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East Brunswick, Sentinel, Thursday, July 26, 2007

We would like to send our sincere thanks to Scott Freidman of East Brunswick, NJ for taking some amazing photos of our family and our group. For information on Scott's Photography, please call him at: (732) 940-6831

Coaster fan offers teens summer full of thrills E.B. man makes it his business to tour theme parks across the U.S. BY VINCENT TODARO, Staff Writer

Ira Gordon, of East Brunswick, founded ThrillCoaster Tours three years ago. The company takes teenagers around the country to visit amusement parks. Pictured with him at Six Flags Great Adventure on Friday are his wife, Laura, and children, Jared, 5, and Ryan, 7.

Going to multiple amusement parks in the course of a week or two no longer has to be confined to a child's imagination.

East Brunswick resident Ira Gordon has made sure of that, with his 3-year-old business, ThrillCoaster Tours, which is based on Route 9 in Woodbridge. The company offers one- and two-week tours that include visits to amusement parks and other summer fun, such as beach stops.

The tours cost about $1,300 per week, but Gordon said the tours give children ages 12 to 16 a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to camp with other children on the road while seeing the country and its best amusement parks.

The latest tour wrapped up Friday at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, having gone to parks such as Six Flags America in Maryland, Busch Gardens in Virginia, Dollywood in Tennessee, Kings Island in Ohio and Holiday World in Indiana. Stops in Virginia Beach and other destinations were included along the way. < p> One of the company's one-week tours took place in July, including visits to Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls on Monday, Canada's Wonderland on Tuesday, jet-boarding on the Niagara River and fireworks on Wednesday. On Thursday, the group went to a Six Flags park at Darien Lake, and on Friday it was off to Albany, N.Y., for rock climbing and indoor caving.

"Although it's an amusement park tour, we do more than that," Gordon said.

Gordon, who said he started the business out of his own love for roller coasters, averages about 25 kids per tour. The tours, which include adult chaperones, start from the New Jersey/New York area, where most of the participants come from.

Gordon described the company as a "traveling camp" with a mission of providing "teenagers with the most exciting summer filled with memories that will last a lifetime."

Gordon also offers two-week tours out West. One begins in San Francisco and moves to Los Angeles and Valencia before ending up in Las Vegas. Another spends two weeks of travel in California alone.

Campers travel on buses for the one-week tours, but fly out for the California trips, Gordon said. Kids do not have to be accompanied by their parents, because Gordon supplies counselors, some of whom are teachers who have the summer off. In return for their services, adults receive a stipend and are able to take the trips free of charge. Each counselor is in charge of four to six teens.

Gordon said he has an exclusive deal with Marriott and Embassy Suites for the tours. "We stay at very, very nice hotels," he said.

The job as president of ThrillCoaster Tours is a labor of love for Gordon, and combines his various life experiences. He said he's been an amusement park fan for 25 years, visiting many of them on vacations. In high school, he went on a similar tour, but there was less emphasis on amusement parks than on travel. In college, he worked as a camp counselor.

"So it was kind of a natural progression for me," Gordon said.

The company has received much of its attention and business from the Internet - its Web site is - and word-of-mouth, much of which has come from the 14 kids who have been taking the tours every year, he said.

The teens' response has been inspiring.

"They go crazy. They talk about [the parks] all day long and from ride to ride. They talk about what their favorite ride was," Gordon said.

He said parents also like the idea, in part because they can let their kids enjoy amusement parks, without having to wait in line with them all day. It also allows the kids to see other parts of the country.

"We're very organized and supervised," he said.

Gordon said he has never had to send a troublesome kid home from a tour. Instead, he gets their "extra energy" out by wearing them down with the day's events. He also noted that the trips are designed so the kids don't have to sit on the bus for more then three or four hours at a time.

As for how he is able to ride all the roller coasters and never get sick, Gordon has a simple trick.

"I don't eat before I ride," he said.