Before Disney (BD): Time in Seaside Heights

Hi friends. Today’s post is going to get a little personal. I hope you don’t mind. I figure, though, as fans of travel and individuals who have a deep connection to a place for a variety of reasons, you will understand.

Way back when, for as long as I can remember, my mom and dad would plan week-long vacations to the Jersey Shore. Our home turf was Seaside Heights, a place you may have seen on TV in the past couple of days because of Hurricane Sandy. Maybe you watched the Jersey Shore show (I didn’t) or maybe you remember when MTV had a beach house down there a few times.

Seaside Heights 2007

Seaside Heights 2007

But before all that, it was just the place we went to escape the world. It was our Magic Kingdom and Epcot all rolled into one. The hotels we always loved (The Aztec!), my parent’s favorite restaurant (Top of the Mast), and later, my younger sister’s (Bum Rogers). It didn’t matter the season. We would head down there after a snow storm just to walk on the boardwalk, and during spring break at school my best friend and I would be the only ones buying taffy and rock candy at Berkeley Sweet Shop.

After years of hotels, my parents rented a tiny house in Ortley Beach. I decorated my room like it was my regular one. The next summer we jumped back into Seaside only a street over and stayed in a condo. That trip changed things for us. The next winter, my parents bought their own unit and we started traveling down even more. We’d pack up the cat, we’d visit Rickels, decorate a second Christmas tree, and hang down there a lot.

When the weather got warmer, I’d sit in the window of a room I shared with my sister, piles of Nancy Drew books by my side. I would read by the lights of the Boardwalk. The Casino Pier in the distance with its Ferris wheel and that old Log Flume with the blinking letters — a rhythm I had memorized. It was my own private time. My sister and the streets were silent, except for that random fire truck and the shuffling of feet on the ground.

A few years into having our own place in Seaside, my parents took us on our first trip to Disney. And even though we loved it, we drove back from Florida and finished up our vacation in our favorite spot. We have pictures at the end of our photo album from the night — all of us are wearing Disney t-shirts and we’re running around on the sand in the dark. There were so many moments that have been pinpointed with a trip to the shore. Cartwheels on the sand after junior prom, a huge sleepover of people during senior prom weekend, a place to drive to in search of comfort after my first semester in college, the night before the first date with the man who would become my husband.

Down the line, my parents sold the condo and still took the time to go down to their spot on the beach every weekend. James and I would follow them down and hang out on the beach, finish up with lunch at Klee’s and maybe take a walk on the boardwalk if we could. Since I moved to Long Island, it has been harder to get down there. We opted for free beaches near our house. There was no traffic. How could we pass it up?

This summer, we were packing up a house and watching our pennies and talked about making sure we got down there in 2013. And then last week happened. I’m in this weird state of shock actually. To see so many of our favorite places broken on the ground, or totally missing. I spent too many hours every night last week, not writing blog posts, and instead googling like a nut. The places we used to go, the streets we used to walk on, and trying to decipher just what was left.

This whole thing makes me think of the extreme enthusiasm/bordering on obsession that you readers have for Disney. It is the memories and the times with our families that connect us so strongly. I always say Disney is the place where I was able to wind down, obsess over boys, rev up before I started my senior year of high school or my first year living away from home on a college campus. I had many moments like that in Seaside too. Some too personal to post on here, but they exist. My first trip to a used bookstore. The last vacation destination my grandma would take with us. The time I tripped over my mom’s shoe, totally ripped up my face, and sat in the ocean — hoping it would heal quickly. My first bikini. My first pair of glasses.

So maybe now I understand a little bit better why people mourn for Epcot Center, a time of Horizons and World of Motion. It’s almost the same thing. Childhoods are wrapped up in those attractions, just like mine is based on the best nachos I’ve ever had (Klee’s), an indoor swimming pool in the winter, and watching the sunrise on our balcony — the sun peeking out of the ocean on the last day of our vacation.

Seaside Heights 2009

Seaside holds its own type of magic for me. And while my heart is breaking for the place I used to know and for all of those people who call that area and those that surround it home every single day, I hope against hope it will return to its former glory, honoring what it used to be, and becoming even stronger each day.

So I guess you could say Seaside Heights was my original happy place.

Seaside Heights 2009 - end

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A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

7 thoughts on “Before Disney (BD): Time in Seaside Heights

  1. With trips to Mexico and disney mom and I missed the seaside beach. However we got to visit the Sawmill in september. They will rebuild the boardwalk etc but it will not be the same. We have our memories photos and will forever remember all the good times. Blackouts boardwalk games stevie d’s wow indeed our disney of the north. A great blog and story Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. What a great post — thank you for sharing these memories! It’s this kind of writing that helps keep the spirit of a time & place alive for the rest of the world to appreciate. I sincerely hope Seaside Heights makes a strong recovery.

  3. Estelle, what a gorgeous blog. Reading this I could feel the emotion and memories attached through your well chosen and honest words. Thank you so much for sharing this story. To have such a Happy Place will never change, even if that particular place has. I guess the best thing to do in this circumstance is never to try and recreate such memories, but to make new ones, and by doing that your financial contribution and support for the local businesses and people can be the best action to rebuild the community. Again, thanks for sharing this story,I loved reading it! -Q

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