Morey’s Piers celebrates 50th anniversary

AT: Tim Baldwin

WILDWOOD, N.J. — It started with a slide. Five decades later, three piers that include two waterparks (with 22 waterslides) and 73 rides have defined the city of Wildwood to thousands if not millions of shore goers.

“In attempting to describe this place, we like to say we are forged by sand, sea, sunbeams and American dreams, and that our family has been handcrafting Morey’s Piers through five decades and three generations,” said Jack Morey, co-owner. “It brings us great joy to see the generations of families that come to visit each summer, making memories to last a lifetime.” 

In 1969, the Morey name was not recognized as it is today. If anything, the family’s business in hotels and motels is what would have been associated with a Morey’s mention, if known at all. Brothers Will and Bill Morey happened to notice something new in trendy recreation while at a shopping center in Florida. Taken with the crowd reaction to a big slide, the pair surmised it could be popular at their home in New Jersey. Having acquired two strips of beach real estate in North Wildwood in 1969 for what was then an exorbitant price, the Wipe Out slide was built and became a summer sensation. And a beginning.

During the 1970s, there were several amusement piers decorating Wildwood’s beachfront. The Morey upstarts were most likely not considered to be any significant competition. Expanding the pier around the slide, the Morey brothers added a mix of rides to keep visitors close for longer periods of time. To do that, they appealed to both families and thrillseekers with offerings for both, but it was their creative flair for the trendy zeitgeist of hot properties — Jaws, King Kong, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars — that began a successful journey into kitschy popularity. Name recognition of such attractions soon made the pier, now known as Morey’s Surfside Pier, the hottest ticket in town. The purchase of Marine Pier late in 1976 fueled the ambitious growth. Renamed to Mariner’s Landing, the second pier was a statement that the Moreys were a force to be reckoned with. It was the first time summer tourists could buy tickets good on two piers.

In the following decades, the beachfront, as well as the town of Wildwood, underwent some changes. Many of the beachfront amusement piers were closed owing to either misfortune or a decrease in popularity. Wildwood, once synonymous with summer for the middle class, became commonplace and mundane compared to more exotic places and the bigger and highly regarded theme parks.

While portable coasters had always found their place on the piers, larger installations such as those found at theme parks were showcasing seemed out of reach for Wildwood. The Moreys soon took the leap and invested heavily into roller coasters and big European rides. Almost ubiquitous today, the first Vekoma boomerang coaster in the United States opened in 1984 on Mariner’s Landing. It was a home run. A giant Ferris wheel and more big rides followed. The Zoom Phloom from O.D. Hopkins was the highest, fastest flume ride in the United States.  Will and Bill Morey kept their properties relevant and remained a big draw.

Other roller coasters along the way have included Vekoma’s suspended The Great Nor’easter (1995), The Great White woodie from Custom Coasters Inc. (1996) and Doo Wopper zigzag coaster from Zamperla (2005).

As with any family, things change as generations age. Will, Sr., passed away in 1998, with his wife Jackye joining him shortly thereafter. Their sons, Will Jr. and Jack Morey, the current co-owners, spearheaded the business forward and continue to do so today. As the new millennium arrived, the brothers had assumed all interest in the piers from other family members under the entity The Morey Organization.

Jack Morey remarked the passing of his parents as the toughest point in the park’s history. “The two founding families separated after four years of wasteful litigation,” he said.

Along the way, Wildwood has reinvigorated itself, admittedly with the help of the Moreys. Helping to keep the city vibrant is the refresh of the resort aspect. While Will and Jackye had introduced the Pan American Hotel to Wildwood in 1964, the family entered the hotel business again with the transformation of the Wingate Inn into a retro-themed Starlux Hotel Resort. More accommodations followed with the acquisition of the Port Royal Hotel and the remodel of the Midtown Motel into the Blue Palms.

