THE VIBE Families Gone Wild in a retro town with the cheapest of thrills on its famous (and infamous) Boardwalk.
THE 411 The signature candy-colored motels — what, in effect, made Wildwood Wildwood — have been decimated by a decade-long raze-’em-and-build-condos boom, but there are now increasingly visible efforts to preserve the fabulous, colorfully kitschy but lovable character of the ’50s and ’60s.
If the turquoise-and-pink Wawa sign at the entrance to town at Rio Grande Avenue doesn’t scream doo-wop’s lingering presence, last year debuted the futuristic-looking Doo Wop Museum on Ocean Avenue, with its “garden” of salvaged neon motel signs. The museum is just the beginning: The island has doo-wop high-rises in the pipeline, some up to 25 stories, to host both year-round Convention Center visitors and Canadian vacationers lured by the weak U.S. dollar. Unless you love the din of construction, be wary of your renting coordinates.
LOCAL LEGENDS It’s simple: There would be no Wildwood without its Boardwalk. The original 150-foot stretch has grown to two miles, navigable by (“Watch the … !”) tram car, and though it can attract some curious customers, the Boardwalk in all its carnival glory is still Jersey’s answer to Coney Island. Treat behaving kids two ways. On the Boardwalk: some TLC (that’s for owners Tom & Lynne Curyto) Polish Water Ice. The non-dairy flavors are endless, but most popular are blue raspberry and mango.
Off the Boardwalk: Duffer’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlour on Hildreth and Pacific avenues serves up milkshakes, sundaes and banana splits in old-school fancy glasses and towering silver cups. (If the kids have been really good, play a round of miniature golf outside.) And if you’re seeking a stalwart staple, hit up the 55-year-old A & LP Foods on New Jersey Avenue for a cheap-but-yummy cheesesteak.
WHAT’S NEW Best op for the family’s annual holiday photo: a gigantic three-story “Wildwoods” sign installed over the winter where Rio Grande meets the beach. The plaza abutting the sign is adorned with more than two dozen tricolor cement beach balls. While this cost about half a mil, another $400,000 was pumped into a state-of-the-art playground for kids and adults on Atlantic Avenue, near the Convention Center. In addition to being free (like Wildwood’s beach, natch), it boasts rock-climbing walls and fitness trails. And on the ever-expanding and enhancing Morey’s Piers, expect a new train (with ergonomically designed seats!) on the still-terrifying Great Nor’Easter, and the debut of a thrill ride called Cygnus X-1, a spinning, gravity-free space shuttle — sort of like the Gravitron on galactic steroids.
TYPICAL DAY First decision: the free beach, or $33 admission to Morey’s water parks? Either way, a worked-up appetite begs a second decision: whether to get plain or pepp (maybe both?) at Sam’s Pizza Palace on the Boardwalk, coveted by both locals and tourists for more than half a century. (Owner Sam Spera still stirs sauces behind the counter.)
You’ll need some fuel to tackle the incredibly big and wide beach — don’t pack too many toys or chairs, because you’ll be lugging them a ways. After you ride the waves, a quick shower gets you back to the Boardwalk for the final decision: Exactly how many times should you go round the 156-foot giant Ferris wheel on Mariner’s Landing tonight?
NOTABLE SHOOBIES Bob Brady, City Councilman James Kenney.
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT A box of fudge trifecta — vanilla, chocolate and peanut butter — from Douglass Candies on the Boardwalk, where for over 65 years the plaid box with the Scottish terrier on the front has been as much a signature as the gooey treats within.