It is always exciting for my family and I to explore a brand new vacation spot. After experiencing Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for the first time in 2015, we decided to follow this up with the Wildwoods in New Jersey (www.WildwoodsNJ.com).As usual, we get an early start at securing reservations, doing so many months in advance of a July visit.
Home to more than 180 special events and festivals throughout the year, some might consider the Wildwoods the “Events Capital of the East Coast.” The events take place at various locations throughout the island’s three distinct municipalities: Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood. Visitors can find an event happening nearly every day of the week throughout the summer at locations including the Wildwoods Convention Center, Fox Park, Olde New Jersey Avenue and on the beach and world-famous Wildwoods Boardwalk.
The Wildwoods’ annual calendar of events not only draws visitors to the family resort, but also provides additional activities and entertainment outlets to those already visiting for vacation or business. From firemen to fishing tournaments, music to marbles, the Wildwoods have developed a unique offering of special events not equaled in any other resort destinations.
Spring is the time when the outdoor fun starts rolling in the Wildwoods, with events like the Boardwalk Classic Car Show, Easter Weekend and the one-of-a-kind Sensational Spring Weekend taking place. These events get the year started off right and help set the tone for the rest of summer. Highlighted by great music, loud engines and family fun, spring events in the Wildwoods are a great reason to warm up after a long winter.
Once Memorial Day hits, the summer really starts heating up. The Wildwoods host their annual International Kite Festival (the largest such event in North America), National Marbles Tournament, Wildwoods Baby Parade, New Jersey State Barbeque Championships, the Anglesea Blues Festival and spectacular 4th of July Weekend. Traditional events like these attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the country every summer.
Also taking place almost every weekend throughout the summer on the five-mile island are block parties, craft shows, conventions and many festivals. A wide variety of free concerts and live entertainment can also be found almost every single night of the week throughout the summer, including spectacular, free Friday Night Fireworks and free live concerts featuring national recording artists, oldies groups, dance and big band music and more!
Best of all, the fun doesn’t end in the Wildwoods once September comes around. The Wildwoods’ “Second Season” starts up after Labor Day Weekend, offering visitors a host of events every weekend through the end of October. Fall events in the Wildwoods include the NJ Governors Cup and the Olde Time Italian Festival; the Irish Fall Festival; the Seafood and Music Festival and the amazing Fabulous ‘50s Weekend.
There’s a little something for everyone on the Wildwoods Calendar of Events: Roller Derby, MMA, WWE Live and the Harlem Globetrotters for sports lovers; monster trucks, car shows and motorcycle rallies for auto enthusiasts; Comic, Sports Card, Toy, Postcard and Stamp Expos for collectors; a Barbeque and Blues Festival, Seafood and Music Festival and Italian and Irish Festivals for music and food lovers; and events like International Kite Festival and National Marbles Tournament for families. The best part about all of the Wildwoods’ events is that they are open to everyone to come and enjoy – and most of them are free to attend!
The Wildwoods Calendar of Events is available online at www.WildwoodsNJ.com or by calling 1-800-WW-BY-SEA (800) 992-9732.
WHAT TO DO: There is an awful lot to do here and it all starts at The Wildwoods Boardwalk, often called “two miles of smiles.” Here you will find spectacular amusement piers, world-class roller coasters, interactive waterparks, family atmosphere, carnival-style games of chance, shops and irresistible food. Imagine, nearly nine million visitors are attracted here each season. We just loved the atmosphere.
Since its birth as a mere 150-yard stretch of boards in the 1890s, the Wildwoods Boardwalk has always been the center of activity. Throughout the years, the Boardwalk has gone through many transformations, growing and evolving with the mood of the country, and in its 100-year history, was twice moved closer to the ocean with the changing shoreline. Today, it is one of the country’s last great seaside promenades. Its rich history and world-famous ambiance has led to the very concept being replicated both in Disneyland and Hershey Park in Pennsylvania.
