At Western Playland Amusement Park in Sunland Park, N.M., owner Patrick Thompson embraces the often-warm temperatures of southern New Mexico. From a water ride to operating hours that allow plenty of after-sunset fun, the park owner knows that while some may like it hot, they also want plenty of options to cool down and enjoy the rides and attractions.
The 30-acre amusement park began in 1960, but hasn’t always been at its present location. It was once located in Ascarate Park in nearby El Paso, but in 2006, Thompson moved the attraction to Sunland Park across from Sunland Park Casino.
From a Tilt-a-Whirl to the Pharroh’s Fury and Ferris Wheel that lights up the sky, to a a bevy of rides for small children, the park focuses on families and thrill seekers alike.
According to Thompson, the park is also expanding its ride selection. “We had only 3 rides to start, and it was originally focused on being a kiddy park for small children. But now we’re a full, all-ages park.” He adds “We’re adding a spinning ride called the Wipe Out, and some of our most popular rides right now are the El Bandito coaster, the Hurricane Roller Coaster, and as it starts warming up, probably the most popular of all is the Tsunami water ride. It’s a great way to cool off.”
The park has a merry-go-round, children’s helicopters, train, and car rides, and a full 26 rides in all, including the reliable scream-inducing Drop Zone. There’s also a sky ride that affords visitors a good view of the entire park; games are offered at an indoors location.
“I want people to know that we’re a family-owned park, located right outside of the city of El Paso across the New Mexico line. It’s a really great family park, and there are very rarely any long lines as there so often are at bigger theme parks. A lot of people enjoy bringing the whole family here because we have rides for all ages, and it’s a nice, easy-going atmosphere,” Thompson attests.
Another reason for the park’s popularity is the reasonable ticketing price and free parking. “Our ticketing price is $21.20 for guests who are 42 inches or taller to ride all the rides. For the kids, our junior wrist band is for guests 34 inches to 41 inches in height, and it is $16.60,” he says. “Below that height, it’s free. We go by height rather than age on our ticket pricing.” There is also an economical pay-as-you-go option, with park admission just $5, and each individual ride tickets costing $2.50 each. This is a popular option with family members who just want to spend time at the park enjoying time with family or friends but not ride many of the attractions. What will they do if they’re not riding? Perhaps along with taking photos of the kids enjoying the rides, Thompson suggests they’ll be relaxing and noshing.
Along with the rides, Western Playland offers food concessions that Thompson calls “basically good old fashioned amusement park fare.” The park serves up pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and cotton candy among their top dining choices for guests, Thompson says. The park also offers catering services for large groups of 100 to 4,000, with no additional fees for the pavilion rental used for such events. Also on the menu: unlimited rides from opening to closing time and exclusive use of the pavilion by the renting group.
For regular attendees, Thompson says the park offers a variety of “different shaded tent areas and pavilions with picnic tables that are great to relax in the shade, away from the New Mexico sun.” Also in regard to the heat and sunshine, Thompson keeps many of the park’s operating hours in the evening. “During the week, we’re open from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at night. On the weekends, we open at 3 in the afternoon, and stay open until 10 p.m. We are very much aware of the heat during our season, which runs from the end of February to late October.”
With so many evening hours for the park, naturally enough one of the focuses of creating an attractive look is lighting. “We’ve put in new LEDs which really look exciting, and we use them to create computer-run light shows. They’re more economical over time, and they just look a lot nicer, too.” The appealing lights make guests tend to spend more time at the park, as well. “It’s nice and cool at night here,” Thompson relates. “People tend to stay until closing.”
Attendance at the park, Thompson says, is about level from last year. But he says “It has really been growing over time, steadily, each year.” So far in 2018, he explains that there have been some excessively windy weekend days that have affected attendance. “But with nice weather, attendance is always going up.”
To promote the park, Thompson says he primarily uses social media, TV, and billboard advertising. The mix of these three techniques combined boosts attendance. “Social media is a growing area for us,” Thompson attests. “It’s primarily Facebook that we are using.” Additionally, he says he “occasionally” uses coupons and promotions for marketing. “Our prices are so reasonable to begin with that we don’t often do this. We try to keep it fair for everyone every day rather than offering specific times at a special rate.” He adds that during the summer, on weeknights the park offers $1 ride tickets and a less expensive inclusive rate to ride all the attractions, since park hours are relatively short. “That really brings people into the park then, because it’s such a great bargain.”
Over all, having a family-friendly atmosphere, reasonable prices, and hours that take into consideration ways to beat the heat, this 3rd-generation park succeeds at being exactly what Thompson wants it to be: “a great family amusement park that’s easy to visit.”