Trimper's and Jolly Roger
May 27, 2017

copyright Jay Ducharme 2017

This year's edition of the Western New York Coaster Club's Coasterfestâ„¢ took us down to Ocean City, Maryland, and two parks we had never visited.   We left Friday morning, expecting a drive of about seven hours.  Along I-84 in Connecticut, we spotted a retaining wall that had recently been installed during road reconstruction.  Its profile strongly resembled a roller coaster.  We took that as a good omen.  The ride went along fine until we hit I-95 in New Jersey.  At that point, traffic repeatedly came to a standstill.  The main problem was the new "express lane" for EZ Pass transponders.  In a questionable move, the EZ Pass lanes were usually set off to the left of the toll area.  After the toll booths, the highway department inexplicably blocked off the left lanes.  So the "express" lanes often meant the slowest progess as we struggled to merge with high speed traffic on our right.  We passed several accidents.  There were also areas that slowed for no appreciable reason.  After ten and a half hours on the road, we finally drove down the five mile long peninsula known as Ocean City.  The area seemed to be a magnet for college students, with lots of them wandering the streets.  There was one bar and restaurant after another, interspersed with surf shops, mini-golf courses and laser tag arenas.

At nearly 7:30, we pulled in to our hotel, the Sea Hawk, just a few miles north from the parks we'd be visiting on Saturday.  The room at the Sea Hawk was spacious and colorfully decorated.  It included a full kitchen, which we wouldn't have time to utilize.  It also featured a sliding glass door onto a balcony overlooking the busy Coastal Highway.  Since there was still a little daylight left, Karen wanted to pay a visit to the ocean that was a mere block away.  It was a much needed time of serenity after the long drive.  We strolled along the narrow sidewalk abutting the highway and checked out some the many attractions.  We didn't see any breakfast places.  When we returned to the Sea Hawk, I asked the desk clerk if there were any nearby.  He said he only knew of one that he thought was called the Skillet.

After a good night's rest, the next morning we started off early to find the Skillet.  After driving a few miles south, we spotted it.  It was actually called The Bayside Skillet and was hard to miss because of its bright pink coloring.  Even the lines in the parking lot were bright pink.  The desk clerk chose well, though, because an article posted outside the restaurant proclaimed the Skillet as the best breakfast place on the eastern seaboard.  We were greeted by an equally eclectic look inside the restaurant, with colorful cylindrical lamps and chairs with strawberrys carved into their backs.  The Skillet's specialty was crepes and strawberries.  I ordered the cinnamon crepes which came with blueberries and strawberries (of course).  Karen got an omelet and home fries.  We both got orange juice, which was fresh squeezed and tasted like we were simply eating an orange.  When the food arrived, it was beautifully presented.  The crepes were folded into little teepees.  The home fries could have fed four people and were some of the best I've ever had.  All the food was delicious.  I was really glad we stopped there.

We then continued south along the Coastal Highway and eventually found our first park, Trimper's Rides.  Ocean City was created by developers in the 1800s, and Trimper's was part of the layout early on.  It wasn't  so much a formal park as it was a collection of rides along the boardwalk, much like Coney Island.  And what a boardwalk!  It stretched for about two miles along the oceanside.  We parked in a small lot off the main road next to Trimper's entrance.

We were at the far south end of Ocean City, and the boardwalk went right to the end of the peninsula.  Since we were there so early, we decided to stroll about.  The gate into Trimper's main midway was closed, so we followed the boardwalk north.  I was surprised at the number of people already milling about.  We started at the far south end where there was a giant anchor and a display of the largest marlin caught at Ocean City.  Next to that was a display of the largest shark.  A quaint alleyway to the west wound its way along seaside shops, none of which had yet opened.  Trimper's had a set of rides set up behind the shops.  Opposite that was a tram which, for three dollars, would take you to the other end of the boardwalk.  Ocean City appeared to have an efficient bus transit system that cost three dollars for the entire day, a seemingly better deal.