Stretching for two and a half miles, the Boardwalk offers pure sensory overload with over 100 rides and attractions (more than Disneyland) ranging from world-class roller coasters and wet ‘n wild waterparks to carnival-style midway games, flashing arcades and a myriad of retail shops and eateries (more than the Mall of America).
The Boardwalk features Morey’s Piers (www.moreyspiers.com), containing three action-packed amusement piers. Morey’s Mariner’s Pier, located at Schellenger Avenue in Wildwood, offers the atmosphere of a traditional amusement park. With the classics like the Super Scooters, Teacups, Musik Express and the Giant Wheel, Mariner’s Landing takes families back to the turn of the century when life was simpler. It’s also the only place to experience Breakfast in the sky— a gourmet, white linen and china breakfast on the Giant Wheel, offering spectacular views of the ocean and all of the Wildwoods.
Morey’s Surfside Pier, located at 25th Street in North Wildwood, is like stepping into a colorful seaside carnival. It was the first of Morey’s three piers, opening in 1969 with a giant fiberglass slide that only cost 25 cents to ride. Surfside Pier mixes a variety of kiddie rides with family thrills in an environment fueled by neon colors, bright lights and music.
Morey’s Adventure Pier is the one that rocks, packed with high thrill extreme rides, the world famous wooden coaster and the Three-Point Challenge Basketball Game. Soar through the air over the beach on the SkyCoaster, feel the G force of the SkyScraper or shoot your way to the moon on the SlingShot. A brand new stage features School of Rock.
Guests visiting the Wildwoods Boardwalk will find an array of exciting amusements, including three of the best seaside roller coasters in the country at Morey’s Piers: the Sea Serpent, the Great Nor’easter – an inverted looping coaster, and the Great White – one of the tallest and fastest wooden coasters on the East Coast. Also, giant monster trucks offer a high-speed, bumpy ride along the beach; and the Wildwoods’ three large beachfront water parks provide cool relief on a hot summer day – with plunging waterfalls, cool cabanas, spas, hydrochutes, speed slides, raft rides, tube floats, lazy rivers, waterslides, rope swings, water guns for soaking, and a 1,000 gallon dumping bucket. We secured special bracelets, which provided us with unlimited access for a full day to any ride in the amusement park as well as access to the water parks. You can also purchase tickets individually. I loved their flume ride, where we got happily soaked during two plunges and the huge ferris wheel. There were no huge lineups that you see at many amusement parks and that was appreciated.
Another of the Boardwalk’s most popular attractions is the Sightseer Tram Cars (http://watchthetramcarplease.com/tramcar), the source of one of the most familiar quotes to any visitor to the Jersey Shore and the Wildwoods Boardwalk: “Watch the Tram Car, Please,” transporting visitors from one end of the famous wooden way to the other.
The Sightseer Tram Cars were originally built for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. In 1949, Gilbert Ramagosa purchased five of the electric powered cars and put them into service on the Wildwoods Boardwalk. For over 65 continuous years, they have ferried tens of millions of visitors and locals alike along the Boardwalk.
The Tram Cars were way ahead of their time in being environmentally friendly, as they can operate for up to 12 hours at a time on the power of a single 2,000-pound electric battery. Today, eight Tram Cars traverse the Boardwalk and carry approximately 500,000 people annually along the promenade. A nominal fare provides seating on the Tram Car and transports visitors to their desired destinations along the Boardwalk, running a continuous loop from Cresse Avenue on the Wildwood/Wildwood Crest border to 16th Street in North Wildwood. We very much appreciated this service, having secured a booklet of tickets, which costs $50. You can get on and off where you wish. There are also bracelets available for $6 a day. Individual rides cost $3. This was so convenient for our family as we got on just steps away from the Adventurer Ocean Inn and simply got off at the Boardwalk stop we desired.
