What’s The Difference Between Carousel vs Merry Go Round

What’s the difference between carousel vs merry go round?

When it comes to amusement park rides, the terms “carousel” and “merry go round” are often used interchangeably.

This is similar in trend with “amusement park” and “theme park,” although there’s a notable difference between the two parks.

As for carousels and merry go rounds, they’re primarily synonyms. However, there are some subtle differences between the two that set them apart. 

Here, we’ll explore the key differences between carousels and merry go rounds, examining their distinctive designs, historical background, and operational nuances.

The main difference between a carousel and a merry go round lies in their design and mechanism. 

Both have a rotating platform, but merry go rounds generally come with a central platform where riders can stand, contrasting with the seated arrangement found in carousels. Additionally, merry go rounds typically rotate clockwise, whereas carousels often move counterclockwise. 

These might be slight variations, but I can’t have a blog named after carousels and not talk technicalities or nuances of the name. So, let’s take a spin!

Related Reading: What To Bring To An Amusement Park

The Main Difference Between Carousel vs Merry Go Round

colorful carousel at an amusement park, carousel vs merry go round

The main difference between a carousel vs merry go round comes down to scale, followed by the direction it turns.

Back to the latter matter, reiterated, carousels typically turn counterclockwise, while merry go rounds spin in a clockwise direction.

As for scale, there’s a few defining components to discern the two types of beautiful rides.

One of these key differences between carousels and merry go rounds is the type of animals or seats available. 

Merry go rounds usually offer a selection of animals, commonly horses, for seating. Meanwhile carousels often boast a broader range of options including horses, chariots, and other decorative elements. To boot, merry go rounds usually have only one row of animals while carousels may have multiple rows (and even decks).

The other scale related distinguishment is that carousels are typically larger and more elaborate than merry go rounds. 

Carousels are generally more elaborate and ornate, in addition to having beautiful music (often a band organ) and lighting systems.

Merry go rounds, on the other hand, are often simpler, smaller, and more straightforward in their design.

Overall, carousels and merry go rounds are the same ride that just differ in rotational direction and design complexity.

Whether it’s a quaint merry go round or a grand carousel, it’s a classic amusement park attraction.

Key Takeaways

  • The main difference lies in their design and mechanism, with merry go rounds featuring a platform in the center and spinning clockwise, while carousels have seats and spin counterclockwise.
  • Carousels tend to be larger and more elaborate than merry go rounds, having multiple rows of animals, chariots, other embellishments, and even band organ music.
  • Merry go rounds are often smaller and simpler in design, thusly being located often at playgrounds, malls, and cruise ships.

History of Carousels and Merry Go Rounds

vintage art of a carousel, merry go round vs carousel

Origins of Carousels

I have always been fascinated by the history of carousels and merry go rounds, one that dates back more than a thousand years. 

According to Volo Museum, carousels originated from an interesting past that can be traced back to the Byzantine Empire. 

The Byzantine Empire used to have a game called hippodrome, which was a type of horse race where the riders would ride their horses in a circle while trying to grab a ring that was suspended in the air. This game eventually evolved into a game called jousting.

The modern carousel rides seems to have evolved in Europe or the Middle East in the 12th century from jousting competitions. The horsemen would toss fragile balls filled with perfume to and from one another as a training exercise to prepare for combat. Losers ended up with the perfume fragrance on them. 

Vintage Carousels states that the earliest known depiction of a carousel was in a Byzantine bas-relief dating back to around 500 AD. This depiction shows riders sitting on horses that are suspended from a central pole and being pulled around in a circle by a team of men.

Development of Merry Go Rounds

On the other hand, merry go rounds (also known as roundabouts) have a slightly different history. 

The first modern style merry go round was built in 1861 by Frederick Savage, an English engineer. 

Savage’s merry go round was a steam power ride with wooden horses that were suspended from a center pole. The horses were attached to arms that radiated from the center pole, and as the steam engine turned the center pole, the horses would go up and down, simulating the motion of galloping.

The steam engine fortunately took over a job initially powered by real horses, who faced the problems of children shooting them with peashooters to make them go faster.

Over time, the design of merry go rounds evolved and became more modernized. 

By the late 19th century and early 20th century, merry go rounds were a common sight at amusement parks and fairs across the United States and Europe. 

Many were built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company or the Michael Dentzel Carousel Company. And, with many still being around present day, they’re some of the oldest amusement rides still in operation.

Today, both carousels and merry go rounds continue to be popular attractions at amusement parks and fairs around the world.

Design and Mechanism of a Carousel vs Merry Go Round

artwork of a carousel, carousel and merry go round

Carousel Structure

The structure of a carousel is designed to rotate around a central axis, with a series of horses or other animals mounted on poles extending from the central axis. The central axis is driven by a motor, which provides the rotational force to move the carousel.

The animals on a carousel move up and down as the attraction rotates and riders sit on the animals’ backs. 

Some carousels have animals that are static in addition to the ones that jump. The stationary animals are typically on the outer most row of the carousel.

The horses on a carousel are often highly detailed and decorated, with intricate paint jobs and other embellishments.

Carousels can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, metal, and fiberglass. 

