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Story Book Land flourishes among today's competition

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2001

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- There are no looping roller coasters, no blaring loudspeakers, no long queues of people waiting to get on rides.

At Story Book Land, the pace is a little slower. The J&J Railroad train quietly chugs along, costumed fairy-tale characters pose for pictures with toddlers and Santa Claus visits twice a year.

Six Flags-Great Adventure, it's not. That's OK. People with small children or grandchildren who want a more serene amusement park experience return year after year.

''This place is really sweet. It's calming, and it's clean,'' says first-time visitor Margo Olsen, 41, of San Jose, Calif., walking out with daughters Bridget, 6, and Natalie, 2.

Built by house painter John Fricano, the park opened in 1955 with a little red schoolhouse, a Three Bears house, a wishing well and a couple of other attractions. Admission was 75 cents.

Over the years, it has expanded several times, now occupying a thickly wooded 20-acre lot just off U.S. 40-322, about 10 miles west of Atlantic City.

Giant concrete likenesses of Mother Goose and other fairy tale characters, kiddie rides and an Alice-in-Wonderland tunnel and maze set the mood.

Among the other attractions: Jingle Bell Junction, a Christmas shop, Little Red Riding Hood's house (complete with a talking animatronic wolf who sits in her bed) and Olde Tyme Cars powered by electricity that run through the park.

Some days, costumed characters portraying Snow White and others mingle with the children. Park officials say to call ahead first before promising anyone that they'll get to talk to one, however.

Admission is now $12.95.

''It's a park of old-fashioned family fun,'' says co-owner Joanne Fricano, John Fricano's daughter. ''We want parents and kids to all ride the rides together. And they do. Now, we have people who came as children bringing their children.''

A favorite for school field trips, Story Book Land plays host to as many as 1,000 schoolchildren a day during the month of May. Somehow, despite competition from bigger, splashier, more modern amusement parks, it has managed to survive.

''We've become a destination for many people,'' Joanne Fricano says. ''Very few of our customers come in just because they saw us as they were driving by.''

Some do. Mike DeAngelo, 38, of Wilmington, Del., came with his wife, Gail, and son Christian, 2 1/2, on a recent Wednesday. He had driven by the place dozens of times en route to shore vacations, but had never stopped.

''For this age, it's great,'' he says, gesturing to his son. ''He can go on any ride he wants here. And you don't have to wait in line.''

There is no extra charge for taking repeat trips on Bubbles the Sea Serpent roller coaster, Olde Tyme cars or any other ride.

Story Book Land's best attractions may be the seasonal ones. At Halloween, the park holds a trick-or-treat weekend in which costumed children can go from station to station, trick-or-treating.

At Christmas, a ''Christmas Fantasy of Lights'' starring Santa Claus himself begins each night at dusk, when Santa rises up through a chimney, waves a magic wand to illuminate the park's Christmas lights.

Santa also visits once each July.

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If You Go...

GETTING THERE: Story Book land is about 10 miles west of Atlantic City, N.J., on U.S. 40, known locally as Black Horse Pike. Take the Garden State Parkway to Exit 38, turn on Washington Avenue and continue through traffic circle to U.S. 40, heading west. Call (609) 641-7847 for further information.

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HOURS: The park is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day from July through Labor Day, then 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Sunday from Labor Day through October.

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INFORMATION: Call (609) 641-7847 or visit http://www.storybookland.com.



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