Are you ready for stomach-churning rides, off-the-wall foods, unique acts, top-notch entertainment and a myriad of activities highlighting livestock? Then head to the Florida State Fair.
The 110th annual fair kicked-off Thursday and runs through Feb. 17.
Although we can't begin to list everything you can do at the fair, we did come up with 10 reasons why you should go:
1. Save money — You can have more fun for less money by taking advantage of special days and deals. Today, Hillsborough County students get in free. There also are free days for 4-H and FFA Clubs (Saturday) and senior discount days (Monday through Thursday). Armband days, such as today, were expanded this year so you can save an additional $5 on unlimited midway rides. For additional deals and days, visit www.floridastatefair.com for a complete listing.
2. Mighty midway — There are more than 100 rides that twirl, whirl, tilt and hurl (and so will you, if you aren't careful). Coaster enthusiasts should try the new Comet II, a massive traveling roller coaster featuring quick turns, fast drops and speeds up to 60 miles-per-hour. If you're looking for something more tame, the family-friendly Charlie Chopper will take you for a mid-air spin inside a car without leaving you with a queasy tummy.
3. Eat your heart out — One of the best things about the fair is the fare. From corn dogs and cotton candy, to wacky calorie-laden concoctions such as the Ramen Noodle burger with ground beef, Asian slaw and oriental sauce residing between a Ramen Noodle bun or the Bacon Maple Funnel Cake, a deep-fried, bacon-infused funnel cake topped with homemade maple butter cream icing and bacon bits. Healthier options, such as a soy burger, also are available. You can sample this year's offerings at reduced prices Monday during “Taste of the Fair.”
4. Hang with the animals — Head to the Mooternity Ward and If you're lucky, you can witness one of the pregnant bovines give birth to a calf. How cool is that? Or you can grab a bucket and try your hand at milking a cow. Animal lovers also shouldn't miss the petting zoo, where you can bond with baby lambs and bunnies. There's also horse shows, racing pigs, performing bears and livestock judging, including fancy chickens.
5. Free entertainment — Whether you're in the mood for a little old-school, country, rock or zydeco, you can catch more than a dozen performers, including Sister Hazel, above, (Thursday) and Uncle Kracker (Feb. 17). You can also watch the NockAir FMX Extreme Freestyle Motorcycle show and the Elvis Presley impersonator finals, and performances from zydeco group The Porch Dogs and Ireland's Screaming Orphans, all free with fair admission.
6. Step back in time — See Florida's history come to life at Cracker Country, a living museum with more than a dozen original buildings dating from 1870 to 1912. Explore the Terry Store and Okahumpka Train Depot, the schoolhouse, post office and blacksmith shop, while costumed reenactors talk about life as a Florida pioneer. You also can watch live demonstrations of woodcarving, spinning, making sugar cane into syrup and more.
7. Shop till you drop — With more than 1,000 vendors showcasing their goods, you're bound to find something you'll want to take home, from homemade fudge to fashion, jukeboxes to gem stones — at bargain prices. Even more unusual finds, such as yarn puppets, Redneck Wind Chimes and Emu Mini Trikes are available for your shopping pleasure.
8. There's an app for that — The Florida State Fair offers a free smartphone app to help you get where you want to go. From the midway rides to concessions to Cracker Country to the arts and crafts exhibits — fairgoers can find it all on an interactive map, and keep track of daily events and deals. It will even help you locate your car if you can't remember where you parked. Go to your app store and download “Florida State Fair.”
9. Go for the gold — Leroy Van Dyke, one of the biggest country singers of the 1960s, with hits such as “Auctioneer” and “Walk on By,” brings his Country Gold Tour back to the fair Wednesday with a lineup of country stars that includes T.G. Sheppard, Suzy Bogguss, Narvel Felts and Bobby Bare. The cost for admission to the show is $10 plus fair admission (and tickets go fast, we've been told); www.floridastatefair.com.
10. Stay for the fireworks — Watch the sky light up at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings, both weekends, with a fireworks spectacular. Take a break from the beckoning neon of the midway to enjoy the kaleidoscope of color in the sky.