SeaGlass Carousel

Less than a week ago, the 16 million dollar SeaGlass Carousel opened in Battery Park, and though their website was devoid of any accessibility information, I made plans to go anyway. Without calling ahead.

There was a time, back when I was a kid/young adult, when wheelchair accessibility could not be assumed. You either had to send an able-bodied person to scout ahead, or you had to find a phone number, call them up and hope you spoke to someone who knew what you were talking about (“Sure we’re wheelchair accessible! There’s only five stairs, but you can get out, right?”), then schlep out there to discover you needed to find the one security guard with a key to the lift, and he had gone home already. All this without cell phones or the Internet.

Now you can–usually–trust that new construction conforms to ADA regulations, and for older venues you can rely on malcontents like me to obsessively post photos of their experiences. So when I decided to see the hot new carousel, I deliberately didn’t do more than a cursory Googling, and I certainly didn’t call ahead. My companions doubted this decision, worried that the absence of accessibility information on the SeaGlass website might mean there was none. But as I put it, “They spent 16 MILLION dollars on this carousel. They can’t exactly use the old excuse about wheelchair access being too expensive!”

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I am proud to report that my intuition was correct.

On the day I went, the line for the carousel wrapped around the building several times. Tickets had to be purchased from the booth off to the side, before joining the line. Since the majority of visitors wanted to ride “the dancing fish”, to ensure the ride was operating at capacity a staff member would periodically walk down the line looking for people who preferred to be on the stationary mounts. It was at this point that I finally asked about wheelchair accessibility, and the staff member quickly assured me that it was “100 percent” accessible and escorted me to the front of the line.

One of several water fountains in Battery Park that can be easily used from a wheelchair.

The SeaGlass carousel has a variety of seating to cater to several levels of ability, ranging from narrow fish that bob up and down several feet while swirling around that require a fair amount of nimbleness to climb into, to two wider shell vehicles that remain stationary relative to the rotating floor. The shells are clearly designed for wheelchair use, as the back of the shell flips down to form a ramp. And in an abundance of caution, the inside of the shell contains wheelchair tiedowns.

The back of a shell bench at the Seaglass Carousel in New York City opens up to deploy a wheelchair ramp.

A staff member hooked up the tiedowns and then came back to caution me that when the ride started, there would be a slight lurch, but otherwise it would be smooth sailing. (This being New York, I sneered at his puny idea of what constituted a lurch.)

A closeup of my wheelchair, laden with bags, fitting into the shell with tiedowns hooked up.

The view of the rest of the ride from the shell wasn’t the greatest, as the rear of the shell obstructed any side view I may have had (I can’t turn my head much anyway, so they get a pass on this), and it didn’t swivel towards the action either. And of course, the ride was too short. But there’s much to be said for the ability to simply head for a carousel, confident you’ll be able to enjoy it as an equal. That’s a 16 million dollar kind of feeling.

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