The Thrills Are Back at Coney Island's Amusement Parks After a 529-day Shutdown
For 529 days, the sound of silence hung over Coney Island. But on Friday, music filled the air, as high-speed coasters and the iconic Ferris wheel got moving again and the entire boardwalk returned to some semblance of its old self, despite being limited to one-third capacity.
The amusement parks in Brooklyn pushed the pause button, as always, for their seasonal shutdown in the fall of 2019. But as the pandemic set in, they remained closed for the entirety of 2020. And it wasn't until Feb. 17, when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that outdoor amusement parks could reopen at 33% capacity starting April 9, that the recovery process could begin.
"It's the thing that makes us who we are. We're the family that runs the Wonder Wheel," DJ Vourderis, whose family has owned and operated Deno's Amusement Park since it opened over a century ago, told New York City's NPR station WNYC. The 15-story wheel has long been a staple of the Coney Island skyline, yet the family found themselves facing the possibility of permanently closing during the pandemic. "The financial hole that we're in is deep. And we have creditors knocking on the door," he admitted, adding that they pretty much made no money last year — a year that should have been celebrated as the 100th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel.
But on Friday, the wheel was back in motion — and receiving a major honor as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared it Deno's Wonder Wheel Day. "It's a year late, but that's okay. We get to mark history," he said while presenting the park with the proclamation. "One hundred years, Deno's Wonder Wheel, 100 years, a century of joy, a century of wonderful family memories." As the ride spun again, some of the first to ride were frontline workers.
Over at Luna Park, best known for its Cyclone roller coaster, the impact of the day was also huge. "It's a very emotional day. We wanted to spread positivity," Alessandro Zamperla, president of Central Amusement International Inc., which runs the park, said at a ceremony before opening on Friday, USA Today reported. "It's been very tough, but now is really a day of celebration, a day where we get together and we want to inspire people to come here, to really be able to have fun." Among the earliest thrill seekers to board the Cyclone was de Blasio, who also presented Luna Park with a proclamation. The park even debuted six new rides for young guests "to continue the Coney Island tradition of seaside thrills and fun," Zamperla said in a statement.
Both amusement parks are open on Saturdays and Sundays, with the hope of expanding after Memorial Day.
While the limited capacity isn't quite the same as before, it's still a step forward — something that's also captured in Deno's newest roller coaster, Phoenix, which will open later this summer, Gothamist reported. "The name Phoenix was chosen because of the symbolism of rising from the ashes," Vourderis said. "But we also plan on having a more accepting and loving world from these ashes."