Written by: Frank Iacono
For many generations, “Wildwood by the Sea”, famous for its free, wide, white, sandy beaches, and world class boardwalk, has long been considered the number one fun-filled family vacation destination. The Wildwoods’ award-winning boardwalk stretches along the beach for more than a mile and a half and features 38 blocks packed end-to-end with stores, shops, eateries, casino arcades, and, most notably three world-class amusement piers collectively known as Morey’s Piers.
Morey’s Piers, recognized as a premier regional entertainment destination, has been family owned and operated since 1969 and is currently run by brothers Will and Jack Morey. Will, President & CEO, and Jack, the Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer, are second-generation partners in Morey’s Piers, an amusement business that got its start when their father, Will Morey and uncle Bill Morey, debuted a giant slide between 25th and 26th avenues in North Wildwood. Since then the Morey name has become synonymous with the Wildwoods. Morey’s Piers, designed in a carnival-like atmosphere, features over 100 rides and attractions, well-known eateries, as well as two beachfront waterparks.
Jack currently serves on the board of Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority as the chair of the strategic planning committee and the International Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Hall of Fame committee. He has served on numerous boards including, the Greater Wildwoods Chamber of Commerce, Boardwalk Special Improvement District, and the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.
In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Morey and asking him a few questions about his life as Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Morey’s Piers, his love of the amusement business, his inspiration for opening fine dining experiences on the Wildwood boardwalk, his plans for a brand new big roller coaster project, and his book Fab-o-rama.
TCS: In 1969, with the introduction of the famous giant slide called “The Wipe Out”, your father Will Morey Sr. and your uncle Bill got into the amusement business so how do you think the business and Morey’s Piers have both evolved over the years?
Jack Morey: The very essence of the entertainment product has not really changed. In our view amusement type entertainment is now and has always been about creating environment for the masses. While this requires a good understanding of popular culture it also requires a bit of a crystal ball or perhaps a belief that you can invite things that guests will like (my favorite!!!). For a brief period, we strayed to try to be and compete with the traditional theme park that attracts a high percentage of teenagers with extraordinarily expensive roller coasters, but learned the hard way that we could and should not do that. The Wildwoods are special first and foremost as a great family vacation place because of the “beach” and no theme park, not even Disney has that.
In the late 90’s we stumbled upon a gentleman, designer and social engineer named Steve Izenour from a world renowned architectural firm called Venturi Scott Brown. What he has contributed can be summarized in a memo he sent to me stating the following:
- You can’t and shouldn’t try to make Wildwood into something it isn’t, a Disney, a theme park, etc.
- Rather, your strategy should be to make the most of what you have. What Wildwood is, is one of the last real down and dirty, TACKY with a capital T, beach resorts. What you need to do is take Tacky to the new heights.
- First, use your specialist, entertainment designers to help with the programming, getting the right mix of rides, food etc., but don’t let them design a whole pier. Instead, find some old fashion sign guys, painters, sculptors, etc. and you orchestrate with people who appreciate tacky.
- Mix and match designers. And when you’re done, which you never are, you will have the biggest, gaudiest, brightest, tackiest piers in the world.
TCS: This summer, Morey’s Piers welcomed back Kong, a gorilla-themed amusement ride once a boardwalk landmark in the 1970s, as the new centerpiece of Surfside Pier. With that, can you tell us about the background story in bringing Kong back after 35 years?
JM: it is just as important for an amusement park to be about the past as it is the future. While a park that is fully built on nostalgia would likely be a disaster, tapping into certain elements of remembrance is important to the intangible qualities of a place. The origination of Morey’s Piers was based in no small part about custom one off attractions of which Kong was a big one. Our recent Ghost Ship haunted walk thru was another that was routed in the past, but one need not have lived in the past to appreciate it today. “Relevance is relative”. Once we decided on the ride element we focused on a method to do what my dad used to say,”Wildwoodize it”. This generally meant to make it unique to Wildwood and try not to go broke in the process. We decided to send our initial design concepts out to our guests for feedback and to our surprise we received over 6,000 comments (ouch, they didn’t love it!). The general consensus was that the look was not specific enough to Wildwood. So, off came the I heart NJ t-shirt and the Statue of Liberty and on went the I heart Wildwood and the famous tram car.
TCS: How thrilled were you to find out that your Water parks, Raging Waters Water Park and Ocean Oasis Water Park + Beach Club, were named #2 out of the country’s top 40 water parks, according to Foursquare?
JM: Like most of Morey’s Piers our water parks have evolved significantly over time. In the late 70’s they were limited to 3 simple water slides that guests would rent by the 1/2 hour. They were clearly front runners in the whole water park invention years. They became full-fledged water parks in the mid 80’s and then in the late 90’s we needed to take the 80’s out of the park (note the 80’s were the low point in American architecture). Like most things we do we attempt to lead the market as opposed to react to trends that others create. This is very risky business, but when the rankings come in we are reminded and grateful of what we do and why we do it.
TCS: How would you describe your target audience and how many visitors does Morey’s Piers attract on an annual basis?
