Memorial Day 2019
What a Ride!
The Dizzying 50-Year Evolution of the Morey’s Piers Empire
By Marybeth Hagan
Will and Jack Morey
Founding brothers Bill (left) and Will try out a ride.
Morey’s Piers in Wildwood is an American dream come true.
The dream leading to the Morey family’s amusement and attractions enterprise, one delivering tons of fun in Wildwood for decades, began with two visionaries and a sliding board.
Brothers William (Bill) Morey, who operated concession stands on Wildwood’s boardwalk, and contractor and developer Wilbert (Will) Morey, who built the town’s vintage “Doo Wop” motels, had a vision for Wildwood’s future. When the pair got an eyeful of “Wipe Out,” it was love at first sight. Wipe Out was a huge, 12-lane fiberglass sliding board, 40 feet tall by 200 feet long, which the Moreys first saw in a Fort Lauderdale shopping center. Bill and Will brought Wipe Out to Wildwood’s boardwalk in 1969.
That was 50 years ago.
While Wipe Out necessarily met its end in 2010, the late Will Morey’s sons, Will and Jack, have kept the family business alive and well. (The late Bill Morey’s branch of the family tree opted out of the business after a phase of family friction years ago.)
Morey’s Piers amusements, attractions and more in Wildwood now include: three amusement piers (Surfside Pier, Mariner’s Pier and Adventure Pier); two beachfront water parks (Ocean Oasis Water Park & Beach Club and Raging Waters Water Park); four hotels (Pan American, Port Royal, Starlux Boutique and the Blue Palms hotels); plus the Seapointe Village condominiums, and five restaurants (Jumbo’s Grub & Pub, Wilhelm’s Bier Garten, the dog-friendly PigDog BeachBarBQ, Joe’s FISH Co., and Stubborn Brothers Beach Bar & Grille). Some are indoor, others outdoor. All feature dishes created by Morey’s executive chefs.
The Morey family (from top): Will and Jackye, and sons Will and Jack.
Today, brothers Will and Jack Morey are the company’s president and executive vice president, respectively, though “second-generation partners is their preferred title,” says Maggie Warner, Morey’s Piers digital media/public relations manager. Like other longtime staffers, Warner – who first worked as a water-park lifeguard, then as a supervisor, then as a manager before leading Morey’s marketing efforts – has been a Morey’s employee for 20 years.
Warner and the other members of the think tank behind this major operation occupy cheerful offices that are tucked discreetly among the colorful sights on Mariner’s Pier. Outside, other staffers hustle about in preparation for the upcoming season. Morey’s employs 165 people full-time, year-round. Come summertime, that number will swell to 1,500 employees who meet the needs of more than 3 million Morey’s visitors, or as Warner says, “guests.”
His forefathers in the business, Bill and Will Morey, were “folks with gumption,” says partner Jack Morey after dashing into the company’s conference room accompanied by his equally energetic and friendly gray Weimaraner, Hobbs.
“Fifty years in the business feels like a long time in some ways,” Jack muses. His brother Will and he began their careers as game operators in the blue and yellow booths still standing by the entrance to Mariner’s Pier. “Those jobs put us both through college!” he adds. Jack counts himself lucky that his dad traveled with the family when visiting “great cities with public spaces” to check out amusements and determine what might work in Wildwood.
An aerial photo of the construction of the second Raging Waters water park on Morey’s Surfside Pier in 1988 – the facility was relaunched as Ocean Oasis water park in 2006.
By the mid-1980s, their dad deemed Will and Jack ready to be involved in company operations. “As piers got bigger, rides got bigger and financing got bigger,” Jack says.
“There is more science today” in the amusement and attractions industry, he says. “These are very entrepreneurial businesses.”
The Morey brothers and their company are always trying to keep their finger on the pulse of guests’ preferences. One can’t always predict what will be popular. Sometimes Morey’s management turns to feasibility studies when planning ahead. Other times they trust their instincts. “The question is always, ‘Do we build for current guests or future guests?’ ” Jack says. “There’s no set formula in this business. Overinvesting will kill you and underinvesting will kill you!”
