By Maddy Vitale
When entering Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, where rides and amusements have delighted families for generations on the Ocean City Boardwalk, one may feel as if they’ve stepped into a time warp.
And for the throngs of visitors who keep coming back to the amusement park that boasts one of the largest Ferris wheels on the East Coast at 144 feet high, nostalgia is a good thing.
This was the first weekend that Wonderland Pier was open for business for the season. The park, which was founded in 1929, will be open during the week as well after Memorial Day.
An ornate carousel that dates back to the 1920s is a staple for families who try their luck at the brass rings, a game they play while riding atop the carved steeds. There is an array of rides for kiddies to older children, including bumper cars, roller coasters, a log flume and a ride that plunges thrill seekers 120 feet down.
Reliving childhood for just a moment while watching children giggle and shout in excitement are commonplace at Wonderland Pier.
And on the 90th anniversary of the amusement park, owner Jay Gillian said it has been a wonderful ride.
Jay Gillian is the third generation owner of the amusement park, which was founded by his grandfather, David Gillian. The park was handed over to his father, Roy Gillian, before Jay followed in his footsteps.
“It’s been an honor to be a part of the tradition of families enjoying the amusements in Ocean City through the generations,” said Gillian, who is also the mayor of Ocean City.
He continued, “I am looking forward to honoring my grandfather, David Gillian, my uncle, Bob Gillian, and most of all my dad, Roy Gillian, on this summer’s anniversary of the Gillian family being on the Boardwalk for 90 years.”
Suggesting a strong summer ahead, people lined up this weekend to get their discounted tickets, which are also on sale April 20.
Families forgot the clouds and fog as they made their way into the pier. Children tugged on their parents and pointed to different rides they wanted to go on during their day of fun.
Austen Fong, 3, of King of Prussia, Pa., knew her favorite ride. “The carousel,” she said with a smile and determination.
Her mother, Michelle Fong, just smiled. The Fongs were visiting Austen’s grandmother, Kathy Fong, of Egg Harbor Township.
“I was here yesterday to get the discounted tickets and we all decided to come down today,” Kathy Fong said. “Our family has been coming down for 35 years. We love Gillian’s for the rides and friendly atmosphere and they even do birthday parties.”
Like the Fongs, Shelly Wiley and her sister, Brenda Halloran, both of Garnet, Pa., with a summer home they share in Ocean City, have been visiting the resort town and going to Gillian’s Wonderland Pier since they were little.
“We grew up coming here and now our kids are doing the same,” Wiley said.
Wiley’s daughter, Brielle, 6, and son, Drew, 5, anxiously awaited the ride tickets. Their cousin, Taylor Halloran, 12, took them over to see what the claw game was all about until they could head to the rides.
They planned to ride the race cars and the carousel and then get some ice cream, they said.
Brielle said she wanted to go on the log flume and can’t wait to do that later in the season when it opens. Drew said he likes all the rides.
The big celebration for the 90-year milestone will be held in June. The date has yet to be set.
Melissa Brown, who handles public relations at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, said that the anniversary is really a yearlong celebration.
She noted that the carousel, one of her favorite rides, will be a centerpiece of the anniversary festivities.
“It’s always fun to watch families playing the brass rings game on the carousel,” Brown said.
There are many things that make Gillian’s Wonderland Pier special, she emphasized.
“Wonderland Pier is still very classic,” Brown said. “Generation after generation of people love it and keep coming back.”
For more information visit www.gillians.com. A 2019 calendar of events will be listed on the website soon.