Theme Park Ranger
10:01 AM EDT, September 8, 2011
If simple pleasures are, indeed, the best, then merry-go-rounds might be the best of the best at theme parks.
Although Orlando's parks are stocked with high-tech, 3-D, rib-rattling, in-your-face attractions, sometimes it's nice to just go around and around, up and down for a couple of minutes.
It's fun to watch toddlers on a carousel. They're full of delight and sometimes a little fright. In a way, merry-go-rounds are gateways to thrill rides. To a kid, there's the distinct possibility that they could be flung from the mechanical horse, sent sailing counterclockwise.
The most traditional of the carousels in our theme parks is the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel in the shadow of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. It was built in 1917, when carousels were hot commodities, and purchased by Walt Disney in 1967.
All its up-and-down animals are gussied-uphorses. Around the top are scenes from "Cinderella," complete with wicked stepsisters. But my favorite part is the music, a selection of Disney tunes, notably the lilting, waltzy "Once Upon a Dream."
Until last year, the ride was known as Cinderella's Golden Carrousel. Disney renamed it with very little ceremony but with a new back story that involves the prince developing the spinning contraption for joust practice, then constructing another one for his subjects.
That story pairs nicely with the origins of carousels, which include a spin through 12th century Arabia, where a similar device was used for combat preparation.
You'll notice that Disney goes with the two-r "carrousel" spelling, which is acceptable according to my dictionary and French in lineage. But yet, it's not "Carrousel of Progress"?
Over at SeaWorld Orlando, the park has gone with the more common spelling for Sea Carousel, a merry-go-round tucked away in Shamu's Happy Harbor, which is dedicated to kiddie rides and activities.
Instead ofhorses, the Sea Carousel is tricked out with colorful sea creatures, including a few you probably never thought of riding, such as a walrus or a jellyfish. The ride is topped by a big pink octopus with legs that droop off the edge of the roof. The attraction is very playful looking but almost hidden away behind signage and trees.
Subtle is not the approach of Caro-Seuss-el, the merry merry-go-round at Universal's Islands of Adventure. Like all of Seuss Landing, the ride has a whimsical look inspired by the works of Dr. Seuss. (Also like the rest of the land, there are few straight lines. Even the ride poles are curvy.)
The ride is enhanced by Seuss-like safety instructions, which definitely top "keep your head and feet inside the car at all times."
The animals are wacky and fun — curvy, long-necked, brightly colored, bug-eyed, unidentifiable things — creatures not of this Earth. If I were in the "Cat in the Hat" set, I'd definitely want to get on board.
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Around the block
Central Florida parks soon will have another carousel in its ranks. The Grand Carousel will be a centerpiece of Legoland Florida, which is scheduled to open Oct. 15.
The rare double-decker ride will be in Fun Town, near the front of the Winter Haven park.
Some of the ride's mechanical workings are from its Cypress Gardens days, but the merry-go-round is getting a new "skin," says Jackie Wallace, a Legoland Florida spokeswoman. It is designed to resemble the Lego Grand Carousel kit and will sport Lego-ized animal figures to ride, she says.
The kit's ride was primarily red, white and gold. The set had 3,000 pieces and retailed for $249 when it was introduced in 2009, but the kit is no longer in production.
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