The ocean was clearly visible from the tram stop, and that drew Karen eastward.  The beach had just been groomed and the sand was as flat and smooth as the parking lot.  Every hundred yards or so there were long thin boardwalks that led out toward the ocean.  So we followed one and stood there for a while watching the waves roll in.  Then we walked back onto the boardwalk.  At every block there would be an outlet westward onto the main road.  Often, the outlets functioned as loading docks for the many businesses there.

We walked into the big Playland Arcade.  There were the usual assortment of arcade amusements like SkeeBall and shooter games.  Way at the back, there were four new Stern pinball machines, which was I was glad to see.  I thought the best feature of the arcade was an animated neon sign on the side of the building that showed Pac Man gobbling pellets, outrunning a ghost and then landing on a surfboard.

The shops were intermixed with typical midway games like water guns and basketball.  There was a Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not museum that also had a mirror maze.  I noticed Trimper's had a mirror maze as well.  The barker tried to get me to buy a ticket, and I said I was going to check out Trimper's first.  She poo-pooed that idea, saying Trimper's was nothing compared to Ripley's.  I passed.

We also passed by the "famous" Ocean Gallery.  I wasn't sure what to make of it.  It hadn't yet opened and the building seemed to have no windows, appearing to be held together by an ancient cacophony of signs of all shapes and sizes advertising in crude hand-written script all manner of art-related notations, from being a "fine art center" to being "Hollywood on the east coast".  It also had a prominent sign stating that the store was featured on the Discovery Channel.

Nearby on the beach was a large sand sculpture of the head of Jesus, fronted by plaques with various biblical quotes.  Just beyond that was another outlet, this one framed by a large ornate metal archway crowned with silouhettes depicting various activities like surfing and fishing, welcoming people to the Ocean City boardwalk.

We still had a lot of time to kill before the WNYCC registration would begin, so we walked toward the long pier that jutted out into the ocean in front of the Jolly Roger amusement park, which itself was on a pier.  Around the mid-point of the pier was a small shack and a fence.  In order to get out onto the rest of the pier, you had to enter through the shack and pay the proprietor fifty cents.  So we did, and were greeted with views of the seemlingly endless ocean.  Lifeguards were training off the north end of the pier.  And kids were surfing in the waters at the south end.  At the east end, about a half dozen people lazed about with their fishing poles.

We headed back toward the boardwalk.  Along the way, dozens of seagulls circled around and past us.  We walked back toward the south end of the boardwalk.  Along the way, I noticed a haunted house that reminded me of a Bill Tracy Wacky Shack.  I noticed a sign in front of the ride proudly proclaiming that the Haunted House was indeed designed by Tracy.  I wasn't sure if it was part of Trimper's or not, but I knew I'd have to ride it.

I was getting thirsty, so I stopped at the nearby Dumster's Dairy stand and got a milkshake.  By that point it was nearly 11:00, and registration was supposed to start. The WNYCC flyer said to meet "outside Trimpers".  But the entire boardwalk was outside Trimpers, and the park itself had several entrances.  We stood at the south end's intersection and spotted a few other WNYCC members who were just as perplexed as we were.

The gate into Trimper's had opened slightly and we peeked in.  There in front of us was another Bill Tracy classic, a Pirate's Cove similar to the one at Waldameer.  So far Trimper's had a dark ride, fun house and mirror maze.  I was already loving this place!  The big coaster on the midway was a stock Vekoma Boomerang.  I had ridden several of those before and had no interest in getting a concussion.

We finally spotted Geff Ford, the event organizer, with Bob and Yvonne Wheeler.  He had to pick up wrist bands at another Jolly Roger location a few miles away.  Trimper's opened to the public yet we still didn't know where we were supposed to meet.  So Geff asked at a nearby ticket booth and we were directed to a large building next to the Pirate's Cove.  It was an indoor amusement park filled mostly with kiddie rides.  To the right was a narrow staircase leading to the park office.  Geff went up there to meet with the manager, and soon we were lining up to get our wrist bands.  Then we all gatherered together for a group photo in front of the Pirate's Cove. 

