By MADDY VITALE
Imagine taking the controls, soaring up and back down and zooming into rolls or simply enjoying the skyline from a seat on an airplane.
And you don’t even need a pilot’s license.
That is what you’ll experience when hopping on Squadron 33, a new thrill ride at Playland’s Castaway Cove at 10th Street and the Boardwalk
The planes travel in a circular motion and can move at a 45-degree angle using a flap the rider controls while flying 49 feet in the air.
“There is a single seat and you control whether it flips upside down or not,” said Brian Hartley, Playland’s vice president, who oversees day-to-day operations. “You get to fly your own plane, so each rider gets a thrill.”
Squadron 33 made its debut at Playland’s Castaway Cove in late August and is one of three new rides that Hartley says will give riders excitement and family enjoyment during the 2020 season.
“It’s for the bigger kids. The height requirement is 52 inches,” Hartley noted of Squadron 33. “You do have to be bigger so you can reach the handles.”
Even though the ride was introduced late last summer, it quickly became a star attraction.
“I think riders like the fact that they can control it,” Hartley said. “The fact that you have complete control is something you don’t usually get on a ride.”
“You go up a steep pitch and you can either enjoy the view or get crazy and do flips,” he added. “Some people will ride it over and over again to see what they like to do the best.”
Video Courtesy Playland’s Castaway Cove
Squadron 33 is just one of 32 rides at Playland, including two brand new rides for the summer of 2020.
The new three-lane Super Slide will feature fun for families. Visitors will climb 35 feet up above the park and sit on a burlap sack. Then, with a little push, they will cascade down the 100-foot-long slide. The last time the park had a slide was in 2015. It was removed to make way for an improved model.
“It’s a really good family ride,” Hartley remarked.
The other new ride, Rock-N-Roll, takes riders quickly around a circular track in 20 cars to some loud rock tunes.
The historic park maintains its popularity in part because of improving the rides, upgrading others and adding new ones, Hartley said.
There is a tradition at the amusement park, which is in its 60th year, of attracting families by really showcasing itself where visitors of all ages can come and enjoy.
Children’s rides, ones that adults can also hop on with their kids, and a host of old-fashioned tried and true amusements that even the grandparents will recall from their younger days, are in the footprint where Playland fills in every space possible to create a one-stop theme park.
“We try to offer something for everyone, from infants and toddlers all the way up to adults. We have the hot air balloon and beach buggy rides and helicopter rides for the kids,” Hartley said.
There are even rides similar to ones from the early days of the park.
“We’ve had a train for 50 years, but different trains,” Hartley said. “We make sure we upgrade our rides. Some have new features. Some have more modern features.”
There are plenty of rides for families. The Wild Waves roller coaster and the log flume offer attractions for all ages. The extreme rides for the brave, such as the Gale Force roller coaster and Double Shot, keep the older kids coming back to the park.
“We try our best to have a combination for all age groups so the whole family could come,” Hartley said.
The blend of amusements highlights what seems to entice people to come back year after year and why, Hartley said, Playland’s Castaway Cove stands out among other amusement parks throughout the state and even in the country.
Hartley began working at Playland’s Castaway Cove at 14. That was 28 years ago.
But Hartley and the rest of the team at Playland’s Castaway Cove are always looking out for new and exciting rides and attractions. During the offseason, they are working hard to close up the rides, repair, maintain, upgrade, and do other things critical to the park’s safety features.
The team goes out to California and other locations to test out rides and go to trade shows, where they determine what the customers would want.
“We watch the kids on the rides and see their faces. If they are bored or excited, we see that. We try to gauge if kids are having fun,” Hartley said. “That’s really the best way to know if we are going to bring in a new ride or not.”