Ah, the simple pleasures of the old-fashioned carousel. What other amusement ride is so innocent and slow and yet so full of life? The horses and their attendant menageries, some in colors found only in the imagination, wear plumes and festive saddles and expressions that make them seem ready to leap from their circular journey. "It's the only rideable art form," says Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association.
In honor of summer, we've put together a list of seven Maryland carousels -- including a couple you can enjoy even on a rainy day. Among them are five of the fewer than 150 antique wooden carousels still operating in the United States, according to Largent's association. Even the newer ones, often replicas of the old, are good, simple fun. So hop on a horse -- or a tiger, a dog or even a kangaroo -- and ride.
Inner Harbor Carousel, Key Highway and Light Street next to the Maryland Science Center, Baltimore, 410-964-0055.
This century-old Herschell-Spillman carousel offers the bonus of a great water view (and inexpensive harborside fun) along with a menagerie of playful animals. The ticket booth also sells a motley selection of snacks, from 25-cent Blow Pops to $4 smoothies. Across the street is Federal Hill Park, with a gated playground where you can continue the fun. Open daily, 11 a.m. to midnight, through September, and weekends through October, as well as New Year's Eve, weather permitting. Rides cost $1.25; children under 2 ride free with a paying adult.
Look for: Ordinary animals with extraordinary colors, like the powder-blue horse, the zebra with multicolored stripes and the pink rooster with a rainbow tail.
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Druid Hill Park, Baltimore, 410-396-7102.
This Theel metal carousel of horses, dogs, deer and even a camel offers a fanciful break from the real animals at the zoo. Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and until 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Labor Day; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. all week through December. Rides cost $2; children under 3 ride free with a paying adult.
Look for: A baby elephant or a miniature donkey, close to the ground, for the first-time rider.
Columbia Carousel at The Mall in Columbia, 10300 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, 410-730-2511.
On a rainy or too-hot day, this carousel is a parent's dream: Not only is it inside a mall, but it's right next to Starbucks for the adults and Maggie Moo's for the little ones (OK, the adults, too). The Bertazzon carousel, a reproduction of a 19th-century Venetian model, can carry 30 riders at a time. Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Rides cost $1.50 for children and adults; 75 cents for children with special needs. Children who attend the mall's family shows at 10 a.m. Thursdays can get a free ticket to ride that day until 3 p.m.
Look for: The spinning "teacup" seat and the black horse, said to be lucky.
Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, 301-634-2222.
This 1921 Dentzel menagerie carousel was a centerpiece of the Glen Echo amusement park. When the park closed in 1968, a community group bought the carousel and donated it to the National Park Service, which reopened the park as a cultural arts center. A 20-year restoration of the carousel, which now is operated by the nonprofit Glen Echo Park Partnership for the Arts and Culture Inc., was finished in 2003. Open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 30; also 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays in July and August; weekends only in September. Rides are 75 cents.
Look for: The white Rose horse, festooned with red roses; a roaring lion, and a lone giraffe.
Watkins Regional Park, 301 Watkins Park Drive, Upper Marlboro, 301-218-6757.
This antique Dentzel carousel originally entertained riders at Chesapeake Beach Park in Calvert County. The Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission purchased and restored the carousel, and reopened it at Watkins in 1977. A few of the hand-carved animals date to the 1880s.
Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday through Labor Day weekend, and July Fourth and Labor Day, weather permitting; weekends only for the rest of September. Rides cost $1 for residents of Prince George's or Montgomery counties; $1.25 for others.
Look for: The hopping kangaroo, thought by the operators to be the only one still in use on a working carousel; a seahorse and two bison.
Wheaton Regional Park, 2000 Shorefield Road, Wheaton, 301-942-6703.
This 1915 Herschell-Spillman carousel operated on the Washington Mall from the 1960s to the early 1980s. There's a miniature train nearby. Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through August, weather permitting. Rides are $1.50 a ticket, or $13 for a book of 10. Children under 2 are free with a paying adult.
Look for: The horse with an American flag and an eagle painted beneath his saddle, and the chariots adorned with lovely ladies.
Trimper's Rides & Amusements, South First Street and the Boardwalk, Ocean City, 410-289-8617.
This indoor family-run carousel, built by the Herschell-Spillman Co. in 1902, is part of a century-old boardwalk amusement park that features more than 100 rides and games. Open 1 p.m. to midnight weekdays and noon to midnight weekends through Labor Day; weekends noon to 4 p.m. the rest of the year. Closed Dec. 25 through Jan. 15. Rides cost $2 in tickets, or eight rides for $15.
Look for: An unusual lead animal: A lion instead of a horse. But the cats, dogs and frog are the most popular with riders.