The first order of business, since it was right there, was to take a trip through this Bill Tracy classic.  It had all of the Tracy hallmarks: tilted rooms, squishy floors, the disco ball maze, the jail backed by mirrors, plus all of his typical twisted artwork and mannequins.  It was a lot of fun.

Karen paused for a photo op with a scurvy gentleman sitting outside the ride entrance, and then we walked through the indoor amusement section.  The western train that occupied the south end of the building was beautifully themed, with waterfalls and building facades and even an animatronic bear cub and gopher.  Next to that was a set of display cabinets with artifacts from Trimper's history.  In front of that was a spectacular ornate vintage ticket booth topped by an angel.  The big eye opener, though, was near that booth -- a full size 1917 Herschell/Spillman menagerie carousel.  The carved wooden figures were spectacular, from horses and tigers through giraffes, ostriches and even an unusual stork.

Next to that, even more surprising, was a full-size bumper car arena surrounded with colorful art deco lighting.  The rest of the building was occupied by plenty of vintage kiddie rides including a large boat ride, a vintage kiddie whip, auto car rides and even a kiddie Ferris wheel.

We walked out of the southern entrance, and next to us was yet another walk-through fun house, Aladin's Lamp.  The exterior was covered with small lights and must have looked dazzling at night.  The upper center of the structure held a large animatronic figure in a turban beckoning prospective riders with its arms.  Naturally, I had to try it.  Twice.  It was short but fun, with lots of moving platforms.  Then we went next door and I took a walk through the Mirror Maze.  There were a few kids in there already and they were bumping into each other and the glass, trying to find their way out.  I figured being a wise adult that I'd be able to fly right through it.  But I found myself repeately bumping into glass and getting completely lost.  When I finally made it to the exit, I was suprised at how small it actually was.  The illusion was really well done.  The maze felt much larger.

It turned out Trimper's did indeed own the Haunted House, so that was our next stop.  The loading area featured a collection of "portraits" that actually were t-shirt ads.  This was the first dark ride I'd ever seen that had its own series of t-shirts.  The ride operator was very friendly.  The cars were built like coffins and when we boarded, the front was lowered in front of us like a hood.  The exterior design gave the sense that we would be seeing more of the typical Bill Tracy characters.  As we entered, there was the typical brightly colored diminishing corridor that Tracy was famous for, plus a comical skeleton holding a shovel.  But then things turned a bit more sinister -- a man being violently electrocuted in a chair, a woman being sawn in half, an entire corridor filled with zombies.  Plus, Trimper's had left in a feature of Tracy's that many parks removed -- the severely tilted floors, making it feel like your car was going to tip over.  The car also picked up an enormous amount of speed zig-zagging through the dark.  Karen was terrified.  The only respite came mid-course as we emerged above the entrance and glimpsed the beach before plunging back into darkness.

Karen didn't enjoy the ride and was glad it was over.  I wasn't fond of some of the violent stunts, but I really liked the ride overall.  I even bought a t-shirt.  The car movement was very disturbing (in a good way).  The wall of zombies behind chain-link fences was  effective.  My favorite section was a dark corridor near the end where an eerie distorted voice simply repeated one word in a bland monotone:  "Help".  Often the simplest gimmicks were the most effective.  Haunted House didn't feel like a typical Tracy creation, and obviously a lot of modifications had been done over the years.  But it was one of the most intense dark rides I'd ever experienced.

We met up with Bob and Yvonne.  We were getting hungry, so we stopped off at Thrasher's French Fries.   Karen ordered a medium cup of fries.  It was huge!  I got a fresh-squeezed lemonade as well.  The fries were tasty, and we munched as we walked over to our next park, Jolly Roger.  This pirate-themed amusement area had multiple locations in Ocean City.  This was their "pier park".  It had the feel of a typical carnival or state fair midway.  There were numerous common flat ride thrills, like a Himilaya and a Power Surge.  But there was also a rare double-decker carousel with rocking horses.  They also had a Looping Star, a portable roller coaster that looked impressive in its location on the pier.

