When I think of Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom, rides like the Matterhorn, “it’s a small world”, Splash Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean come to mind. These are classic attractions that are emblazoned in my memory. But I have to be honest, the carousels don’t instantly pop into my head. In fact, if someone were to ask me to take a pencil and paper and list all of the rides at Disneyland, the carousel would probably be found somewhere near the bottom of my list. It’s not that I don’t like the carousels, it’s just that they are often overshadowed by other more flashy attractions. Yet carousels are synonymous with Disney parks. In fact, of the eleven Disney parks worldwide, there are carousels in seven plus one at Downtown Disney/WDW:
Disneyland – King Arthur Carrousel
Disney’s California Adventure – King Triton’s Carousel
Magic Kingdom – Prince Charming Regal Carrousel (formerly Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel)
Downtown Disney/WDW – Classic Carousel
Disneyland Paris – Le Carrousel de Lancelot
Tokyo Disneyland – Castle Carrousel
Tokyo DisneySea – Caravan Carousel
Hong Kong Disneyland – Cinderella Carousel
If you noticed, the Imagineers chose to use both one and two “R’s” in the spelling of the word Carousel/Carrousel – both spellings are correct. In fact, at the California and Tokyo parks, they spell it with one “R” in one park and two “R’s” in the other. I wonder what the logic is with that. But because I’m lazy and the one “R” spelling takes one less keystroke, I will use the simplified version in this article. LOL
Now for a little carousel history.
During the crusades, European warriors noticed the Arabian and Turkish soldiers play a game (and training) on horseback called “garosello” (Italian) and “carosella” (Spanish) meaning “little wars”. Impressed by their horsemanship and skill at these games, the crusaders brought variations of these competitions back to their respective homelands.
In France, these games evolved and took on a regal air which came to be known as carrousel. A major event of the carrousel was the ring-spearing tournament. In this game, a man would ride his steed or chariot at full gallop with his lance pointed outward. At the far end of the field a small ring was suspended from a tree limb with brightly colored ribbons. The goal, of course, was the spear the ring with his lance as he passed by at great speed. As the games grew in popularity, so did the pageantry. To add to the pomp, the horses were adorned with jeweled harnesses, draped with colorful fabrics, and sported ornately crafted saddles.
To assist in the training of these equestrians (without tiring the horses), the French carved wooden horses and chariots and suspended them from arms radiating from a center pole. Riders would then sit on these manmade steeds while someone rotated the contraption and they would attempt to spear rings suspended nearby. Thus were the humble beginnings of the modern day carousel.
By the late 1700’s, carousels built for amusement purposes were a somewhat common sight in Europe. And just like the real steeds had gained in pageantry over time, now so did their wooden counterparts. As carousels grew in popularity, the horses became more and more ornate.
Early carousels had no platforms. The horses and chariots still hung from crossbeams attached to a center pole. As the machine was spun faster, the riders were flung outward from the centrifugal force. The carousels were usually powered by a man or horse tethered to the device who walked in circles. Steam power was first applied to the carousel in 1861. The first platform carousel made its appearance in the mid-19th century.
Although carousels originated in Europe, they reached their pinnacle in America as skilled craftsmen brought their talents across the Atlantic beginning in the mid-19th century. And when these talented men arrived, the carousels took on new magic. Not only did the horses become even more ostentatious, other ornate animals were added to the mix. Lions, tigers, pigs, zebras, dragons, sea monsters and unicorns became commonplace. Any creature that could be reasonably sat upon could be found on American carousels.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s brought an end to the Golden Age of carousels. As the economy tanked, amusement parks began to decline in number. Used carousels could satisfy the remaining market and the few remaining carousel companies closed their doors or moved on to other products. Many carousels were abandoned or destroyed as the years marched on. Of the more than 4,000 carousels built in America during the Golden Age, fewer than 150 exist intact today.
As we all know, Walt would take his young daughters Diane and Sharon to Griffith Park in Los Angeles where he would sit nearby as they rode the merry-go-round. As the story goes, this was how the idea of Disneyland first came to him. So it’s no surprise that Walt wanted a carousel to be included in his new park. It’s interesting to note, all of the horses on the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round are jumpers, something Walt insisted upon when searching for a carousel for Disneyland. The first picture is of the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, the second, an early concept drawing for Disneyland.
