We have spent the past two episodes talking about The Tomorrowland Speedway and The Country Bear Jamboree. Both the opening day ride and show at the Magic Kingdom have rich histories. However, neither one can boast a history that goes as far back as today’s ride. We are going all the way back to 1917 for this jewel! Not only is it literally the oldest ride in the park, it has major significance in the Disney story. I’m very excited to tell you all about it so let’s get started with our…
Know before you go essential facts:
- The ride is located in the Magic Kingdom
- Fastpass+ is NOT offered
- The fright factor is 0 out of 5
- There is no height requirement
- Guests must transfer to a wheelchair
- Children under age 7 must be accompanied by a person age 14 years or older
- The ride is 2 minutes long
- The ride opened on October 1, 1971.
Those are the facts. Now its time to dream!
A dream is a wish your heart makes, and there is no doubt that Walt Disney’s heart wished to create magic for kids of all ages. Walt’s dream was born out of a wish to share in the fun he watched his daughters having when we would take them to the park. When asked about where the idea for Disneyland originated here is what he said:
“Well, it came about when my daughters were very young and Saturday was always Daddy’s day with the two daughters. So we’d start out and try to go someplace, you know, different things. I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and I’d sit while they rode the merry-go-round. Sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts. I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together. So that’s how Disneyland started.”
- Walt Disney, September 6, 1963
Yes, it was a merry-go-round that inspired Walt to begin dreaming up Disneyland. That is where our story for today begins. The particular merry-go-round that is credited with inspiring Walt was located in Griffith Park. That ride was, and still is today, comprised of 68 jumper horses. Jumper is the term used to describe horses that move up and down. The Griffith Park merry-go-round was built in 1937 and is still open to visitors today.
Walt sat on a green park bench watching his daughters ride the Griffith Park carousel and realized something new was needed. A place as he put it, “where the parents and the children could both have fun together.” Up to this point, amusement parks were very different places from what we have to come think of today. In general, they were not safe environments where families could go and find activities to share in together. The cleanest, safest environment for Walt and his girls was a place like Griffith Park. However, as much fun as merry-go-rounds may be for small children, this lone ride in the park was not enough to capture the interest of one Walt Disney. So began the dream that would become Disneyland.
To pay homage to the Griffith Park merry-go-round, Walt wanted a similar ride to live in Disneyland. Disney found a carousel in Toronto, Canada. The ride was originally built in 1922, and was moved to Disneyland in 1954. Next, an extensive refurbishment took place to make the ride ready for park opening in 1955. When completed, it was dubbed the King Arthur Carousel. We won’t get into the details of this particular ride today, but it did serve as blueprint for bringing such a ride to a Disney park.
When it came time for the Magic Kingdom to get its carousel, Disney found a real gem. Originally built in 1917 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, this carousel was known as Liberty. It proudly bore the patriotic colors of red, white, and blue, and measured sixty feet in diameter. This made it one of the largest carousels ever constructed. Size wasn’t the only impressive thing about the Liberty though. The original 72 horses and two chariots were works of art. German and Italian masters carved numerous patriotic details into the wooden horses. The horses were then painted either black, brown, grey or white. Surrounding the horses were 18 landscape paintings of American scenery. When finished, the Liberty found its first home in the Detroit Palace Garden Park. It lived there until its first refurbishment and resettlement to Olympic Park in Maplewood, NJ in 1928.
The Liberty would run for 39 years at Olympic Park before closing in 1965. After almost 4 decades in its second home, the carousel was in bad shape and with the park closing, it was looking at demolition. Fortunately, it was about this same time that plans for the East Coast Disney project were under way, and they needed a carousel. By 1967, Disney had located the Liberty and purchased the ride.
Similar to the Disneyland carousel, the Liberty was shipped to the Disney team to begin refurbishment before the Magic Kingdom opened. Much to their delight, the Disney artists discovered the intricate details of the original carvings buried under layers of paint. Thus began several months of delicate work to sand the horses down to the original wood. In addition to restoring the original 72, the chariots were removed in favor of adding more horses for higher capacity. The additional 18 were purchased from two other carousel companies, keeping the antique quality of the carousel intact.
Once the horses were restored and brought up to a team of 90, colors were chosen for each individual horse. John Hench and Isle Voght were the Imagineers responsible for this delicate undertaking. Having learned from Disneyland that every child wants to ride a white horse, they decided to paint all 90 of the horses white. This may sound a little odd, but the white horse at Disneyland was known as the “hero” horse. What kid doesn’t want to be the hero? So, it was decided that kids of all ages could live out their dream by riding a white hero horse. The horses on the King Arthur Carousel were all switched out to white after about a decade of operation, while the Magic Kingdom version would start out this way.
