Rye Playland NY, 100 years of beachside fun: Family review

Playland New York (also known by locals as Rye Playland and Playland Amusement Park) is a historic treasure for fun park and roller coaster enthusiasts. Its rides date back to 1928, with some even older in terms of when they were first created, making for a classic space to relive the glory days of carnival amusements. 

As a young family, we chose Playland as a summer day trip because it ticked so many boxes. It has its own safe beach with lifeguards, unlimited rides, a dedicated section for toddlers, and is accessible by public transit from Manhattan. 

Playland NY is a classic beach resort 

Situated about 40 minutes from Manhattan, right on the shore of the Long Island Sound at Rye, Westchester, Playland, NY, is everything that Coney Island isn’t. It’s safe, family-friendly, picturesque, and fairly good value for money. Whether you’re looking for a fun day out with the kids, a swim on a clean, private (and patrolled) beach, or to get in touch with the New York of yesteryear, a trip to Playland Rye is worth the journey. 

Like New York City, Playland feels lived in, over-loved, and dated, but that’s its charm. This isn’t an amusement park to go to, expecting all the latest thrill rides. In fact, many of the thrills at Playland come from the rudimentary and often rough experience of wooden coasters and rides that whip, whirl, and drench you, as they have to millions of New Yorkers since the 280-acre park opened in 1928. 

You can almost sense the ghosts of the “carnies,” or possibly some of the poor unfortunates who have met their fate at the park, like a 19-year-old man who met his maker on August 18, 1938, after being flung off The Whip. Today, the park is a National Historic Landmark owned by Westchester County and is a welcome addition as a New York State official Path Through History Site. 

What you need to know before visiting Playland New York (Rye Playland) 

  1. Playland has one main entry fee (with upgrades you can buy)

Unlike Coney Island, Playland’s entry fee includes most rides and even free face painting. If you want to go to the patrolled beach on the Long Island Sound, it costs $9.99, or if you want to include the picturesque swimming pool, it costs $15 for a beach and pool upgrade ticket. These are proven and accessed with a wristband. Additionally, the inflatable water slide on the beach is an extra price too. 

  1. You can bring your own food to Playland

Most amusement parks are fairly strict as to what you can bring in. At Playland, you’re welcome to bring in picnic lunches, and they even have areas of the park dedicated to picnicking families. We saw families turning up with full pull carts loaded with hampers, umbrellas, etc. 

The park offers food options for purchase, including delicious white sauce pizzas. There’s also a Tiki bar where adults can buy beers, wines, and canned cocktails. 

  1. Don’t come expecting 6 Flags

Playland is a classic American amusement park, but many of the rides are more associated with carnival sideshow rides than big-ticket thrills. Many look like they’ve seen better days, but when those better days were the 1920s, you can forgive them and embrace the charms and engineering feats that were so ahead of their time. 

  1. Playland Rye is cashless

Don’t go emptying the piggy bank expecting a Nickelodeon arcade, the park is completely cashless. Bring your credit and debit cards, knowing you can do everything without flashing those paper presidents around. 

  1. Playland is accessible from the Metro North (almost)

You can get close to Playland New York by taking the Metro North New Haven line to Rye station. From the station, there is a bus service to the park, but it’s not as regular as you’d hope. The first bus from the station doesn’t arrive until 11:43, meaning you can’t be there from the 11 am opening time. Luckily, ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft work in Rye, and the fare will generally be around $10 – $15. 

  1. If you have picky eaters or dietary restrictions, scan the park menus before you go

This is an amusement park, not a Michelin-recommended location. Food options are limited and can be expensive. Expect things like pizzas and pretzels. The main restaurant has some better options, but that is also expensive. 

How to get into Playland NY quickly and easily 

When we arrived at Playland, we were surprised by the lengthy queue at the main gates. To avoid this, buy your tickets online before you go. If you’re looking to save money, check Groupon NY to see if there are any current discount offers. 

Circumventing the long line, you can go through the bollards to the main gateway, where once you’ve shown and scanned your online ticket, you can exchange it for RFID wristbands. These get scanned to enter the park. It’s so much quicker than waiting to buy your ticket at the ticket window. 

The Playland Ice Casino 

As Aussies, where gambling is absolutely everywhere, we expected a casino to be a den of slot machines and gaming tables. Instead, the gorgeous art deco centerpiece of the Playland forecourt is actually an ice rink. The glorious Art Deco structure was once the training ground for the New York Rangers. Today, it’s closed to the public but makes for a fantastic backdrop for photos with the park’s stilt walkers. 

Kiddyland

If, like us, you’re chaperoning a marauding toddler around Playland, you’ll be relieved to know that you can contain their hyper-energetic escapades to one main section of the park, Kiddyland. 

In Playland’s Kiddyland, all the rides are scaled down in size, but big on the fun. Many are sideshow mainstays and though heavily dated and weathered, still bring the laughs. Starting on the Boat Ride, a water carousel, kids love feeling like they have control of a simple motorboat and raising the decibels ringing the bell mercilessly. 

The Red Baron is a traditional ride where kids can control the height of their biplane carriage as it spins, or maybe they’d enjoy taking to the old fiberglass hogs of the Motorcycle Jump. There’s a scaled-down version of both the carousel (the Kiddy Carousel) and The Whip (The Kiddy Whip), and variations on rides like the tea cups (Slime Buckets and Mushroom ride). 

Siena (two at the time) loved the Flying Dragons, Convoy (a train of mini tractor trailers where the kids take the wheel and “drive” their parents), and the simple exhilaration of the Fun Slide and its dusty old sacks. We couldn’t convince her to try the oldest ride in Kiddyland, the rickety Kiddy Coaster.    

