Before theme parks, there were amusement parks. They had rides, games, food, and usually some nice shade trees. In the early 1950s the concept of a theme park was introduced, first with small family parks themed to children’s nursery rhymes or stories, then the appearance of Disneyland, followed by regional theme parks starting with Six Flags Over Texas in 1961. Soon nearly every park was a theme park.
The best themed theme parks relied on well-known intellectual properties. Today we see millions spent by Disney on Star Wars and by Universal on Harry Potter themed attractions. They are spectacular, highly detailed, and realistic.
Then there are the theme parks that add a new ride, give it a clever name, develop a logo for the name, and out signage over the ride entrance consisting of some version of the logo, The sign is the theming. It’s themed, but it’s really just a ride and a sign.
So you can imagine my joy when I find a modest sized non-theme park that introduces a ride with theming that’s just perfect. Or as my British friends describe almost everything, it’s brilliant! But this really is brilliant, like “Why-didn’t-I-think-of-this-first?” brilliant.
I’m talking about a new ride at Morey’s Piers, now celebrating 50 years on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey. Anyone who has ever spent a warm summer night strolling the Wildwood Boardwalk has probably narrowly escaped the trackless path of one of the slow moving yellow and blue Sightseers Tram Cars. Since 1949, these iconic boardwalk transporters slowly carry passengers up and down the two mile boardwalk filled with gift shops, games, food, arcades, and amusements. “Watch the tram car” warns the loudspeaker to anyone who strays into its path. Several of the tram cars running on the Boardwalk were originally built for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. I like them so much I was given the model shown here.
Can you imagine the mayhem if one of the Tram Cars ever ran amok? Will and Jack Morey must have, because when they bought a new Zierer Flying Eagle roller coaster they asked Zierer to theme the train like a Tram Car. They removed their old Flitzer from Surfside Pier and have introduced the Runaway Tram. Now, anyone visiting Wildwood can now make their way onto the boardwalk and hail a passing Tram Car. It will carry them to Surfside Pier for a ride on the Runaway Tram.
This wasn’t the first time the Morey brothers have used the Tram Cars for theming. One makes a guest appearance midway through the Pirates of the Wildwoods dark ride on Mariner’s Landing, but it’s just a painting. I wonder how long it took the Morey brothers to come up with a theme for their new roller coaster like the ubiquitous Tram Cars that parade past their piers. The theming isn’t extravagant, just a colorful sign and trains that resemble the Tram Cars. And it is just a coaster, after all. But for a park in Wildwood, the concept is perfect. Or as the Brits say, brilliant.