Will Morey and his wife in the lobby on opening day of the Pan American Hotel.
Every season, people naturally want to know what’s new at Morey’s Piers. This year’s new family-friendly “Runaway Tram” roller coaster, a $4 million investment, will be a hit, Jack predicts. Guests will find this wildly grinning, bright yellow train with 10 two-passenger seats, modeled after the boardwalk’s iconic Wildwood Sightseer Tramcar, on Surfside Pier.
The nature of the “Runaway Tram” roller coaster is “really important,” Jack proclaims with delight. “This might be a child’s [in the five-year-old range] first roller-coaster ride!”
Roller-coaster enthusiasts – people who travel the country and world in search of the perfect ride – will also find it to their satisfaction, he says. “Most enthusiasts love the concept of a well-designed roller coaster. They will like the new Tram” any time or during the “Coastin’ by the Ocean” event for card-carrying ride enthusiast group members on Aug. 10 and 11.
The appeal of amusements depends on a combination of adrenaline and fear, Jack says. “It’s age dependent. A 5-year-old’s [perspective] differs from an adult’s.” Furthermore, “the fear formula is the art of the business,” he adds, before noting that some things go too far in raising fear for amusements. There no room for recklessness in the running of roller coasters.
Will and Jackye Morey watch Barry Gehring cut the cake to celebrate the opening of the Sea Serpent roller coaster.
“We are a really family-friendly, footloose, fancy-free place to bring the family,” Jack says of his family’s amusements, water parks, restaurants, hotels and more. “Wildwood is not for everybody, it is for anybody,” he adds. “We’re a place where you can laugh at yourself … you’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself!”
By all appearances, the folks at Morey’s can take a joke. They can also deliver one, like the clever stunt that Maggie Warner and her public-relations crew pulled off on April Fools’ Day. In a press release dated March 31, 2019, they announced that “After 50 Years Morey’s Bids Farewell to Longtime Staple, Curley’s Fries.” The public and the media went into a panic. (Full disclosure, this writer fell for the joke while researching Morey’s Piers for this story.) People were outraged that Curley’s Fries, and their distinctive scent on the boardwalk for the past 45 years, would be replaced by a concession stand dubbed Greenery’s. Greenery’s would feature “items that include, vegan and paleo friendly crispy kale chips brushed with avocado oil and baked with a seasoning blend of garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne” and similar fare. The panic subsided after Morey’s PR people declared “April Fools!” the next day.
The grand opening of the Great White Roller Coaster.
“Some of that [stunt] speaks to the culture of the company,” Jack Morey says with a grin.
That culture also includes a third generation of Moreys along with “other people, whose names are not Morey, who keep the place going,” Jack Morey quips.
Will Morey’s son, Will, is the director of water park operations, and his son, Kyle, works as a food and beverage manager. Jack Morey’s son, Zack, is a hotel manager, and his son, Jordan, works as a food and beverage manager.
Jack Morey doesn’t know if Zack and Jordan will become permanent parts of |the family business, he says. “It’s their decision. I hope they stay, but it’s their decision.”
The Sea Serpent Roller Coaster being built on Mariner’s Pier. It opened in 1984.
Meanwhile, a handsome reminder of Morey’s Piers’ roots hangs in the company’s conference room. This silver plaque marks the induction of Wilbert C. Morey, Will and Jack Morey’s father, into the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Hall of Fame. The 2001 IAAPA award salutes Will Morey’s “outstanding achievement and contribution of his extraordinary talent and energy to the development of the amusement industry.”
“Dad is in good company,” says Jack Morey. “Walt Disney is a member of that club.”
Walt Disney’s original Cinderella asserted “the dream that you wish will come true” when she sang “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” Dreamers Will and Bill Morey did more than wish in bringing the dream of Morey’s Piers merriment to life in their hometown.