For months, businesses and state tourism officials have worked to reassure beachgoers that the Jersey Shore is open. Many people assumed Sandy swallowed the whole place, officials say.
But after a lackluster Memorial Day weekend, when rain kept the crowds away, people came to the Shore in droves this holiday weekend.
No official ventured an estimate on crowd sizes, but some Shore veterans thought it was extraordinary.
"Record weekend so far," said Anthony T. Catanoso, owner of the Steel Pier, where families played on the merry-go-round, rode a small roller coaster, and played arcade games. "In 22 years, I can't remember a better Fourth - the rides, the food, the games."
His business has benefited from the new Margaritaville restaurant at the Resorts Casino Hotel. It opened on Memorial Day a couple of blocks down the Boardwalk.
"It took a while to get here. We didn't really have a spring," Catanoso added.
Now, he said, "I haven't seen this many beach umbrellas in 15 years."
Shore towns and the federal government have invested millions of dollars to achieve the turnaround. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is financing the $25 million "Stronger Than the Storm" marketing campaign, which seeks to drive traffic to the Shore.
The TV ad campaign - featuring Gov. Christie, to the chagrin of some state Democrats in a gubernatorial election year - is seen in nearly a dozen markets, including New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and eastern Canada, spokeswoman Shannon Eis said.
And Atlantic City is financing its own $20 million marketing campaign, called "Do AC," said Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, a nonprofit that represents the city's casinos. "Do AC" and "Open for Summer" billboards dotted the Boardwalk.
The money appears to be paying off.
In November, 53 percent of people who live in the Northeast surveyed by the alliance believed Sandy had destroyed Atlantic City.
In May, that figure was down to 15 percent, Cartmell said.
Johnny and Rita Turner had heard about the storm's damage in news reports. But a couple of friends recommended the area, and the couple drove 13 hours from Atlanta to get here Thursday with their four children.
"We've never been this far north," Rita Turner, 43, said while her children rode the Mix, a soaring thrill ride at the Steel Pier. "We're just having a ball. It's kind of like Vegas but on the Shore."
Added Johnny Turner, also 43, referring to Sandy: "It looks like nothing came through."
Deb Stevens, 55, of Wilkes-Barre, stayed Wednesday through Saturday with her husband, Russ, 54, and mother, Betty Tarutis, 81.
"That was reassuring," Deb Stevens said of the TV ads, adding that this was her first time vacationing in Atlantic City.
"We knew they did a lot of work to get ready," she said after washing sand off her feet.
Atlantic City wasn't the only busy Shore town this weekend.
In Ocean City, hardly an inch of sand separated the umbrellas lining the beach. The Ferris wheel was spinning, kites were flying, and American flags waved in the wind.
Zeke Mather, 47, of Medford, said he vacations in Ocean City all summer. On Saturday, he, his wife, Michelle, and their three children played miniature golf and romped on the beach.
"It looks good," he said while his 8-year-old son, Sam, licked a scoop of mint ice cream on the boardwalk.
New businesses are opening, too. Vince Botto, an Ocean City resident, opened Botto's Sausage Express on the boardwalk in late April. Business was slow in June because of the rain, but "since July kicked in, things have been good," he said.
Any misperceptions people might have had about how Ocean City fared in the wake of Sandy appear to have faded, he said.
"As Gov. Christie says, we're Jersey strong," Botto said.
Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @AndrewSeidman.