With all the crazy thrill rides found in theme parks these days, there’s something simply magical about taking a spin on an old-fashioned carousel. Often one of the first rides a child gets to experience, carousels have a special way of making even the most timid tiny ones crack a smile, and they’re a treat for all ages. New Jersey is home to both traditional and turned-up-a-notch carousels, and you don’t have to trek far to find one. Hop on a carousel at one of the area malls for a year-round shopping distraction, go for a spin in a park or zoo, or catch views of the Atlantic from a Jersey shore carousel on the Boardwalk.
We’ve rounded up 15 of the best and most unique carousels in and around NJ, so pack up your little ponies and give them a whirl.
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Zoos, Parks, and Gardens
Camden Children's Garden – Camden
This sweet spot for young children offers plenty of nature-themed fun, and one of the highlights is its charming carousel. Kids can go for a spin on a rooster, cat, shark, hummingbird, and sea dragon, in addition to several horses festooned with beautiful flowers.
Cape May County Zoo – Cape May
The scenic Cape May County Zoo is free for visitors and offers a glimpse of wildlife in natural settings. Adding to the fun is a Wildlife Carousel where kids can pretend they’re on safari and hop aboard any one of 20 animals available. Ante up the excitement by taking a tour on the zoo’s train, rounding up the crew for some rock climbing, or testing out the new tree-to-tree aerial ropes course.
Photo courtesy of Historic Smithville
Historic Smithville – Smithville
This quaint historic town by the shore is perfect for a family day trip. Smithville is home to charming shops, restaurants, and old-fashioned children’s activities, including a vintage carousel on the Village Green. After a round on the carousel, experience more simple delights on the paddle boats and train.
Military Park – Newark
This spin star opened in New Jersey’s largest city in 2016; it could be the coolest custom carousel story we’ve ever heard. The carousel is an ode to MP’s tremendous history as a military practice ground, and it went up in a quick 11 months as a true labor of love collaboration among an anonymous donor, the park department, the carousel crafting company, Newark Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, and many eager neigh-bors and local residents looking to make their mark on such a hallowed space. The 16 horses represent the actual horses that played a role in the development of Newark over its multi-century history, from George Washington's horse Blueskin to Newark City Hospital’s ambulance horse.
Go for a spin on the Endangered Species Carousel at Turtle Back Zoo. Photo courtesy of the zoo
Turtle Back Zoo – West Orange
What can be more fun than visiting animals at the zoo? How about a carousel ride to top it off! Hop on a panda, alligator, tiger, or any of the other amazing animals on the 30-creatures-strong Endangered Species Carousel (which was custom built for the Turtle Back Zoo). The enclosed ride runs year-round and requires a small fee in addition to the park’s admission, but it’s certainly a must-see for wild ones.
Van Saun Park – Paramus
Van Saun Park will always top my list of spring and summer scenes in Bergen County. Aside from housing the Bergen County Zoological Park, a too-good-to-miss train ride, and a sprawling playground, the park features its own Millennium Carousel with horses, tigers, and pigs.
Casino Pier has a gorgeous antique carousel. Photo courtesy of the pier
Casino Pier – Seaside Heights
Seaside’s antique carousel, housed inside the Casino Arcade, brings a piece of history to the Jersey Shore. More than 100 years old, the carousel features hand-carved animals, and the music is provided by the state’s only operating Wurlitzer Military Band Organ. And the selection of rideable animals isn’t limited to horses—there are a few camels, a donkey, a lion, and tiger, too.
Gillian’s Wonderland Pier – Ocean City
Gillian’s has been a family favorite in Ocean City since 1929 and home to Carousel No. 75 for over 40 years. Built by the Pennsylvania Toboggan Company and one of the most famous carousel confectioners, Dentzel, the merry-go-round has a signature Pennsylvania-Dutch look to it. While it’s a pretty basic design, featuring horses and a few chariots to ride, the carousel is one of the few remaining attractions to feature the brass "ring-catching" mechanism. Whichever lucky rider catches the brass ring is rewarded with a free ride! Something to look forward to, especially if your little adventure enthusiasts could easily spend all day spinning round and round.
Morey’s Piers – Wildwood
Feel the ocean breeze on one of the TWO Venetian-styled coast-side carousels. Whether you choose a hand-painted horse, a swing, chariot, or spinning cup, you’ll have breathtaking views of Wildwood. And the real magic happens when the sun sets, and the carousels are decked out in glamorous lights.
Steel Pier – Atlantic City
AC isn’t just for grown-up pleasure. Hop on the grand, two-story carousel, and bet on great views of the famous boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean, all while perusing snapshots of AC’s past pictured in the paintings above.
Freehold Raceway Mall – Freehold
The awesome two-story carousel is quite a spectacle. With horses and swinging benches, the Island Carousel offers views of the mall and outdoors, while providing a nice breather for spent young shoppers and their tuckered-out parents. On the first Saturday morning of every month, carousel rides are free as an added perk of Kids Club. And if your club cubs aren’t too dizzy from the unlimited spins, they can power down at the adjacent soft play area.
Shop, eat, and ride on the carousel at Palisades Center. Photo courtesy of Palisades Center
Palisades Center –West Nyack, NY
If you’re in the mood for a little shopping fun over the state line, there’s no better place to plan a family day trip than the Palisades Mall. PC packs shopping, dining, entertainment, and amusement into four floors of fun, and the giant Ferris wheel and double-decker carousel are anchors to it all. Situated in the food court, the carousel is a great ride to hit right after lunch. Apart from the obligatory painted horses, there are mirrored half-moon chariots that prove the perfect spot for candid shots of the kids.
Woodbridge Center Mall– Woodbridge
Thankfully, my son is still a little too young to already hate going to the mall with me, but when he tires of being my shopping sidekick, I’ll have one last bargaining tool in my back pocket: a carousel ride! While the Woodbridge mall has morphed over the years, the decades-old carousel remains a mainstay shopping break for families. Toddlers and preschoolers will also enjoy the nearby Tiny Town play area.
Diggerland USA – West Berlin
My baby boy is only 1, but he’s already crazy for anything construction-related—so I’m just waiting to take him here! This yellow and orange–washed adventure park is packed with fun things to do for budding builders, but one of its coolest claims to fame is the re-imagined merry-go-round—aptly called the Dig-A-Round. Instead of loading up your little one on a horse, you’ll buckle them into the bucket of a JCB 8065 and watch them whirl around the 14,515-lb 8065 excavator. Hard hats not included!
Six Flags Great Adventure – Jackson
Among all the fast-paced rides you'll find a classically restored carousel, rich in history. Built more than a century ago in England, the ride is trimmed with traditional details, like the hand-painted horses and roosters, brass poles, mirrors, and old-fashioned paintings. The brilliant colors and lights make the nostalgic carousel stand out among the thrill rides. Mommy and Daddy might not willingly concede that they’re past their prime when it comes to indulging their daredevil sides, but they’ll more than appreciate the slow-moving twirl of this time-honored hotspot.
Top photo courtesy of Historic Smithville.
A version of this article first published in 2014.