Vanderbilt Playground, Prospect Park: Everyone’s Nuts About It!

Everything you need to know about Vanderbilt Playground.
Under the spreading chestnut trees

Literally and figuratively. The grounds surrounding this new play paradise were rife with Chestnuts, prompting kids to harvest them by the dozens and explore many of the fun structures with them. Chestnuts were rolling down the new spiral slide. Chestnuts were flowing down the channels in one of the (turned-off) water features. Chestnuts were being used to make connect-the-dot-style shapes on the jungle gym platforms. Chestnuts were being thrown across the open space at the heart of the playground. And, and yes, chestnuts were sometimes causing near wipe-outs if you weren’t looking where you stepped.
My husband, son, and I arrived on Saturday morning to find a small crowd, but by 10:30 the playground was fit to burst with kids and parents all very pleased with the new set-up. I’m unfamiliar with what was there before, but was quite happy with what’s there now. The little kid and big kid jungle gyms are extensive and offer an array of bridges, slides, chain-link ladders, and tunnels for keeping kids engaged. Borrowing from some of the more popular elements at playgrounds like Union Square and Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, Vanderbilt also offers a spinning platter (wisely lower to the ground than the Union Square model) and a giant geodesic rope climbing structure (perhaps not so wisely taller than the one at Pier 6.) There were also two spinning structures that I’ve not seen on my playground travels before: a basket seat with two big handles and a silver, basket-ball sized globe that wasn’t the easiest to stay atop of while rotating.
Bridges and Tunnels

What I really loved about the spot was its wide-open, yet cozy feel. Like Harmony Playground behind the Prospect Park Bandshell, there’s plenty of room to run, but, in contrast to Harmony, there’s better fencing to prevent toddler escapes. My son seemed to really enjoy the running and hopping he could do to get from one attraction to the next. The playground also benefits from a truly communal feel. I don’t live in Windsor Terrace, but I want to after seeing how many of the parents at the playground seemed to know one another and have genuinely easy rapport. There were several groups of six or more grown ups having lively conversations on the lovely wood decks arrayed around the southern and eastern ends of the figure 8-shaped grounds.
There were only a few mild disappointments: no big-kid swings and no chance to see the water features at work. Our big beef: no bathrooms. The porta-potties that several parents told me were once stationed there are gone.


Spinning things
Highlights:
Spinning Things: Built to spin on a bias, the platter was filled with kids during our entire visit. Smaller and wiser kids sit on their rear ends and hang on, but a few daredevils did try standing with the results that a few flew off onto the rubber matting. No tears, but no eagerness to repeat the stunt either. The spinning basket seat was a hit too, and is definitely more appropriate for little ones with its scooped seat keeping them inside the vessel.
Wide-slide: Almost a double-wide twisting slide projects from the western side of the bigger jungle gym. Two smaller tots can ride down in tandem comfortably. The slope is probably too gentle for big kids’ taste, but it’s a good starter slide for toddlers wary of speed.
Climbing opportunities: Two sets of monkey bars are low enough to the ground and easily accessible enough by the ladders for toddlers to give them a go. Two tunnels tucked beneath the jungle gym platforms have enough room around them to invite climbing on them as well as in them. Two thick ropes strung below two parallel bars are fun for traversing, and of course the geodesic rope dome is great for vertical and horizontal feats of climbing.


Things to climb on
Bathrooms: Maybe across Prospect Park Southwest (PPSW) at Bene Pizzeria—two phone calls there couldn’t yield an answer—but otherwise, a hike up a hill to a porta-potty on the Prospect Park transverse.
Eats: There is a deli across Prospect Park Southwest just off the corner of Vanderbilt that’s good for juice and snacks. Uncle Louie G’s on Vanderbilt just off PPSW offers a wide variety of ices. Next to it there is Bene, a pizza place that wasn’t open during our visit. Up PPSW by Bartel Pritchard Square is a Connecticut Muffin serving up coffee, breakfast treats, and sandwiches.
Directions: F train to either 15th Street or Eastern Parkway. I prefer the latter because we can walk alongside or inside the park, but I think Eastern Parkway is a shorter walk. The B68 down Prospect Park Southwest stops just off the corner of Vanderbilt.
Caroline Bailey