Friendship, animals, rides and turkey legs in Tampa
12-day Florida State Fair offers an escape from the city
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.
A view of the fairgrounds from up high on the “Big Wheel” at the Florida State Fair in Tampa on Thursday.
Central Florida Explorer Patrick Connolly enjoys a turkey leg with his new prize, Stitch, at the Florida State Fair.