Soaring high above Kiddyland and Playland is the 90FT Gondola Wheel. It’s a relic from the mid-1980s and brought back memories of the one at World Expo 88 in our hometown growing up, Brisbane, Australia. What it also brought back was just how terrified of heights I am. As a ride with no safety features, seat belt, or walls per se, I found the immediacy of the 90FT drop overwhelming, and it took a few far-too-long stops at the top of the wheel to work up the courage to look down. To me, it could have been the Giant Drop, and I’d have just as high a heart rate. 

Walking along the classic colonnades of the park, you’ll pass old animatronics depicting classic nursery rhymes, like Little Miss Muffet. And while it’s not the spider that will scare you, it’s the cacophony of galloping that will get your attention. There’s a flurry of equestrian action, but it’s not a carousel, it’s a carnival classic – 

Classic Carnival Rides at Playland New York 

The Derby Racer

From a distance, you could mistake the Derby Racer for a carousel, with its 56 jumping, carved wooden horses. But looks can be deceiving, and this one propels guests along at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. Built by Tom Prior and Fred Church in 1927, it’s the park’s oldest thrill ride and one of only two derby racers still operating in the USA. Adding to the excitement, riders are not restrained in any way, with simple instructions just to lean in, so when the trumpet fanfare of race day sounds, it’s off and racing! 

The Dragon Coaster

Synonymous with Playland is the Dragon Coaster, a traditional wooden roller coaster dating back to 1929. Riders are propelled around rickety steel and wood tracks, plummeting down steep inclines or pulled up through the mouth of the icon coaster before cascading through twists and turns. 

The Whip 

Before whiplash lawsuits were a thing, New Yorkers were getting their thrills being spun wildly around turns on Playland’s The Whip ride. The Whip was one of Playland’s debut rides, there when the park opened on May 26, 1928. 

Ye Old Mill at Rye Playground is an Art Deco wooden ride that features a windmill on the outside and a water wheel inside.

Ye Old Mill at Playland NY

Ye Old Mill and Waterworks at Playland is a dark ride with boats that float through a mine. Riders are caught in a simulated explosion and just avoid getting flooded by the rather dated animatronic elves who were introduced in a major ride renovation back in 2001. Before that, the Old Mill was one of the original rides dating back to 1929. It also has a dark past, with a 7-year-old dying on the ride back in 2005.

Rye Playland NY Old Mill is a scary dark ride that dates back to 1929.

The Zombie Castle

The Zombie Castle at Playland is a dark ride with jump scares at every turn. One of the oldest rides in the park, it resembles the kinds of haunted house rides in carnivals and fairs all around the world. Right next to it is a classic mirror maze, which has certainly seen better days.

The Grand Carousel

The Carmel Carousel at Playland pre-dates the park by 15 years. Before the Great Depression, the ornate merry-go-round operated at Savin Rock in Connecticutt. Today, its 66 ornate carved wooden horses still bring the same smiles they did over 100 years ago. The ornamentation around the top of the carousel features paintings of the park’s other classic rides.

Thrill rides at Rye Playland

Taking a toddler on a thrill ride can be hit and miss, so we probably ended with a draw on our day at Playland. She’s been on a heap of rides at Disney and Legoland, but there are only a few for anyone under 42 inches.

Olde Rye Motorbike Factory

One of the newest rides, and visually, really cool, Siena chose this ride. Little did she know, the button that operates the horn also shoots the motorbike carriage skywards as you spin at pace. I don’t know who was more scared, but her review was that it was “not funny”.

The Playland Plunge

What looks like a simple log ride delivers plenty of splash for your buck. We made the mistake of riding in the front seats and our poor little one was splashed by the intense tidal hit when the boat enters the pool at the bottom of the main descent. Despite being within the height restrictions, this ride isn’t for the little ones.

For older riders, there are plenty of thrills to be had at Playland. The Crazy Mouse is a coaster with a spinning carriage, the Dragonator delivers on the dizziness if you have the stomach for it, the Double Shot shoots riders straight up to the top of the park like a vertical slingshot, and the Family Rider is a toned down rollercoaster for those not up for (or tall enough for) the Dragon coaster.

The Beach at Rye Playland

Rye Playland has its own private beach, patrolled by lifeguards. This makes it the perfect plus up for a family day trip. You get all the fun of the rides and carnival atmosphere, then the chance to cool off in the icy waters of Long Island Sound. While wandering the pier, check out the horseshoe crabs, which look more like ancient stingrays than crustaceans.

WHAT? 

What is Playland NY famous for?  

Rye Playland is America’s largest and only original art deco amusement park. If you’re a fan of architecture and history, you’ll love checking out the park and the adjoining pier. For movie and TV buffs, you may recognize park features from film and TV appearances. The biggest and most notable role it has played was in Tom Hanks’ BIG, where the Zoltar fortune teller machine appears on the boardwalk. Other iconic 80s movies like Working Girl and Fatal Attraction had key scenes shot at Rye Playland. 

WHERE? 

Playland is less than an hour from New York City at Rye at 1 Playland Pkwy, Rye, NY 10580.

HOW to get to Playland, NY 

If you’re driving and get a good run of traffic, you can get to Playland from Manhattan in 40 minutes. Parking is around $20 for the day but differs on holidays. We took the train to Playland and a short bus. Travel on the Metro North New Haven line to Rye from Grand Central Terminal and then get the local Bee Line bus the last ten minutes to the park. The bus uses MTA ticketing, so don’t forget your pass. Uber from the Metro North Rye station to Playland is around $12. You can also get a 1408 Stamford bus from Harlem’s 125th Street station.

Looking for more vacation and road trip ideas across the northeast of the United States? We have great ideas across New York State, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine.

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