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A kiddie ride - or kids' ride - is a coin-operated amusement ride for small children. Kiddie rides are commonly available in amusement parks, arcades, malls, hotel game rooms and outside supermarkets and discount department stores. Less commonly, they may also appear in other venues such as restaurants, food courts, grocery shops and auto dealerships. When activated by a coin, a kiddie ride entertains the rider with motion, depending on the ride type (miniature Ferris wheel, miniature carousel, track ride or stationary platform ride). Most rides include sounds and music, and some feature flashing lights, pedals, and buttons. Commercial kiddie rides often use simple but colorful equipment, with the driving mechanism usually hidden under vacuum formed plastic covers.
Many very old rides do not feature music; also, some vehicle rides may favor engine sounds instead of music. However, on rides that do feature music, early rides (and cheaper modern rides that imitate more well-known rides) are equipped with simple integrated circuits that continually play back one melody or repeat a set of melodies in sequence. These have evolved in the sense that the earliest musically-enabled rides played back only a single monophonic melody repetitively, while later ones played multiple polyphonic melodies, whilst sometimes including short sound or speech samples. Later rides could also use a tape deck, while more recent rides may have a solid state audio playback device akin to flash-based MP3 players. Usually the music chosen is generic children's songs, while on licensed rides the theme song for the character licensed would be used. However, in rare cases, there are rides that play standard pop music, and for private rides the owner may request a song that has personal relevance to be programmed into the ride.
Many modern rides are programmed to play multiple melodies with the music changing each time the ride is used, the logic being to prolong the interest of the child on the ride. However, some modern rides, in particular licensed character ones, are usually programmed to play a single melody or song which is usually the theme song of the character's television show or film. There are also some exceptions where there are licensed rides playing totally unrelated pieces of music or non-licensed rides that play only one particular tune, for example a song about cars on a car ride.
Certain rides exist that do not emphasize music, but play a running narration or tell a story instead. They usually have generic instrumental music running softly in the background while the story is being told.
While there are rides various where music is not related entirely (such as Old McDonald had a farm riding the dolphin or a giant wheel mini rides) sometimes more tunes like William Tel riding horse is older in the "champion horse" and another tune Wild West version of a bit pianoelectronic riding modern "Pony Express" of Spanish Falgas Amusement rides.
Newer, more advanced rides do not usually start as soon as coins are inserted; instead they prompt the rider, parent or guardian to press a start button, so as to allow the rider to seat him/herself comfortably before starting the ride. Often, these rides will also play a message before movement begins and may also play an ending message once the ride ends, to let the rider know that it is safe to disembark.
Other safety precautions commonly found in more advanced rides include:
- allowing use of the start button to pause the ride, so the rider can reposition themself or even disembark safely if desired;
- safety sensors that detect if anything is potentially obstructing the ride's movement and stop the ride accordingly until the obstruction is removed;
- overload sensors that stop the ride from moving if the weight limit on the ride is exceeded;
- a slow start/stop action so as not to shock or frighten younger riders.
To attract attention, most rides occasionally flash their lights or play a sound, or both, at set intervals, although many older rides, as well as low-cost, or knockoff, rides do not have an attract mode.
Some rides may, as mentioned above, narrate a story through sound or using a video monitor, the latter providing limited interaction with the video displayed.
Common kiddie ride themes
- Bumble Bee
- Miniature carousel
- Fire truck
- Ice cream truck
- Jumbo jet or other plane
- Ladybug or Caterpillar
- The Larrymobile
- Mechanical bull
- Police car
- Police motorcycle
- Roller coaster
- Space Shuttle
- School bus
- Sports car
- Train (usually stationary and not on a track, but train kiddie rides that move on a small track do exist)
Types of rides
Track rides are usually rides in the form of a train on a track; in most coin-operated train-type track rides, the coin mechanism is on the locomotive unit of the ride and it can seat two to three toddlers. In general, the ride is powered by a low-voltage current passing through the tracks but sometimes the rides are powered by batteries. Most versions of these rides are specifically designed to carry younger children, due to the low-voltage used and the size of the ride, although it is possible to find bigger models designed for older children.
Track rides are not necessarily restricted to trains; animal track rides that feature horses or frogs have also been documented. In a similar fashion, another type of ride that would classify as a track ride would be one with an elongated base where the figure paces the length of the base, then turns and moves in the opposite direction on reaching its limit.
Miniature Ferris wheel rides
These rides usually have a safety cage which the child sits in and the ride moves in a clockwise motion at a moderate speed. The child usually sits facing to the side or facing front.