The Boardwalk is also perfect for a stroll on a cool night or a scenic bike ride amidst all of the Boardwalk’s amusements during the early morning hours. The Cresse Avenue bike ramp provides ‘bikeability’ for the Wildwoods connecting Wildwood Crest’s beach bike path to the Boardwalk. At the North end of the Boardwalk the bike ramp connects the Muhlberry Bike path in north Wildwood all the way to the Sea Wall, a scenic six-mile trek.
The Boardwalk has won numerous travel and tourism awards including being named among the top three Boardwalks in the nation as a Best Boardwalk for Food by TheDailyMeal.com in 2014; a Top Boardwalk in the nation by FamilyVacationCritic.com in 2015,2014, 2013 and 2012; and the Wildwoods’ Morey’s Amusement Piers were named among the Top 10 Piers by Coastal Living Magazine in 2014. In 2013 the Wildwoods were also recognized as one of the Most Awesome Boardwalks in America by BudgetTravel.com; as the Favorite Shore Town by Delaware County Daily Times readers; and as the Favorite Beach and Boardwalk by NJ.com readers.
While walking on the Boardwalk we met a young man giving samples of some neat pastries. He turned out to be a Montrealer working for one of the first BeaverTails (www.beavertails.com) outlets in the United States, Based on an old family recipe, BeaverTails pastries are a Canadian icon – a unique and delicious treat. Served hot and topped with numerous choices, including cinnamon & sugar, chocolate hazelnut spread, Reese’s® Pieces and peanut butter, BeaverTails pastries satisfy indulgences of all tastes. BeaverTails also offers a menu of favorite snack foods, including BeaverBites, BeaverDogs, poutines, and moozoo® smoothies, frozen yogurts and gelatos. The young man, a student at the John Molson School of Business, said that the response has been good. Not only do many Quebecers visit the Wildwoods, Americans were very curious – especially about our famous poutine.
Splash Zone Water Park (http://www.splashzonewaterpark.com) features the ultimate combination of high-speed thrills and tranquil surroundings for guests of all ages. It is located right on the Boardwalk. Within the atmosphere of a secluded family fun oasis awaits a mélange of everything from a giant water bucket, to waterfalls, speed slides and body flumes to a lazy river, a children’s water playground and a tree house loaded with a giant arsenal of every interactive water toy imaginable! When you’re not getting drenched in the water, Splash Zone offers sunbathing areas, a picnic facility and mouthwatering food at the Zone Grill. You can also book your own cabana.
We love to play mini-golf. Our chosen course in Wildwood was the Black Light Mini Golf: Dragon’s Lair Mini Golf (http://dragonslairminigolf.com) on the Boardwalk. It was a lot of fun and only $5 per person for 10 holes. You can play rain or shine in this glow in the dark indoor facility, open 10 am to midnight daily.
We had planned on experiencing the Sightseer Whale & Dolphin Cruises (http://bigbluesightseer.com), but time ran out for us.
WHERE TO STAY: We were fortunate to get reservations at The Adventurer Ocean Inn (www.AdventurerInn.com), which I can confidently say is probably the nicest hotel in all of the Wildwoods. This is indeed an oceanfront location, which has everything that your family or group needs to relax and unwind at the beach. You can wake up to the sounds of the ocean, watch the sun rise from an ocean view or oceanfront balcony, enjoy breakfast in their oceanfront restaurant or simply bask in the sun at the beach or at the pool area. From this location, you can walk to the beach, the Boardwalk and waterparks, and the Wildwoods Convention Center with ease. It comes complete with a cardio room, convention/meeting rooms, Southern exposure outdoor pool and kiddie pool, and free outdoor and garage parking on the premises.
Mary Nell Murphy is the managing director and owner of the hotel, which was originally operated by her grandparents. While her dad Greg Lacivita is still involved, he is slowly drifting into retirement and allowing Mary Nell and her sister Joanna and brother Chris to keep the family tradition going.
