Thrill-seeking Brooklynites are in luck, as Coney Island’s newest roller coaster is speeding into America’s Playground on Thursday, offering a topsy-turvy journey that’ll make you spin aboard the 68-foot high Phoenix.
“The Vourderis family is delighted to invite everyone to the first ride grand opening,” said Dennis and Steve Vourderis, the brother-duo behind Denos’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. “As we cherish and honor the memory of our parents, Denos and Lula Vourderis, who started believing in, and building up Coney Island in 1947.”
The Vourderis family, who have owned the amusement park for over four generations, are opening their first roller coaster following their lost season during the pandemic — and the ride’s name pays homage to their past struggles, symbolizing hope, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
“It’s not about dollars and cents, it’s about smiles and lifting people up out of a pretty dark time,” DJ Vourderis, son of Steve, and Dennis’ nephew, previously told Brooklyn Paper. “It is the reason why we named it The Phoenix.”
As a celebration, the first 100 riders will be able to experience the new coaster free of charge, the brothers announced.
Any daring would-be rider over 39 inches can board The Phoenix — a height limit that accommodates most families, which is the target audience of the Vourderis’ amusement park as well as much of the amusement district.
In the early days of searching for inspiration for their new family coaster, which began shortly after purchasing the property in 2019, the Vourderises took a pilgrimage to Tennessee’s Dollywood to try out their brand-new family-thrill coaster, Dennis told Brooklyn Paper.
“So we traveled to Dollywood because we had heard there is a brand new family, thill coaster that had just opened,” Vourderis said, “and we wanted to go see it and try that.”
The family contracted the ride’s engineers to custom-make a roller coaster for Deno’s by the end of 2019 without knowing that just three months later the coronavirus pandemic would hit, shutting down the amusement park and all the others in the People’s Playground throughout the 2020 season.
But despite the shutdowns, the Vourderises continued to move ahead with their coaster, and looking back, Dennis said, they think they made the right decision as they are returning after their yearlong hiatus with something to really look forward to, and hope the feeling is reciprocated throughout New York City.
“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 this this year.”
The Phoenix does not compromise fun for the lower height limit — recording speeds of over 34 miles per hour and a height of 68 feet, there are definitely some belly flops, as this reporter can confirm from her THREE rides on the new coaster.
Riders can expect some not-seen-before views of Coney Island and the boardwalk, as well as a new perspective of the 101-year-old Deno’s Wonder Wheel — which through some of the coaster’s twists and turns feels like your feet might hit the sign for.
As the amusement park was unable to host a 100-year anniversary for the Wonder Wheel, the Phoenix’s July 1 grand opening is sure to come with a shebang — in addition to the 100 free rides, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and free shirt giveaways with the event starting at 10:30 am.