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Denos Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

Deno's Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

photo via Barry Yanowitz, flickr

This post was written in 2009. Please see most recent ride census from April 2011: “Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!”

“Coney Island Rides” and “What rides are in Coney Island?” continue to be the #1 search term used to arrive at Amusing the Zillion. Two months ago, ATZ did “Coney Island Ride Count: Veteran Ride Ops 40, Joe Sitt 10!” We broke the news about California’s Butler Amusements sending rides to Coney, including one from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Jacko’s Dragon Wagon is still in Coney Island, but a few other rides have come or gone. It’s time for an update.

On August 5, 2009, with 33 days left in the season, Coney Island has a grand total of 56 rides, plus a variety of sideshows, games and food stands. If you thought all of Coney Island closed when Astroland closed last year, you’ve been misinformed and missing out. Hope to see you on the Cyclone line before the end of the summer!


“What rides are open at Coney Island?”

The iconic Cyclone Roller Coaster is a New York City landmark operated by the Albert family, the former owners of Astroland Park (Surf Avenue at 10th St). Opened in 1927, the Cyclone remains a favorite of roller coaster fans as well as photographers from all over the world. On flickr, ATZ found more than 3,000 photos of the Cyclone!

photo via Coney Island Cyclone, flickr

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park has 22 rides and is owned and operated by the Vourderis family. In addition to the Wonder Wheel, which is an official New York City landmark, and the legendary Spook-A-Rama dark ride, adult rides include the Thunderbolt, Bumper Cars and Tilt-A-Whirl. The Kiddie rides are the Carousel, Herschell Boats, Dizzy Dragons, Pony Carts, Jumping Motorcycles, Sea Serpent Roller Coaster, Mini Enterprise, Free Fall, Red Baron Airplanes, Willie the Whale, Fire Engines, Jets, Flying Elephants, Pirate’s Pond, Big Foot Trucks and Rio Grande Train.

Thunderbolt at Denos Wonder Wheel Park. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

Thunderbolt at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

McCullough’s is a family owned park with 12 kiddie rides on the Bowery at 12th Street. The rides are the Bumblebeez, Ferris Wheel, Carousel, Swings, Motorcycles, Yellow Submarine, Dizzy Dragons, Himalaya, Ladybug, Frog Hopper, Circus Train and Tug Boat.

McCulloughs Kiddie Park in Coney Island has a dozen rides. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

McCulloughs Kiddie Park in Coney Island has a dozen rides. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island’s disco palace of bumper cars, the Eldorado Skooters, is a family owned business at Surf Ave between Stillwell and 12th St.

Coney Islands Eldorado Bumper Cars. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

Coney Island's Eldorado Bumper Cars. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

photo via Barry Yanowitz, flickr

The Guerrero family’s 12th Street Amusements has 5 adult rides including the Polar Express, Bumper Cars, Saturn 6, Ghost Hole and Virtual Reality. There’s a second Virtual Reality simulator on Jones Walk.

Ghost Hole Dark Ride on 12th St in Coney Island. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

Ghost Hole Dark Ride on 12th St in Coney Island. Photo © Barry Yanowitz via flickr

photo via Barry Yanowitz, flickr

Thor Equities “Dreamland Park” (a temporary amusement area on the former Astroland property) currently has 13 rides brought in by Geren Rides and Butler Amusements. Adult rides are the Ring of Fire, Scrambler, Trabant and Star Dancer. Eight kiddie rides include a Carousel, Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, Kid Zone, Drive In, Kiddie Ferris Wheel and Banana Boats. There’s also a pony ride. Geren Rides’ Wisdom Himalaya and Spin Out recently left Coney Island for fairs in Tennessee and Georgia. Ride owner Glen Geren told ATZ he expects to have a Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars and a Reverchon Himalaya up and running within a couple of weeks. Ride #56 on our list is the Himalaya, which is on site in Dreamland, where it’s being sanded and painted in preparation for set up.

UPDATE 8/29 CONEY ISLAND IS OPEN, ONLY DREAMLAND HAS CLOSED Although Thor Equities closed “Dreamland Park,” Coney Island still has 43 rides including the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel open for business. There’s also the Ringling Bros. Boom A Ring Circus, Coney Island USA’s Circus Sideshow and Burlesque, Dreamland Roller Rink, the Coney Island History Project, games, arcades, and much more to enjoy.

Rabbit figure on Butler Amusements Carousel currently at Dreamland, Coney Island.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Rabbit figure on Butler Amusements Carousel currently at Dreamland, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!

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This Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster in Coney Island was purchased by Butler Amusements last year from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster in Coney Island was purchased by Butler Amusements last year from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On the Boardwalk side of Joe Sitt’s “Dreamland Park” on the former Astroland site, you’ll find the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster. The Wisdom Industries ride is a familiar sight on the carnival circuit. But the Coney Island ride’s claim to fame is that it came out of Michael Jackson’s private amusement park at Neverland Ranch.

Although the Dreamland Dragon Wagon’s history has not been publicized, Jackson’s death has thrust the former Neverland rides at carnivals and parks across the country into the media spotlight. At Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Ky, which has the pirate ship ride said to be Jackson’s favorite, complimentary rides were offered as a tribute to the King of Pop and a temporary memorial will soon be replaced with a permanent plaque. Will Coney’s Dragon Wagon follow suit with its own tribute to Michael Jackson?