We felt right at home at The Adventurer Ocean Inn the moment we arrived. This hotel features some of the largest and cleanest two, three and four room suites in the Wildwoods. Upgrades are done each off-season. They used to close from October until May. But given the increased activity at the Convention Centre, their opening date has been moved up to April, March and next winter February. We had a very comfortable two-room suite, which had a king size and double bed in one area. This was separated by a sliding accordion door, opening up to a nice sized living room/full kitchen with a pullout sofa bed, a nice sitting chair and a table with five chairs, which we used to eat at. It also became my “go to” spot to do work on my computer.
As far as the pool facility is concerned, I want to give a huge thumbs up. On the eighth and final day of our visit, we felt very emotional leaving our very comfortable chairs and taking our last swim in the perfectly heated pool. There are plenty of chairs and umbrellas. You just need to give your room number and you will receive some nice sized towels for the day. We particularly appreciated the covered outdoor lounging area with an adjacent sundeck at the second level, which also had comfy couches. There is WiFi poolside so we could enjoy our different devices. At pool level there is an enclosed oceanfront lounge/meeting area, which connects to the beach. It also has tables to eat at, a TV to watch and washrooms.
The front office staff are extremely friendly and helpful. They will steer you in the direction of different tourist attractions. The reception area has an endless array of tourism flyers and booklets to choose from. There is a business centre with two computers and two printers.
The Adventurer Pancake House and Family Restaurant is located on the first floor on the oceanfront side of the building. It has been privately run by the same family for the past two decades.
There is a washing station on the oceanfront side of the building, just before entering. Guests are encouraged to wash sand off there before entering the building or the pool area. We swam in the ocean each day, which was happily quite warm in the month of July. It was an easy walk from poolside.
The hotel is located at the beginning of the Boardwalk, which has shops, eateries and arcades, The rides are three quarters to one mile from the Boardwalk, so you do not hear any noise from them.
Coin-operated laundry and ironing facilities are available on site. Groups can take advantage of a Penthouse convention / meeting room. There elevators on each side of the building, complimentary cribs and cots and daily housekeeping service. I was very impressed with the number of luggage carts available in the garage. There is a large Acme Supermarket only a few blocks away from the hotel so we were able to do a full order to stock the fridge when we arrived and go back and forth during the week to pickup other items.
The hotel has excellent access for the handicapped from the garage elevator. There is a ramp leading to the pool. Mary Nell plans to have a company come in the next off-season and conduct a needs assessment. She has already added roll-in showers to some rooms.
All of the 113 rooms are non-smoking and have individual climate control(s), private balconies, telephone(s) with automated voice mail, free wireless internet access, refrigerators and microwaves, an in-room safe, flat screen TVs, hair dryers and toiletries, iron and ironing boards, kitchens, coffee pot, a two burner stove, pots and pans, dishes and silverware and a toaster. There is a large-scale Acme Grocery Store only a few blocks away.
The beach is free and available for your vacationing pleasure. Umbrella and beach chair rentals are conveniently located directly on the beach; no need to bring your own! The Beach Patrol can also assist handicapped or wheelchair-bound individuals and their families onto the beach and/or to the waters edge. Guests can simply walk outside the building and enjoy!
This a fabulous family location and from speaking with many of the guests, they come back year after year. In fact it is fairly common for them to book their rooms for the following year upon checkout. By doing so they are able to lock in the rates that exist at the time.
I strongly recommend the Adventurer Ocean Inn! It made our trip and I thank the people from the Greater Wildwoods Tourism and Improvement Development Authority for recommending it.
DINING OUT: Imagine enjoying a romantic dinner overlooking the water as fishing vessels glide into port with the day’s catch. Or, think how wonderful it would be to begin your day with a stack of fluffy pancakes dripping with butter and syrup while watching morning cyclists pedal along the Boardwalk, all the while thinking ahead to a fun day at the beach. Then, it’s lunch with pizza, burgers, curly fries or a sub, all topped off with soft-serve ice cream or sugar-powdered funnel cakes and a promise that you’ll worry about cholesterol, and calories later.