Another common type of kiddie ride is the miniature carousel type. These rides are usually in the form of a small-sized carousel and newer models have the coin-box on the main pillar whereas older units have the coin box on a pole sticking out of the side of the ride.
Carousel rides featuring licensed characters (see below) are not common, but do exist. A Thomas the Tank Engine carousel ride is known to exist, as is one from a British television show for children called Play School. Carousel rides featuring the characters from Wiggles and Hi-5 have also been documented.
More commonly built by Eastern European kiddie ride manufacturers like ATM Italy, hydraulic rides are kiddie rides situated on a hydraulic arm that raise and lower the ride during their activation. Usually, the rider is given limited interaction with the ride in the form of up/down buttons or levers so that the rider can instruct the ride to fly higher or lower, giving the user the impression of some control over their experience.
This kind of ride is perhaps the most common type, an animal or vehicle situated on a vacuum-formed base that moves up-and-down or side-to-side, or even both, when activated; some even move in a slithering-like motion. Usually, rides of this configuration have the motor hidden in the base. Some more advanced horse rides like those made by Falgas Spain have complicated mechanisms that alternate the ride between galloping and trotting motions.
Free movement (bumper car-like) rides
These kinds of rides are usually in the form of animals or vehicles. These are most common in Asia, particularly China. Unlike a real bumper car ride commonly found at funfairs, the coin-operated variant uses batteries instead of drawing electricity off of an overhead mesh, and one can ride it anytime, instead of having to wait for the operator to start the ride for them.
Teeter totter rides
These rides are generally teeter totters for one person. An inanimate figure typically sits at the opposite end of the ride. The rides moves on a gentle up-and-down motion mimicking that of a standard teeter-totter.
These rides are a hybrid of kiddie ride and arcade video games. The rides usually incorporate a video display and, while the motion is synchronized to the events happening on the screen, the ride will start and end following the events on the screen. The ride is usually interactive and there are push-buttons to allow the rider to interact with the on-screen actions.
These rides should not be mistaken for simulators, which reproduce the action of a video game withpout offering further interactivity. Furthermore, the video-game hybrid is time-based and ends at a pre-determined time, regardless of the actions of the user. An example of a hybrid ride would be the Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car ride and other waku-waku and wanpaku series of rides released by Sega Japan.
In many cases, kiddie rides in the likes of famous cartoon characters or objects from TV shows or movies can be also found, usually at bigger shopping malls that can afford them due to the higher purchasing costs. A classic example would be the Batmobile ride mentioned earlier. One model looks like a miniature Batmobile on a stand, and occasionally flashes lights and plays a short tune from a Batman movie at set intervals.
Another example of a character kiddie ride would be a Clifford the Big Red Dog kiddie ride, manufactured by Jolly Roger Ltd of the United Kingdom and licensed by Scholastic UK. The ride costs around US$5000 purchased new. It talks in a girl's voice (presumably the voice of Emily Elizabeth) and plays the theme song from the PBS Kids TV series when it is ridden. A button to make Clifford bark also exists on the ride. Another is a Bob the Builder ride, which features Bob climbing onto Scoop (another version has got Roley, the Scoop version has Pilchard in his digger.). Including a Mario Kart ride manufactured by OMC Electronics Ltd. of Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire and licensed to Nintendo which features Mario standing.
Character rides costs much more than generic rides when purchased new. The higher cost stems from the royalty of the voice samples and theme song as well as character licensing fees.
Knockoff rides that feature figures that look like those of famous cartoon characters exist. commonly knocked off characters include: Pikachu from Pokèmon, Disney's Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, and Hello Kitty. They are cheaper than real licensed rides, and are typically found at smaller establishments. However, as the name suggests, they are not licensed, and in certain areas with high intellectual property rights recognition, purchasers of knockoff rides can potentially get themselves entangled with legal complications. Furthermore, the ride figure might not be designed to look as close to a licensed character compared to genuinely licensed rides, possibly resulting in diminished recognition.
Kiddie rides and personal use
While kiddie rides are primarily used to garner extra income for commercial areas like shopping malls, supermarkets and amusement centers, like classic arcade game machines they are becoming increasingly common in homes in many developed countries, usually bought by game collectors and families. This renaissance is being led by Denver-based Kiddie Rides USA, and has received coverage in many magazines including Time, Fortune, United Airline's Hemispheres, and on CNBC.
Many of the rides are ex-location units which have been written off by the original owner, usually to make way for newer games or rides, and bought for a fraction of what they would cost brand new, either directly from the previous owner or on online auction sites like eBay.
Usually, older rides would be slightly modified; the coin mechanism is replaced by a push button switch to allow for free play, while more sophisticated rides that have a mode switch would be set permanently to free play.
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