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BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Arthur de Gaeta
BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Arthur de Gaeta
George Shea was master of ceremonies at the opening of Coney Island for the season.

Coney Island officially reopened with the Blessing of the Rides and a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the 97th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel at 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 9 followed by a speaking program and an annual egg cream christening at the refurbished Cyclone roller coaster.

With the return of favorites like fireworks, Flicks on the Beach and the Mermaid Parade for 2017, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park Co-Owners Dennis Vourderis stressed, “Everyone is invited to the ‘People’s Playground’ all season. There’s enough magic in Coney Island for  everybody.”

Before elected officials spoke at the Cyclone at 11:30 a.m., the first 97 people in line at the Wonder Wheel were raised at least 150 feet into the air for free. An attraction built in the ’20s, the Wheel features two different experiences for riders: eight of the Wonder Wheel’s cars remain stationary while 16 others swing on rails.

“The 32nd Annual Blessing of the Rides is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with friends and loved ones and honor a long-standing tradition in our community,” noted Assemblymember Pamela Harris, who represents the area. 

Sunday also marked an opportunity for visitors to view photographs, maps, ephemera and films courtesy of the Coney Island History Project, which reopened for the season. A bucket list photo op with the original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name was also possible.

That history, for many amusement area employees, is one that has become a part of life. For Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park Manager Reggie Pryor, that includes over 30 years of experience. Originally looking for a summer job at 17, Pryor started working with four friends in the kiddie park one summer with Vourderis’ sister.

A person who stayed serious about having fun, he then moved on to being a skeeball attendant before becoming the ride operator for the Thunderbolt. Already a manager for 15 years, Pryor said he even spent his days off as a customer at the park when his four children were young.

On record as someone who is “not really a ride person,” Pryor said his favorite ride so far had to be the short lived Hypewire which went out of service about eight years ago.

“I love being around people. I like being outside, and I don’t see myself at a desk,” said Pryor, now 51.

Pryor expects a busy crowd so long as the weather stays nice, and in a phone interview seemed excited to take on the ever-growing number of visitors.

The energy of the opening translated as far as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who said, “I’m excited for another year of wonderful memories made at the People’s Playground,” and Valerio Ferrari, president of Central Amusement International, the operators of Luna Park, who said, “There is no better time of the year than opening weekend in Coney Island.”

In the summer, the Brooklyn Cyclones will throw their first pitch of the season on June 20 against the Staten Island Yankees, although single game tickets will go on sale April 22. The amusements will be open every day through April 18 and on weekends through Memorial Day, when the area moves to a daily schedule for the summer.  On Memorial Day weekend, Coney Island Beach will open to the public for fun in the sun.

To plan a trip to Coney Island and stay up-to-date on all Coney happenings, guests can visit ConeyIslandFunGuide.com, made possible by a non-profit privatepublic partnership dedicated to continuing the year-round revitalization of the neighborhood known as the Alliance for Coney Island, which represents local businesses, nonprofits and the community.

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