The glittering lights, the scent of popcorn and cotton candy, the screams of happy riders on roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls, these are timeless pleasures at fairs and carnivals. But what are some of the more recent trends in rides and games that patrons enjoy and fair and carnival owners recommend?
At G & S shows in Garden Grove, Calif, Owner Tony Guadagno said the popular rides today depend on the age of the rider. A family owned business – the G & S stands for Guadagno and Sons – the company keeps its hands on the pulse of the carnival business, and knows the audience well. “The more thrill the ride offers, the better for older kids. The most popular are the Thunderbolt, the Scrambler, the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Kamakaze. For younger kids, we have a kiddie coaster that’s a big hit, and the O Shoot, which is a big, circular slide. Older people prefer the Century Wheel, which is a large Ferris Wheel. Everyone enjoys that.” As to the most popular games, Guadagno cited games played in a group setting as tops. “As an example of what’s popular, there’s the water race, where you shoot a water gun at a balloon, filling it until it pops.” As with rides, top games depend upon the age of the player. “Teens may like baseball toss games. Younger kids prefer the type where you pull a fish out of a tank. Dime pitches and ball pitches are also solid game attractions, and have a wide appeal.”
In Austin, Texas, John Hanschen, owner of The Mighty Thomas Carnival, said his most popular ride cuts across all ages in appeal. And it’s one of the rides popular for G & S as well. “It’s the Century Wheel. Everyone loves to ride the Ferris Wheel. Kids also love the Monster Truck ride. They look and even sound just like real monster trucks, thanks to a good quality speaker system.” As to games, Hanschen finds a dart game to be the most consistently popular. “Balloon Bust, which is a pop-the-balloons game, that is an all time favorite,” he said.
At A&A Attractions in Fairbury, Ill., Owner Susan Headley said her most popular rides throughout the Illinois and Wisconsin areas she serves, are the Tilt-a-Whirl for big kids, and the Dragon Wagon ride for little ones. “The Dragon Wagon is a roller coaster for small children that’s shaped like a dragon. Kids love that. Slides are also wildly popular with all ages. Our slide is probably ultimately the top draw.” In regard to games, Headley said a balloon toss and two fishing games are tops. “There’s the shark game, where they get to fish out a shark. Fishy-fish is another popular thing to play. Small children catch plastic fish from the water to get a prize.”
At the Keith County Fair in Ogallala, Neb., Myrna Spurgin, fair treasurer, said that hands down the most popular ride is a combine derby. “The combine is entered into a contest. It’s similar to a monster trucks event or bumper cars. Essentially the drivers crash into each other, and at the end of the contest, whoever is still standing is the winner. It’s popular not just with participants but also with viewers,” she said. Of more traditional rides, the most popular for Spurgin is one cited by several other carnival and fair operators. “Our top ride? The Ferris Wheel, for sure. People love that. And as far as games go, a big favorite is Hamster Balls. Those are huge inflatable balls that kids can get inside. It’s rolled into a pool of water, and the kids can bounce around in them,” she explained. “Prize-winning games are not as big for us, although we do have a few popular contests that offer prizes, such as eating donuts off a string with your hands tied behind your back, and bungee jumps.”
At Venardos Circus Productions, in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Owner Kevin Venardos, said his most popular rides are classic. “A Ferris Wheel, carousels, those kinds of classic and nostalgic rides, some that might even have antiques put in place to create atmosphere for an event, those are the most successful.” His most popular games are equally classic. “Bean bag toss is a big one. What works best for us are things that are simple, interactive and fun. There’s a little competition involved, but what players are really doing is enjoying time with one another. The shared experience – that’s what’s magic about a carnival, a fair or a circus.”