We began with something a bit more sedate, a ride on the Ferris wheel.  It afforded us expansive views of the entire boardwalk.  It was also a fairly long ride.  After that, Bob and Yvonne wanted to try out the Looping Star.  Karen and I passed on that.  Instead I headed for Morbid Manor, the small trailered dark ride.  The elaborately painted exterior promised ghoulish sights on par with the Haunted House.  But it was more like a typical carnival dark ride: a rapid trip through nothing but darkness.  I think there might have been two cheesy stunts in the entire building.  And since it was daytime, light was leaking through the building's metal corners and fabric ceiling.  I thought it was interesting how the ride's exterior promised terror and delivered mild amusement, while Haunted House's exterior promised mild amusement and delivered terror.

And that wrapped up our time on the pier.  There wasn't much else to this Jolly Roger.   Karen wanted to spend some more quality time with the beach while I created a video walk-thru of Trimper's.  I took another walk through the Mirror Maze and Pirate's Cove, and that concluded our time on the pier.

But the day wasn't over.  We still had the other Jolly Roger to visit, about two miles north of the pier.  Clouds were moving in and the wind was coming up, a precursor to rain that was supposed to hit in a few hours.  We parked in Jolly Roger's Philadelphia Avenue lot and headed toward the entrance. Unlike the pier location, this version of Jolly Roger was a full size amusement park.  It also included a large waterpark called Splash Mountain, Speedworld (a collection of go-cart tracks) and two big adventure golf courses encompassing over 200 acres.

Anyone with a child who loves pirates would find this a perfect park.  I had never before seen so many replicas of Johnny Depp.  There were pirate statutes everywhere, and most of the rides were pirate-themed.   Instead of asphalt, they used crushed stone on the ground and it was really comfortable to walk on.

The area at the front of the park was strictly a kiddieland, although the entire park was appropriate for kids.  One unusual feature was the Adventure Area, a miniature adventure park with kid-sized rope climbing and zip lines.  We walked toward the rest of the park and crossed the tracks of the Iron Horse Railroad.  It was a fairly standard Chance C.P. Huntington miniature railway, but it had an attractively landscaped layout.  Unfortunately, that ride wasn't running while we were there.  It appeared the battery had died; it was sitting on the ground attached to a charger.

So we continued walking along the midway.  The landscaping throughout the park was really nice.  The midway was spacious and colorful, with plenty of pirate-themed dioramas.   At the back end of the park was the major coasters, a vintage Schwartzkopf Wildcat (like the one I used to ride as a kid at Riverside Park).  It looked like it was in great condition.  Next to it was a Ferris wheel, so we hopped aboard for scenic views of the park and the area.

After that we continued wandering through the midway.  There were two kiddie coasters side by side, a Wacky Worm and the Sea Serpent.  While at first I thought that was strange, it did make sense in that each coaster offered different thrills.  The Wacky Worm was a really mild figure-8 ride, appropriate for very young children, while the Sea Serpent, a Miler kiddie coaster, was a more intense ride for older children.  Given that Jolly Roger was aimed at kids, having those options was a good move by the park.

We noticed the entrance to Splash Mountain and followed that path.  The waterpark appeared to have a few people in it, but I imagined it would be packed in the middle of the summer.  Next to it was the entrance to Treasure Golf, one of the park's adventure golf courses.  Then we followed a narrow path that led us back to the park entrance.  We looked into the small gift shop.  Karen noticed a magnet with the park logo, so I got one.  Nearby was the park's eaterie where a group of WNYCC members had gathered.  I went off to make a video walk-thru of the park, and right as I ended it began to rain.  So Karen and I called it a day and began the four hour drive to our next destination, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.

We had a fun time in Ocean City.  If we had known there was so much activity in the area, we might have planned to spend more than one day there.  We saw only about one-fifth of the boardwalk.  The beaches were well groomed.  And there were plenty of restaurants.  Trimper's surprised me with its rich history and top-notch fun houses.  So we said farewell to Maryland, happy to have discovered a new mecca of amusements.

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