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Summer will thrill as Playland’s Castaway Cove celebrates 65 years

Summer will thrill as Playland’s Castaway Cove celebrates 65 years

Playland's Castaway Cove Ocean City, NJ
*this article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of Ocean City Magazine

IF YOU ask Brian Hartley, it takes a village to see success as a small business.
And as Playland’s Castaway Cove vice president, Brian is grateful to be part of the Ocean City village.
“It takes everybody in this town – in the community, on the Boardwalk, the Downtown, the city, the chamber – working together, because if it wasn’t for everybody maintaining their businesses and running them the way that they do, Ocean City as a whole is not going to be a destination for people,” Brian said.
“We’re really just one cog in the wheel of what Ocean City has to offer,” he continued. “There are so many great things in this town that make it a great destination.”

A tradition over 60 years in the making

One of those things, of course, is undoubtedly Playland’s Castaway Cove, which has been a tradition on the Ocean City Boardwalk for more than 60 years. Touting rides for all ages, from tiny tots to adults, the amusement park has always been geared toward offering a fun, safe and clean family-oriented experience.
“Anyone who comes from the family can find a way to keep themselves busy and enjoy themselves while they’re there,” Brian said. “We try to keep everything fresh, clean, and lively. We want people to come and feel safe and just have a great time.”
The amusement park located at 1020 Boardwalk is home to dozens of rides. There are the classics, such as a merry-go-round and train. Then there are the thrill rides, including roller coasters and the Double Shot. And for those who want something a little more daring than the Ferris wheel but not as intense as the Extreme Cyclone, there are plenty of rides for that, too.
“We refresh every couple years,” Brian said, “so that way every year people have something new to look forward to.”

Rising Up

Recent years have been heavily focused on returning the front of Playland’s Castaway Cove to its former glory. In January 2021, a fire ripped through the arcade and Dairy Queen right off the Boardwalk, and while they were hoping to reopen both this summer, it looks like it may be taking a little longer.
“We’re kind of in limbo. We hope to have the building finished sometime this fall. The question will be if we open it up in September or are looking at a spring 2024 opening,” Brian said.
As far as new rides, the Playland team already has a lot of ideas forming for 2024. When the season wraps this fall, the annual trade show in Orlando will give Brian and his colleagues a chance to talk to manufacturers and solidify plans.
“The biggest holdup is that these manufacturers right now are slammed,” Brian said. “For now, we just have to ride out this summer and get our building done.”
Riding out the summer is largely dependent on employees, of course, of which Playland hires some of the best. Brian admits it’s “exhausting” to keep up with, but it’s also one of the most important things of being a successful business.

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Fun and courteous staff

“We’re looking for people who are friendly, smiling, can hold a conversation,” he said. “We want somebody who is going to interact with the kids and make sure they’re smiling and having a good time.”
In fact, engaging with the customers is the number one thing they’re looking for in their staff, according to Brian. There are 17 or 18 full time staffers, and around 250 seasonal staff members among Playland’s various businesses.
“They’re the ones who are really going to make or break the experience for our guests,” Brian said. “That’s why customer service is so important.”
With such a large venture under his careful command (Playland has some 275 employees among all its businesses), ensuring things run smoothly also means that Brian is, well, always running himself. It’s a job that never stops, he said.
Despite the never ending to-do list, Brian says at the end of the day, it’s all worth it. And his employees are a big part of making it that way.
“Trying to help the staff along and keep them moving and set them up for their future,” Brian explained. “They’re not going to be in this business their whole life, but there are a lot of tools that they can take into their future and careers.”
And of course, seeing the sheer joy on his guests’ faces as they clamber through the fun house or zip along the roller coaster makes the whole job worthwhile, too.
“It’s generational memories. We’ve been around for 64 years and you have people who came here as a kid and come back now and are grandparents,” Brian reflected. “That tells you a lot about your business when that happens. We take a lot of pride in that.”

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