ATZ learned of the Coney Island ride’s Neverland provenance earlier this month in a conversation with the ride’s owner, Earl “Butch” Butler, CEO of California-based Butler Amusements. The carnival owner purchased four rides from the Jackson ranch last year including the Balloon Samba ride, which is currently at California’s Alameda County Fair. Butler is the new carnival provider for the California State Fair and has a strong fair and festival route in California, Oregon and Washington State.

Butler Amusements Cotton Candy Wagon in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler Amusements Cotton Candy Wagon in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

As a reporter for the trade publication Amusement Business, I’d interviewed Butler and found him to be a class act. His show was awarded the prestigious Circle of Excellence Designation by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) in 2005. When ATZ saw “Butler Amusements” name on the cotton candy trailer in Thor Equities’ temporary park in Coney Island, we were absolutely astonished. What made Butler come all the way from California to Coney’s sandy shore when East Coast ride operators galore turned down offers to play Joe Sitt’s Dreamland? We figured either Butler knew something we didn’t (Sitt decides to sit on land and offers multi-year contracts?) or we knew something Butler didn’t (Joe Sitt said amusements don’t make money. Shopping is the new amusement, full speed ahead with rezoning for big box retail!). We phoned Butler to get the scoop.

It turns out that Butler’s Coney connection is his friend and fellow Californian John Strong whose sideshow has been operating in Sitt’s would-be Dreamland since April. “John grew up on our show,” said Butler, “but has since gone off on his own. He said, ‘you’ve got to come out and see this.’ ” At first Butler thought Coney Island was too far, but Strong kept calling him and said they were having trouble getting rides. Butler agreed to fly out and see the situation. His impression: “Coney Island needs upgrading.”

New Ride on the Skyline: Butler Amusements Star Dancer. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

New Ride on the Skyline: Butler Amusements Star Dancer. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler agreed to send four rides from his arsenal of 135 rides. The rides include the Star Dancer, a 101-foot tower ride by Larsen International that combines the carousel and Gondola wheel. It offers a spectacular view of the midway. “The Star Dancer would fit here because people could look out over the beach and the Boardwalk,” said Butler, who noted that he could spare the ride because it’s not popular at fairs where it loses riders to more thrilling rides. He also sent a jewel box of a carousel equipped with menagerie animals as well as horses. The ride had been in storage since it came out of a mall in Chula Vista. The kiddie rides are the Dragon Wagon purchased from Neverland in 2008 and a walk-though play attraction called Kid Zone.

Cat figure on Butler Amusements Carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Cat figure on Butler Amusements Carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Asked if he would be sending more rides, Butler said he sent the four rides to “test market” Coney Island. He also sent his right hand man Bobby Merten, former owner of B & B Amusements, to set up the rides and oversee operations for the first couple of weeks. Butler’s strong fair route precludes sending more rides at this time, but he has hopes of putting kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents on Stillwell for the Christmas season.

ATZ has spoken with East Coast amusement operators who declined offers to bring their rides to Sitt’s temporary park due to inflated rents or because they already have a strong route and cannot spare the rides. One operator told ATZ the rent was twice as much as he would expect to pay. Asked about his contractual arrangements with Sitt, Butler said that he has a one-year contract with an option for another year, and that the rent was 35 per cent higher than what he would usually pay.

Butler Amusements Star Dancer in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler Amusements Star Dancer in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Although Butler has over 135 rides, he also has major commitments including contracts with four state fairs with concurrent dates: the California State Fair, (Aug 21-Sept 7), the Evergreen Washington State Fair (40 rides; Aug 27-Sept-7) and both the Western and Eastern Idaho State Fairs (late August-early September). In the case of Cal Expo, Butler’s new contract is for a ten-year term and requires him to provide a minimum of 55 rides, 40 games and 13 food stands.

This illustrates the absurdity of Thor Equities so-called efforts to recruit amusement operators to bring spectacular or major rides to Coney Island. If amusement ride operators are operating on a year to year basis, they simply can’t afford to invest in new equipment. As for whether the temporary fair that Joe Sitt calls “Dreamland Park” will be operating next year, much depends on whether the City rezoning plan for Coney Island passes in the City Council this month. And whether or not the City comes to some kind of 11th hour deal to acquire the property from Thor Equities.

Medallion on Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Medallion on Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

August 26, 2009: Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ride for Sale in Coney Island!

August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!

July 8, 2009: Coney Island Wish List: Michael Jackson’s Bumper Car Ride for Sale on eBay

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McCulloughs Kiddie Park on Bowery @ 12th Street has 12 rides including this cute tug boat and classic carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

McCullough's Kiddie Park on Bowery @ 12th Street has 12 rides including this cute tug boat and classic carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Coney Island’s much photographed Bumblebee ride and the kiddie rides surrounding it are part of McCullough’s Kiddie Park. Located on the Bowery at 12th Street, the park has 12 kiddie rides and is open for the 2009 season. The rides are the Bumblebeez, Ferris Wheel, Carousel, Swings, Motorcycles, Yellow Submarine, Dizzy Dragons, Himalaya, Ladybug, Frog Hopper, Circus Train and Tug Boat. The McCullough family is related to the Tilyous and has owned and operated rides in Coney Island for many years and we hope many years to come!

Although Astroland closed in 2008, Coney Island still has 52 rides up and running in the 2009 season.

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May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!

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