Welcome to your childhood - Ocean City Sentinel: Community

Welcome to your childhood

By ERIC AVEDISSIAN Sentinel staff | Posted: Wednesday, June 24, 2015 11:05 am

OCEAN CITY – The scent of caramel corn mingles with the salty ocean air as night descends on the Boardwalk.

Glowing brightly, Ocean City’s two amusement parks – Playland’s Castaway Cove and Gillian’s Wonderland Pier – swing into action, a glittering world of rides, games and enjoyment for children and adults. A joyful tune plays on a barrel organ as painted horses rise and descend on a brightly lit carousel, while giggling youths weave and dodge bumper cars into each other. Ferris wheels tower over the Boardwalk, their multicolored incandescent bulbs flash and pulsate, as riders ascend for spectacular views.

Welcome to your childhood. 

Amusement parks have offered this brand of nostalgia for years, adding faster, taller, and more intense rides while retaining the classic aura of the Boardwalk’s bygone days. 

Amusement parks, with their carousels, roller coasters and Ferris wheels have always been popular attractions, a slice of childhood memories as easily obtained on the Boardwalk as a slice of pizza. 

Although the parks are open and busy during the day, the lure of those lights in the evening can prove especially irresistible.


Playland’s Castaway Cove


In 1959, David Simpson opened Playland, starting with a few rides before expanding to where it is today. Now owned by Simpson’s son, Scott, Playland extends from Tenth to 11th streets.

Brian Hartley, Playland’s vice president, said the Simpson family began their venture with an arcade and a few rides. Miniature golf courses were later added, followed by a Dairy Queen and go-kart track. 

In 1996, the park’s size tripled when the Simpsons purchased property in front of the Flanders Hotel at 11th Street. 

Also in 1996, the park redesigned its look by creating Castaway Cove, a rebranding strategy designed to embrace the swash-bucking pirate theme.

“As the park was transitioning and expanding, we thought it was a good idea to change the name and incorporate a bigger facility and some of the other things that we’ve had,” Hartley said.

Playland’s Castaway Cove contains 32 total rides, including the Double Shot, a tower ride, the most famous of their attractions. The Double Shot was featured in an episode of the sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and on an episode of “Extreme Home Makeover.” 

“Most people know us as the park with the Double Shot, the 100-plus-foot tower that stands here,” Hartley said.

Other popular rides include the Air Race, the High Seas Log Flume, the Tidal Wave, and the Python looping roller coaster. 

“A lot of people, their first ride is our train ride. We have a miniature train that goes around the entire park. A lot of people like to take on their newborns and younger kids that aren’t really tall enough for some of the other rides yet. It’s a big tradition. We’ve had a train since we’ve opened up in 1959,” Hartley said.  

Another attraction is a dazzling pirate ship atop Playland’s arcade, complete with a pirate and giant pet parrot. The ship’s cannons fire at regular intervals, sending an imaginary thunderous volley oceanward, and beckoning visitors inside. 

Hartley said Playland’s Castaway Cove hasn’t added new rides for 2015. He said in 2014, the park welcomed the Buccaneer, a pirate ship that swings on an axis. In 2013, seven new rides were added. 

Hartley said one paramount challenge with operating an amusement park is the limited space for attractions. 

 “There’s only so much space and you’re trying to buy rides. Whenever you want to buy a new ride you have to swap it out with something else so it’s not like there’s really a lot of room for expansion here. Just trying to manipulate and move things around to make everything that you can fit. It’s difficult because there’s times you go to the trade shows and see something that you really like, but sometimes with the sheer size of it, you just can’t make it work. You might have to take two or three different rides to try to fit that one in here,” Hartley said. 

Hartley said Playland staff attends two trade shows each year, designed for amusement park operators. 

The IAAPA (International Amusement Association Park Attractions), is the biggest convention in the world held in Orlando, Fla. and attracts manufacturers, arcade companies, stuffed animals and “anything you can imaging using from trash bags to lighting to rides to stuffed animals and games” are at the show, according ot Hartley.

“That’s really where a lot of people are looking at new technology for different things, are looking at new products to incorporate into the park. Ride manufacturers bring over rides and set them up in the parking lot so you get to go through the ride, watch it run and you can climb into the ride and check out how it’s made and how it’s built. It helps you get a good idea if you’re interested in buying it of what’s really involved,” Hartley said.

The other convention is held every February in Tampa, Fla., for traveling carnival shows. 

“We’re always working on trying to do something better here, whether it’s getting rid of some of the underperforming rides and bringing in something new and exciting,” Hartley said. “We’re always traveling to different parks and into the conventions with an open mind or what else is out there and what new rides are coming out. We try to incorporate that and keep trying to keep things fresh. That’s the biggest thing. We never want to get to a point where we’re not doing anything and we’re not updating the equipment. The idea is to constantly try to rotate out equipment and bring in new things so that every time you come here there’s something new to try.”

Playland’s Castaway Cove opens Easter weekend and closes in October on Columbus Day weekend.

Individual tickets cost $1 per ticket. Tickets can be acquired in various books for extra value: 45 tickets for $32; 90 tickets for $60; 130 tickets for $80; and 220 tickets for $125.

For more information, call (609) 399-4751.


Gillian’s Wonderland Pier


Founded in 1929 by David Gillian who came to Ocean City in 1914, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, at Sixth Street and the Boardwalk, is housed in a giant white castle decked out with turrets and flags. 

David Gillian started his career as a musician in the orchestra at C. Elwood Carpenter’s Dance Club, at Moorlyn Theater on the old Boardwalk. He moved to the Hippodrome in 1917 and played with Robin Robinson’s Orchestra. After the Hippodrome was destroyed by fire in 1927, he opened the Fun Deck at Plymouth Place in 1930, with a carousel and Ferris wheel as main attractions. 

In 1957, David Gillian retired and his two sons, Bob and Roy, took over. In 1965, Roy started Wonderland Pier at Sixth Street with 10 rides and a parking lot. Roy Gillian became mayor in 1985 and retired from politics in 1989, leaving his son, Jay, to manage the business.

In 2009, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier celebrated 80 years on the Ocean City Boardwalk. 

Gillian’s Wonderland Pier is famous for its 144-foot giant Ferris wheel, one of the largest on the East Coast. 

The park is known for its lovable mascot, Wonder Bear, a costumed favorite with visitors. 

Attractions at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier include the Tilt-A-Whirl, Music Express, a carousel, swing ride, the Galleon, dune buggies, Haunted House, Alien Abduction, Moby Dick, the Runaway Roller Coaster, Balloon Race and Canyon Falls. 

Ticket prices are 25 tickets for $20.  

For more information, call (609) 399-7082.