That’s what it’s like when you vacation in the Wildwoods, where there are restaurants and menus for every appetite, every budget and virtually every taste. From fresh seafood and Mexican fajitas to Chinese egg rolls and Italian cuisine, the Wildwoods have something for everyone.
The restaurant renaissance that started years ago in Cape May has spilled over into the Wildwoods and a growing number of gourmet restaurants are located throughout the five-mile island, each of them garnering superb reviews from critics and patrons alike. The Wildwoods’ upscale restaurants offer memorable surroundings, remarkable cuisine and attentive service for a perfect evening touched with romance, candlelight and delectable food.
Outdoor dining overlooking the ocean, the bay or the inland waterway is another unique way to enjoy dining in the Wildwoods. With amazing food, cool breezes, a phenomenal view and great music to top it off, there’s nothing like it. The backdrop is the evening sunset, sailboats slowly gliding past as the sun begins to sink toward the bay, leaving vibrant streaks of color in the evening sky.
For families on vacation, there are plenty of child-friendly dining options spread across the five-mile island. For example, the Wildwoods Boardwalk offers everything from hamburgers and hotdogs to French fries and pizza. Also, the many Doo-Wop style dinners throughout the Wildwoods offer large menus and a unique setting the kids will love. With classic diner food along with retro jukeboxes, waitresses in poodle skirts and black and white checkered floors, the Wildwoods’ Doo-Wop style diners are a great place to bring the kids for a meal anytime of the day.
For the adults, most restaurants throughout the island offer a full selection of cocktails and wines. Wine connoisseurs will find wine lists that reflect a wide selection of vineyards and vintages – including some New Jersey grown choices. A few restaurants even permit guests to bring their own choice of wines to enjoy with dinner.
I would like to recommend two restaurants in particular, which are part of the Big Fish Restaurant Group: the Beach Creek Oyster Bar and Grill (www.beachcreek.net) and The Boathouse (www.boathouseonline.com). Both promise outstanding dining experiences.
At the Beach Creek, located at 500 West Hand Avenue, general manager Colleen Guest and her team run a successful operation. You can tell this when you arrive and see the wait for tables. Intimately served indoors amidst copper and wooden decor, or outside on their waterfront deck, this place knows its food. Located directly on the water, the Beech Creek is known for its award winning contemporary international cuisine. This casual surf ‘n turf restaurant and bar features an intimate dark lit dining room, a marina-side deck and live bands.
This restaurant has such a wide array of choices for wine, cocktails, appetizers and main courses that you will want to come back more than once.
We began our meal with some cocktails, a Hawaiitini and a Pineapple Express. It was difficult to select from the delicious looking presentation of appetizers. We settled onthe Sunset Seafood Platter – six oysters, six top necks, six shrimp and colossal lump crab meat. It was amazing! We also shared some delicious seared scallops – cornmeal seared scallops and some more colossal lump crab meat, served over a tomato-basil bruchetta.
A Caesar and petite house salad were next, making way for the main entrées. The seafood a la vodka featured sweet sea scallops, tender shrimp and jumbo lump crabmeat in a vodka infused tomato cream sauce over penne pasta. The sea bass Champignon really stood out for us. This char-grilled Chilean sea bass filet was served with sautéed greens on a lobster risotto filled grilled Portobello cap and in a light grilled Portobello broth. Our final choice was the rib steak – 14 ounces of grilled Black Angus beef, served with sautéed greens and potatoes. This was an absolutely outstanding meal. We did save room for dessert, sharing a superb and nice-sized piece of double layer chocolate cake and a vanilla bean crème brulee. The menu is on their website and I would recommend you take a look before going for dinner.
If you get to the Beach Creek before 6 pm then you can take advantage of the three-course early bird special. For $25, you get bread, bruschetta, soup or salad, an entrée and dessert. Keep in mind that the portions are very generous.
You can call them at 609-522-1062.
