Friend­ship, an­i­mals, rides and turkey legs in Tampa

12-day Florida State Fair of­fers an es­cape from the city

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By Pa­trick Con­nolly

Carnies heckle passersby to play their games, some­times shout­ing out taunts and names. Bright col­ors whirl by, ex­cited chil­dren shout, joy­ful mu­sic plays and fra­grant smells waft by.

That’s right - I’m hav­ing fun at the fair to­day.

On Feb. 7, I took a lit­tle road trip to Tampa with a friend to check out the open­ing day of the Florida State Fair.

I’ve spent some time go­ing to car­ni­vals and county or state fairs, mostly dur­ing my work as a pho­to­jour­nal­ism in­tern in ru­ral West­ern Penn­syl­va­nia. But I don’t think I had ever seen any­thing quite on the scale of the Sun­shine State’s mas­sive 12-day fair.

Of­fer­ings in­clude a va­ri­ety of food (from turkey legs to gy­ros), car­ni­val games, rides and en­ter­tain­ment for vis­i­tors of all ages and in­ter­ests.

Although I didn’t make it to quite ev­ery­thing, here are some things I got to see and do that es­pe­cially piqued my in­ter­est:

1. The gi­ant slide and the “Big Wheel”

It’s one thing to have food and games like a com­mu­nity fes­ti­val, but the rides are what re­ally bring the fair to­gether. Es­pe­cially the big ones.

The Florida State Fair su­per­sized a few rides, in­clud­ing their gi­ant slide. I yelped with glee as I flew down the slide on a patch of car­pet, my rear end al­most leav­ing the ground. My hat even flew off about half­way down.

The “Big Wheel” pro­vided an ex­cel­lent view of the fair­grounds and the Tampa sky­line. Plus, we got to go around three times.

My friend Amanda took a tour through a four-story New York, New York maze that ended with a trip down a four-story slide.

There were many other op­tions we chose not to ex­plore, es­pe­cially those that spun on more than one axis. I’ll spin in a cir­cle on an “x-axis,” but if you in­tro­duce a “y” or a “z-axis” into the equa­tion – for­get about it.

All told, those ex­pe­ri­ences cost us $26. It was $12 for 10 ride tick­ets, which earned us a ride on the slide and a jaunt through the maze. $14 gets two onto the “Big Wheel.”

2. I guess I look skinny?

Most car­ni­val games cost be­tween $3-$5 a pop, so we strayed away from par­tic­i­pat­ing in most of them, de­spite heck­ling com­ments from carnies try­ing to grab our at­ten­tion.

I did opt to chal­lenge a weight guesser for $3. He guessed I weighed a pal­try 132 pounds. The scale doesn’t lie, and the nee­dle sprang up to 146 when I stepped on.

Be­cause of my de­cep­tive ap­pear­ance, Amanda and I walked away with a stuffed “Stitch,” the en­er­getic blue crea­ture from

the Dis­ney movie.

3. I’ve never seen a turkey leg quite so big.

In or­der to bulk up a bit, I found my­self a meaty turkey leg to chomp on (for $12). I care­fully con­sid­ered my op­tions, pass­ing by booths for gy­ros, cin­na­mon rolls, fried cheese and even gator meat.

The large leg had a slightly smoky taste and just the right amount of grease to sat­isfy my stom­ach. Is it the kind of thing I’d eat ev­ery day? Ab­so­lutely not. But it was just right for my day at the fair.

Amanda and I then made our way over to a fried food stand where we got two balls of fried cookie dough and a Reese’s ($5). We also shared an ex­tra sweet lemon­ade ($9).

4. Are they feed­ing those goats enough?

What’s the quick­est way to a goat’s heart? Answer: through its stom­ach. Those guys and gals swiftly gob­bled up the food we of­fered them. The older ones were even ea­ger enough to bully the younger ones into mov­ing out of the way.

As we con­tin­ued to walk around, we ran into a few of the Bud­weiser Cly­des­dales and saw a tent of­fer­ing camel rides. We did make it a point to see the gi­raffes. Their long tongues snatched up car­rots from people’s hands.

My only re­gret of the day is that we missed the Hol­ly­wood Rac­ing Pigs.

5. Watch­ing some high-fly­ing mo­tocross fun.

As if there wasn’t al­ready enough to see and do at the fair, vis­i­tors can watch var­i­ous shows and per­for­mances. While in search of the Cly­des­dales, Amanda and I stum­bled across a mo­tocross show.

We watched rid­ers zoom around in­side the “globe of death” and then take jumps, achiev­ing some mas­sive air­time and ap­plause from fans.

Other per­form­ers in­clude Bello Nock, Cir­cus Hol­ly­wood, De­mo­li­tion Derby, Kachunga Al­li­ga­tor Show, Zaji Amaz­ing Ac­ro­bats of China, Lady Hou­dini and All-Star Stunt Dogs Splash.

In the hus­tle and bus­tle of mod­ern day life, what does the fair still of­fer its at­ten­dees? It of­fers an es­cape from the city, a chance to see an­i­mals and have ex­pe­ri­ences that are dif­fer­ent than folks are used to, and a sense of tack­i­ness and fun that has undy­ing ap­peal.

Rather than get­ting sucked into phones or Net­flix, the fair al­lows fam­i­lies and friends to bond over the lit­tle things like a car­ni­val game... or the big things. Like a gi­ant turkey leg.

The Florida State Fair is at 4800 U.S. High­way 301 North in Tampa. Ad­mis­sion to the Florida State Fair costs $11 for adults (any­one 12 and up) or $13 on the week­ends and Pres­i­dents’ Day. More in­for­ma­tion about tick­ets for chil­dren, se­niors, rides, other dis­counts and sched­ules can be found at flori­das­tate­fair.com. Do you have sug­ges­tions for my next des­ti­na­tion or just want to get in touch? You can find me on Twit­ter (@PCon­nPie), In­sta­gram (@pcon­npie) or send me an email: pcon­[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com.

PA­TRICK CON­NOLLY/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

A view of the fair­grounds from up high on the “Big Wheel” at the Florida State Fair in Tampa on Thurs­day.

PA­TRICK CON­NOLLY/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

Cen­tral Florida Ex­plorer Pa­trick Con­nolly en­joys a turkey leg with his new prize, Stitch, at the Florida State Fair.

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