After much searching, the Imagineers found an 1875 Dentzel model carousel in Sunnyside Beach Park, Toronto, Canada, an amusement park that was on its last legs of existence. . However, the carousel contained a number of beasts besides horses. So Walt sent his Imagineers out again to find additional steeds from other sources. When the new-found horses arrived back in Burbank, many were in shoddy condition and required a tremendous amount of restoration. In addition, alterations were made to “standing” horses to transform them into jumpers. This required the carving of new legs and attaching them realistically to the bodies. The original carousel had three rows of horses. To increase capacity, an additional row was added to bring the total up to 71 horses and one mule. Every horse is unique and each has a name. Here is the list in alphabetical order:
Alma, Arabian Knight, Avanti, Baby, Belle, Bruce, Centurion, Checkers, Checkers Jr., Champion, Chodis, Cinch, Copper, Crown Jewel, Crusader, Dagger, Daisy, Dante, Duke, Eagle Scout, Elinor, Elroy, Emerald, Fern, Flourish, Frenchy, Galaxy, Gypsy, Hal, Ivy, Jester, Jingles, Kaleidoscope, King Richard, Lance, Leo, Leprechaun, Lucifer’s Rose, Lunatic, National Velvet, Patches, Pegasus, Penny, Queenie, Rally, Red Devil, Renaissance, Sapphire, Saxon, Screaming Eagle, Sea Biscuit, Sir Lancelot, St. Patrick, Steamer, Tartan, Tassel, Testy Pat, Thistle, Tiny, Topaz, Tulip, Turbo, Unice & Valance.
The original carousel also had two elaborate chariots. These were removed and used to decorate the tenders of the Casey Jr. Circus Trains.
The finished product was given the name “King Arthur Carousel“ and was placed directly behind Sleeping Beauty Castle so that it could be easily seen from Main Street. Here the Imagineers were employing the draw-concept. The spinning carousel, when seen through the castle, would “draw” or entice guests into Fantasyland.
No two horses on King Arthur Carrousel are alike and in the early years of Disneyland, their bodies were painted in a multitude of colors. However, guests seem to clamor to the white horses. So in 1975, all of the horses were repainted arctic white. The Disney folks will tell you this is because everybody riding is a “good guy.”
In this next picture, taken in late July, 1955, you can see several black and one yellowish-tan horse.
In 2003, King Arthur Carrousel closed for an extensive renovation. During this time, the turntable was rebuilt and a row of horses was removed and replaced with a bench. The bench can be converted to accommodate a wheelchair and an access ramp is now available making the carousel ADA compliant.
The lead horse, Jingles, was Walt’s favorite. It was named such because of the strands of jingle bells hanging from the saddle. For Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, Jingles was painted gold from head to tail. When the celebration ended, Jingles was dedicated to Disney Legend Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins). The saddle now sports Poppin’s flying silhouette, a picture of her shoes, the number 50, and Julie Andrew’s initials.
Keeping the horses looking good takes a tremendous amount of effort. The carousel has a number of “spare” horses that are constantly being worked on backstage. After about 40 hours of refinishing and repainting, the horses are sent back to the carousel and others removed for their turn in the shop. It takes about two years to completely repaint all of the horses – then the cycle begins again. The brass poles are given six hours of polishing every night to keep them looking bright and shiny.
King Arthur Carousel required an “A” coupon to ride in the days of ticket books.
It’s interesting to note, on this early attraction poster, “Carousel” is spelled with one “R” rather than the two that are in the attraction’s actual name, King Arthur Carrousel.
The carousel at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is named Prince Charming Regal Carrousel. However, it wasn’t always called by this moniker. Until June 1, 2010 it was known as Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel. The name change was an effort by the Imagineers to give this opening day attraction a reason for existing in Fantasyland. Here is the official Disney backstory.
