On one trip to the Pan American resort, the Messantonio family showed up to discover a giant decorative pelican in their bathroom. Beneath him, hotel night manager Greg Grassi had scattered chocolate M&Ms, making it look as though the bird had pooped in the shower.
This is just one of many pranks the family has enjoyed in Wildwood. They’ve been staying at Morey’s hotels every year since the early 70s, so they’ve built a rapport with staff that sometimes manifests in cheeky ways.
“Before our arrival one year, I downloaded a picture of Greg’s face,” says Jeannie Messantonio. “As a joke, I added a mustache and some hair and scars and sent it to the hotel. Well, Greg made 50 copies of it, so when we showed up to the penthouse, his face was hanging in every window!”
When Jeannie and her husband, Bob, first discovered Wildwood, they were newlyweds who’d tagged along on a trip with Jeannie’s best girlfriend. They fell so in love with the experience, they came back every year. Even when their two sons, Mark and Jeff, were born and time off was limited, the couple — based in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania — worked magic to make it to the shore.
My boys teased us to death,” Jeannie says. “Our big vacation was: ‘C’mon, kids! We’re going to Wildwood for two WHOLE days!’”
Each trip resulted in more memories, like watching the kids’ faces light up in the Red Baron Airplane ride they loved so much. And even the bad times — like the day Mark lost his wallet when a ride turned him upside down — are now funny stories to laugh about around the dinner table.
“He’s 37 years old now and still looking for his wallet,” Bob jokes.
For the past 18 years, the Messantonios have been staying at the Pan Am penthouse where, Jeannie says, “the views are spectacular.” Plus, there’s plenty of room for a family of seven — Jeff is now married to his nursery-school sweetheart, and they have two kids of their own: Payton (6) and Logan (2).
“It’s our second home,” says Jeannie, who decorates the holiday space with candles and seashells during each stay. “It’s a special place, very big in our hearts.”
Part of that joy comes from relationships developed with staff — yes, even the pranksters. General Manager Jim Kelly is a “treasured friend.” Waitress Regina Pepe-Boehm even came to visit the Messantonios last Christmas. And Maggie Alosi, who works the front desk, is “practically my sister,” Jeannie says. “I call her my twin, even though I’m in orthopedic sneakers and she weighs 100 pounds and wears leopard-print stilettos.”
But mostly, it’s time spent together that the family cherishes so much. Jeannie especially enjoys taking a family portrait from the same spot on the penthouse deck every year, or watching her grandkids light up at the mention of that airplane ride, just the way her sons always did.
“Bob worked the same job for 44 years — he was manager of a plant that made materials for welding rods,” she says. “And this is what we waited for — to be able to go to the shore and enjoy it with our kids and grandkids. There’s no greater joy.”