JM: Our primary audience is families on vacation with young children. While we would not turn down older teenagers, we do not specifically build attractions for them and will continue for the foreseeable future to leave that to the Six Flags of the world. More recently we have made significant investments to also attract the parents of young children via the introduction of better foods and occasional spirits. Best we can calculate (we have not gate) is that our attendance is about 3.5 million people.
TCS: Can you share with us some of the weekday specials offered throughout the summer at Morey’s Piers? And, can you tell us about Morey’s Brunch Bunch and Morey’s Kids Kamp?
JM: Morey’s Piers offers our customers various weekday specials. For an updated listing of all of our specials, please visit: https://www.moreyspiers.com/tickets/specials
Brunch Bunch is a cartoon character breakfast on the upper deck at Joe’s restaurant that involves the whole family. Characters are the popular ones from Frozen, Cinderella, Spiderman and of course our very own Sunny the Seagull and Curley the French Fry. The brunch concludes with admission to the water parks.
Kids Kamp is a week long program for kids. They get to spend 1/2 a day doing various educational arts and crafts in addition to admission to the water parks. For the super value conscious we offer drastically reduced admission to the piers on Tuesdays.
TCS: Tell us how your father came up with the idea of having Breakfast in the Sky on the Giant Ferris Wheel on Morey’s Mariner’s Landing Pier while visiting California?
JM: I remember this vividly as it was during the last round of golf I ever got to play with my mom and dad. It was in Palm Springs at a beautiful golf course immersed in the natural surroundings. We were discussing how we could better integrate our own Jersey Shore natural resources into our product offerings. Since the beach is the number one natural resource that attracts our guests he came up with the idea of giving people an eye in the sky view of the shoreline. A number of years later we added the elegance and quirkiness of white table clothes and gourmet dining options.
TCS: In addition to Breakfast in the Sky, Morey’s Piers offers guests a wide variety of dining experiences, could you highlight some of them?
JM: Man cannot live on sweets alone so we have been heavily investing in experiences that are more varied and more elegant, but still unique and always a little quirky. Part of this effort was to hire our very own executive chef, Wally Jursuz. Joe’s FISH Co. is simply about fresh fish and the opposite of things you might expect on the boardwalk. Jumbos is a great place for large party’s and large quantities of food. Taco Joint has the best tacos this side of the border. And perhaps my favorite…Stubborn Brothers. Named after the yin and yangness of my brother Will and I, it celebrates the sibling rivalries in all families. It is one darn good beach bar with superb food (by Chef Betsy), superb drinks (join me most days at 5:30pm with my dog for a rum runner), and a superb up front and personal view of the beach and ocean. Add live music and you might just spend the entire day.
TCS: Can you describe for us the Haunted Ghost Ship attraction, better known as Ignis Fatuus, which launched on Mariner’s Pier in 2010?
JM: The Ghost Ship is a 10,000 square foot haunted walk thru attraction that pays a bit of homage to the great haunted houses of the boardwalk past. The actors are professionally trained to prey on the weak. The attraction is quite beautiful and a real boardwalk classic.
TCS: Can you share with us the inspiration behind opening Morey’s Fears: Terror on the Boardwalk Halloween Event and how it has evolved since it debuted in the fall of 2011?
JM: Unfortunately we have discontinued Morey’s Fears. It was truly a great performance, but in the end we are first and foremost a summer place and the distance to the major population areas was just too far to be successful.
TCS: Can you tell us about the [artBOX] which debuted as a new attraction on Morey’s Piers Adventure Pier in 2013?
JM: [artBOX] is a work in progress museum in the making. After being inspired by the creative and adaptive re-uses of shipping containers we decided to create a pier that was an alternative to the two other more classically themed piers. The [artBOX] is a studio and gallery of 11 shipping containers that has attracted local artist. The artist have helped to create a personality for the rest of the pier via creatively re-using old rides from our boneyard and converting them into works of public art for things like benches. Adventure Pier is all about extreme rides, live music, and of course art.
TCS: Share with us the background behind the book Fab-o-rama! A Wild Ride: The Story Of Morey’s Piers, Planet Earth’s Greatest Seaside Amusement Park?
JM: When our 40th anniversary snuck up on us we decided it was time to publish our first book. Having seen too many coffee book dust collectors we searched for a better way to tell our story without sticking to a purely chronologic method. The credit goes to Jack Wright of Exit Zero publishing whom appreciates tacky, quirky and history. A purposeful pun about the book is that it actually has two covers. One is Faborama (for my brother Will) and the other is Wild Ride (for me). Same exact interior ingredient, two completely opposite exteriors…get it? A video of the book launch is attached which is none other than a man being launched out of a cannon holding two books. That was a great day.
TCS: Over the last few years, we’ve heard about plans for the construction of a brand new big roller coaster project. With that, can you share with us some specific details about the ride, how much of a financial investment are you making, and how does it compare to other coasters across the country?
JM: Due to concerns for sufficient public parking we needed to place the proposed coaster on the back burner. The coaster would have been the most expensive attraction ever built in the Wildwoods by a factor of two and the risks were just too high without the proper governmental support for strategic long term parking concerns for the entire boardwalk entertainment district.
About Frank Iacono
Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.
Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.