With several amusement parks and family entertainment centers in the area, there are plenty of rides to choose from for the young and young-at-heart. But with a wide variety of rides ranging in intensity from tame carousels to intimidating coasters, choosing an appropriate ride for a child seems almost as dizzying as a spin on a Tilt-A-Whirl.

During a recent visit to Gillian's Wonderland Pier in Ocean City, Amy Falls, of West Chester, Pa., said she considers her children's personalities when choosing rides for her 4-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, and her 2-year-old son, Jimmy.

"Gabrielle likes fast, so we go on the bigger ones," said Falls. Jimmy sticks to the kiddie rides.

Gabrielle particularly enjoyed the Kite Flyer, a simulated hang-glider. "She loves the one where she goes on her belly and flies," said Falls.

Kendra Gussin of Basking Ridge lets her sons, 2 1/2-year-old Chase and infant Romey, and 3-year-old niece Makayla, pick rides.

"They do most of the choosing," she said.

"He (Chase) loves Thomas the Train, so of course we had to take him on the train," Gussin said. "But we won't go on anything that looks too scary for him."

Nicole Smith, of Williamstown, avoids rides that might induce nausea for her children - Mark, 5, and McKenna, 2 - at Gillian's.

"Anything that doesn't spin, and nothing that goes up and down," she said. "Usually, I don't let the kids on without us (she or their father), unless it's something for a little kid, and they're always strapped in," Smith added.

Most amusement-park rides require riders to be above a certain height, but rarely restrict what ages can ride. According to nonprofit public service organization Saferparks, even if a child stands tall enough to ride, parents should decide which rides are best based on their individual child's taste and maturity level.

The height requirements, which are determined by ride manufacturers, are usually based on the minimum size required to ride safely and not necessarily the appropriate age bracket, according to the organization.

Saferparks also advises that before visiting an amusement park, parents make sure their children understand how to ride safely - that is, stay seated, hold on and listen to the ride operators. Children also should never be forced onto a ride they are frightened of or uncomfortable with, and clingy or insecure children should not ride alone.

While many rides for small children do not allow adults to ride, there are plenty of area attractions for families to enjoy together.

Jack Morey, second-generation partner of Morey's Piers in Wildwood, recommends his water parks, Ocean Oasis and Raging Waters, for all-ages family fun.

"The water parks are an attraction for infant and up. Those are fantastic, family, relaxing environments right on the beach," he said.

Another attraction Morey considers an all-ages family classic is the Giant Wheel. Children age 10 and older can ride the 156-foot Ferris wheel alone, and younger children may ride with adults.

Roller coasters are a personal favorite of Morey's as well.

"There's a kid in everyone who loves roller coasters," he said.

The Great White, a wooden roller coaster at Morey's, is a family favorite for thrill-seekers ages 8 to 80, said Morey.

"Parents and grandparents care about nostalgia, and it has that classic seaside look. The kids don't care about nostalgia - they care about rock, rattle, and roll," he said.

For families with children older than 12, Morey recommends the Ghost Ship, a haunted-house style attraction which opened earlier this year. The way different personalities in a family react to the live actors in the attraction make for a unique, frightening yet fun experience, he said.

"When you jump, somebody is going to get scared, and somebody is going to laugh," he said. "A great haunted house requires both fear and laughter."

In designing and choosing attractions for the park, Morey looks for rides that will be fun for a segment of the family or the whole family.

"A great ride for us involves both the person who buys the ticket and the person who decides just to watch," he said.

The best attractions also evoke certain emotions, said Morey. "Freedom, fantasy and fear," he said. "Underlying all of that, Mom's got to feel safe."

Safety is a natural concern for parents. While it may be jarring to see children riding around on heavy machinery, serious injuries on amusement park rides are relatively rare. According to a 2008 report compiled by the National Safety Council for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, there were 0.8 injuries per million patron-rides in the United States for that year. Only about 5.9 percent of the injuries reported were considered serious.

New Jersey's Department of Community Affairs also regulates amusement park ride safety. The agency requires annual ride inspections and incident reporting. Officials also investigate accidents.

Morey said well-maintained park grounds are a solid indicator the rides will be well-maintained.

"Let me just say, if the place isn't clean, that's a sign," he said.

Contact Bailey Clark:

609-272-7049

Local amusement parks

Fantasy Island

320 Seventh St., Beach Haven, 609-492-4000

Cost (tokens): 75 cents; $15 for 20; $30 for 40; $15 per person for unlimited rides to 7 p.m. Fridays

Hours: 6 to 11 p.m. or midnight most days through Labor Day, depending on activity and weather; opens 2 p.m. Fridays

Gillian's Funland

304 JFK Blvd., Sea Isle City,

609-399-1363, gillians.com

Cost (tickets): $1; $20 for 30; $50 for 75

Hours: 1 to 10 p.m.

Gillian's Wonderland Pier

Sixth Street and the Boardwalk, Ocean City, 609-399-7082

Cost (tickets): $1; $20 for 30; $50 for 75. Tickets purchased at Funland or Wonderland Pier can be used at either location.

Hours: noon to midnight to Labor Day

Morey's Piers

Three separate amusement piers: Adventure Pier (Spencer Avenue and the Boardwalk), Mariner's Landing (Schellinger Avenue and the Boardwalk) and Surfside Pier (25th Street and the Boardwalk), Wildwood, 609-522-3900, moreyspiers.com

Cost (passes): $35 for riders less than 48 inches tall; $46 for riders 48 to 54 inches tall; $48 for riders taller than 54 inches. Family and season passes, and pay-per-ride cards available.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to Aug. 15, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays after Aug. 15 to Labor Day (Ocean Oasis and Raging Waters waterparks at Surfside Pier and Mariner's Landing Pier); 12:30 p.m. to midnight, 12:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m Fridays, noon to 12:30 a.m. Saturdays, noon to midnight Sundays (Surfside Pier and Mariner's Landing Pier); 4 p.m. to midnight weekdays, 2 p.m. to midnight on weekends (Adventure Pier)

Playland's Castaway Cove

10th Street and the Boardwalk, Ocean City,

609-399-4751

Cost (tickets): $1, $30 for 44, $50 for 80, $75 for 120, $120 for 210

Hours: 1 to 11 p.m. to Labor Day.

Steel Pier

Across the Boardwalk from the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, Atlantic City,

609-345-4893

Cost (tickets): 75 cents, $25 for 35, $50 for 80, $100 for 200; $35 per person unlimited rides Wednesdays and Thursdays

Hours: 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. weekdays, noon to 1 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays to Labor Day.

Storybook Land

6415 Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township,

609-641-7847

Cost (day passes): $21.95 (unlimited rides); free children younger than 1 year

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays,

11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sundays to Labor Day.

Six Flags

Great Adventure

1 Six Flags Blvd., Jackson,

732-928-1821

Cost: $54.99 at the park, $34.99 for those less than 54 inches tall; free children younger than 2. $34.99 when purchased online. Season passes and group rates available. Safari and Hurricane Harbor waterpark admission is additional.

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. to the third week of August.