The Phoenix, Coney Island’s newest roller coaster, opened to the public on Thursday, symbolizing the amusement district’s rise from the ashes after a season lost to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have a special day here today to inaugurate The Phoenix roller coaster at Deno’s Wonder Wheel,” said Dennis Vourderis, who owns Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park with his brother Steve, at the ride’s July 1 grand opening ceremony. “We’ve worked very hard to get to this point.”
The Vourderis family, who have operated Deno’s Wonder Wheel for four generations, kicked off the event by speaking to the new coaster’s origin story. It begins in 2018, when the brothers started what would become a year-long negotiation to purchase a shuttered amusement park next door, and ends in 2021, after the coronavirus pandemic shut down New York City in early 2020 and forced the amusement district to forego an entire summer season.
“As you all know, we were dealing with this little issue called the pandemic last year,” Vourderis said Thursday, adding that everyone experienced their own “little nuances” over the year-and-a-half since COVID-19.
But, the red-and-yellow roller coaster in the shadow of the historic Wonder Wheel defied the odds, and the Phoenix is now officially ready to ride — something Vourderis said was made possible with the support of the area’s elected officials, as well as Deno’s staff.
“If it wasn’t for Tom. Jorge, Martin, Reggie, Michael, we would still have a mess on W. 12th street,” Vourderis said of his team. “Thanks to their hard work and dedication, we’ve come very far.”
The Phoenix’s July 1 opening comes at a time of revival in the peninsula, as once-lost events like the Friday fireworks and the Mermaid Parade are set to return, and shops and restaurants get back to business.
“We were closed last year — rightfully so, we were fighting a global pandemic,” said DJ Vourderis, son of Steve, and Dennis’ nephew. “It was the right thing, but now as we open, we are happy we can all open and smile together.”
As an ode to the struggle the amusement park and the rest of the People’s Playground faced, the ride’s name is meant to signify hope, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, DJ previously told Brooklyn Paper.
Deno’s first roller coaster was inspired by a family-thrill coaster the family visited at Tennessee’s Dollywood, as they were in search of a ride that was exciting, but that also sported a low height requirement to allow enjoyment for the whole family — the amusement park’s target audience.
“We took a ride in September of 2019, and we went down and we did some research,” Dennis said. “And boy, let me tell you, we were so impressed that Dollywood had put in this coaster and it was spectacular.”
Politicians and community leaders were among those on The Phoenix’s first official ride, and area Councilmember Mark Treyger was given the front seat. The pol, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn including the peninsula, said he enjoyed the ride — something he did solely for his constituents.
“The things I do for my district,” Treyger said with a wind-blown look.
The second ride of the day was to members of the public, who were lined up down W. 12th Street in hopes of snagging one of the morning’s free rides — and it was worth it!
“I thought it was excellent, I thought it was a perfect ride, it’s very balanced, it’s family friendly,” said Jason Ruiz, “and it’s intense enough that anybody could get on it and have a good time.”
Adults and kiddos alike enjoyed the twists and turns of the new coaster, with pint-sized riders finding it a bit more thrilling than the more mature thrill-seekers.
“It kind of got scary when we had to go zooooot,” said a rider named Kadijah, who waved her arms to show the ride’s turns, “and then down.”
Upon exiting the family-thrill coaster, the crowd then transformed into a sea of red and yellow, as riders were gifted complementary “I rode The Phoenix” t-shirts.