The Boardwalk Resort: How Changing the Story Would Benefit the Theme
Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, styled after turn-of-the-century Atlantic City, features nods to the past all while keeping up with the times. This seaside getaway transports Guests back to the early 1900s, at least it’s meant to. The current story line of the resort is as simple as it gets: You’re going back in time to the Jersey shore, without Paulie D, and you’re going to have a Ballyhoo of a time! Great, awesome, only the fitness center doesn’t quite match that theme. Or the ESPN Club. Or Ample Hills. Or the TV screens for conventions, or the DVC booth, or really anything that’s modern. Sure, I can make this complaint about any resort (we’ll discuss Port Orleans and Grand Trashidian in future posts) but here at Boardwalk they can take those modern conveniences and roll them into a better story than time travel.
What if the story followed the Animal Kingdom idea we talked about before? You are you, it is today, you are not home. Simple, yet extraordinarily complex when you get into the finer details. We can rewrite the Boardwalk story without even changing any of the physical theming, costumes, locations, names. Nothing gets touched. Here’s my idea: The Boardwalk Historical Society.
The idea of the Boardwalk Historical Society involves PRESENT day, not a time in the past. This opens the door for every modern location and convenience to exist at the resort while still being in story. Imagine if you’re going to a hotel from the early 1900s of the Atlantic City Boardwalk, preserved and still functioning today. The historical society has taken extra care to not only upkeep the aged inn but display antiques from this time period as well. The current Boardwalk already does this, inside the main lobby and the convention center, so changing a verbal story wouldn’t alter any state of the resort. It’s just a flip in time by about 100 years. This ‘historical society’ idea is wonderful to me because it takes care of the coherence issues inside of the resort, such as why is there a model of the Flip Flap when it exists in this time period? Why are there framed pictures of buildings and locations that are supposedly just down the road? Why are there plaques explaining all of these pieces of history? Like that, SOLVED. Now that I’ve rambled on about my take on the Boardwalk, let me show you why I care so much about this resort and the history they’re showing Guests.
Starting in the lobby you see a curved ceiling, very reminiscent of old pier amusement park coverings. A closer inspection shows six unique rounding boards scattered across the lobby.
So what exactly are rounding boards? They’re the wooden panels above a carousel that connects the arms together in a circle. These boards are slightly curved and when combined all the way around the carousel they make a complete circle.
Pictured above is a carousel from 1898. Yes, carousels are wildly old and rounding boards are a particularly interesting piece of Americana history. These boards were often painted with local locations to the area where the carousel was located. If you visited one on the Atlantic City pier in the early 1900s you would have seen scenes from the area. People were not often depicted on these boards, it was meant as a more fantastical approach to the spinning machine.
On the far side of the lobby there’s a few pieces of interest including Lucy and the Nanny Chairs.
Yeah, Lucy the Elephant. Or ‘The Colossal Elephant” as listed in the plaque. She’s a real thing, standing tall and proud on the New Jersey boardwalk. Check out her website here.
Once a thriving hotel, she was left to rot for years until 30 people formed a club to help revitalize and restore her to her former glory. Renovations were finished around 2010 and she’s open to the public to visit as a historic landmark. She’s over 100 years old and a true weird and unique symbol of the New Jersey boardwalk. The placement of the Lucy statue above the fireplace is well warranted.
Also in the lobby is this model of the first inverting wooden roller coaster on the piers: The Flip Flap. The notorious history behind the Flip Flap is mainly due to the circular shape of the loop. Nowadays roller coasters use a tear drop shape loop instead of a pure circle, resulting in less forces applied to riders. Being this was built in the late 1800s it wasn’t common knowledge to not use a complete circle. Live and learn, or barely, as this loop inflicted upwards of 10g on riders. Although this lasted for barely a second, it was still uncomfortable. Compare it to Mission: SPACE which has sustained forces of 2.5g. This coaster originally operated at Sea Lion Park on Coney Island, which was eventually replaced with Luna Park in the early 1900s. That Luna Park name is important and we’ll discuss it more down below.
The nanny chairs will be discussed last, mainly because I have a lot of pictures of them and don’t want to bog-down the middle of this post. Sorry not sorry. More interesting we have here is the Hippocampus Electrolier. This is the gigantic chandelier that greets Guests as they enter the resort. Placed precariously above a model carousel, this grand figure models the time period of the boardwalk well. A hippocampus, in Greek mythology, is a creature that is part horse and part fish. This intricate work of art is garnished with 22k gold and contains a time capsule sealed from 1996, the opening year of the boardwalk resort.
This cabinet is located in the vestibule as you enter the resort. The four panels on the doors show four important parts of the boardwalk history: The actual boardwalks, the Miss America pageant, Lucy the Elephant, and the Leaping Horse. I’m not confident the origins of this piece, but it would be rather remarkable for an antique to display four of the major themes that Disney used to build the Boardwalk. I want to say this is a Disney-made piece inspired by antiques and not an actual antique, but I’m willing to be proven wrong here.
