10 Classic Amusement Park Rides

By: the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.  | 
ferris wheels
Ferris Wheels might not have the thrills, but they have been a staple for over a century. Alexander Spatari / Getty Images

­Roller coasters get all the attention. But what about the tamer amusement park, fairground attractions, and carnival rides with shorter lines and more relaxed height re­strictions?

­Here you can learn about the favorites among the lesser-­known ride­s. Some are unique, some have been copied for decades, but all of them are vital to the atmosphere of the midway.


­How many of these classic amusement rides have you been on?

10. Carousel

A carousel, or merry-go-round, which remains a carnival staple worldwide. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

The most elegant of all amusement park rides, the carousel dates back to around 500 C.E. Drawings from this time period show riders in baskets circling a post. The carousel, or merry-go-round, remains a carnival staple worldwide.

The ride consists of a rotating platform with seats that move up and down. The seats are the really special part, made of wood, fiberglass, or plastic and shaped to look like decorated animals, such as deer, cats, fish, rabbits, giraffes, and, of course, horses.


Old carousels and carousel pieces can be worth lots of money these days depending on the level of artistry that went into their manufacture. Fun for young and old alike, even when the Triple-Threat-Xtreme-Screamer roller coaster is phased out, the carousel will still be turning round.

9. The Rotor

Tourists and locals are having fun on The Rotor ride in theme park. d3sign / Getty Images

Quick! Get up and twirl around as fast as you can for three straight minutes, then jump as high as you can into the air! Feel that free-falling, vertigo sensation? If not, why not go on a rotor ride? Designed in the 1940s by engineer Ernst Hoffmeister, the Rotor has many versions in theme parks all over the world.

The premise is pretty much a simple lesson in centrifugal force: Take a large barrel and revolve the walls of said barrel really fast. When it's going super fast, drop the bottom out of the barrel, and watch as all the people inside stick to the walls. Other names for this simple but popular ride include Gravitron and Vortex.


8. The Haunted Mansion

haunted mansion
The Haunted Mansion is among the most popular Disney rides in history. Bo Zaunders / Getty Images

The "Happiest Place on Earth" gets a bit scary with the Haunted Mansion, another juggernaut of an amusement park attraction created by the fine folks at Disney. The ride opened in August 1969 in Disneyland and featured ghosts, murderous brides, blood-spilling families, and a host of other specters designed to scare park-goers silly as they ride through in a "doom buggy." The Haunted Mansion is among the most popular Disney rides in history, and it even inspired a movie: "The Haunted Mansion," starring Eddie Murphy, was released in 2003.


7. Log Rides

log rides
A family enjoying log rides in an amusement park. Oliver Rossi / Getty Images

If you were a lumberjack in America in the late 1800s, a "log ride" wasn't something you'd line up to do. Log flumes were handmade channels created by loggers to transport felled trees to the sawmill. Stories of lumberjacks riding logs down the flume inspired the many versions of the log rides we know today.

The first one, called El Aserradero ("the sawmill" in Spanish), was located at Six Flags Over Texas back in 1963. Passengers boarded a hollowed out "log" and rushed down the flume, getting soaked in the process. The ride was so popular that the park added another log ride a few years later.


Famous log rides include Disney's Splash Mountain and Perilous Plunge at Knott's Berry Farm in California, the tallest and steepest log ride with a 115-foot (35-meter) drop.

6. "It's a Small World"

The theme song to "It's a Small World" is woven into American (and international) pop culture — even if you've never been to a Disney theme park, you probably know the chorus. In 1964, the World's Fair came to New York, and Walt Disney and team created animatronic children of the world that featured anthems from various countries around the globe.

In order to streamline the ride, which takes guests on boats through the animated panoramas, composers Robert and Richard Sherman came up with the now-famous tune. Many find the "small world" experience to be a little naïve and simplistic, but that's what they were going for — people everywhere getting along so well they sing songs and hold hands. All day. For hours. The same song … over and over again.


5. Bumper Cars

bumper cars
Scared Boyfriend Letting Girlfriend Drive Bumper Car AleksandarGeorgiev / Getty Images

If you've ever wanted to recreate the excitement and thrill of a fender bender, this is your ride! Bumper cars (or "dodgem cars"), which were introduced in the 1920s, feature a large ring or pen with a graphite floor designed to decrease friction. Riders climb into miniature electric cars that draw power from an overhead grid and proceed to slam into the other cars in the pen. Wide rubber bumpers keep things safe — or as safe as you can get with no brakes!

