Surging inflation may threaten to put a damper on summer plans, but it doesn’t have to. For New Yorkers, world-class entertainment with a big dose of nostalgia is just a few subway stops away at Coney Island. And this year, the district’s iconic Luna Park is debuting three new rides for thrillseekers.
“It's really a whole experience. We have the rides. We have the food. We have the entertainment. We have the retail — and the beach,” said Alessandro Zamperla, President and CEO of Luna Park parent company Central Amusement International. “Really the best place to be this summer.”
At Luna Park, unlimited rides can cost up to $62 for thrillseekers above 48 inches, and $38 for those under 48 inches. But they can also pay a la carte for rides, which range in price from $3 for the carousel to $22 for the Slingshot.
“You can really pick and choose … your budget,” Zamperla said.
And around the corner at 1208 Surf St. is the headquarters of cultural nonprofit Coney Island USA. On-site, the organization operates its Freak Bar, museum, and circus sideshow, featuring talented sword swallowers, fire eaters, and even a resident mermaid, who lays on a bed of nails. The show costs $12 for adults and $8 for children.
“I mean, you can't go anywhere in the city and see a live show for what we charge,” said Adam Rinn, Coney Island USA artistic director.
Coney Island’s beach, boardwalk, amusement parks, and shows have been attracting tourists for more than 100 years.
“Rides were invented, were created, were built here. The roller coaster was built here,” said Rinn. “Frozen Custard was invented here. The hot dog, which then translates to fast food, was created just a couple of blocks away from where we're sitting right now,” he added.
Much of that history is on display at the Coney Island Museum, situated just above the Freak Bar. A glimpse into the district’s rich past costs only $5 for adults and $3 for seniors, locals, and children.
“There's the past that is rooted right here. And then there's the future that's popping up all around,” Rinn said. “It blurs the lines of, am I in 1920s Coney Island or am I in, you know, beyond 2020 Coney Island.”
That mix of old and new is part of Coney Island’s unique allure. And just as vintage doesn’t necessarily mean outdated, close to home doesn’t have to mean mundane.
“I come here for the Cyclone, I get my rides, I feel nostalgic. So I come on over, I go to Deno’s [Wonder Wheel Amusement Park], I get the Wonder Wheel. And, you know, maybe I'll try out a new roller coaster like the Phoenix. That's brand new,” said May Reinert Ubinas, American Coaster Enthusiasts’ New York City regional representative. “I think that's what brings people here. It's just a mix of the old plus the new.”
American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) is a nonprofit with more than 6,500 members, dedicated to the love and preservation of rollercoasters. And according to the organization, classics like the Cyclone, which celebrated its 95th birthday in 2022, and the more than 100-year-old Wonder Wheel have worldwide appeal.
“Those are the two things that really bring everyone from around the world,” Reinert Ubinas said.
But the owners of these parks know the key to survival is keeping things fresh. In 2021, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park debuted the Phoenix. In 2022, Luna Park plans to welcome three new attractions: a rollercoaster, flume ride, and ropes course. The rollercoaster and flume ride will be named Tony’s Express and Leti’s Treasure, respectively, in honor of Zamperla’s grandparents. They’re intertwined on new acreage, acquired by Central Amusement International for the biggest expansion of Luna Park since 2010.
“The key is authenticity,” Zamperla said. “You embrace the legacy — Cyclone was the nostalgia — and then, obviously, always look to improve things.”