Carousel or Carrousel Disney Style

Jack Spence Masthead

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.

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round

Carousel Concept Art

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.

Casey Jr. Circus Train

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.

Draw Concept

King Arthur Carrousel

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.

Multi-Colored Horses

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.

Carousel Bench

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.

Jingles Painted Gold

Jingles Painted White

Jingle's Saddle

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.

Fantasyland Poster

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.”

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Carrousel Sign

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.

Carousel Canopy

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.

Horse Briddle and Number

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.

Cinderella's Horse

Golden Ribbon

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.

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25 Replies to “Carousel or Carrousel Disney Style”

  1. My family moved to Maplewood in 1942. Olympic park was very large with everything from swimming pools to feries wheels. This was also the period when polio was running wild. At some point the pool was closed to eliminate people being subject to getting polio from others in the pool. As the number of visitors declined the park was forced to close down. We have been guests at Disney World since it opened and current travel two or three times a year to Disney World. We also are vacation club members. Every time we go to the Magic Kingdom I end up telling someone that this winderful thing came from my home town.

  2. Hi Jack,
    First off thank you for the great history lesson!
    As a child my father often took us on carousel
    rides and taught us about the lead horse, and that
    every carousel has one! In January this year I was at
    the world and asked a cast member which was
    the lead horse? They told me that Prince Charming
    Royal carrousel is an amalgamation of several
    carrousels and therefore does not have a lead horse.
    I was very disappointed at this answer and tried
    to research it but came up with nothing. I will be
    looking for King on our next visit! Thank you!

    Jack’s Comment:

    I looked for King, but was unable to find him. There are several very ornate horses on the outer ring, but for the most part, they all look alike. Since all of the horse are numbered, I suspect that King is just horse #1.

  3. Great article! One of my favorite sights is looking through the tunnel of Cinderella Castle and seeing the lit up carousel spinning on the other side. Thanks for the history lesson. Really interesting!

  4. I remember (I think!) seeing a carousel in the magic journeys 3D movie that used to be shown at the imagination pavilion in Epcot. The young boy was riding it and trying to grab a spinning gold ring. So there was another carousel in Disney World and that one also highlighting the original use with the ring.
    The mention of the smaller horses made me smile at the memory of my wife (then fiancée) getting on one of the smaller horses on her first carousel ride at the Magic Kingdom. She would be the first to admit that she is below average height so chose the “lower” smaller horse, unfortunately for her when the ride ended her horse was at the top or it’s rise, so it was now a long way down for her to get off. We still laugh at that.
    Thanks for the memories Jack.

  5. Hi Jack
    I went back through our photos from our last trip and noticed my daughter was riding on Cindy. We had no idea, she was just looking for a horse with flowers and jewels. It was so much fun to tell her that she was riding on Cinderella’s horse. She loved it, it was a very special moment.
    Thanks so much!!!

  6. i have always loved the carrousels. especially in the evenings. there is such romanticism and magic. my favorite carrousel though will always be the carrousel of progress. different from the others but loved none the less.

  7. Oh, the idea that there’s no Cinderella horse makes me sad. When we had a Pal Mickey one of his schticks when he sensed we were near the Carousel was to ask us to find Cinderella’s horse. (I can’t remember the clue anymore – I think it was that hers had purple or something). We never found it, btw, but now I feel Mickey lied to me. *sniffle*

  8. I love the Disney Carousels, but I made a pilgrimage to LA in December and visited Griffith Park and was in tears at the state of the carousel there. None of the horses have tails anymore and the entire thing looks like it is about seconds from falling apart. I wish someone would take some time and do something about that wonderful part of Disney History.

  9. For anyone who is interested in carrousel history and enjoy looking at the amazing craftsmanship, consider coming to the museum of carrousels east of Portland, OR, in the Columbia Gorge. It is stunning how these folks have rescued these treasures from all over the US and painstakingly and lovingly restored them. It is a magical journey!

  10. Loved the blog! The Carousel is a ride that we always choose to ride on an Extra Magic Hours Night. There is something magic about riding it at night that my family truly enjoys! Thanks for bringing the memories back to mind!

  11. Jack,
    The carousel has always been my mother’s favorite ride anywhere and always the one she wants to ride first. I last rode the one at Disneyland with her in 2009. We rode with both my parents at WDW last spring. Just a few weeks ago we all rode one in Houston. We had three generations of riders on all of these. My parents are now in their 70’s. I still enjoy seeing the enjoyment in my mother’s face on a carousel as I did when I was a child. Thanks for the great blog!