Still, bumper cars are so popular you'll find them in just about every theme park, county fair, or carnival you visit — just follow the crashing noises and laughter.


4. Scrambler

Young happy couple having fun while riding in a scrambler ride in an amusement park. LordHenriVoton / Getty Images

There are many names for this ride and its variations, but Americans usually call it the Scrambler. Whatever name is emblazoned on its side, this ride is fast — really fast.

Picture this: The ride has three arms. On the ends of each of those arms are clusters of individual cars, each on a smaller arm of its own. When the Scrambler starts, the main arm and the little arms all rotate. The outermost arms are slowed and the inner arms are accelerated, creating an illusion of frighteningly close collisions between the cars and their passengers. The Scrambler proves that you don't have to go on a roller coaster to lose your lunch or have the wits scared out of you.


3. Insanity

Built in 2005 at the top of the Stratosphere Hotel Tower in Las Vegas, this ride isn't kidding around. The second-highest thrill ride in the world at 866 feet (263 meters) above terra firma (second to its nearby Stratosphere brother, "Big Shot"), the Insanity arm extends 64 feet (19.5 meters) over the edge of the hotel tower, spinning passengers at top speeds. If that's not insane enough for you, hang on.

Soon, the spinning gets even faster, and riders are propelled upwards at a 70-degree angle. Insanity creators claim that "riders will experience the thrill of being flung over the edge of the tower" as they look down for a couple of breathless seconds at a glittering Las Vegas far below.


2. Ferris Wheel

ferris wheel
Astounding ferris wheel in City buzbuzzer / Getty Images

Ah, the mighty Ferris wheel — provider of a million romantic moments and breathtaking views. For the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, engineer George Ferris presented fair organizers with his idea of a giant rotating wheel that would carry passengers in cars attached around the outer edge. He convinced organizers to allow him to build the structure, which would rival France's Eiffel Tower.

Indeed, Ferris's wheel, which cost $380,000 and stood 264 feet (80 meters) tall with a wheel diameter of 250 feet (76 meters), was a huge success. Each car held 60 people, and, at 50 cents a ride, the wheel was one of the most popular attractions at the World's Fair.


Some famous Ferris wheels include: London Eye, High Roller in Las Vegas, Singapore Flyer, The Wheel at ICON Park, Melbourne Star, and Ain Dubai.

The Ferris wheel is a must-have for any carnival, and thousands of replications continue to delight passengers of all ages.

1. Tilt-A-Whirl

Mother and her two children spun in a tilt-a-whirl ride on amusement park SolStock / Getty Images

In 1926, Herbert Sellner finished his design for the Tilt-A-Whirl and began building one in his backyard. Sellner's ride involved seven cars attached at various fixed pivot points on a rotating platform that raised and lowered itself. The cars themselves were free spinning, but when you added the centrifugal force and the platform's gravitational pull on the cars, they would wildly spin in countless directions at variable speeds. Calculated chaos ensued.

Since then, Sellner Manufacturing Company has built more than 1,000 Tilt-A-Whirls and inspired hundreds of knockoffs. Those who look a little green or lose their lunch of hot dogs, cotton candy, and soda pop are probably just coming off a Tilt-A-Whirl.

Amusement Park Rides FAQ

How fast does the Gravitron spin?
The Gravitron can reach speeds as high as 24 revolutions per minute in 20 seconds. Gravitrons usually have a three-phase motor of 33 kW power that is enough to produce a centrifugal force three times stronger than gravitational force.
What kind of rides are at amusement parks?
Amusement parks can have a variety of rides but roller coasters have always been a huge attraction. Other famous rides include the Haunted Mansion, Ferris Wheel, Scrambler, Tilt-A-Whirl and Bumper Cars.
Does the Gravitron make you dizzy?
Some people experience dizziness after the ride is over, while some don’t. Additionally, those who have tachophobia might feel a bit dizzy at extreme speeds.
What is the most dangerous carnival ride?
Roller coasters are often considered the most dangerous carnival ride. Common injuries include brain aneurysms, irregular heartbeats and fractures. However, fatalities only occur in rare cases where someone has been thrown out their seat or cars have crashed.
What is the #1 theme park in the world?
Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort is the #1 theme park in the world, leaving its rival Disneyland in second place. It is located in Florida near Lake Buena Vista in the United States.