The Wildwoods, New Jersey–The Real “Jersey Shore”September 16, 2010 2 Comments
“Headin’ down the shore… to have a ball once more… Oh, those Wildwood days… wild, wild, Wildwood days… oh baby, every day’s a holiday, and every night is a Saturday night…” Those of you readers not from the East coast may not be familiar with the classic 1963 Bobby Rydell song that put the town of Wildwood, NJ on the map. Allow me to introduce you to this summer haven for family fun!
In the Stern family, it just isn’t summer without our annual two-hour-long pilgrimage to Wildwood (or North Wildwood, or Wildwood Crest), New Jersey, to spend a week “down the shore.” (As Bobby Rydell knew, New Jerseyans don’t go “to the beach,” they go “down the shore,”–something you may already know if you’ve watched a certain ridiculously popular MTV show.)
The Wildwoods are centrally located between Atlantic City (the “Las Vegas of the East coast”, 50-minute drive) and Historic Cape May (10-minute drive). They are incredibly popular with people from NJ, Philadelphia and the surrounding area; and for some inexplicable reason, French Canadians have been flocking here for generations. Now THAT’S a long drive–you know there must be something special about this place!
The Wildwood tradition begun with my grandparents, who brought my mother and father to vacation here as children, before they knew each other. When they were teenagers, my parents met on the beach in Wildwood. After marrying and having kids, Mom and Dad would bring my brother and I here every summer until we were well into our teens.
The tradition continued with my own kids. Though we’ve usually vacationed in Cape May (just south of the Wildwoods), we’ve always made it a point to drive over the bridge into Wildwood at least a couple of days–for their beautiful clean beaches and the world-famous Boardwalk.
Wildwood is famous for what has come to be known as “Doo-Wop” architecture–the 50′s and ’60′s theme of angular architecture, neon lighting and “Happy Days” bright colors. Some of the motels are in fact the genuine article, having been in existence for 50 years or more; other, newer buildings have just been built to look “retro.” You can choose to stay in one of these vintage motels, with kitschy names like the Singapore, the Waikiki, or the Jolly Roger; in a condo, house, or a luxury beachfront hotel. There is truly something for every budget and taste.
Wildwood beaches are famous for a couple of reasons, the first being that they are FREE. That’s right–no annoying beach tags necessary like so many other beaches in NJ (Personally, I think ALL beaches should be free, but that’s another story). The second reason is that they are HUGE… so wide, in fact, that it is often a mile walk or more from the Boardwalk to the water’s edge. (If, at this point, you’re saying to yourself, “that doesn’t sound like much fun with kids, plus all of our beach paraphernalia,”–no, it doesn’t. THAT’s why Wildwood has thoughtfully provided you with beach trams, which travel regularly from the street to the shoreline! It’s a really nice convenience, especially when traveling with people with little legs. Oh, and by the way, Wildwoods’ beaches were voted among America’s 10 Best Beaches by the Travel Channel! Not too shabby!
Another positive aspect of Wildwood’s beaches are their relative safety. The shoreline slopes very gently into the ocean, and because there aren’t any sharp drop-offs, you can wade out quite far into the water and remain safe. It’s reassuring to nervous parents like me that the kids can jump the waves and boogie-board without having to worry about dangerous depths and undertow. It also helps that the lifeguards are vigilant, and clearly visible.
Once you and the family have had your fill of sun and sand, I suggest you repair back to your hotel or motel room, or your rental house, clean up and head out for an early dinner. Note the word EARLY. I hate to force you to go out to dinner at 4:30 p.m. like a senior citizen on the lookout for an early-bird special, but believe me when I say that in many places, you’ll spend a long time waiting even if you’re there at 5 o’clock. And who wants to deal with that when you’ve got a bunch of hungry, cranky youngsters in tow? So get there EARLY, and grab a snack on the boardwalk later. With all the goodies available, you won’t be able to help yourself.
Great restaurant choices for families include Two Mile Landing, Uries’ Waterfront Restaurant, and Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. Our family’s tradition always includes lunch at the Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, located right on the boardwalk. It’s air-conditioned, the menu is absolutely huge, reasonably priced, and very family-friendly. You can order anything from a burger and fries, to a salad, to shrimp Parmesan. The wait staff is friendly and fast–and we all know time is of the essence when dealing with hungry youngsters!
Day or night, there’s always something fun to do at the Boardwalk–2.5 miles of rides, games, and may I say, the world’s best pizza, sausage sandwiches, curly fries and ice cream stretching from North Wildwood to Wildwood Crest. There are three piers branching off from the main boardwalk, where all the rides are located. Whether you have babies, teens or ‘tweens, there’s something to appeal to everyone, from very gentle kiddie rides to high-thrill rollercoasters like my son Ben’s favorite, the Great Nor’Easter. If you can, I highly recommend getting the ride wristbands for the kids since they’re a better deal than the ticket books–you’ll run through those in no time flat.
Don’t miss Mack’s and Sam’s for pizza, Snow White’s for sausage sandwiches, and Kohr Bros. for soft-serve custard (my favorite is the creamsicle… orange and vanilla). If your kids are like mine and get unbelivable enjoyment out of dropping large amounts of money to win silly stuffed animals or other prizes on games of chance, you’ll want to budget some extra money for that–most games run about $2 a try. Oh, and “watch the tram car, please!”–you’ll quickly become familiar with that phrase as you dodge the periodic boardwalk trams, which transport the leg-weary up and down the boards (in fact, I’m pretty sure you’ll find yourself and family hitching a ride before the day is out!).
Two waterparks on the pier–Morey’s Raging Waters and Morey’s Ocean Oasis Waterpark and Beach Club, are an excellent choice for really hot days. Ocean Oasis, even offers massages, beach cabanas, and a swim-up bar… for grown-ups only, please! There are also baby and toddler waterplay areas at each waterpark… older kids may enjoy waterslides which range from tame to terrifying! Free soda and sunblock are available at each park also–a nice little bonus.
Other opportunities for recreation abound in the Wildwoods. Bike and surrey rentals, miniature golf, fishing, crabbing, dolphin-and-whale-watching boat trips, and craft shows can be found all over town. There’s also live music at the Wildwood Convention Center and the Wildwood Bandshell.
General tourist information can be obtained by calling 1-800-WW-BY-SEA, or by going online at www.wildwoodsnj.com. Start your own family tradition and check out the Wildwoods–take it from one who knows. It’s the REAL “Jersey Shore.”