Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Long Beach Island Fantasy: Part 1

Editor's Note: Be sure to check out Part 2 of this two-part series as well!

As the saying goes, one tardy trip report deserves another. Or at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it! It seems my keyboard simply can't keep up with my suitcase this summer. (And the summer is far from over, my friends...) The following TR eclipses even my Six Flags Fiesta Texas TR in terms of being "well aged". Fortunately for me, this park's appeal is timeless!

A few short weeks ago (or maybe more, but who's counting), I had the opportunity to visit what is arguably the Jersey shore's most charming seaside amusement park. (Perhaps those of you with really good memories will recall my rambling tweets.) Tucked away on the comparatively sedate shores of Long Beach Island, Fantasy Island Amusement Park truly lives up to its name.

Fantasy Island is celebrating its silver anniversary this year, but it was not the first park to occupy this location in Beach Haven, New Jersy. Its predecessor, Hartman's Park, dates back to 1960. The Hartman family put their park up for sale sometime in the 1970s, and by 1985 it found itself in the very capable hands of Ed Florimont.

Ed Florimont was no newcomer to the amusement industry. Both he and his father had long histories as game concessionaires along the Jersey shore, and Ed in particular had built up quite a reputation as an "upscale" businessman. He was determined to bring his unique vision of a Victorian-style amusement park to Beach Haven, and he spared no details in making his dream a reality.

Everywhere you look, Fantasy Island screams class and charm. From its intricate entrance archways to its Victorian-style lampposts and Z-brick paved midways, this park truly is the stuff of fantasies. There's nary a piece of litter to be seen, and the rides may as well have been installed yesterday for how vibrant and well-maintained they appear.

But most importantly, Fantasy Island was well-equipped to satisfy my penchant for park fetishes. (The value of this trait cannot be underestimated.) There is a great abundance of "characters" at this park, and you just never know where they'll show up next...

Gators: The next best thing to crocs.

Case in point: Meet the Mayor of Fantasy Island, Al E. Gator! This replica's full-size costumed counterpart is frequently seen roaming the midways, though sadly we did not catch a glimpse of him during our visit. And the "mayorship" thing is no joke. Al--or "Mr. Pickle", as he apparently is known by friends--was formally inducted into office on August 16, 2006. He even has his own e-mail address! (I am not making this up. Visit Fantasy Island's web site and see for yourself!)

Fantasy Island is only 25 years young, but it has grown and changed with the times just like any other park. A miniature golf course which used to sit just inside the park's main entrance was replaced by the Giant Wheel and two kiddie rides (pictured above) in 1994. The Giant Wheel was an expensive investment for a park of this size, but it was a wise one. No seaside park is complete without a Ferris wheel overlooking the water, and in the case of Fantasy Island you have the option of the ocean or the bay!

The kiddie swings and train ride made their debut in 1990. The majority of the rides at Fantasy Island cater to the smaller set, but that suits Long Beach Island just fine. This shore point features 18 miles of the quietest, most peaceful beaches you'll find anywhere on the East Coast of the U.S. Mind-blowing thrill rides and towering coasters would seem out of place here. It is a family retreat, and Fantasy Island captures that vibe.

I got a tracheotomy just so I could eat your trash!

A-HA! So this is how Fantasy Island manages to keep its midways so clean. Discarding garbage is a form of entertainment at this park! Little did I know how much more entertaining it would become...

Unlike its brother down at Beech Bend, this particular Sea Dragon opted not to lead a life of celebrity. Fantasy Island has been its home since 1989! The Sea Dragon is one of many rides at the park that the entire family can enjoy together.

The Sea Dragon is thrilling and all, but it was the kiddie pirate ship that took the prize for best ride op. This animated fellow puts the "fantasy" in Fantasy Island. Sporting a pirate hat and a black wig, he beckoned passing children to challenge the seven seas on his small but mighty vessel. When he noticed me taking photos, he practically begged to be in one of them! I'm a big fan of enthusiastic ride ops, so I gladly obliged. Carry on, matey!

Well no wonder he's so jovial--Stationed at the foot of the kiddie pirate ship is yet another tricked out trash can! Just look at him licking his chops in anticipation of your soiled napkins and sticky soda cups. I'd be lion if I told you that I didn't have a hankering to be wasteful at that moment.

Nothing puts an exclamation point on a story like ending it with a really bad pun, and I like to go out on a high note. So with that, I'll conclude Part 1 of this fantasy-astic TR! (Alright, that last bit was pushing it...) Stay tuned for more rides, more history, and most importantly, more trash cans!