I recently had the task of looking through our thousands of family photos while making a short video for my parents’ 45th anniversary party. (“Just a few nice ones of us with the kids. Not too many. Make sure my eyes are open.” Thanks Mom, do you have any idea how many photos the average family with young kids has in storage these days?) Anyway, as browsed through the months and years I realized something. We really like carousels. In fact, almost every trip we’ve been on since having kids has involved riding carousels. They’re fun, nostalgic, easy to find and not too expensive. Some other families may go around finding the wildest roller coasters or the wettest flume rides, but here in our house we find carousels to be just about our speed.
The first carousel we rode with the kids was the beautiful vintage carousel in Fort Edmonton Park. It features huge, carefully restored horses and we weren’t sure if we could ride with a four month old and a 20 month old, but unlike some of them the ride operators here were fine with us riding with the kids in our laps. The baby just stared around looking completely baffled the entire ride but our toddler had a blast. After that we were hooked. We’ve ridden dozens since then, but I have to admit that the Fort Edmonton ride is still one of my favourites. We’ve been several times since and it’s always a highlight of a trip to visit the grandparents.
Even at the Disney parks, with fancy, high tech rides competing for our attention, we always try to get a few carousel rides in. The King Arther Carousel in the centre of Fantasyland is just gorgeous with four rows of beautiful white horses in each line. Even at busy times the rides are rarely longer than one or two cycles and at night it’s especially magical to spin around with the castle lit up behind you. California Adventure has a lovely one too with a Little Mermaid theme and all aquatic animals. My children always have a hard time choosing between the dolphin, seal, whale, seahorse, and many others.
Not all carousels are created equal, of course. My personal favourites are the vintage ones that have a real history behind them. Many of these faced years of decline or even abandonment before being reclaimed and restored. One carousel near us in the historic Burnaby Village Museum was saved from the brink of destruction with individuals and businesses coming together to sponsor the restoration of each individual horse. The result is gorgeous and I love reading the plaques and seeing the story behind each one.
Another favourite style of mine is the ones filled with exotic animals and other fanciful creatures. Traditional horses are beautiful of course, but it’s always fun to ride a giraffe or an ostrich, too. One of my favourites was the Caro-Suess-El in Universal studios, filled with all kinds of fanciful creatures straight out of a Dr. Suess book.
Some of the others can be a bit underwhelming. We’ve come across rides in zoos and parks that were rather small and plain, with chipped paint and lots of neglect evident. But of course, things like that concern parents much more than kids and even with those we will gladly pay a few dollars to let the kids have a ride.
In looking through our family photos I’ve also noticed that we’ve recently passed the milestone of letting the kids ride alone. There doesn’t seem to be any set rules about how tall or old kids need to be to ride on their own, but over the years we’ve gone from riding with them to standing beside them to waving at them from the sidelines. Of course, there are still times when mom and dad can’t resist and we all get to hop on a horse (or tiger or dolphin) and go for a spin.
So far our little family carousel tradition has grown largely without any planning. It’s only by looking through years of pictures that I realize how often we ride. But it’s a tradition I’d like to keep going, especially as we expand our travels beyond North America and into Europe. And who knows, maybe someday my husband and I will be the crazy grey haired couple whooping it up on the carousel as our kids take pictures of us!