Coney Island’s newest attraction, The Phoenix roller coaster, will soon open at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, where it will serve as the latest addition to the neighborhood’s skyline.
“The Wonder Wheel is 101 years old and this is right next to it,” said Dennis Vourderis, whose family owns and operates the storied amusement park, “so we got the best of the old and the best of the new.”
The Vourderis family purchased the property next to Deno’s in 2019 and long contemplated how to fill the abandoned, former amusement park.
“We were contemplating what to put there, what to develop there,” Vourderis told Brooklyn Paper. “We thought maybe we will do more rides or maybe we would do something big, one big ride.”
The family of entrepreneurs eventually settled on one major attraction, and set their sites on a coaster for the whole family — an audience much of the peninsula’s amusement district caters to. That’s when, Vourderis said, they took an excursion to Tennessee’s Dollywood for inspiration.
“We traveled to Dollywood because we’d heard there is a brand new family, thill coaster that had just opened,” he said. “We wanted to go see it and try that.”
A family roller coaster would also compliment Luna Park’s thrill coasters — the Thunderbolt and the Cyclone — instead of competing with the neighboring amusement park, the owners said.
“We wanted to do something that didn’t compete with our competitors next door,” DJ Vourderis, son of co-owner Steve Vourderis and Dennis’ nephew, told Brooklyn Paper. “They are not really our competitors, we’re friends, we’re cousins. We’re the Greeks and the Italians.”
Dollywood’s new coaster was exactly what they were looking for, Dennis said, and the family contracted the engineers by the end of November to custom-make a ride for Deno’s — and then, the pandemic hit.
“We decided to pull the trigger on it,” Dennis said. “And then unfortunately the pandemic happened.”
As New York State amusements weren’t authorized to open in the summer of 2020, the family was unsure whether they should delay construction on the new ride until 2022, but ultimately decided to go ahead with the project as they suspected that many would flock to the coastal neighborhood when the amusement district reopened on April 9— and they were right, Dennis said.
“We’ve been extremely busy on the weekends,” Dennis said. “We opened April 9 and we went right into fast-forward. It was so busy. I knew from that day forward we made the right decision building [The Phoenix] this year.”
And The Phoenix will give New Yorkers a new reason to visit Coney Island — with expectations to open for July 4 or sooner, the ride is for people of all ages and over 39 inches to enjoy.
The coaster takes you for flips and turns and has seats that let your feet dangle, so it would be a good idea to take off your backless shoes before riding if you don’t want them to end up in Coney Island Creek.
This reporter had the lucky opportunity to ride Deno’s first roller coaster before it opened, and as a self-proclaimed roller coaster freak, I can factually say it was awesome! After the first ride, I was able to take it for a whirl two more times, first sitting in the front, then the back and then the middle, and through my dogged research found it’s a good time no matter where you sit.
When going around the coaster’s turns, my feet flipped nearly over my head and at one point it seemed like if you reach far enough, your feet might hit the sign for the Wonder Wheel.
The Phoenix climbs to 68 feet high, nearly half the height of the Wonder Wheel, and records a speed of over 34 miles per hour.
And the roller coaster is named for the timing of its opening, a new ride after a long year of hardship like a phoenix rising from the ashes, DJ told Brooklyn Paper.
“It’s not about dollars and cents, it’s about smiles and lifting people up out of a pretty dark time,” said DJ Vourderis. “It is the reason why we named it The Phoenix.”