While every horse boasts a coat of arctic white, they each have an individual color scheme and number on their bridle. Not every horse is decorated equally though. Pay attention and you will notice that the horses are grouped in rows of five. The outer row is known as the “A” horse, the next “B” and so on down to the inner row labeled “E.” As you go inward the horses get smaller in size so the largest horse in each row will be the outer “A” horse. In addition to being the largest, the “A” horse is also the horse with the most intricate detail. When you get down to the “E” horse you will find they are much less ornate, as they are harder to see when standing outside the carousel. Along with this diminishing level of detail in the rows, you will find the details on each side of the horse varies as well. Again, that which you can see from the outside is more intricate than that which is hidden on the inside of the horse.
Regardless of whether they are “A” or “E” though, Disney did not skimp on the restoration of these antique works of art. Highlighting and accenting the individual color scheme of each horse is gold, silver, copper, and aluminum leaf. This is not your hobby store’s spray paint either. The gold is real 23k gold leaf! That means each horse has a value of about $20,000 – $100,000. Think about that next time you ride and you may wish you could pull a Mary Poppins, riding them right off the carousel and all the way home!
Being Disney, the carousel is much more than just amazing artistry and insane detail. There is a story here, and these horses have some royal blood. When the carousel first opened in 1971, it was called Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel. Along with the all white horses, the carousel depicted 18 scenes from the animated Disney classic, Cinderella. This version of the carousel is still what you will see today, but Disney changed the name in 2010 and added more backstory to the ride. The ride became known as Prince Charming Regal Carrousel and here is the official story from Disney:
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 story of Prince Charming practicing for jousting tournaments and then adding a similar contraption near the castle for all to enjoy is not far off from the true story of how carousels originated. There is a great article chronicling the history of carousels and how they relate to the Walt Disney World carousel by Wade Sampson. Much of today’s content comes from this article, but there is a good deal more that we just don’t have time to discuss today.
Let’s talk about actually riding this antique work of art. The Prince Charming Regal Carousel is located behind Cinderella’s Royal Castle. It is the welcoming centerpiece to Fantasyland. As such, it is passed by almost every visitor to the park. This can make for a fairly long wait during peak hours of the day. Like most carousels, the ride lasts a total of only 2 minutes. So, you will have to decide for yourself how long you want to wait for a 2 minute ride. Without FastPass+ available, an early morning ride or late evening spin will be your best bet.
For this reason, it took me several trips before I was able to ride The Prince Charming Regal Carrousel. I would usually opt for more thrilling rides early in the day to avoid long waits later on, and then would walk by the carousel in the early afternoon. By then the ride would have a wait time far longer than what I wanted to endure. Finally though, I made time for this ride in the early morning hours on my last trip and mounted my regal stead. I chose an “A” horse because that fit my 6’3” frame best, and gave me the best vantage point. I actually did a Facebook Live when I was on this ride, so you can go to our Facebook page and find that video.
Now, I must admit that I did not know the entire rich history of this ride when I was in the park. I had no idea that I was siting atop an antique horse that dated back to 1917! Nor did I know this was one of only a dozen carousels remaining today from the 89 originally built by the Philadelphia Tobbogan Company. I definitely didn’t know I was enjoying a ride atop a work of art that is valued at almost $100,000.
What I did know was the story of Walt and his daughters. I knew that this ride represented the spark of imagination that Walt felt one fateful day in Griffith Park. I have been privileged to see the actual green park bench from that park that Walt was sitting on that day. If you ever visit Disneyland, but sure to go see this fabulous piece of Disney history on display in the Opera House off of Main Street U.S.A. Above the bench is a large black and white photo of Walt walking through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. In this one small space you have the perfect representation of a dream’s humble origins and magnificent culmination.
I think about all of this now when I think of The Prince Charming Regal Carrousel. This beautiful, hand crafted, lovingly restored antique has a rich, century old story. Next time you are in the park, I hope you will find time to ride the carousel. When you do, think about the history that you are sitting on. Think about everything you see as you spin around and around. Think about the power of dreams and having faith in those dreams. Just think about how many others might someday be smiling and having fun together because of what one person wished for once upon a time.
You know I had a dream to create the WDW Ride Guide over three years ago. Since then, it has been a tremendous pleasure sharing with you what I love about this magical place. I hope that the past couple of years have brought you a little Disney magic and helped make each of your days a ride worth taking. I want to thank you for listening. Whether this is your first episode to download or you have been here since the beginning, thank you for tuning in.
I love hearing from you so don’t hesitate to send me a message. Keep checking in and I will be back with another new episode next month. Until the next time we sit down to our next Disney ride, I hope each day from now until then is a ride worth taking!
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