This cabinet near the restrooms and Belle Vue Lounge is for sure an antique though. Images of old rides from the Boardwalk, including the famous spinning wheel, are featured here. You can’t find rides like this stateside anymore, but if you’re willing to go to Sydney you can find some of these still operating at Luna Park there. The spinning wooden wheel is aptly named Joy Wheel, although there’s no joy when you’re flung to the side.
Speaking of old rides, let’s talk about the ‘recent’ refurbishment to the Flying Fish Cafe. Old Flying Fish was an intricate part of the fantastical nature of the Boardwalk theme, but new Flying Fish pays homage to the luxury 1920s art deco stye while still having a great tie-in to the attractions of the pier. The Flying Turns was an old roller coaster type ride on the piers.
In this antique image above you can see these old trains ran on a wooden bobsled track, not attached to any central rail. The wings on the front of each vehicle made the trains look like airplanes while soaring down the track.
When you enter Flying Fish, turn around. Above the entry door there’s an old board from a Flying Turns ride vehicle painted with the Flying Fish logo. I appreciate that WDI took the time to tie-in new Flying Fish with the old boardwalk style. It’s fantastic. The Flying Turns ride style went out of date years ago, with contemporary designs using steel tubing instead and even those are rare to find. Knoebels, an amusement park in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, resurrected the legend a few years ago after a decade of setbacks. You can ride Flying Turns today at this park, check out more information here at the Roller Coaster Database.
Another fun piece of theming in Flying Fish is the occupancy sign that’s a clever utilization of an old fairground shooting range target.
I’m really still middle ground on AbracadaBar. I love the drinks, the atmosphere is fun, and I know that the Boardwalk needed another bar on the actual boardwalk, but I can’t help but feel a gigantic piece of theme was lost when Seashore Sweets was replaced.
Fortunately the story of Seashore Sweets lives on through this old newspaper displayed in the bar. The story of Seashore Sweets was that it was owned by two sisters who idolized the Miss America Pageant.
Here’s the old Seashore Sweets store before it was destroyed for a bar. The Miss America Pageant is an important part of the history of the Boardwalk, long before it became a commercialized event. Starting back in the 1920s an event called Fall Frolic was introduced to attract people to the Boardwalk. Men would push gigantic wooden and wicker chairs down the boardwalk on wheels, but the main attraction was the women who would sit on these chairs and usher potential guests to the boardwalk shops and attractions they were representing. Take this, mold it over a couple decades, and you have the Miss America Pageant. According to story, the sisters loved the pageant and showed off every winner with their picture hung above their shop. Well, picture when the event was held in Atlantic City. There was a few year stint when the event was held in Las Vegas, those winners have no correlation to the Boardwalk and didn’t get their image hung. Go figure.
Going back further with the Miss America Pageant, we have an oil painting in the convention center that is of the first Miss America, Margaret Gorman. While this painting isn’t an antique it’s inspired by the antique paintings of the time period.
While we’re in the convention center, take a look at the names of some of these meeting rooms. Seem familiar? The board game, Monopoly, has different properties to purchase. The most expensive one? Boardwalk. Other property names included Marvin Gardens, Park Place, and St. James Place, which are names of these meeting rooms. Just a fun little nod to the board game while keeping in theme.
Before we leave the convention center let’s take a look at this painting. Yes, that’s a horse flying through the air into a pool of water. A leaping horse, if you will.
Leaping Horse Libations is the name of the pool bar at Boardwalk. Designed to look like a carousel building, this name relates back to one of the original thrills and shows of the boardwalk.
The Steel Pier amusement park on the boardwalk had a famous Leaping Horse show, thus this name was born. Yes I’m not joking, a horse that leaped from a platform with a rider into a pool of water.
The feature pool at Boardwalk, named Luna Park Pool, is named after the famous Luna Parks in both New York and Australia. The Keister Coaster, better known as ‘that waterslide’, exits through a gigantic clown mouth. This is a playful take on the old Luna Park entries of old.
Disney fans might also recognize this face resembling the Toy Story Mania entrance in Tokyo DisneySea. DisneyAndMore has a nice blog post you can read about that here.
And now that we’re onto the creepy part of Boardwalk, let’s discuss the nanny chairs. These chairs were old carousel pieces at one point. Not these specifically, but these were cast from the same molds used back in the early 1900s. Nanny chairs were stationary on the rotating carousel platform giving nannies and parents some time to rest while their children enjoyed the up and down movement of the carousel horses. Boardwalk sports four of these chairs, two in the lobby and two on the first floor Inn side. Sometimes they’ll be changed out for repairs or repainting, we’ve seen a total of six names appear throughout the years. The back of each chair sports a different name, and each one has a different paint job. Check them out below.
I’ve heard stories that the names on the back of the chairs are that of the original architects of the Boardwalk Resort, but I haven’t been able to find any solid evidence for this or even why the names exist.
Boardwalk is a unique resort filled with antiques, nods to the past, and a true Disney approach to storytelling. It’s no wonder the resort is a favorite of leisure, convention and Disney Vacation Club Guests. The charm can’t be beat, and that’s why I feel altering the story just a little bit would give the Cast Members working Boardwalk a much broader canvas to work with and help bring Guests into the story of Boardwalk to explain this long forgotten piece of Americana.