Sitting atop a skunk, Stella Brunger, a month shy of 3 years old, bounced and giggled throughout her first ride on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Carousel, which had its inaugural spin Saturday morning.
"Stella, what do you say on the carousel?" asked her father, James Brunger of Waltham. "Do you say, 'Yee-haw, giddyup?' "
Stella, swaying in a red-and-white-striped dress, laughed and shyly clung closer to her mother, Sarah Frenette.
"As long as it goes up and down, she doesn't care," her father said. "She loves carousels."
The carousel, designed and built over three years by Newburyport sculptor Jeff Briggs, has 14 different types of creatures — including butterflies, owls, a grasshopper, a squirrel, and a right whale — and seats 36 riders. A parent or guardian can ride for free with a child shorter than 42 inches, standing next to the animal and holding on to the youngster.
"[I've seen] as many smiles as you can imagine," Briggs said. "And every adult turns into a 7-year-old."
Briggs created the carousel to accommodate people with disabilities — three animals, with a total of seven seats, are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. On Saturday morning, he rode with his 91-year-old mother, sitting in a chariot next to a seal designed to allow people with back problems to ride comfortably.
Alex Gentile, a Malden 17-year-old who cannot speak and sat in a wheelchair Saturday, smiled at his mother as the carousel spun, and showered his father with kisses between rides.
"We found out that the carousel had a handicap-accessible ride — then we found out it had three," said his mother, Penny Gentile, elated. "There's not many parks for him, really. I mean, some places aren't even handicap accessible."
Alex has a duplicate MECP2 gene, which causes his body to produce excess MeCP2 proteins, disrupting the regulation of other genes and causing developmental disabilities.
Alex and his parents rode a rabbit with a carrot in its mouth, the chariot, and a rocking boat with a serpent-like oarfish wrapped around it.
"The seal was the best, because he got to look around," Penny Gentile said. "He likes to look around at the colors and the people."
In the first 2½ hours of operation, operators sold 526 tickets — $3 apiece or 10 for $25. The carousel and surrounding park cost $2.95 million, $1.5 million of which came from the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, and $250,000 from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. The rest came from private donations.
Lead donor Amalie Kass of Belmont, who until recently kept her involvement with the project anonymous, pushed the button to start the carousel's first round with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino on Saturday morning. Kass signed on to the project in 2010.
As she left the park, smiling broadly, Kass said she was happy "after all this time, to see all the children riding on it and enjoying."
Scarlett Moss, a 3½-year-old from Beacon Hill, rode a gray squirrel and hopped off the ride exclaiming, "That was fun! That was fun!"
"I like the bugs and stuff, and I like every one, because all of them are fun," she said.
Her father, David Moss, held her up after they disembarked the carousel so she could get a better look at the creatures passing by and pick her favorites. She settled on a rabbit, a whale, and a squirrel.
"She's loved carousels since she was a little baby," Moss said. "We've been anticipating this day for a long time."