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Diggerland USA

Getting hands-on at Diggerland USA

With the addition of Diggerland XL for adults and a new water park, the attraction shows the enduring appeal of construction machinery for all ages

Ilya Girlya Diggerland USA

Diggerland USA in West Berlin, New Jersey is expanding its outdoor water park, The Water Main, adding a giant wave pool for the 2022 season. The attraction is co-owned and run by the two Girlya brothers, Ilya and Yan, who immigrated from Russia and went into the construction industry before conceiving the Diggerland concept.

Diggerland for adults

Blooloop last spoke with Ilya Girlya, president and co-CEO at Diggerland USA, in 2015. Since then, the park has evolved and changed, with the significant addition of Diggerland XL for adults:

“It’s an experience that everyone has been asking for,” Girlya says:

“They have been keen to try some of the bigger heavier stuff. It has turned out to be a bucket-list item. We get a lot of senior citizens, a lot of corporate events, and a lot of future husband and wife teams planning their bachelor and bachelorette parties.”

Introducing a water park

Last year, Diggerland opened The Water Main, a two-acre water park.

“It has definitely made a significant positive impact,” he says. “The summers here in New Jersey are very hot. Having the water park addition means the guests get to cool off during the day. Then, towards the back end of the day, now that they’ve been cooled off, they can run around and play on all the different Diggerland equipment, rides and attractions.”

The Water Main

“It has really expanded the day for them, and been a tremendous addition for us.”

The Water Main

The Water Main features construction-themed splash pads, water slides, aqua ball, a new shaded eating area, a café, and personal lockers for storage. Spacious shaded personal cabanas are also available for rental:

“We have a water obstacle course, and a lazy river,” Girlya adds:

“It’s not the type of lazy river that you’re accustomed to. It’s actually a river that has a fast current that propels you around. So there’s no need for tubes: you’re being pushed around while you’re swimming in it.”

“We have something called a vortex. This is like a giant hot tub, but it swirls you around like a giant sink. It’s really neat. And then we have just leisure swimming with integrated benches along the wall, so the parents can sit in the water while their children swim around them.

“Then we also have a dedicated kiddy splash park. This has all sorts of construction-themed items, from water features that look like jackhammers and excavator arms, to a giant bucket. There is water to splash and paddle in from zero-depth up to two feet. That has been really well received.

“Parents enjoy sitting around the edges of the pool, watching their kids run through it.”

New wave pool for Diggerland

Recognising that many guests prefer an active pool experience, Diggerland USA will add a wave pool and a ‘crossing-activity’ pool to The Water Main’s attractions for its 2022 season. It is also doubling the number of poolside cabanas and expanding food offerings.

The wave pool will generate waves up to almost four feet high in multiple patterns. Guests will also be able to ‘walk on water’ on two parallel courses in a 24-foot-long crossing activity pool.

Wave Pool concept Diggerland

“We have added a twist to the double-crossing activity pool,” Girlya says. “We have added custom-made cranes that drop a deluge of water on you while you’re trying to cross.”

The activities are suitable for all ages:

“We don’t discriminate – seniors, younger parents, anybody can take part as long as they can physically make it, and can keep balance as they hold onto the overhead cargo net as they move from one lily-pad to the next. Little kids sometimes have a little more flexibility than some older parents. It’s certainly a fun activity.”

The appeal of construction machinery

And then, of course, there is the construction machinery. What is the enduring appeal of diggers? Why do people love them so much?

He says:

“I think children and parents are just mesmerized by the size of the machines, and the magnitude of what they’re capable of doing. Growing up, both boys and girls have played imaginatively with toy versions. Being able to take that imagination play and do it in real life is the fulfilment of a dream, taking it from a place of imagination to one of reality. I think that’s what makes it so wonderful and different.”

dumper truck ride Diggerland

Pointing out that the Diggerland rides are not construction-themed, but real, adapted construction machines, he adds:

“Nothing here is ‘themed’ in terms of what you’d expect at larger parks; these are real, diesel-powered machines. We also have several rides that we invented, and which we control and operate. The Greased Beast, for example, is an actual hopper that seats 13 people. We raise them all the way to the top, and then it simulates dumping them in the back of a hopper.”

