Carousels are magic. They truly are. An adult can look at a merry-go-round in a play yard and safely think it's just for kids. You make that same merry-go-round two stories tall and full of expertly carved animals, lights, and calliope music and suddenly grown people will elbow each other in solar plexus to get on an ostrich.
The greater Houston area has some really keen carousels, and having a four-year-old daughter I have been on every damned one of them. In case you feel the need to go on a carousel quest yourself, here's the order it is best to proceed in.
10. The Katy Mills Mall Carousel: Probably the weakest of the mall carousels in Houston is the Island Carousel in Katy Mills Mall. In addition to being quite a drive out to ride it, it's sort of small and scrunched right into the middle of the food court. Still, it's sort of cute, like a miniature carousel, even if it is otherwise sort of pedestrian.
9. San Jacinto Mall Carousel:It's sad to see what's become of the San Jacinto Mall over the last 20 years. Once upon a time the Mall sported a play area that was honestly better than a full amusement park at times, and I spent a lot of my childhood playing there. Unfortunately, it's slowly running down and I don't expect it will be around much longer. The carousel is still there, though, and it's a bigger and better version than the one at Katy Mills.
8. The Woodlands Mall Carousel: Considering the amount of money that goes in and out of The Woodlands Mall you'd think they would have one of those massive double-decker affairs. The reality is a more modest carousel that is less dinky than Katy Mills and has far less depressing surroundings that San Jacinto. Plus, The Woodlands Mall has a lot more fun things to offer around it like boat rides, which makes it a better cheap day out destination.
7. The Rodeo Carousel: The midway at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo usually features a pretty solid carousel that is predictably big on horses over other animals. If you're a soldier it's an even better deal because the Rodeo annually holds an Armed Forces Appreciation Day that allows service members and their families free activities and performances. Living animal carousels are often featured as well if that's more your style.
6. The Aquarium Carousel: Though it's only a single story carousel, the Aquarium's merry-go-round gets extra points for its customized nature. Sharks and other sea life replace the more standard fare, and the artistry is really, really well done. It's not as much fun as the nearby shark train, but it's up there.
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5. The Astroworld Carousel: The carousel at the former Six Flags Astroworld was a thing of absolute majesty. It was more than 100 years old, and when it was first installed at Pen Mar Park it was already called the Grand Carousel for the amazing detail of the animals. In 1968 Roy Hofheinz himself bought the carousel and had it installed in Astroworld where it remained until the park closed in 2005.
So why is it on this list if it's gone? That's just it, the Astroworld carousel is returning to Houston! Dan Horenberger of Brass Ring Entertainment bought the carousel at auction and had it given a museum quality renovation. Now it's slated to be part of the new Grand Texas Theme Park opening next year. How wonderful that a piece of our history will once again offer riders another go-round.
4. Houston Zoo Wildlife Carousel:For variety, nothing beats the Houston Zoo's Wildlife carousel. There are more different varieties of animals offered to riders than in any two of the other entries on this list combined. Plus, it's a nice shaded break from the heat when wandering around the zoo in the summer, and a welcome chance for tired parents to sit down.
3. Kemah Boardwalk Carousel:Probably the most elegant carousel in Houston is on the Kemah boardwalk, which sports a real upper-class approach to its presentation with the graceful staircases and one of the more impressive light set ups. With all that's going on around it sometimes it often gets overlooked, but that sometimes means it's a little less crowded than other attractions. Up close it is just beautiful, and more than enough reason to make the drive out.
2. Memorial City Mall Carousel: For my money almost no place in Houston is better to waste a day on a budget than the Memorial City Mall. They have the best indoor playcastle in Houston for free with security, a train that takes you around the mall and sometimes nets you popcorn samples, comfy chairs in front of the fireplace to snuggle and watch Netflix movies in, and a huge carousel that is second to none in terms of mall carousels. It's honestly way too impressive to be in a mall, but I'm glad that it is. By the way, parents don't need to pay to just get on and hold young children. Sometimes they forget to tell you that.
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1. Pleasure Pier Carousel: The best carousel in Houston involves a drive down to Galveston, but it's worth it. It has everything. One of a kind animals like the Zoo and Aquarium ones, the impressive size of the Memorial City Mall one, and a touch of the opulence that you see in the Kemah offering. It's just everything a carousel can be, though we may have to re-evaluate that once we see the restoration of the Astroworld Carousel. Until then, though, Pleasure Pier reigns supreme.