Melissa Stefanide grew up in that pool in Wildwood Crest, N.J. She was already the third generation of her family to be involved in the V.I.P. Family Motel – built in 1964, opened in 1965 with her father and grandfather among the original partners, and owned solely by her family since 1966. Each summer found her there, living with her family in the caretaker’s apartment from the time the V.I.P. opened on Memorial Day weekend until it shut down on Labor Day.
Fast-forward a generation. Melissa met, fell in love and married Roland Roy, a police officer who was oneof the 15,000 permanent island residents on the Wildwoods, where vacationers swell the population to 150,000 in summer and to as much as 400,000 on prime weekends. A new generation grew up in that pool, and now they’re grown and work at the V.I.P.
Melissa remembers pulling out the paper reservation charts in the motel office and tracking when her friends would arrive to join her. Families tended to come the same weeks each year, and stay in the same rooms. Melissa would pen pal with her summer buddies through the school year and eagerly await their arrivals that summer. Some of those same friends continued to vacation at the V.I.P. as their own families grew, and their kids grew up playing with Melissa’s. Now, those kids have kids. And so the generational saga goes on.
Not much else changes at the V.I.P (Vacation in Paradise). Oh, they’ve updated the rooms a bit: each room used to feature one of two paintings, either a Viking ship or a stylized New York skyline, and the family literally had to pry them off the walls where they’d been secured with some kind of glue. (Melissa sounds a bit nostalgic about them now.) But many room features remain unchanged, like the Murphy beds in most of the rooms.
On the Wildwoods, the tide comes and goes. The human tide of visitors comes and goes, too. The cycle starts anew each May, as the Roys pull the cover off the pool and clean the rooms to the white-glove standard that Melissa’s late mother Joann, the original Miss V.I.P., insisted upon. The sense of place remains in place, quirky and individual – the farthest point from franchised and plastic. The season is starting again. Welcome home, America.