At The Boathouse Restaurant and Marina Deck (www.boathouseonline.net), located virtually next door at 506 West Rio Grande Avenue, there is ample seating indoors and on the dock overlooking the intercoastal waterway. We arrived to a nice atmosphere of live music and young children dancing to the tunes of the musician. General manager Rick Raduns and his team provide a warm welcome to al guests. The Boathouse has been in business since 1989. It was built on the site of old bait and tackle shop and serves lunch and dinner daily in June, July and August. Come September they offer dinner daily, and lunch on the weekends. They open for dinner on weekends in October, until October 15. Happy hour is from 4 pm to 6 pm and take-out is available as well.
There is handicapped access via a ramp. If you are wheelchair bound you will need to stay at the first level. We were seated in the nicely air conditioned second floor. Our lovely server Michaela went over the daily specials and some recommendations from the menu. I started off with a mouth-watering Pina Colada while another member of our party enjoyed a glass of pinot grigio. Some fresh dinner rolls arrived at the table piping hot.
We ordered to appetizers to share: the cold shellfish sampler contained three clams and three oysters on the half shell and chilled shrimp cocktail, with some delicious dipping sauces; and the Maryland style crab cake, broiled and served with a siracha remoulade sauce. Michaela then brought a bowl of house salad for the three of us to share. It was superb, with a house vinaigrette dressing and plenty of croutons.
For the entrées, we had a wonderful choice among meat and poultry, pasta and fresh seafood. Our selections were the broiled seafood combination, seafood ala vodka and the king cut prime rib. The broiled seafood combo is the restaurant’s best seller and includes a delicious sampling of fresh local flounder, shrimp, scallops, crab imperial and clams casino. Seafood ala vodka included shrimp, scallops, crab meat and penne, tossed in a cream rosé sauce. As for the prime rib au jus, it was cooked perfectly and cut like butter. All dinners are served with the garden salad, rolls and two choices from either French fries, baked potato, roasted red bliss, the daily vegetable, cold slaw or apple sauce. Pasta (marinara or butter) or for $2 alfredo can be substituted for the two sides.
When it came time to order dessert, Michaela tempted us with her description of the homemade decadent chocolate pie. The recipe apparently comes directly via the chef’s grandmother. Well, it was beyond “decadent” and highly recommended. The chocolate had a fabulous fudge flavor and there was plenty of whipped cream and chocolate sauce as well.
Take note that the sunset specials include two entrées for only $29. There is also a children’s menu, with items at $8 each.
You can call the restaurant directly at 609-729-5301.
Here is another tip. Check out the Marvis Diner (www.marvisdiner.com) on Pacific Avenue. We loved the fact it serves an all-day breakfast. Service was excellent and the menu had a wide array of choices. Their Greek salad is a real winner.
For more information or a list of dining options please visit www.WildwoodsNJ.com and click on the “Where to Eat” button or call 1-800-WW-BY-SEA (800-992-9732).
JEWISH COMMUNITY: According to Kirk Wisemayer from the local Jewish Federation, some 12,500 Jews live in Atlantic and Cape May counties year round. This number triples during the summer months, as most of the communities along the New Jersey shore are resort towns. The Federation offices are in Margate, 36 miles north of Cape May, but they do service all of the Jewish communities in the two counties, including the city of Cape May. This being said, most of the region’s Jews live in Atlantic County and in the communities of Margate, Longport, Ventnor, Linwood, and Northfield specifically. There are approximately 300 Jews who live in the Greater Cape May area (this includes the Wildwoods), but some of the most prominent members of the community live part of the year or have businesses in Cape May – the Montreal Beach Resort being one example.
Beth Judah is the last active synagogue in Cape May County, which had a thriving Jewish population in the 1900s until factories in Woodbine began closing after World War II. Wildwood’s membership has been in decline over the decades from its peak of 200 families in the 1950s.
About six percent of New Jersey’s population is Jewish, representing about 504,500 people.