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The Jersey Shore Is Back, Sort Of
If you've written off the Jersey Shore as a summer getaway, please think again. Though Sandy did grievous harm to Jersey's 127-mile coastline, most of the damage was done to the northern coast; the southern Shore was relatively unscathed.
To the north, the beaches are significantly narrower than they were before Sandy; one survey puts the number at 30 to 40 feet. But in spite of the fact an estimated 10 million cubic yards of sand were lost, most of the northern towns plan to open their beaches by May, even if repairs and reconstructions have not been completed.
Unfortunately, in good-as-new Atlantic City, where all 12 casinos reopened about a week after the storm, post-Sandy surveys showed that much of the public believed that the boardwalk had been destroyed (thank you, Al Roker). Competition from Pennsylvania's casinos had already triggered a six-year decline in gambling revenues; consumer perception that A.C. was seriously damaged cost even more precious business.
To attract visitors, the city's top properties are offering bargain basement prices. The drop-dead-gorgeous $2.4 billion Revel is showing rooms at $129 a night, with a $50 food and beverage credit (with restrictions); the Vegas-sleek Borgata is close behind at $119 (or less on daily deal sites), while other properties are offering nightly rates between $60 and $100. As before, the casinos are booking headliners like Beyonce, Rihanna, Jackson Browne and Sting.
Shops and restaurants are open, so is the iconic Steel Pier, with new attractions including The Mix, a thrill ride that spins like a propeller and swings riders out over the ocean.
The barrier island communities known as the Wildwoods, with their sprawling (free) beaches, 8,000 hotel rooms and 3,000 condos are open for business, along with the two-mile boardwalk and the roller coaster. A major campaign – "The Wildwoods – Think Summer & Join Us!" – targets the New York Metro area with billboards and television spots.
Sea Isle City is also advertising its beaches and other attractions on billboards in the New York area. While the undamaged towns of the southern Shore need to get their message out, they are doing it discreetly, so as not to seem crass or insensitive to their hard-hit neighbors to the north.
It will be summer-as-usual in Victorian Cape May, which was ready for visitors almost immediately after the storm. Unlike other Shore towns, which hibernate during the winter, Cape May has a year-round calendar of events, including a Dickens Christmas Extravaganza and a Valentine's Weekend. So for that little town, the problem this year was not Sandy damage, but the cold winter weather.
In Ocean City, which did suffer significant damage, the boardwalk is intact and city officials say the beaches are ready for summer visitors.
Seaside Heights, which had been famous/notorious for the fist-pumping crowd from Jersey Shore, became the symbol of Sandy's power when its JetStar roller coaster slid into the ocean. Removal of the coaster and work to rebuild the boardwalk are underway. Though only about half the borough's rides will be open by Memorial Day, Snooki's favorite Club Karma had a grand reopening on March 9, just in time for the city's St. Patrick's Day celebration.
In Point Pleasant Beach, Jenkinson's boardwalk, including the aquarium and some arcades, is open. Most of the kiddie rides, which had been stored when Sandy hit, will be back. However the popular train ride, one of the arcades and a miniature golf course were lost; work continues on those.
Belmar bravely held its annual St. Patrick's Day parade and party on March 3. Beaches will open by Memorial Day; officials expect boardwalk repairs to be completed by that date, though rebuilding of restrooms, pavilions and other structures will not. Neighboring Avon is making no predictions.
In affluent Spring Lake, aka The Irish Riviera, reconstruction of the two-mile boardwalk will be complete before Memorial Day weekend.
According to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Associate, the beach and some sections of the boardwalk will be ready by Memorial Day weekend. The fishing pier will not be rebuilt this year, but a temporary roof on the Great Auditorium means the annual summer concerts, featuring such acts as the Beach Boys and Tommy James and the Shondells, will go on.
In Asbury Park, the Shore town beloved by Bruce Springsteen, Mayor Ed Johnson has declared that, while full recovery has yet to happen, the beaches and boardwalk would be open this summer, with an elaborate ribbon cutting ceremony on May 18.
Long Branch's beachfront will be open by Memorial Day; however, a one-mile section of lost boardwalk, from Melrose Terrance south to Brighton Avenue will not be repaired by this summer. All the restaurants and shops at Pier Village are open.
Little Sea Bright, which saw all its beachfront facilities and most private beach clubs destroyed, will open its beaches Memorial Day; since restrooms were also destroyed the borough will bring in temporary facilities.
Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook sustained severe damage to roads, concessions, utilities, the wastewater treatment plant and the potable water system. The goal – not written in stone – is to open the park for summer, with temporary restroom facilities.
The Keansburg Amusement Park, which the storm left under up to 6 feet of water, is open, though the Wildcat roller coaster is gone and not all rides are operational. A new looping steel roller coaster may be in place by Memorial Day weekend, and the damaged carousel should be ready to ride.
Tourism is a $38 billion industry in New Jersey, and the four coastal counties – Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May – account for half of the state's annual tourism earnings, so a successful summer 2013 is critical, not only to the communities still struggling to rebuild, but to the entire state.
So if you have fond memories of walks on Jersey Shore beaches, boardwalk food and drunken evenings at oceanfront dive bars (just kidding), don't assume you can't enjoy the same unique-to-Jersey fun this year. As Governor Christie has said: "No one is conceding the summer of 2013 to Sandy. My commitment is to try to restore the Jersey Shore stronger than it was before but with the same character that it had before."