Down by the Mon: Sandcastle Makes a Splash With a Massive Offseason Overhaul
A refresh has made Sandcastle feel like a beachside destination on the banks of the Monongahela.
It takes a lot more than sand and water to make the Mon feel like a beach.
Sandcastle, the West Homestead waterpark that has since 1989 welcomed sunbathers and thrillseekers for a summer escape, has progressively expanded its offerings throughout its 33-year history. With a recent, massive offseason overhaul, however, the riverside theme park truly feels like a transplanted Jersey Shore boardwalk.
You can see the hills of Western Pennsylvania cascading toward the river — but we’ll bet, when you’re eating fries on a brightly painted pier, you’ll feel like you’re a few feet from the Atlantic.
The change “is really a night-and-day difference from 2021 to 2022,” says Gene Petriello, the regional marketing director for Sandcastle, Kennywood and Idlewild parks. “It gives you the feeling of an inviting waterpark. It gives you that beach feel.”
The cosmetic difference is visible as soon as you enter the park; new signs and fresh coats of paint adorn every building, depositing a welcome dash of color into the mostly industrial environs. Innumerable smaller details offer fun touches, from a genuine ship’s horn announcing impending tempests in the wave pool to a recommissioned buoy that shoots blasts of water onto passersby.
“We all knew that we kind of wanted that seaside look,” says Mark Pauls, the general manager of Sandcastle and Kennywood. “The team at Sandcastle added those little nuances … I think the idea was to give it the facelift that it deserved. I think it’s absolutely beautiful now.”
While most of the changes refresh or enhance existing parts of the waterpark, the marquee addition for 2022 is a new slide. The “high-altitude, free-fall body slide,” dubbed Bombs Away, begins with a patron entering a phone-booth style capsule; after a countdown, the floor drops out, depositing the rider swiftly into a vertical drop that twists through a series of turns before splashing down at ground level.
Petriello says watching the faces of riders will be an entertainment option of its own. “It’s a multi-guest type of slide. You have the adrenaline junkies that want to test their nerve, and the other guests that … will be able to enjoy the attraction, because they’ll be able to watch the reactions!”
Another new addition this year may be less thrilling, but it’s no less enticing: The Bridge Sports Bar & Grille, a forthcoming restaurant option near the park’s entrance. With draft beer and a larger menu than most other in-park dining options, The Bridge will welcome guests looking to extend their visit.
“You want people to feel comfortable and stick around,” Pauls says. “It’s another reason to just come hang out and spend more time in the park.” Long-term plans for Bridge Bar — most likely in 2023 — include off-season operations, inviting guests to visit the riverside eatery for special occasions and perhaps even to watch an autumn Steelers game.
Of course, one food item remains a Sandcastle staple: Potato Patch fries. The Kennywood signature dish is prepared identically, with the same ingredients, at both Sandcastle and Idlewild.
More updates include the return of nightlife at Sandcastle, via “Friday Night Swim Under the Lights,” beginning Aug. 26, and an all-new play place for younger guests, the Sandbox, offering 2,000 square feet of recreation.
While the overhaul may be reminiscent of beachside vacation destinations on the Atlantic coast, the unique positioning of Sandcastle — certainly the only place where you can float along a lazy river within yards of the Monongahela River — remains. Petriello says the location is one of the park’s greatest assets.
“I think it’s the most unique waterpark I’ve ever seen.”