Reopening of amusement parks gives hope to Coney Island

amusement parks
Wonder Wheel owner Dennis Vouderis’ prayers that the state would reopen amusement parks were answered on Feb. 17.
File photo by Todd Maisel

Outdoor amusement parks across the state can reopen at 33 percent capacity on April 9, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday, meaning the People’s Playground can once again welcome thrill-seekers following a year of financial hardship.

We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dennis Vourderis, whose family owns Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. “And what a long, dark tunnel it’s been.”

Park-goers must buy tickets in advance and wear face coverings, and the parks must conduct temperature checks and clean the rides frequently, Cuomo said. 

Sleep-away camps and indoor entertainment can also open later this year, Cuomo announced. Indoor entertainment will be limited to 25 percent of their maximum capacity and will open March 26, and sleep-away camps will open in June for the duration of the summer with testing protocols. 

Cuomo has not yet specified what types of businesses qualify as indoor entertainment, but said the Department of Health will release a list of qualifying businesses soon.

The governor’s edict allows the Coney Island amusement parks to reopen after a year-long closure that hurt both parks and the surrounding businesses, threatening the future of the peninsula. 

“I don’t know what the future would hold if we lose another season in Coney Island,” said Coney Island businesses advocate Alexandra Silversmith in January. “It’s a scary thought at this point.”

The reopening date on Friday, April 9 will come nearly two weeks after the parks’ usual reopening on Palm Sunday, which falls this year on March 28. But regardless of the change of date, Vourderis said he was thrilled to be able to reopen.

“The blessing of the rides has always taken place on Palm Sunday, and we’d love to continue that tradition,” he said. “But I’m happy to have an opening date. I’m happy to get open.”

Vourderis and Alessando Zamerla, who owns the neighboring Luna Park, have urged the state since last summer to issue reopening guidelines, arguing that the open-air rides are inherently safe. 

“The way [the Wonder Wheel] was designed and built 102 years ago during the last pandemic, it was designed to be socially distant,” said Vourderis in September. “The cars are 50 feet apart, the people that ride in each one of the vehicles are with their own group, their own family.”

This summer, both parks will unveil new rides. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, which tends to cater to younger thrill-seekers, will open a custom-made, 68-foot-tall rollercoaster called the Phoenix sometime this summer, Vourderis said. Next door, Luna Park will unveil a new kid-friendly section with six rides. 

The reopening will also mean that the Wonder Wheel will be able to celebrate its 100-year anniversary, which would have been in 2020, but was postponed because of the parks’ season-long closure. But because of the limited capacity, Vourderis said he isn’t yet sure what the celebration will look like.

We’re not sure how much on an event we can do,” he said. “At this point, we’re just happy we can open.”

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates.