Fun is off the rails at DiDonato's Family Fun Center
Hammonton, NJ, is a small town of just under 15,000 residents nestled between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. We spoke with Christine Dillon, the DiDonato family's third generation to run the alley, to hear how their small-town center makes such a big impression.
DiDonato Family Fun Center has been a Hammonton landmark since 1952, growing from a 4-lane bowling alley to a true "one-stop" family fun center with something for everyone ages 2 to 102.
"My grandfather, Tip, and his brother, John, started this place in 1952, and they quickly expanded to eight lanes with food and then 18 lanes by 1958. My father helped run it for a long time, and now I've been given that responsibility," Christina Dillon explains, "In 1966, the center had a massive fire, and we rebuilt it into what it is today."
Fast forward to 2023: DiDonato's Family Fun Center is a busy 26-lane center that has emerged as a community destination, bringing magical experiences to tens of thousands of guests year after year. This unique center employs a five-star chef, pastry chef, full-time artist, and fabrication specialist. The creativity of this family and center is exceptional!
Off The Rails Entertainment
Built in 2016, the most magnificent feature of DiDonato's Family Fun Center is likely the Rolling Railway, their signature locomotive train that's specially made for driving guests through grand holiday spectacles created by the family each year. "My father built a train for the local Halloween Parade down the Bellevue main street," Christina says, "and it was such a hit. Eventually, he decided it should always be running at our center. From there, it naturally grew pretty quickly." The magic starts at Halloween with the spooky, cobweb-covered Trick or Treat Train. The train meanders through a
creepy town modeled after the movie Halloween Town. A corn maze, a friendly witch, and a pumpkin patch round out the family fun.
The Magical Holiday Express, however, is the biggest hit. "About 25,000 people visit yearly to enjoy the train ride through our millions of Christmas lights in Holiday Village,” says Christina. “In Santa's Workshop, you can take pictures with Santa, meet the elves, and share stories with Mrs. Claus. Of course, we've got warm cookies ready as well."
The train is also in service during Easter. The Easter Eggspress delivers families to an Easter-inspired mini-town, where kids hunt for Easter eggs and get lost in a spring hedge maze. Photo opps and tea with the Easter Bunny in the charming schoolhouses and chapels dotting the property are a must for all the kids.
Full Freight on Food and Beverage
If a magical railway isn't enough, DiDonato's food and beverage offerings will put the experience over the top. "The Alley Bar and Grill is our heightened dining experience," Christina
explains. "We've got a wonderful five-star chef on staff who makes everything from scratch, from our fries to our sauces. He creates wonderful plates, from filet mignon and seared ahi tuna to hand-breaded chicken wings and homemade ranch."
The restaurant’s popularity receives a helping hand from the center's consistent marketing, and a lack of local fine-dining competition provides another ample opportunity. High-definition pictures of their offerings are strategically placed throughout the website; even on the reservation page, you'll find evidence of their mouthwatering plates on the lanes.
"Hammonton is the blueberry capital of the world,” Christina tells us. “So, we're currently featuring blueberry mojitos and blueberry Bellinis. The holidays bring Jingle Bell Mojitos and Cotton Tail Martinis!" The Pin Deck is DiDonato's delicious dessert capital. "Accessible from inside the lanes or out by the train, The Pin Deck is where you go for everything sweet! Our professionally trained pastry chef creates boozy milkshakes, seasonal sundaes, and hand-dipped ice cream. It's all homemade right here on the property," Christina explains. Their expansive menu brings a colorful compilation of treats to life, ranging from strawberry shortcakes to apple pie nachos.
Staffing The Magic
Christina values her staff and speaks glowingly about how much she respects them. Every mention of a staff member was immediately followed by applause several times. This might explain how, in a town of 15,000, this center has gathered so much knowledge and expertise. Their team features much of the DiDonato family: a five-star sous chef, a professionally trained pastry chef, a full-time fabrication specialist, and a large enough team to cater to the tens of thousands of guests visiting each year.
"My father taught me to give back to the community and treat our staff like family, so we've created a really happy and fun environment," Christina says. "A lot of it is family. My grandfather comes in to check on business every morning. My dad is here 24/7. You'll find my mom helping Santa in the winter and my brother scooping ice cream in the summer. We're lucky to have such an outstanding team supporting us so we can provide this incredible experience." Little did we know Christina's dad, Stephen, was on the phone, too. He introduced himself at the end of the call, adding, "My daughter always gives me a lot of the credit. But she is the driving force. She's doing an amazing job."