One thing I’ve learned in the eleven months since Maximo was born is that you can only go so long before children get stir crazy. Well, maybe it’s just that my kid has inherited my stir-craziness. Or maybe it’s the fact that 99% of NYC homes are the size of shoe boxes. Whatever the cause, Maximo has to get outside at least once a day and burn some energy. When we so much as open the apartment door, he starts shrieking in delight. If it’s raining out, I have one cranky baby cooped up in my apartment all day.
This is why you see us out and about doing something daredevilish at least once a day. Yes, daredeviliish. Just going to the park can be a game of Russian Roulette: Will Maximo throw a toy at another kid? Will he attempt to crawl up on a concrete whale at the sprinklers and recreate Humpty Dumpty and try to fall off and crack his head?
In all of our expeditions navigating the concrete jungle, I have found one safe activity that can entertain him for hours. When he sees it, he yells, points, and tries to escape his stroller until I let him ride it at least two to three times in a row.
Yes, I am talking about the carousel. Tried and true for years, it’s still a staple of pure, simple delight for the littlest of humans. Thankfully, our city has several, so no matter where you might be traveling, there is usually a carousel not too far away. The best part? Some are even open all year round!
Maximo’s done the work for you. He has ridden almost ever carousel in New York City—and here he gives his thoughts on the best, the dirtiest, the fastest and more. So bookmark this list or print it out now. Trust me—it’ll come in handy!
Maximo’s Insider’s Guide to NYC Carousels
This was the first carousel Maximo ever rode, and is probably still his favorite. There are lots of colorful bugs, including longer ones that are perfect for a novice carousel-rider. Best of all, this carousel runs all year round; in cold weather, they simply shut the sliding glass doors that surround it to keep the kids warm. If you’re a zoo member like us, you can ride and ride and ride for free until your little one has had enough. We usually stay on for at least three spins if there aren’t any people in line. On crowded days—like summer Saturdays—you might have to make do with one trip around the carousel.
Price: $3 per ride. (Free unlimited rides if you’re a zoo member, or if you upgrade your zoo ticket the day of to the Total Experience Ticket)
Located in the heart of Bryant Park, you could almost miss this little gem if you’re not looking. Whenever we happen to pass through this section of the city, we stop and take a few spins. There is never a line, and usually, Maximo and I get a private ride! Best of all—it plays soothing French tunes that transport you to another time and place. Look around at all the tourists and locals and I guarantee you’ll feel like you’re in Paris! (It also always crave croissants afterwards.) This carousel doesn’t open until 11am, but it makes a great post-lunch or afternoon stop. If you’re interested, you can even rent out the whole carousel for birthday parties! Learn more here.
Price: $2 per ride. Or they have a 10 rides for $15 option—not bad considering you’re getting a ride in one of the prettiest little parks in NYC. Also, they don’t charge you extra to ride as the parent.
Located right after the underpass on the way to the Tisch Children Zoo in Central Park, it’s a great little stop to catch a breeze on a hot day. However, we recommend going on a slow day—or expect a line. This carousel can be lined with tourists as well.
Price: $3 per ride. Cash only! This isn’t included in your zoo membership, however the ride is about 3 1/2 minutes long—by far the longest carousel ride of them all.
If you’re visiting Chelsea or near the pier, make sure not to miss this nautical-themed carousel. It’s actually decorated with images of fish found in the Hudson River! Usually we have lunch at Chelsea Market (see our Chelsea neighborhood guide), and then head over for some rounds on the carousel. There is lots to see and do on the Pier, but the carousel and its views of the west side aren’t to be missed!
Price: $2 per ride, and adults ride free with children.
This is another little hidden gem in the city, located on the west side in Riverside Park (enter at 145th Street). We actually accidentally ran into this one day while eating at Dinosaur BBQin Harlem (another great spot if you haven’t tried it out—their food is amazing, and they are super kid friendly! You can find their other locations on the Mommy Nearest app). On this ride, you get beautiful views of New Jersey, the water, and (of course), Harlem’s west side. The carousel is never too busy, either, although that may change as summer rolls around.
