(Full disclosure: In May, I wrote a blog item about a new theme park that was opening up in New Jersey called “Diggerland USA” the people at Diggerland saw that blog post and offered the family and I some tickets to come check the place out for ourselves. We took them up on the offer and went last weekend. Once in the park we had the same guest experience that everyone else had. No special treatment, rule bending, etc. Just remember that as you are reading.)
Back in May, I declared that Diggerland USA sounded like the most BangShift approved amusement park ever conceived because the whole thing was based around construction equipment. Earth movers, front end loaders, small dump trucks, skid steers, excavators, and more were the stars of the show and virtually all of them could be operated by guests, including kids. The whole concept blew my mind at the time and it was certainly something that I wanted to take my kids to experience and something I wanted to experience as well! The good news is that the place certainly lived up to and actually exceeded my personal hype on virtually all fronts. We spent an entire day there last weekend and both the adults and the kids had a total riot.
We live in a world of no, can’t, don’t, stop, halt, and whatever other negative connotation you can think of. Diggerland is the world of yes. Your kid wants to drive the excavator? Yes (assuming they meet the minimum height requirements, which my 7 year old did for everything and my five year old did for most stuff and he could lap drive for the other stuff). Your kid wants to take a skid steer out on the course? Yes. Your kid wants to ride in the bucket of an excavator as it rotates as quickly as it possibly can? Yes. In both physical nature and philosophy it is a place we need more of. The environment is encouraging and there’s no better way to build a child’s confidence than putting him in a situation where they are at the controls and actually doing something on their own. Look, even the go karts don’t have lame guider rails or anything. Yes, workers will prevent your child from rolling off into the hinterlands, but the reality is that they are steering stuff, using the gas and brakes, and for the most part are in complete control of what they are behind the wheel of at any point in the day, including a full blown backhoe tractor.
I have dozens of photos that will tell the story in detail but a small vignette really sums up how great the place is. One of the “rides” in the 14-acre park, which is located in West Berlin, New Jersey (a mere 6 miles from Atco Dragway!) is the opportunity for a kid to drive a full sized front end loader/backhoe tractor around a fixed course which includes tight turns, some hills to climb, and some off kilter sections where you really feel the tractor move around. The cab has been outfitted with three seats (plus the driver’s chair) for the ride operator and two passengers to ride along. The passengers in this case happened to be myself and my son Jack. After pulling off of the loading area about 50 yards, the guy driving the tractor looked at Tom and said, “Want to drive?” His eyes lit up and soon we were chugging along this course with Tom at the tiller of this big tractor. It was a truly awesome deal.
There are those of you thinking, “This is dangerous and crazy!” and you’d be very, very wrong. The machines that move like the skid steers, dumper trucks, etc are all working at idle speed and there are ride operators positioned along the course to respond to a situation that could arise at any second. The machines are all in great shape and there wasn’t one second during the day when it felt as though anything risky was actually happening. The excavators are in fixed positions and they are designed to stop working if they swing outside of the prescribed area they are supposed to be digging in. Most of the machines are set up at stations that are “games of skill” like grabbing gold bars out of pea gravel or using a tiny wrecking ball to knock steel pins over, etc. The kids are empowered to do this stuff on their own and the level of concentration you will on their faces in the photos below will both blow you away and crack you up.
JCB equipment is the brains behind this concept. They have a successful park in England and this is their first one in the USA. We’re thinking that the idea has a bright future because the first thing the kids talked about when we left and going back. We applaud the company for the guts to do this because we can only imagine the legal red tape and wrangling that went on before one shovel of dirt was moved. Giving kids this experience is really great and letting the adults jump on and have some fun as well doesn’t hurt either. This big kid was having the time of his life as well!
Scroll down for dozens of photos featuring our experience at Diggerland USA –