The fun returns to Coney Island amusement parks for first time in 18 months

A family walks up the ramp from the Wonder Wheel.
Photo by Rose Adams

Hundreds of fun-lovers flocked to the Coney Island amusement district to whirl around its parks’ famous rides for the first time in more than a year on April 9.

Even before the gates reopened at 11 a.m. Friday morning, the boardwalk buzzed with excitement as hordes of families and thrill-seekers gathered in a line that stretched from Luna Park’s gate on Surf Avenue almost to the boardwalk. 

“We’ve been looking forward to getting on the rides and actually seeing other people happy,” said Coney Islander Keilly Alvarez, who stood in line with her two relatives. “I’m looking forward to getting on the rides and tasting the snacks again — just indulging and having a good time.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio stands with the owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park during Coney Island’s reopening.Photo via Brooklyn Paper/Erica Price
Deno Vourderis, state Sen. Diane Savino, Steve Vourderis, and Alessandro Zamperla give the thumbs up to opening day.Photo via Brooklyn Paper/Erica Price

The reopening of Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park comes 18 months after the rides closed at the end of 2019 season — and never reopened because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The shutdown, which marked the first season-long closure in the amusement parks’ history, dealt a tough blow to the local economy. Without the seasonal jobs and foot traffic, unemployment on some parts of the peninsula soared to nearly 30 percent, said one local pol, and the amusement parks’ owners feared they’d be forced to shutter indefinitely.

“The financial situation of our company is extremely in danger,” said Alessandro Zamperla, who operated Luna Park with his family, in September 2020. Both the Zamperla family and the Vourderis family, which operates the Wonder Wheel and its eponymous park, repeatedly called for state aid throughout the closures with little success. 

But the People’s Playground was brought back from the brink on Friday. Politicians and locals rejoiced on the boardwalk outside Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, where Mayor Bill de Blasio awarded both parks proclamations that declared April 9, 2021 “Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park Day” in New York City. 

“The rides open today, and our hearts open up too because we love this place,” said the mayor, who later announced that all public beaches will open on time this year. “It’s going to be a recovery for all of us.”

Politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio at the front, wave during the inaugural ride of the Cyclone.Photo via Brooklyn Paper/Erica Price
Mayor Bill de Blasio stands with two circus performers on the boardwalk.Photo via Brooklyn Paper/Erica Price
Park-goers lined up outside the entrance to Luna Park between Surf Avenue and the boardwalk the morning of opening day.Photo via Brooklyn Paper/Erica Price

The ribbon-cutting drew dozens of other politicians, such as US Sen. Chuck Schumer, state Sen. Diane Savino, state Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, and Councilmember Mark Treyger, who said that the parks’ reopening represents a new start following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Coney Island is one of the national symbols of New York,” said Sen. Schumer. “And when it opens, the world know that New York is coming back!”

Zamperla and Dennis Vourderis thanked the community for its support throughout the season-long closure, and said they’re ready to turn a new page.

“There are bright days ahead of us right now, and so we have to look forward,” said Vourderis, whose family has operated the 100-year-old Wonder Wheel since 1983. “It’s a great honor for us to be able to bring some joy into the life of many New Yorkers.”

The shutdown didn’t only hurt the amusement parks’ owners. The boardwalk businesses also took a major hit during the yearlong closure, especially since some bars and restaurants were never allowed to fully open, one shop owner said. 

“It was tough. Most of my neighbors and I on the boardwalk — the ones that were act allowed to open — did around 80 [less business],” said Maya Haddad Miller, who has operated the Brooklyn Beach Shop on the boardwalk since 2012. “We’re hopeful that it only goes up from here, but we anticipate that it’ll be a slow climb.”

In addition to allowing amusement park lovers to return, the reopening also attracted some first-time visitors. One such guest was 4-year-old Leon, whose father was excited to take his son to his all-time favorite amusement park for the first time. 

“We like amusement parks, but especially Coney Island,” said Crown Heights resident Adam Echahly, who waited on line with his son. “I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid, and now I have my son with me, and I want us to do the same thing I did with my parents.”

This story was first published on our sister site, The Brooklyn Paper.