Price: $1. Check their schedule ahead of time—I’ve heard they are opening the carousel over Memorial Day weekend, but other parents have said the hours aren’t always accurate!
We keep hearing this one is set to open at anytime, but as of now, it’s looks like it may be delayed untill the fall. However, it is still a beautiful sight to see if you are walking around Battery Park! If you’re in the area, let us know if you find out any updates! You can see details on their website here.
RELATED: Take A Tour Around Chelsea Market
7. Flushing Meadows Carousel
If you’re a history buff, this carousel is for you. It’s been around since the 1939 World’s Fair and it hasn’t changed much since. Located adjacent to the Queens Zoo entrance in Fantasy Forest amusement park, it is a great treat for before or after the zoo, or even just a day in this (huge, amazing) park. Parents of very little ones, though, beware: this carousel is very fast and not for babies. I strapped Maximo in, stood next to him, and spent the first spin trying to keep both of us from flying off the ride! The second time around, I rode on a horse with him on my lap, which went much more smoothly. The moral of the story is that this carousel is not for the faint of heart. Apparently back in the day, they liked to ride hardcore carousels! It’s only open during the summer months (it is open now!), so check their calendar before you plan a trip.
Price: Three tickets ($3 per ride). Since this carousel is outside of the zoo, it’s not included in zoo membership.
I’m ashamed to admit that there’s a carousel in my very own borough that I didn’t even know existed—and I’ve been to Forest Park! (The carousel reopened in 2012 after closing down in 2009.) I actually found it on the Mommy Nearest app when I was looking for somewhere new to eat! Maximo and I stopped by the other day to check it out, but it’s not open during the week yet (It’s currently carousel open on weekends, and will be open seven days a week starting on May 27).
Price: $3 per ride.
You honestly can’t miss this merry-go-round! Beautifully located on the Coney Island boardwalk with enormous neon-letters calling out to you to come check it out, this carousel makes a strong impression. (The 100-year-old restored piece returned to Brooklyn last Memorial Day.) There’s just nothing like riding one of the horses while feeling the sea salt breeze blow in your hair. And, though, I think this may be the shortest spin out of all the carousels we’ve tried, it is still a wonderful ride. Maximo especially loved that he had an audience to wave to as he made his circles (there’s always a ton of people walking by on the boardwalk). What a ham!
Price: $3 per ride.
This carousel wins for best views, hands down. If you haven’t already, plan a day trip to Dumbo—grab a slice of Grimaldi’s pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge, indulge in a treat at Jacques Torres and then check out carousel. (Click here to read about more Dumbo favorites.] The views of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and the local neighborhood are worth every penny of this ride. It’s also a spot for a photo opp: Try to get your little one on a horse that has the city or the bridge in the background before the ride starts. That way, you can snap a few pictures with the city behind you. Plus, the merry-go-round is also open year round!
Price: $2 per ticket or $20 for 12 rides (if you’re an avid rider like us)!
Located inside Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, this a great addition to a day at the Prospect Park Zoo, or just a simple outing in the park. Kids can sit on one of the carousel’s beautifully-crafted horses (there are 53 to choose from!). Come August, carousel rides are free every Thursday for kids 12 and younger.
Price: $2 per ride. And, good news for Brooklyn-based carousel addicts: They sell year-long unlimited rides for $125 (for a family of 4).
Located in Staten Island’s Willowbrook Park, the Victorian style carousel also boasts hand-painted pictures of some of the borough’s most popular landmarks. Plus, it’s truly for everyone—the ride accommodates children with physical disabilities.
Price: $1.50 per ride. The carousel is open on the weekends, but check their schedule if you’re visiting during the week—hours vary.
Set to open this spring, the zoo will soon boast a beautiful new carousel featuring endangered animals. We haven’t heard any updates on it yet, so if you swing by and get to take a ride, let us know how it is!