Fun for sure, but how will all the new amusement attractions affect LBI?
Long Beach Island, NJ — Three owners of separate local businesses, Chris Vernon, Jennifer Lackland and Brian Wainwright, all remember the Tumble Town Trampoline Park on the northern end of Ship Bottom from their childhoods. They didn’t all bounce together, but all three used to come to the Island during the summer and look forward to pastimes like the trampolines. It was an amusement pretty typical of a family resort area that people remember long after their bruises healed.
“My mom used to drop me off there and go shopping,” said Lackland. “I was a gymnast. I loved it. I would spend all day there.” She recently opened Jen’s Links in Barnegat Light, a massive two-tiered mini golf course.
Local multi-business owner Chris Vernon remembers similar times.
“There were the trampolines, a drive-in movie theater in Manahawkin and mini-golf courses, all these mom-and-pop businesses that gave those 12- to 20-year-old kids something to do. It was a place to go with their peers and be cool,” he recalled.
Vernon just opened The Mainland Adventure Park, a sprawling aerial course, zip lines and go-kart track in front of his Mainland Holiday Inn on Route 72 in Manahawkin.
Wainwright, who owns Fantasy Island in Beach Haven and is currently looking to expand and open an arcade in the long-vacant CVS on the Boulevard in Ship Bottom at Seventh Street, also has fond memories.
“When I was a kid, I played in the arcade at Fantasy Island. I saved all of my tickets, and at the end of the summer, I won a TV,” he said. “I think that TV is still in my parents’ house. That’s just one of the great memories I have of growing up here.”
All three are expanding the options for amusements on LBI and the mainland. Also opening this summer is builder David Finelli’s new Escape LBI Room, and the Tomahawkin and Axe-it 63 Hatchet House axe throwing spots are new additions in Manahawkin. Activities are more available than ever, with dozens of smaller local businesses offering everything to patrons from basketball courts to vintage skee-ball and free ukulele lessons. You’d be hard pressed to find an eatery left that doesn’t have corn hole.
There is certainly no reason to say you are bored on LBI this summer.
A LOOK AT FUN: Jen’s Links is a sprawling facility overlooking the bay that opened this spring after two years of construction. It features two separate 18-hole courses, the “High Tide” and the “Low Tide,” with cliffs, caves and waterfalls. The price is $12 adult/$8 child per course, and for an extra $3 you can play a full 36 holes. Jen’s Links also incorporates LBI’s history and character into the experience with a replica of the Oceanic Hotel, the original Coast Guard station and even the legendary Route 72 Shack. It was engineered by Harris Miniature Golf, the design and construction company out of Wildwood that built Settler’s Mills Adventure Golf in Beach Haven.
“My friends say I’ve been talking about this since I was 15 years old,” said Lackland. “I came to Barnegat Light as a kid, and I felt like there was nothing to do here. We did some crabbing and fishing, but I’d ride my bike to the lighthouse, climb to the top, buy a hermit crab at Andy’s and ride my bike home.”
“We want to give those families something to do on this end of the Island, and we want to educate people. We’re reaching out to schools for class trips that can be a fun and a history lesson,” she said.
The Mainland’s Adventure Park features over 50 aerial activities, a 50-foot climbing wall with three climb routes, four extended zip lines, a go-kart track and a Kid’s Course with the Playzone.
“There are three tiers,” Vernon explained. “I’d say the easiest would be for a 4- or 5-year-old, and you graduate up from there. There are 28 challenges. It may take two hours to get through for even a fit grown up.”
Wainwright purchased Fantasy Island in 2017. Wainwright Amusements made few alterations to Fantasy Island for the 2018 season; this year, the park unveiled two new rides, the Beachy Tea Cups, a traditional spinning tea cup ride outfitted with LBI themes, and the 80-foot high Sky Tower fashioned after the Barnegat Lighthouse.
He purchased the former CVS earlier this year and has ambitious plans to turn it into a family entertainment center with plans to include a café, game zone, escape room, chaos room and XD theater. In April, Wainwright got approval from Ship Bottom’s Land Use Board but has yet to work around Ship Bottom’s decades-old ordinance that limits the number of amusement permits to two, which are currently held by Hartland Golf & Arcade and Our Endless Summer.
He sees his facilities providing not just nostalgia, but also an option for a generation of digital natives.
“Our kids are growing up with devices in their hands from a very young age. Their entertainment ranges from phone-based games, typical game consoles, computer gaming, just to name a few. This is their version of kickball and stick ball. They are talking to their friends while they are playing these games. We need to find new ways to put the devices down and come have fun,” he said.
Vernon saw a very specific need for expanded amusement options while on trips with his own family and seeing elaborate amusements elsewhere.
“I feel like we can give people an alternative, something to build on the beach experience. Maybe it’s cloudy and not really a beach day. Maybe it’s the one day trip in their week vacation or something to do when they’ve already had too much sun. They can make a little mini trip out of it with lunch or dinner. People can put down the devices for a little while, get some fresh air and feel good about spending time with the family,” he added.
Wainwright sees his proposed new arcade location filling a need for kids who have outgrown the thrill of the Scrambler or the Sea Dragon.
“At a certain point, it becomes uncool to go to Fantasy Island, right around the teenage years. We’re trying to enhance the existing park to cater to all age groups while maintaining the park’s soul. Adding new concepts such as virtual reality games as well as new concepts in escape type rooms should appeal to the older kids and allow Mom and Dad to join the fun,” he explained.
— Jon Coen