Disney, I don’t think there’s a better [park]. The Morey organization has been phenomenal,” Byron said.

In Ocean City, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier is also scheduled to open July 2, which is certain to bring some excitement back to the family-friendly boardwalk. Gillian's did not respond to an interview request prior to deadline.

Morey said he is excited to open for the first time this season, but doesn’t take the pandemic lightly.

“We are excited and relieved to finally be able to open. At the same time, running an amusement park is always a serious responsibility. Running one with COVID going around is an extra serious responsibility,” he said.

While masks have largely been absent on the boardwalk, Morey said they will be required to enter his piers. In the waterparks where they are not practical, there will be even fewer people admitted.

Morey’s will use cameras to monitor traffic in and out of their piers and will have a cut off where no one else will be allowed to enter. For a fee, they will take reservations, which would guarantee access to the pier at a particular time. Everyone will be checked for a mask before they enter.

The scope of the opening will depend on the amount of staff Morey’s can get. They announced earlier this week they were hiring 500 workers. While Morey said some of those positions have been filled, they will not be able to open all of their rides.

“Our intent is to open all three piers, but let me clarify that by saying we will open as much as we can as soon as we can. That is all based on the number of employees, and it is also based on the first few days, watching the culture of our guests,” said Morey.

Solo riders will not be grouped on rides, and the final decisions are being made about how things will be sanitized.

“We’re putting the finishing touches on the details for that, but there will clearly be more sanitization going on, but as you know, we’ve all learned by studying this, the surfaces are not nearly as contagious as we once thought,” said Morey.

Splash Zone Water Park will have two separate day parts which customers can make a reservation for and will not let as many people into the park as before.

“Each day will be split into two sessions, from 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Splash Zone will operate at 50% capacity to allow for social distancing. Deck chairs have also been arranged to allow for more spacing between groups,” said Jimmy Holmes, a spokesman for the water park.

Splash Zone, like Morey’s, is having a tough time obtaining workers. Both companies rely heavily on foreign workers in America for the summer on a temporary work visa. That issue is now being compounded by the additional $600 a week the state is giving those on unemployment, making staying home more lucrative than working in many cases.

“It’s absolutely crazy. The thing is, though, that unemployment is going to run out, and I don’t know what the heck they’re going to do,” said Morey, who added that he is upping the wage to $12 an hour, an increase of $3. The organization usually employs over 500 J-1 workers, but this year could get less than 100.

Splash Zone is also offering $12 an hour and is hiring. Gillian’s is also advertising job openings on its website.

“Hiring team members has been very challenging because we rely heavily on J-1 workers,” said Holmes, of Splash Zone.

With operating costs rising and revenues currently at zero, with future numbers likely to be down, it’s going to be a rough summer.

“I’ll let you know Labor Day. It’s devastating in the short term, no question. Long term, I think we will be OK, but all bets are off. No one has seen anything like this before,” said Morey.

This weekend, for the Fourth of July, it might feel a little more like summer on the boardwalk.

“The screams coming from the rollercoasters and the Ferris wheel lit up. Just the whole sounds of those piers. It’s just going to add to the excitement that, you know what, better times are here. The summer is here now, the weather’s nice, the boardwalk is opening up. Despite all this great hoopla and excitement and it is a tradition and everything about it is awesome. We still have to keep in mind we are still in the middle of a pandemic,” said Byron.

To contact Shay Roddy, email sroddy@cmcherald.com.