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Fête Paradiso on Governors Island opens this weekend (slide show)

The world’s first festival of vintage carnival rides comes to Governors Island this weekend—here’s how to do it right.

Fête Paradiso, the long-awaited vintage carousel collection makes its American debut on Governors Island this weekend, and we got a sneak peek of all the Francophone fun. The festival, which opens every Saturday and Sunday from Bastille Day weekend through September 29, is located at Nolan Park and is completely free to enter (rides and games are $3 each). Not only can families gawk at 19th-and early 20th-century French design and engineering, but test them out, too. And although carousels were originally built in France as locales for adults-only rendezvous, all rides, like the Bicycle Carousel, the Flying Chairs and the Boat Swings are geared towards little ones. Here are the happenings you won't want to miss:

Take a spin on a really old ride

The carousels of Fête Paradiso may be museum-quality vintage, but most are still in working condition. Rides, which cost one ticket ($3 each; get ‘em at the ticket booth, which is made of repurposed carousel horses), include the Great Horse Carousel, which dates back to 1850 and is both the oldest of the bunch and one of the most technologically impressive for its time: All 28 horses are “jumpers”, meaning they move up and down as you ride. Kids of all ages (even babies can hop in one of the back seats) can also test out the Bicycle Carousel from 1897, one of only two in the world. Built as a way to ease the public into the (at the time very scary) idea of bike-riding, the carousel once allowed guests to power it by pedaling. While you can still pedal the wheels while it moves, it’s equipped with an electrical engine to power off when the ride is over. Guide adventurous kids to the Small or Large Boat Swings or the two Flying Chairs rides, while little sibs can take a spin on the pint-sized cars, animals and boats of Devo’s Carousel. And if motion sickness isn’t an issue in your crew, try the Chinese Dragon Carousel, a Himalaya-style ride that spins surprisingly fast.

Have a crepe inside a bumper car pavilion
Local French eatery Le Gamin caters the festival, serving up traditional bistro fare like steak frites ($15), Croque monsieur ($8) Salade Nicoise ($8) and of course, sweet crepes that come with anything from Nutella, lemon sugar or jam ($5). They’ll also be kid-friendly options like hamburgers ($8) and rotisserie chicken ($10), plus spirits and wine from the Languedoc region of France for Mom and Dad. Pick up nosh at the white food tent (adult beverages are served in a converted carousel structure—look for the “Chez Nounours” sign), then bring it to the picnic tables set inside the wooden structure designed in 1900 as a bumper car pavilion. Hanging bulb chandeliers decorate the elevated space, which provides a sunny spot to view Fête Paradiso.
Hear the music of yesteryear
Expect a series of Francophone musicians all summer long at the Music Kiosk, a converted children’s carousel near the entrance. The lineup is still TBA (we’ll keep you posted!), but Bastille Day weekend (July 13, 14) promises to draw plenty of old-timey acts. Plus, visit the automated pipe organ, a 1910 mechanical device that’s the only one of its size still in existence. The beautifully-designed piece features three figurines and operates as a “call organ”, which means that its original use was to simply play carnival-esque music in the hopes that it would lure more visitors.

Test your arm and score a free drink
Guests of the fest are offered the same deal they were in the 1930’s: Those who throw five balls into the mouths of celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker, the Fratellini brothers, Maurice Chevalier, Mistinguett and Dranem get a free drink (winners can redeem their reward at Le Gamin’s nearby food tent). The Music Hall Ball Guzzler ($3), built in Angers, France and installed in Paris in 1934 is a ball-toss game painted with life-sized caricatures of comedians and musicians of the period.

Snap a photo
Above all else, Fête Paradiso is beautiful: For those too nervous to test the strength of 19th century engineering, it’s still well worth the free, seven-minute ferry ride to Manhattan’s southerly neighbor. Surrounded by the yellow colonial homes of Governors Island’s past, the festival brings a different era of history to life: turn-of-the-century Paris. French flags and hanging bulbs adorn the tree branches, where underneath, there’s decorative ponies and standing carousel architecture. In fact, Fête Paradiso may be New York’s most photogenic of the summer.

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