“Following their fairy-tale romance and happily-ever-after wedding, Cinderella and Prince Charming took up residence in Cinderella’s Castle. With peace throughout the kingdom, Prince Charming had time to practice for jousting tournaments. In the countryside near the castle, he built a training device of carved horses, on which he could practice the art of ring-spearing, a tournament event in which a knight rides his horse full speed, lance in hand, toward a small ring hanging from a tree limb, with the object of spearing the ring. This event was known by various names throughout the lands, but generally came to be called “carrousel.” The carrousel device drew the attention of the villagers, who wanted to take a turn on this amazing spinning contraption. So Prince Charming had a second carrousel constructed closer to the Castle, where everyone could take a spin on this wondrous invention. Instead of a working knight’s training device, however, this new carrousel is more befitting its regal location in the Castle Courtyard – its rustic training horses replaced with ornately decorated prancing steeds adorned with golden helmets and shields, flower garlands, feathers and other festoons. Prince Charming invites one and all to test their horsemanship skills and to enjoy their own happy ending.”
The Magic Kingdom carousel was purchased from the now defunct Olympic Park in Maplewood, New Jersey in 1967. It had originally been built for the Detroit Palace Garden Park (also long gone) by the prestigious Toboggan Company in 1917. The carousel’s original name was Liberty and was decorated in colors of red, white, and blue.
Like King Arthur Carrousel at Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom’s version needed a lot of work to get it ready for opening day. In addition to the layers upon layers of paint that had to be removed on every horse, some had unusually positioned legs. To rectify this, the Imagineers creatively repositioned many of the legs to create chargers. If you look closely, you can see the seams on some of the steeds. The original carousel had 72 horses. Disney expanded this number to 90 (18 rows, each five horses deep). However, this was cut back to 86 when four horses were removed to make room for one of the original chariots that was added back in 1997. Nearly all of the moving wooden parts were replaced with new metal duplicates.
A number of fiberglass molds were created of several of the horses and painted to match the originals. This was done so that when it came time to refurbish the wooden steeds from time to time, replacements would be available. Each year, fifty to sixty horses are refurbished.
The horses on the outside of the carousel are the largest and the most elaborately decorated. The horses decrease in size and adornments with each consecutive ring. By the way, the gold you see on the horses is real – 23 karats.
On the wooden canopy atop the carousel are 18 paintings depicting the story of Cinderella. Each is approximately 2’x3′. The Disney music heard in the background is generated by a band organ built in Italy. And there are 2,325 lights illuminating the carousel.
With the exception of two horses, King and Cindy, the mounts do not have names. Instead, they are numbered. The designation can be found on the left side of the bridal. You can see this number (and me) in the next picture.
King is the lead horse and decorated in ornate armor. “Cindy” is Cinderella’s horse and is designated so by the golden ribbon tied around her tail – the only horse to sport a tail ribbon. However, not everyone agrees that this is actually Cinderella’s horse. Isle Voght (who originally refurbished the carousel and maintained it for years) and Disney Legend John Hench both agree that there is no such animal as Cinderella’s horse. If Cinderella did have a special mount, it would be located on the outer ring (not the second) and be far more elaborately decorated. And it would probably have some sort of crest to designate royalty. In addition, Cinderella’s horse was not mentioned in the backstory created in 2010. It is assumed that this Disney urban legend came about by cast members trying to create Magic Moments for guests.
During construction of the Magic Kingdom, the carousel was placed slightly off center from Cinderella Castle. Roy O. Disney noticed this discrepancy and insisted it be moved several feet so that it could properly “draw” guests into Fantasyland.
Like Disneyland, the carousel in the Magic Kingdom required an “A” coupon in the days of ticket books.
Many ask, “What is the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round?”
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, some believe that carousels only have horses while merry-go-rounds have other animals and seating options. In addition, carousels generally move counter-clockwise while merry-go-rounds or “roundabouts” move clockwise. If we were to go by the strict definition of carousel, Disney’s would no longer apply as they have added benches to both King Arthur Carrousel and Prince Charming Regal Carrousel.
I started this article by saying that the carrousels would be low on my list when trying to recall Disney attractions. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy riding them occasionally – or just standing nearby and watching it spin. Carousels are works of art. The craftsmanship and love that went into these attractions of yesteryear is amazing. And to know that Disney is keeping these works of art in pristine condition is gratifying. The beauty of these machines never fails to amaze me.
The carousel is often the first attraction a young visitor to a Disney park experiences. It is truly heartwarming to see a proud parent standing beside their child as the bell rings, the platform begins to turn, and the horse begins its journey, all the while, the child is smiling broadly.
If you’d like to relive this journey from the comfort of your home, check out my short video of Prince Charming Regal Carrousel.