Last fall, my family visited Hoffman's Playland during its final weekend. The mood was as somber as it gets at an amusement park. The Playland was being sold after over 60 years in business, and at that point there were no known plans for saving any aspect of the park. The land was headed to commercial development, the rides to auction.
Hoffman's Playland was woven into the childhood memories of anyone who grew up in the Capital Region. It was the place to celebrate good report cards and birthdays, the place where we overcame fears, laughed with our families, ate too much cotton candy, grew up. It was a place we hoped our children and grandchildren would know and love. The thought of losing the Playland broke many hearts.
Just as the rides were set to be sold, Huck Finn's Warehouse announced that it would be buying all of the rides and opening a park adjacent to its furniture store in Albany's Warehouse District.
Huck Finn's Playland opened to the public last Thursday. I went by to check it out on Friday (with my 4-year-old Playland fan in tow, of course). We rode the train and the carousel together, she took the boats for a spin and made new friends on the mini ferris wheel. She got a chocolate-vanilla twist soft serve which melted all over her dress. She was a ball of glee.
So, how does Huck Finn's Playland compare to Hoffman's Playland?
There are more photos above in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.
I asked my daughter, and she said, "It's the same. Everything's here, everything's the same."
And while that's not 100 percent true (alas, no bumper cars), she's right: the Huck Finn's crew put a lot of thought into keeping as much as possible the same as it's been since the 1950s. I wasn't sure what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised by how thoughtfully-done the new Playland is, and the care taken to carry the history forward.
The pricing structure and prices are the same -- no admission fees, one ticket per kiddie ride (two tickets for the bigger rides). Tickets are $1.75 for one, eight tickets for $12.25, 25 tickets for $29.95, and tickets are good all season long.
The mood at the park on Friday was vibrant and joyful. There is still some disbelief that the story of the Playland didn't end, and that the rides live on. The train whistle is the same. The boats, the caterpillar, the Ferris wheels, the fire trucks, the airplanes, the Tilt-a-Whirl, The Scrambler, even a recreation of the train tunnel -- they're all there, shined up, making kids shriek with delight. A couple rides had minor problems while we were there, but there was a fast-acting mechanic on site and the issues were fixed quickly.
The lot that the rides sit on is smaller than Hoffman's was, but because the planners started with a blank slate, things are arranged thoughtfully and it doesn't feel crowded. The "train station" houses the restrooms and a concession window, and there are two separate tented areas for birthday parties. Prior to the opening, commemorative bricks were sold and they are arranged around a flagpole near the train station. (There will be other opportunities to purchase bricks in the future.)
Of course, it's not Loudonville. I-787 is visible and audible from the rides. It is very clearly an urban setting. That's been criticized a bit, but it has the potential to be another boost for the growing Warehouse District. Upon leaving the Playland we discussed having dinner at Druthers, Wolff's Biergarten, the Pump Station, or several other favorite Albany restaurants just a few minutes away.
Jeff Sperber, the principal owner of Huck Finn's, was walking around the park the night we were there. I asked him about the reception to the reincarnation of the Playland. "It's been fantastic. People are thrilled. Kids are happy. Everyone's happy to be here," he said.
I wondered if he had any concerns about the new location -- there were some early criticisms of the Albany site, and taking the children's attraction out of the suburbs.
"People forget about the fact that we've been doing business in this location for decades," Sperber said. "That's one thing I haven't been worried about. We have easy access to the highway, visibility from the highway, it's convenient. I think this is going to be a summer that will trump what happened last year, which was the biggest summer ever for the Playland."
Sperber and his crews have been working around the clock to get the park ready to open as kids around the region finish school and kick off summer this week. The landscaping around the park is unfinished in places, and the large roller coaster is not yet up and running. But just a day after the gates officially opened, Sperber said, "The response that we've gotten, the positive feedback, it's far exceeded our dreams."
And if my resident 4-year-old, already begging to go back, is any indication, the Playland is a dream come true for Capital Region residents of all ages.
Huck Finn's Playland
25 Erie Blvd
Albany, NY 12204
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