Seaside Height’s Breakwater Beach Water Park reopened with a big splash. It’s just as wet, but a little less wild. Staff wore masks and sanitized surfaces. Guests social distanced, and even big kids happily waded into the Fourth of July weekend.
“It feels fantastic because it feels like a sense of normalcy to be out again,” said Staten Island resident Anthony Lanza.
“We were kind of hoping they would start opening up,” said Toms River resident Kate Shouldite. “The kids have been so excited, so it’s really good to see everyone out and about.”
“This is fun. It’s outside. They keep it limited. Everyone’s pretty respectful of not being on top of each other, so we’re here to have a good time,” said Manchester resident Lauranne Wooley.
But outdoor amusements can operate at just 50% capacity. Venues that lost weeks of business to the pandemic are scrambling. It’s a slow start.
“Now we’re in July, Fourth of July weekend, which is usually our middle and now we’re just starting up. We’re hurting already, but we’re hoping that people want to come out and we’re going to try to do the best that we can,” said Maria Mastoris Saltzman, Casino Pier and Breakwater Beach’s marketing director. “We normally would have been a little busier today, but at least it’s a slow opening, we’re seeing how things go and I think it’s safer this way anyway.”
“I don’t know if we’re going to be full, but I feel if the weather stays the way it is right now that we’ll have a good weekend,” said Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz.
People flocked to Casino Pier and kids who’d waited for weeks finally got a chance to hop on some rides.
“We were supposed to go Busch Gardens and things a couple weeks ago and we had to cancel it all. So once we found out these rides were opening, that was exciting,” said Lambertville resident Adam Lucas.
Pandemic-weary folks piled onto the beach under a hot sun and sprawled across the sand. They strolled the Seaside Heights boardwalk. It’s hard to remember masks and social distancing when you’re sweating, but the virus spreads so easily, experts warn.
“I’d rather be hot and uncomfortable than to have coronavirus, OK. This is very serious,” said Dr. L. “If they go into any businesses along the shore area or on the boardwalk, they have to wear their masks. That’s a must,” said Dr. Judith Lightfoot, chief of infectious disease at Rowan University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine.
“I don’t feel I need it outside walking around when no one is around me, but I will respect it. I don’t give anybody a hard time. If I need it to go into a facility, I’ll wear it,” said Pennsylvania resident Kathy Sante.
At the Coin Castle arcade, people inside wore mandatory masks and played games between glass shields or at proper social distances. Occupancy’s limited to 25%.
“Some money is better than no money. And the governor, as controversial as he may be, in all fairness we are open. A lot of the other states are considering closing,” said Coin Castle Arcade Owner Wayne Cimorelli.
After Superstorm Sandy ravaged Seaside, recovery seemed a straightforward rebuild and full-on PR pitch. But mounting an economic recovery during an ongoing pandemic is a different animal. The irony: shore towns desperately want to attract crowds, but they don’t want them to be too crowded.
Seaside hired a group of ambassadors to help keep people safe.
“People can definitely not be polite because there’s a lot of ignorant people out there that are running around everywhere. But for the most part people are courteous. People are aware that there’s a nationwide, worldwide pandemic going around. And we’re here, we’re open. It’s awesome, but we have to maintain a certain level of vigilance,” said David Casadonte, Seaside Heights recreation assistant director.
It’s a very fine line to walk in the summer sand.