Monday, March 16, 2015

The Florida Strawberry Festival

So we decided we may check out The Strawberry Festival the weekend of its last run (March 7-8). Saturday was a bit too cool so we passed and just ended up going to the grocery shopping for dinner. Sunday, we forgot to "spring forward" and showed up for church embarrassingly late. The computers were down/off at the kids' check-in area signaling that something was off. Next thing you know one of the young ladies said "You forgot to 'spring forward' sorry guys see you next week" of course after explaining to a totally aloof couple that we were consequently an hour late. Anyways, it was turning into a lazy Sunday soon thereafter, but the sun was beaming. It was quite warmer than Saturday as we walked around the neighborhood trail and pond to the playground. The pond was swarming with fish surfacing. Large ones too. Papa Smurf never realized just how well stocked the pond is (although we do see people come through to fish frequently we never see what they catch). So, he was excited and wanted to fish. But en route for supplies, the kids were very vocal about wanting to go to The Strawberry Festival. We made a detour to the Publix to get tickets, which were $8 for adults and $4 for kids. Twenty-four dollars total for a family of four not too bad.

We're about 45 minutes out from Plant City, where the fair is held, coming from deep in the burbs of the greater New Tampa area. The I-75 to I-4 both had wall to wall traffic heading into town. There highway advisory boards flashing instructions for where to go and park "Festival Parking Exit....". Once we took exit 19 there were cars lined all down the road. And that's where you see flaggers and makeshift parking lots (sadly some people had their front yards turned to parking lots, others threatened you like they would go Jazmine Sullivan style if you dare park in their yards! Or at least have you towed). Most lots averaged about $10-15 a park; I only saw 1-2 for $5 but they were closer to the highway and one looked kind of dodgy. We parked closer in on a middle school parking lot for $10. So now we're up to $34, $35 counting a $1 basket of strawberries we bought. As you get closer in, it's almost like Bangkok. There are alot bicycle taxis and golf cart taxis taking people to and from for a price of course. People were hustling hard and you definitely couldn't knock them for it.

Once we entered, it was extremely crowded and not what we expected, even on the last day after 3:30 pm. The biggest surprise was that as soon as we were inside the strawberries disappeared completely. Not even a jar of preserves, no uniquely prepared strawberry treats, no plush strawberry characters or mascots walking around, no strawberry trinkets or souvenirs. There was plenty of fair foods, but every food cart and grill had the same exact things, deep fried Oreos candy bars and sweets, corn dogs, chicken on a stick, pizza, steak and cheese, and there were too many smoked turkey leg spots to count. Eat at your own risk! Some adhere to food safety while others could care less. There was one guy for instance he was stabbing his turkey legs with a thermometer to check for the right temperature and there was another who had raw shaved beef for steak and cheese sharing the same griddle with turkey legs, raw meat touching the turkey meat and juices running all over…Gross!

Walk paths and lines were more like huddles of confused people, where one would ask at each line "Is this the line?" as passerby's just broke through in droves like cattle. Yes, you couldn't even move your elbows or see the ground and you could just throw the whole idea of "personal space" out of the equation. But this much I can say, the crowd was very polite and considerate despite the fact that it was such a very uncomfortable situation.

Being from the DMV, I can remember at least 2-3 times in my lifetime that Six Flags America had advisory signs outside of their park that read "Park Closed--At Capacity" "No Entry--At Capacity". Therefore, I really did not understand for the life of me why they continued to allow people to enter the festival; especially when those who were already within the gates could barely walk through the paths. The crowds at the festival were definitely a stampede hazard. Maybe we're getting old but even Papa Smurf said the same "...maybe I'm getting old but crowds just aren't my scene anymore...".

Somehow we inched through, stuck together without getting separated and were able to make it to a ticket booth. Yes, the rides cost separate of course. The cost was $25 "All You Can Ride" and $20 for a sheet of 20. We settled on 10 tickets, call us cheap but we figured Julie could enjoy 3 rides at least and then we would leave to be fair. We wanted to be good sports though we would rather leave. So, we just grinned and beared it and luckily enough after 1-2 rides the crowds significantly thinned out.

The aftermath, we thought it was just us but by the next morning we found out our neighbors had the same thoughts about the event. One left early and only allowed his girls to do one activity. Our neighbor who Papa Smurf has dubbed “The Buckeye” stated "It just was not at all what we expected. Where were the strawberries?! It was so crowded! And it was just not what we expected at all."

The final verdict, we won't be back. It was more like a large parking lot carnival and definitely not a festival. Maybe because I come from the DMV area and the D.C. area is known for its festivals and cultural events too. All in all I give it the rating of "Tourist Trap" and Papa Smurf has dubbed it "A Money Pit". Most of the 1-3* ratings on Yelp are the more honest and fair, 3 giving the event a stamp of the good old "benefit of the doubt". I leave you with a rhetorical question..."How do you know you have
entered a 'Tourist Trap'?" When you enter a themed event and the theme of the event itself is no longer present! And on top of that everything almost including the air you are breathing will cost you. You have trouble setting the said trap apart from anything else you have ever experienced. 

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