In case you haven’t noticed, Coney Island is enjoying a renaissance.
Last year Zamperla’s sister company Central Amusement International (CAI) signed a 10-year lease with New York City to build and operate Luna Park, which subsequently attracted 450,000 visitors, more than in any summer since Steeplechase Park closed there 46 years ago.
Luna Park, which takes its name from an older park of the same name which operated at Coney Island from 1903 to 1946, offers 19 rides on the former Astroland site. This year Scream Zone joins Luna Park, as CAI invests an additional $12 million, bringing its total investment in the two parks to $30 million (€21m). Just one piece of land at Coney Island remains, which CAI will develop next year.
This year the company has also taken over operation of the Cyclone wooden coaster across the street from Luna Park. Zamperla’s Valerio Ferrari said they had done track work to the Cyclone’s layout and added new padding to the train to make the ride smoother. Smoother? I still got banged around.
Located one block away from Luna Park, Scream Zone includes four new rides. Steeplechase, a Zamperla Motocoaster, pays tribute to a famous ride from Coney’s past as it launches riders around the track on horseback. The new Soarin’ Eagle flying coaster is a Zamperla Volare that suspends riders in a horizontal position, sending them through a series of dives and inversions. The Sling Shot by Funtime launches riders more than 150ft into the air at speeds exceeding 90 miles per hour, while the 100ft-tall Zenobio, a Zamperla Turbo Force (Booster-style attraction), sweeps riders through the air at speeds of over 60mph.
My favourite ride in the Scream Zone on my recent visit was Steeplechase, pictured here. Smooth and fast with a catapult launch, it’s like the Pony Express at Knott’s Berry Farm, using faux horses instead of Moto GP bikes. I rode the original Steeplechase in 1961, which was great fun but would never pass today’s more rigorous safety standards. Like riding a real horse you had to hold on, and hold on tightly as it raised the adrenalin level, and the anxiety level, too. It was similar but more harrowing than the still operational Steeplechase at Blackpool. Securely seated on the new Steeplechase, my ride brought back fond memories.
Nestled between Luna Park and the Scream Zone is Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, still holding its own after all these years. The eponymous wheel, built in 1920, is a New York City landmark and joins four other adult rides including the the funky Spook-A-Rama, plus 17 children’s attractions. The park looked freshly painted. Operator Dennis Vourderis explained that this was the result of the scheduled filming of scenes for the new Men In Black 3 movie.
Several other nearby rides are operated by individual concessionaires, and food outlets are plentiful. The wide boardwalk overlooking the Atlantic Ocean was beautiful this sun-splashed afternoon. I don’t think Coney Island has looked this good in 100 years.