PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2016 and while it should still give you a good overview of the experience, it may also contain some outdated information. Please be sure to check their website for the most current information, especially about things like hours & pricing.
UPDATE 11/29/18: The new Bushnell Park playground is complete! Check out this post for all the details.
Back in 2014, the Bushnell Park Carousel received a gift from the city of Hartford to pursue a series of renovations that would enhance the functionality of the space and allow it to be open year round. These changes included adding a restroom facility and a multi-use pavilion, and heating the carousel building so that it could be used throughout the winter months.
Despite some delays, the Carousel reopened last fall just in time for the annual Winterfest festivities. And last weekend, I was able to take the kiddos to see what they thought of the refurbishment (spoiler alert: they loved it!).
I just have to pause for a moment though, and consider how amazing it is that we have a 100+ year old, beautifully (and lovingly) restored, fully functional carousel in the heart of downtown Hartford. I mean, this stunner seems like it should be in a museum somewhere where people can look but not touch. And yet, there it is. Open to the public for rides with surprisingly few rules and restrictions. In fact, in all my visits there, I have only noticed a handful of rules including 1. Don’t step on the legs of the horses (they are 100 years old and fragile after all!); 2. Be nice (posted on a banner hanging from the ceiling; don’t you just love that?!); and 3. Don’t put tickets in your mouth (which I have to assume is aimed at the baby and toddler population 🙂 )
And because someone is bound to wonder, here are the rest of the rules:
So anyway, we headed to Bushnell Park last Sunday to take a spin on the new (old) carousel.
On the weekends, parking seems to be very easy around the park. I always like to park on Elm Street, which is directly across the park from where the carousel is situated. That street isn’t very busy and there are plenty of metered spaces (no need to pay on weekends, by the way). Even if it is a weekday and you need to feed the meter, there is a pay station that will take credit cards (yay for not having to scrounge under the seats for change!).
The other thing I like about parking over here is that it also give us a chance to walk the short distance across the park and take in some of those spectacular Hartford skyline views (and throw snowballs, apparently). There are plenty of paved paths leading from one end of the park to the other.
Okay, so now the moment of truth:
Carousel BEFORE (as photographed by me in 2011):
And, drumroll please…
Pretty spectacular, right?
Well, that’s just the beginning! As I mentioned, the renovations included the addition of a multi-use pavilion (hello, birthday parties!).
This whole vestibule is brand new, and now the ticket counter is out here instead of inside with the carousel. Rides are still just $1 though!
Another part of the renovation included adding a restroom. To my knowledge, the only available option before was a set of porta-potties behind the building (that would be a little chilly in the winter, huh? Ha!). Now there is a full restroom (men’s and women’s restrooms) located to the right of the ticket counter (if you are facing it). It’s not marked, but it’s the door closest to the ticket counter.
Then once you are through that door you will see the signs.
I know we kind of make fun of ourselves for being so obsessed with restrooms here at Out and About Mom, but really, when you have small children, access to a bathroom can make all the difference in the world when it comes to making an outing stress-free. Am I right? 🙂
Oh, and I did not see a diaper changing station anywhere, which seems odd given that funny rule about not chewing on tickets (clearly the diaper set is in their demographic), but maybe it just hasn’t been installed yet.
The other major piece of the renovation was to add heat to the main pavilion so that the carousel could operate all year round. They have definitely made it toasty in there! I remember being totally bundled up and clutching the horses with freezing fingers back in the day. Now the kiddos were fine to galavant around without their coats on. What a difference!
I am always stunned by the beauty of these horses. They are so incredibly detailed and with such vibrant colors. You can read more about the history of the carousel and the artists who designed it here.
The other thing I have always loved about this carousel, is that you can successfully coax even the most timid of little ones into trying out this new-to-them contraption.
You see, this carousel has three “levels” of riding. You can start your hesitant little one out with a spin on one of the bench seats.
Then, you can move them up to one of these stationary ponies (they don’t move up and down). You can spot them easily because their feet are placed on the floor and the gold staff attaching them to the rest of the carousel is a bit thinner.
Then, when your little one is ready you can perch them on one of the prancing horses (this one will move up and down as the ride turns).
Grown-ups are welcome to ride on the horse with their child, by the way. But even if you are just going to stand next to them, you will need to have a ticket.
Like I mentioned before, tickets are just $1 each for everyone age 1 and up (babies 12 months old and younger are FREE). I think you can even get a booklet for 30 tickets (plus a free popcorn!) for the discount price of $25. Wouldn’t that make a fun birthday gift? Or, I am even thinking about giving out carousel tickets as party favors next time I host a birthday party for one of my guys. How neat would that be?! But I digress…
We bought 10 tickets, figuring one ride would never be enough 🙂
After a couple rides, we stopped for a popcorn break. They also sell candy, chips and drinks, and everything is priced at $2.50 or less. You can eat inside the main pavilion, just not on the actual carousel. There are plenty of benches and I think I even saw some tables around.
One of their favorite parts was waving to riders as they whirled past!
If you had told me that we were going to spend more than an hour and a half at the carousel that day, I wouldn’t have believed you. I figured we’d go for a couple spins and be done. But we did! We took a few rides, stopped for a snack and to watch, took another ride, then watched some more.
(And if the weather had been warmer, we could have extended our visit even longer with some playtime on the playscape right out back.)
It was such a simple but enormously fun outing– the kind of outing that makes you forget about all the complicated things in life and just focus on the joy of it. I think these two smiley little boys would agree!
So if you haven’t had a chance to check out the recently reopened Bushnell Park Carousel, or if you’ve never been before at all, definitely pay a visit to one of the state’s most beloved historical landmarks that remains as thrilling today as it was 100 years ago. It’s just about the closest thing we can get to a time machine 🙂
Bushnell Park, Hartford, CT
Friday, Saturday & Sunday from 11:00am to 5:00pm
Carousel rides are $1/per person for ages 1 and up (babies 12 months and under are FREE)
- Stroller Friendly: YES.
- Coffee Mug Friendly: YES.
- Restroom: YES.
- Baby Changing Station: I did not see one on my visit; perhaps there will be one added later.
- Parking: There is no adjacent parking lot, but there is plenty of convenient metered street parking available; meters do not need to be paid on Saturdays or Sundays; credit cards are accepted where there are “pay stations” available. There are also independent paid parking lots nearby.
- Food for Sale: YES. Popcorn, chips & candy as well as soda, juice and water for sale; Prices range from $1 to $3.50 per item.
- Outside Food Allowed: YES. Food is allowed in the main pavilion, just not on the carousel itself.
- Cash Required: Doh! I forgot to double check on this. They do take credit cards, but pre-reno the rule was credit cards accepted for a MINIMUM PURCHASE of $10. Cash for anything less. I don’t know if that’s still the rule. I’ll try to find out, but in the meantime, bring some cash with you.
- Dress Code: None. It’s toasty warm in there now so you don’t even need to bundle up (well, except that you still have to walk to the carousel). One of the rules mentions the potential for grease on clothing. I’ve never experienced that in all our visits, but I guess I wouldn’t wear anything irreplaceable. It is a mechanical apparatus after all.
- Age Recommendations: Everyone on the planet!
- Evening/Weekend Hours: YES. The carousel is open Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays.
- Discounts: They sell books of 30 tickets for $25 (and you get a free popcorn with that too).
- Birthday Party Venue: YES.
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