Roller coasters get all the attention. But what about the tamer rides with shorter lines and more relaxed height restrictions?
Here you can learn about the favorites among the lesser-known rides. Some are unique, some have been copied for decades, but all of them are vital to the atmosphere of the midway.
More classic amusement park rides can be found on the following pages, such as the Scramblr, Bumper Car, and the classic "It's a Small World."
The most elegant of all amusement park rides, the carousel dates back to around a.d. 500. Drawings from this time period show riders in baskets circling a post. The carousel, or merry-go-round, remains a carnival staple worldwide. The ride consists of a rotating platform with seats that move up and down. The seats are the really special part, made of wood, fiberglass, or plastic and shaped to look like decorated animals, such as deer, cats, fish, rabbits, giraffes, and, of course, horses. Old carousels and carousel pieces can be worth lots of money these days depending on the level of artistry that went into their manufacture. Fun for young and old alike, even when the Triple-Threat-Xtreme-Screamer roller coaster is phased out, the carousel will still be turning round.
Quick! Get up and twirl around as fast as you can for three straight minutes, then jump as high as you can into the air! Feel that free-falling, vertigo sensation? If not, why not go on a rotor ride? Designed in the 1940s by engineer Ernst Hoffmeister, the Rotor has many versions in theme parks all over the world. The premise is pretty much a simple lesson in centrifugal force: Take a large barrel and revolve the walls of said barrel really fast. When it's going super fast, drop the bottom out of the barrel, and watch as all the people inside stick to the walls. Other names for this simple but popular ride include Gravitron and Vortex.
The Haunted Mansion
The "Happiest Place on Earth" gets a bit scary with the Haunted Mansion, another juggernaut of an amusement park attraction created by the fine folks at Disney. The ride opened in August 1969 in Disneyland and featured ghosts, murderous brides, blood-spilling families, and a host of other specters designed to scare park-goers silly as they ride through in a "doom buggy." The Haunted Mansion is among the most popular Disney rides in history, and it even inspired a movie -- The Haunted Mansion, starring Eddie Murphy, was released in 2003.
If you were a lumberjack in America in the late 1800s, a "log ride" wasn't something you'd line up to do. Log flumes were handmade channels created by loggers to transport felled trees to the sawmill. Stories of lumberjacks riding logs down the flume inspired the many versions of the log rides we know today. The first one, called El Aserradero ("the sawmill" in Spanish), was located at Six Flags Over Texas back in 1963. Passengers boarded a hollowed out "log" and rushed down the flume, getting soaked in the process. The ride was so popular that the park added another log ride a few years later. Famous log rides include Disney's Splash Mountain and Perilous Plunge at Knott's Berry Farm in California, the tallest and steepest log ride with a 115-foot drop.
"It's a Small World"
The theme song to "It's a Small World" is woven into American (and international) pop culture -- even if you've never been to a Disney theme park, you probably know the chorus. In 1964, the World's Fair came to New York, and Walt Disney and team created animatronic children of the world that featured anthems from various countries around the globe. In order to streamline the ride, which takes guests on boats through the animated panoramas, composers Robert and Richard Sherman came up with the now famous tune. Many find the "small world" experience to be a little naive and simplistic, but that's what they were going for -- people everywhere getting along so well they sing songs and hold hands. All day. For hours. The same song...over and over again.
If you've ever wanted to recreate the excitement and thrill of a fender bender, this is your ride! Bumper cars (or "dodgem cars"), which were introduced in the 1920s, feature a large ring or pen with a graphite floor designed to decrease friction. Riders climb into miniature electric cars that draw power from an overhead grid and proceed to slam into the other cars in the pen. Wide rubber bumpers keep things safe -- as safe as you can get with no brakes! Still, bumper cars are so popular you'll find them in just about every theme park, county fair, or carnival you visit -- just follow the crashing noises and laughter.
There are many names for this ride and its variations, but Americans usually call it the Scrambler. Whatever name is emblazoned on its side, this ride is fast -- really fast. Picture this: the ride has three arms. On the ends of each of those arms are clusters of individual cars, each on a smaller arm of its own. When the Scrambler starts, the main arm and the little arms all rotate. The outermost arms are slowed and the inner arms are accelerated, creating an illusion of frighteningly close collisions between the cars and their passengers. The Scrambler proves that you don't have to go on a roller coaster to lose your lunch or have the wits scared out of you.
Built in 2005 at the top of the Stratosphere Hotel Tower in Las Vegas, this ride isn't kidding around. The second-highest thrill ride in the world at 906 feet above terra firma (second to its nearby Stratosphere brother, "Big Shot"), the Insanity arm extends 64 feet over the edge of the hotel tower, spinning passengers at top speeds. If that's not insane enough for you, hang on. Soon, the spinning gets even faster, and riders are propelled upwards at a 70-degree angle. Insanity creators claim that "riders will experience the thrill of being flung over the edge of the tower" as they look down for a couple of breathless seconds at a glittering Las Vegas far below.
Ah, the mighty Ferris wheel -- provider of a million romantic moments and breathtaking views. For the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, engineer George Ferris presented fair organizers with his idea of a giant rotating wheel that would carry passengers in cars attached around the outer edge. He convinced organizers to allow him to build the structure, which would rival France's Eiffel Tower. Indeed, Ferris's wheel, which cost $380,000 and stood 264 feet tall with a wheel diameter of 250 feet, was a huge success. Each car held 60 people, and, at 50 cents a ride, the wheel was one of the most popular attractions at the World's Fair. The Ferris wheel is a must-have for any carnival, and thousands of replications continue to delight passengers of all ages.
In 1926, Herbert Sellner finished his design for the Tilt-A-Whirl and began building one in his backyard. Sellner's ride involved seven cars attached at various fixed pivot points on a rotating platform that raised and lowered itself. The cars themselves were free spinning, but when you added the centrifugal force and the platform's gravitational pull on the cars, they would wildly spin in countless directions at variable speeds. Calculated chaos ensued. Since then, Sellner Manufacturing Company has built more than 1,000 Tilt-A-Whirls and inspired hundreds of knockoffs. Those who look a little green or lose their lunch of hot dogs, cotton candy, and soda pop are probably just coming off a Tilt-A-Whirl.
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