Today, the piers are thriving. While the emulation of intellectual property isn’t possible like it was in the ‘70s, the management still isn’t shy of respecting its history. A throwback to such icons as King Kong came with the reintroduction of Kong, a Larson International Flying Scooters on a rooftop, complete with the big ape himself as a central icon. Other signature attractions have arrived such as Ghost Ship, a popular walk-through attraction and artBOX, a trendy locale for area artists to keep things fresh. Three amusement piers, two beachfront water parks and six beach blocks boast 18 acres of more than 100 rides and attractions: Surfside Pier, featuring Ocean Oasis Water Park and Beach Club at 25th Ave.; Mariner’s Landing Pier, featuring Raging Waters Water Park at Schellenger Ave.; and Adventure Pier at Spencer Ave.

“Who would have thought that a silly little fiberglass slide spotted in a parking lot in Florida would inspire our father and uncle to enter a business about which they knew absolutely zilch,” said Jack Morey. “Fifty years later, we’ve added a few more bells and whistles, but our mission remains the same: to provide a spectacular family recreational experience in an exceptionally safe, clean, friendly and unique environment.” 

When asked to pinpoint rewarding moments over the years, Morey noted the induction of his and Will’s father into the IAAPA Hall of Fame, his brother serving as chair of International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, his service as chair of IAAPA Hall of Fame, and winning Amusement Today’s Best Seaside Park Golden Ticket in 2015. As always, he is excited about the next attraction.

One of Morey’s Piers more one-of-a-kind successes is the Breakfast in the Sky opportunity. On select dates, visitors can enjoy breakfast on the Pier’s 156-foot giant wheel. Refined from its paper napkins beginnings, guests now enjoy a full, freshly prepared hot breakfast (including gourmet shrimp, crab and lobster omelets and more) on white tablecloth with spectacular views of the ocean during those mornings. It continues to sell out each summer.

Maggie Warner, spokesperson for Morey’s Piers, discussed 50th anniversary plans with Amusement Today. “It’s always nice when the weather cooperates, and Mother Nature has been on our side so far. As far as how we are celebrating, we didn’t really want to throw a party for ourselves, we really wanted to do things for our guests.”

Warner spoke of the Funner Summer Challenge, a digital game guests can play through their phones.  After completing challenges, visitors win prizes, anything from pier or water park passes to food discounts. The Piers worked with One Trick Pony, its ad agency to develop the concept and to execute it for their guests. We did Wildwoodstock in the spring, and that kind of kicked off our 50th celebration with live entertainment and crafts with the kids.”

Included in the celebration are new offerings of boardwalk eats. Joe’s Fish Co., Stubborn Brother’s, Jumbo’s Grub & Pub and PigDog Beach Bar + BQ have new specialties including the “Mother of All Bloody Mary’s” (a 32 oz. cocktail topped with brisket, shrimp, chicken tenders, fries and more), deep-fried moon pies, Ohio Style nachos, the Mighty Green Burger and the Wild Wooder, a new release from Cape May Brewing Company, commemorating 50 years of Morey’s Piers. Secret Garden is a new canopy-covered option seating up to 12 guests for an intimate private experience featuring panoramic views of both Surfside Pier and the boardwalk. 50th anniversary Salted Caramel “Piertzel” Dippin’ Dots are also sold throughout Morey’s Piers. Morey’s Piers has four restaurants and 16 concession stands.

With the opening of the Runaway Tram Car from Zierer, excitement continues through the rest of the summer season. 

“A ribbon cutting with Jack and Will at the opening kept things going,” said Warner. “It was fun to get people who have been involved with driving the Wildwood tramcar over the years involved with the opening.”

“It is vital to mention that we could not have survived the last 50 years without our staff. They have been a significant part of this journey and many of them have worked at Morey’s Piers a lot longer than Will and I have,” Jack Morey told AT.  “It is also important to note the symbiotic relationship that we have with our surrounding community in Wildwood, N.J. The public-private nature of the beach and boardwalk environment is what yields the secret sauce that creates the fun, quirky culture of our island and allows our business to survive and thrive.”

This article appears in the AUGUST 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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