Authenticy is key at Diggerland

child on machinery at Diggerland

Throughout, the experience, guests are restrained in a five-point harness seatbelt:

“Then we have a 70-foot tall aerial scissor lift. This carries six occupants up to that tremendous height, where they get a phenomenal view of the park. They can see the skyline of the city of Philadelphia. As they get higher and higher, especially if it’s a windy day, they experience the sensation that the ride is going too high and will topple over, which is, of course, part of the design. It’s a really cool experience, but it’s also a real scissor lift.”

Authenticity is part of the park’s attraction:

“We like to introduce things that you can see on a real construction site or in the real world,” Girlya explains. “These are machines that you wouldn’t be able to touch until you come here, and have the opportunity to try them out.”

Future plans

 Concerning expansion, Girlya says:

“We have talked about the possibility of opening further Diggerlands nationally. But I think we really like the fact that all of our energy is focused on our one location here, so we’re able to give it our 100% attention.”

The water main

“While we are interested in expanding, I think it would mean losing a bit of control. And the guest experience might suffer as a consequence. We are very hands-on operators. We’re here every day; we work in all the departments from food and beverage, through the rides, to the janitorial department. We like to greet and talk to the guests.

“On balance, considering that we have more land to grow into here, I think we’re still focused on this one opportunity, and continuing to grow it out as far as we can go.”

Diggerland expands

Plans for the future, therefore, remain focused on expanding the existing Diggerland:

“We have more land to develop. Our current plan, which has just been approved for 2022-23, involves continuing to add more water attractions. This includes a giant slide tower.”

The addition of the slide tower is something Girlya decided to hold in reserve until after the introduction of the wave pool:

“We want to have a little bit more to offer to guests when they come back. We also have a further two attractions in the pipeline for Diggerland. These will be announced, we hope, in early March of 2022.”

Real machinery

Diggerland’s rides, he explains, are feats of engineering and imagination, and take time to develop:

“Since we can’t walk into IAAPA and say, ‘Give me some drive-on diggers,’ we have to think a little outside the box. And it does take us time.”

“Our engineering team has to figure out exactly how to make construction machines work in our setting, where there are families and young children. But we have room to keep evolving, and to keep adding to what we have.”

Diggerland and COVID

COVID hit Diggerland hard.

Girlya says:

“We were closed until July 2nd, 2020, so we lost a significant amount of time. For us, the April spring break is a really important time. Our park opens mid-March, and not being able to be open for those periods of time certainly impacted revenue.”

Even when Diggerland opened, guest counts were down. That’s because people were concerned about the safety implications of being in a large, populated public venue, even outdoors.

Diggerland-park-USA

“We were fortunate in that we are a strong entity, so we kept all of our management team in place. We didn’t let anyone go. Instead, we simply hunkered down and kept working, as we were still building the waterpark expansion. We were certainly nervous, though. We essentially had this beautiful, completed water park with no guests to enjoy it.”

Holiday light show

However:

“We recovered. In 2020, we also decided to add a drive-through holiday light show. This was another expansion project that we have always wanted to do and we felt that the pandemic year was the best opportunity to do it. We are really glad we did it because it was well-received. Decorating the park and creating a route that all the customers can drive through was a really fun experience for us.

“Then we had a very nice 2021, which gave us the ability to expand and invest in the wave pool. We are very fortunate that our customers kept coming back.

“We saw 2021 as a year where people were demonstrating their pent-up demand for experiences where they could have fun with their families. But we are also very cautious not to get too absorbed in that for the foreseeable future. Because, of course, what goes up must come down. At some point, it will plateau.

“We want to be careful not to get too over-excited in terms of over-forecasting projections, and just be conservative about what the ultimate 2022 fiscal year will hold for us.”

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Lalla Merlin

Lead Features Writer Lalla studied English at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University. A writer and film-maker, she lives in rural Devon with husband, children, and an assortment of badly-behaved animals, including an enormous but friendly wolf.

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