All posts by Tina

The Florida State Fair: A Newcomer’s Experience

Our family is so used to attending the state fair in the fall up in New England.   We enjoyed the crisp air, warm treats, sweatshirts and flannels and the smell of everything apple.   Now that we live in Florida, we are beginning to realize that state fairs happen a lot earlier and when the weather is a lot warmer.  No candy apples?  No hay bales?  Obviously, this was going to be a new adventure.

Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets as a contributor for the blog, The Creative Stay At Home Mom.  The following experience and opinions, however, are exclusively mine and mine alone. 

Arriving at the Fair

Florida State Fairgrounds
Florida State Fairground ~ photo taken by T.M. Brown

About mid morning on a Saturday in February, two days before the fair closed in Tampa, my middle son and I jumped in the car and headed west.   The drive was smooth, though the fog had not yet burned off.  It was a bit overcast and hazy.  Traffic wasn’t too thick and the two of us enjoyed reminiscing about our last fair experience at the Big E in Massachusetts.   Would they have the same food options (I was looking for something in particular that I’ll share below)?  What kind of entertainment would be there?  Will it be crowded?

Florida State Fair 2018

We arrived in good time and the traffic leading onto the Florida State Fairgrounds was not difficult to follow at all.  Everything seemed to be flowing smoothly.   We parked, walked to the ticket counters and found our way over to Will Call.  Fortunately, I had tickets that had been set aside for us.   From there, we went through the security line – very standard….bags are checked, go through a detector and then have your ticket scanned.  Everything went very smoothly and everyone seemed to be smiling.  We proceeded to a booth where we then picked up orange armbands that allowed us access to unlimited rides.  It was time for the exploration to begin!

NOTE: As noted, the orange armbands allowed us access to unlimited rides in the Midway.  Other options for enjoying the rides included purchasing individual tickets or purchasing a Gold Pass.  This pass allowed for a discount on food, as well.

Fair Food, Anyone?

Before hitting the rides, however, we had some hunger pains that needed to be satisfied.  To keep ourselves from falling over, we decided to check out the food options around us.  Aaryn, my bottomless pit, scanned the immediate area and began narrowing down what he was craving.   There was the standard fair food, barbeque options, pizza, some more international offerings (i.e Greek, Mexican, etc), but he was pretty much set when Bacon Brisket Mac and Cheese at Kayla’s Real Texas Bar-B-Q caught his attention.

Bacon Brisket Mac and Cheese Florida State Fair
Bacon Brisket Mac and Cheese – photo taken by T.M. Brown

We chose to share a healthy serving of the meat, pasta and cheese dish in order to leave our options open for later.  Who knew what we were going to find during our excursion.  Not to mention, being full before reaching the rides would probably not be the best decision in the world.

Let’s Check Out The Vendors!

Tummies satisfied, we then walked through the Expo Hall, where we found a multitude of vendors.  I actually enjoy walking through these mazes and seeing the displays, sometimes engaging in a great conversation with a vendor or two.   Within this building, there was anything from candy to homemade candles to kitchenware available for purchase.  While I enjoy looking at the crafts, Aaryn, of course, lives for the samples and he did not leave this fair disappointed.

Entertainment ~ Better Than “Fair”

We returned to the sunlight and began to casually stroll around when our ears caught the sounds of a stage show nearby.   We made our way over and found Professor Smart creatively engaging children in an educational demonstration.   The show was free, which was wonderful ~ just walk up, take a seat and enjoy!  I even caught my fourteen year old chuckling at Professor Smart’s jokes!  THAT was worth sticking around to see.

entertainment Florida State Fair
Professor Smart ~ photo taken by T.M. Brown

The crowds were very manageable that day.  We had no problems maneuvering around and we had no difficulties seeing what we wanted to see.  The weather turned out to be gorgeous as the sun had burned through the fog.  We had been left with a spectacularly blue sky above us.  The temperature was warming up and it had turned out to be an amazing day to visit the fair.

Time To Visit The Animals

Onward we moved, exploring the various buildings that showcased more craft vendors, baking competitions and student exhibits.  There were also multiple educational opportunities, including those pertaining to forest exploration, African American history exhibits, information on ranching and citrus in Florida.  Aaryn and I walked through the livestock exhibit, where we found sheep, cows, chickens and goats.  To be honest, this exhibit was a bit crowded and uncomfortable.  For the sake of the animals, we chose to leave this one early.

sheep at Florida State Fair
Livestock ~ photo taken by T.M. Brown

I have to tell you, though, the Florida State Fairgrounds are HUGE and we were certainly able to get in our “steps” for the day.  There is something for everyone there.  From the Professor Smart show we watched to walking past the grounds where the demolition derby was to take place later that day, the Florida State Fair truly is a place for people of all ages to enjoy.

Midway Attractions

Fair rides ~ photo taken by T.M. Brown

The most important part of the fair to my son, however, was yet to be discovered.  He was all about checking out the rides over in the Midway, but had been so patient with my desire to weave in and out of the buildings and entertainment.  When we finally arrived to that particular section of the fair, I just let him go to town!  Being fourteen, his body is better able to absorb the impact than mine, but we did have a great time spinning, twirling, dropping and watching time flash before our eyes (or rather, I had a great time watching HIM do most of those things).  This fair, in comparison to the exposition I enjoyed in New England, has so many rides from which to choose.  In addition to the numerous motion rides, there are fun houses, kiddie attractions and a handful of Ferris wheels of varying sizes.  There is certainly no shortage of thrill here.

Let’s Play a Game

While we did not play any of the games during our trip, the Florida State Fair offers a wide assortment of such.  One of my friends asked me on one of my Instagram pics if there was a particular game at the Fair – a game where you toss ping pong balls into a dish with the hope of winning a goldfish to bring home.  Yup – they had one of those!  They had your water-shooting games, basketball games, ring toss games ~ you name it – they had it!

fair games Florida State Fair
Fair games ~ photo taken by T.M. Brown

A Full Day Comes To An End

After hours of exploration, laughter, discovery and very healthy dose of Vitamin D, though, we finally found ourselves having come full circle to the entrance gate.  It was a full day, but we know we missed a lot, too  It was good to hear my son say as we walked out the gate and into the parking lot, “Yeah, I had fun.  Let’s do this again next year.”

The Florida State Fair closes February 19th, so if you read this and have opportunity to scoot on over, I encourage you to do so or at least make plans to visit next year!  We had a blast and look forward to future trips out to the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.

OH – I mentioned earlier that there was a particular food I was hoping to see offered here at the Fair.  Unfortunately, I did not find it.  I will have to live in Florida missing my favorite fair food – fried dough with marina sauce.

Fried dough with marinara sauce and grated parmesan

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