The carousel horses themselves are typically made from wood or fiberglass and can be painted in a wide variety of colors and patterns. 

Some carousels also feature other sorts of animals, such as lions, tigers, zebras, and even mythological creatures.

Merry Go Round Features

The design of a merry go round is similar to that of a carousel, but with a few differences. 

Unlike a carousel, which rotates around a central axis, a merry go round rotates around a fixed point on the ground. 

The horses on a merry go round are typically mounted on poles that are fixed to the rotating platform, and thusly do not move up and down as the platform rotates. 

Merry go rounds are often simpler in design than carousels, with fewer decorative elements and less intricate paint jobs. 

The horses on a merry go round are typically made from metal or fiberglass and are often painted in bright primary colors. 

Some merry go rounds also feature other types of animals, such as elephants, giraffes, and dolphins, in addition to horses.

In summary, both carousels and merry go rounds are classic amusement park rides that have been enjoyed by generations of children and adults alike. While they share some similarities in design and mechanism, they also have some key differences that make each ride unique.

Modern Usage of Carousels and Merry Go Rounds

artwork of a merry go round, merry go round and carousel

Carousels in Amusement Parks

Carousels are a staple of amusement parks and they continue to be popular today. 

They are often found in the midway areas of theme parks and can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. 

Modern carousels are often brightly colored and feature a variety of animals or other figures. Some even have themed designs, such as a carousel with horses that resemble characters from a popular movie or TV show.

One variation of the carousel is the double-decker carousel, which has two levels of animals or figures. 

These carousels can accommodate more riders and provide a unique experience for those who ride on the top level. 

Not to mention, double-decker carousels make for great photo ops. They’re very photogenic.

Merry Go Rounds in Playgrounds, Malls, & Cruises

Merry go rounds are commonly found in playgrounds, malls, and cruise ships–being especially popular for children. 

They are typically smaller than carousels and are often made of metal or plastic, making them inexpensive additions that can fit in any location. 

Modern merry go rounds sometimes come with additional features, such as music or lights. 

Some even have interactive elements, such as buttons that children can press to activate different sounds or effects. 

While they may not be as elaborate as classic carousels, merry go rounds continue to be a popular attraction in various venues and settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

antique style carousel, carousels and merry go rounds

What distinguishes a carousel from a merry go round in terms of design?

A carousel and a merry go round are both amusement rides that move in a circular motion. However, carousels are typically more ornate and elaborate in design, featuring intricately carved carousel animals and detailed decorations. Merry go rounds, on the other hand, tend to have simpler designs with fewer decorative elements.

Is there a difference in the variety of animals between carousels and merry go rounds?

Both carousels and merry go rounds feature a variety of animals for riders to choose from, including horses, lions, tigers, and other creatures. However, carousels often have a wider variety of animals to choose from, and may even feature mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons.

What is the difference between carousel and merry go round?

The terms “carousel” and “merry go round” are often used interchangeably, and in fact, they are essentially the same thing. Both refer to amusement rides that move in a circular motion, with riders seated on animals or other objects that move up and down as the ride rotates.

But carousels are larger and more ornate than merry go rounds. Additionally, they rotate in different directions.

Do Americans say carousel or merry go round?

Both terms are commonly used in the United States, although merry go round may be slightly more common in some regions.

What are the main differences between a merry go round and a playground roundabout?

While both rides move in a circular motion, a playground roundabout is typically much smaller and simpler in design than a merry go round. Playground roundabouts are often made of metal or plastic, and may be powered by the children themselves, while merry go rounds are typically larger, with animals or other objects that move up and down as the ride rotates.

How does the experience of riding a merry go round differ from that of a Ferris wheel?

While both carnival rides offer a circular motion, the experience of riding a merry go round is typically much gentler and slower than that of a Ferris wheel. 

Merry go rounds typically move at a relatively slow pace, allowing riders to enjoy the scenery and take in the sights. On the other hand, Ferris wheels offer a much higher vantage point, giving riders a panoramic view of the surrounding area at the top of the ride.

Why is a merry go round called a carousel?

The word carousel comes from the Italian word “carosello,” which means “little war.” The term was originally used to describe a type of training exercise for knights in which they would ride their horses in a circular pattern. Over time, the term came to be associated with other spinning ride attractions, including antique carousels.

What is the oldest merry go round in the US?

The oldest merry go round in the US is believed to be the Flying Horses Carousel, which was built in 1876 and is located in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.

How many carousels are left in the United States?

According to the National Carousel Association, there are currently around 200 carousels still in operation in the United States. These carousels range in age from a few years old to over a century old, and can be found in amusement parks, malls, and other locations around the country.

ornate double decker carousel, carousel vs merry go round

Wrap Up

For as synonymous as carousels and merry go rounds are, each has slight distinctions from one another.

Carousels are known for their counterclockwise motion and elaborate designs with a variety of seating choices. 

Merry go rounds, in contrast, typically opt for a simpler style and clockwise rotation. 

Both are a classic amusement park ride.

And, if you’re interested in some more amusement park semantics, then I raise to you The Difference Between Theme Park vs Amusement Park.

For more amusement park guides, you can also check out:

​Thanks for reading!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.