The people’s playground has turned into the people’s pay-ground.
Families looking for a cheap day out in Coney Island are getting the summer blues after discovering Luna Park — home of the iconic Cyclone roller coaster — is no longer a pay-as-you-go boardwalk fun zone: it now has an admission fee as high as $75 per person — $81 with sales tax — on the weekends.
“Oh, hell no!” shouted mom Jody Mclean as she walked away from the ticket line with her 4-year-old daughter Saturday afternoon after seeing the prices. Entry for her family of six would have ran her more than $400. “It’s too much money. If I had known, I wouldn’t have come here, I would find somewhere else to go.”
The park says the new fee is a safety measure to reduce crowding. It gives visitors four hours to visit the 32 rides and roller coasters, but means a family of four could end up dropping hundreds of clams on a weekend night, food and games not included. Locked gates now prevent visitors from walking through the park to get to the boardwalk or even get a glimpse of the rides up close.
At the park’s main entrance at the ornate gates on Surf Avenue, visitors can only see the new prices after waiting on a long line; screens showing the information are hidden under an awning, forcing parents to crane their necks and squint in the summer sun.
Some kids’ hopes plummeted faster than the Cyclone when they couldn’t get in.
“We wanted to go on the rides but we don’t have the money,” said DJ, an 11-year-old from Queens who sat despondently on a fence next to the entrance. He and a friend had their eyes on one ride only: the Electro Spin, a disk that rises in the air as it whirls around. “We just saw the ride and wanted to go on it.”
Amusements in Coney Island, dubbed “the people’s playground” for being a cheap summer destination only a subway ride away, remained closed for all of 2020 as the pandemic wore on, even as rides in other boardwalk towns such as Seaside Heights, NJ, opened fully with a mask requirement. Weekday wristbands at Luna Park are cheaper, as is entry for anyone under 48 inches tall, though anyone that short won’t be able to ride any of the many rides with height restrictions.
“They wouldn’t even make it to all the rides,” said Valerie Kennedy of Crown Heights, who leaned on a fire hydrant near the ticket window with her family. “Their prices are out of control.”
Thrill seekers can at least still purchase a separate $10 ticket to the Cyclone and Thunderbolt roller coasters, without the admission fee. There’s also a $20 “spectators only” wristband on the weekends ($10 during the week) that gets them into the park, but not on rides. By comparison, a whole season pass to Six Flags Great Adventure costs $60. Spend $34 over the cost of Luna Park’s entry and you get a day pass to Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Neighboring park Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park has no such restrictions and reopened as usual this summer.
“Open, non-gated FREE admission has always and will always be the policy at Deno’s,” park spokesman Ken Hochman said in an e-mail. “Coney Island is the People’s Playground.”
The difference was stark from the top of the famous Wonder Wheel Saturday night: While Deno’s was thrumming with crowds at the rides, arcades and food stands, Luna Park looked barren.
Zamperla, the Italian company that owns Luna Park, did not respond to requests for comment about the price hike.
Leaving Luna Park Saturday, Jen Durbin of Bushwick said her family of eight had fun, but they won’t be back anytime soon.
“You’re not gonna do it every weekend,” she said. “It’s going to be the once-a-summer kind of trip.”