  12. What an amazingly well-written blog post about something I’d never spent much time thinking about… but now want to read more!

    When’s your book coming out, Jack?


  13. Jack,

    Thank you so much for the history lesson on carousels! They truly are treasures that are disappearing fast in our country. Hopefully Disney will have them for many decades to come. One thing I thought was interesting is how historically carousels were originally set up for ring spearing as part of their functionality. My local carousel at Knoebel’s Amusement Park still has their carousel set up so you can grab rings and hope to nab the brass one. I wish more carousels still had this entertaining and historical feature. Once again thank you for all the time and work you put into your posts.

    Jack’s Comment:

    As a kid, I rode a carousel at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles that allowed for riders to grab the brass ring. And if you were lucky enough to get the brass ring, you got a free ride. I’m sure Disney did not include this tradition for safety reasons. People would be falling off horses left and right. LOL


  14. Jack,
    Once again a tremendous article. Your dedication to researching the history behind the attractions is incredible. Thank you so much for taking the time to educate those of us who love Disney, but our busy lives prevent us from researching these little nuggets for ourselves. Having this knowledge truly makes Disney a little more magical!

  15. Hi Jack:

    My niece had to have been about 4 the first time she went to Disney World with her family and the Carrousel was the one ride she went on over and over again. It was the same when they went back 2 years later. When she entered the 1st grade later that year she had to write a story about her favorite things. Well of course the Carrousel in Disney World was #1 on her list. Why, because as she said she likes things that go real fast. I guess to a 4 yr old the carrousel is fast.

  16. Riding the carrousel is a last-night tradition for my wife and I. We always use it as our last chance to see all of Fantasyland and enjoy being in Disney before we get our kiss goodnight and head on out for the ferry.

    Funny to see that in the backstory press release some imagineer referred to the castle as Cinderella’s Castle rather than Cinderella Castle. Oops!

    Jack’s Comment:

    It drives me crazy when people make Tom Sawyer Island or Cinderella Castle possessive. I’m amazed I missed this in my blog. BTW, this was not my mistake. I did a straight “cut & paste” from an office Disney article.

    If you listen to the recording on the Liberty Belle, Mark Twain (or the captain) calls the island “Tom Sawyer’s Island.” I cringe every time I hear it.

  17. Jack,
    Thanks for the interesting read. I cannot believe the amount of work that goes into maintaining these works of art! I can’t help but believe that Walt knew of the work that would be involved in maintenance, but wanted them anyway because of their beauty and their providing joy to park-goers. I will be sure to look more closely next time I ride.

  18. Hi Jack,

    Wonderful article as usual. I’m sure my daughter will look for Cindy to ride when we visit in May.


  19. Ah, cherished memories! I am one of those proud parents who stood by his cute little kidlet when we first visited the ‘World” in 1997. When we returned in 2000, she rode solo while my late wife and I rode on the bench. She has left the nest and has recently married, but I hope that one day when they have children they will take them to ride Golden Regal Carrousel.

    Freedom and Pixie Dust!
    Blue Steve

    Jack’s Comment:

    Hopefully, someday, granddad can take his grandchildren on the carousel and tell them about standing with their mother in 1997.

  20. Hi Jack! Thank you for all the history on the Disney Carousels. It’s funny, it may not be a ride that’s high on our lists of Disney attractions, but we all have a picture somewhere of us sitting on one of the horses…

  21. My daughter always asks to “ride the horses” 5 times each visit. She loves it. We pretend we’re racing each other. Do you have a picture of King?

    PS – I can tell you took this video prior to the Dumbo relocation! LOL.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I don’t have a picture of King. I didn’t think to get his picture until just before the blog was posted. I went to the Magic Kingdom, but the place was mobbed. I looked at the horses, but I couldn’t tell which one he would be. I would have asked a cast member, but they were too busy.

  22. Hi Jack,
    Thank you for the memory ride and the wonderful history of these carousels. The horses are true works of art.

  23. hey jack
    When I was younger, I loved going on the Carousel because it was a ride that always seemed to make me smile. I loved being able to choose my own horse and I always pretended I was racing them. Now I only ride it once in a while instead of going on it over and over agian but when I do ride it, I always remember the past and how it was so much fun. can’t wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

  24. Wow – I’m the first one to comment!

    Great post, Jack.

    We’ve ridden the Carrousel in DisneyLand and WDW – and had fun on both.

    But you left out our favorite Carousel – The Carousel of Progress! 😀

    Keep up the great work.