From my point of view, a trip to the N.C. State Fair can either end in tears or as top billing in your Christmas card letter. It all depends on how well you plan and how prepared you are.
So here are a few tips and things to look for before you head out to the fair. It starts up this Thursday and runs through Oct. 24.
Full disclosure: Compared to many of you, I am not a fair veteran. This won't include a mention of your favorite ice cream or biscuit place or your favorite out of the way corner. So by all means, if you have more tips, please share them in the comments! I'd love to hear them myself.
1. I'll start off with a big one that a lot of you with young kids might be wondering about. Yes. Parents and kids can ride certain rides for the price of one if they meet a few requirements.
Here's the official word from the fair: "Children under 36” tall can ride for free, when accompanied by a paying adult 16 years of age or older on selected rides. The adult must accept guardian responsibility and use good judgement when choosing which of the available rides to allow a young child to ride. The accompanying adult must pay using tickets or wristbands."
Now this doesn't work for all the rides. Here's a list of rides that are included in this policy. The list also will be available at the guest relations booth and the ticket boxes in Kiddieland.
Monster Trucks, Fire Chief, Gondola Wheel, Merry Go Round, Dizzy Dragons, Ship's Ahoy, Children's Slide, Jalopy Junction, Wiggle Wurm, Chopper Hopper Helicopter.
2. Get your tickets now. You can save $1 or $2 per admission ticket if you buy before Oct. 14. And there is a deal on ride tickets too. Click here for more information. Kids 5 and under (and seniors 65 years and old) are free.
3. Or beat the admission price by going on Food Lion Hunger Relief Day. That's Oct. 21 this year. Exchange four cans of food (any brand) for one free admission ticket. Extra cans are greatly appreciated. The State Fair hopes to collect at least 210,000 pounds of food this year to be donated through the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
4. Get there early. I know a lot of parents who are taking their kids out of school to go to the fair on a weekday. I take my chances on the weekends. I just go early. Except for Thursday, the first day of the fair, when everything opens in the afternoon, the fairground gates open at 8 a.m. and the exhibit halls open at 9 a.m. The rides start up at 10 a.m. Grab a biscuit, walk the grounds, see the animals, watch the fair wake up, be the first in line for the rides. Do it all before lunch.
5. Can you bring snacks? Can you rent a stroller? Are there areas for nursing moms? Yes, yes and yes. The fair has a handy link on its website listing this and other frequently asked questions. Click here and go to the top of the page and click on "Kids at the Fair" for more.
6. The fair can be a whir of food and rides. Break the visit down a bit for the kids with a scavenger hunt.
7. Check out the new Seed Survivor exhibit, located near the Green NC exhibit and Kiddieland. The display encourages first through seventh graders to "try to get out alive" by mastering the elements that plants need to grow. The display includes virtual reality games, insect video scopes, sunflower seed planting stations and more.
9. Some folks like to take a break in Kiddieland Fun Park, which sits just behind Kiddieland. The park will feature several kid-friendly acts, including Michelle's Magical Poodles and Hubba Bubba the clown. And don't forget all the free entertainment, including racing pigs and a bike stunt show.
10. And if you happen to be there from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Oct 21, come see me in the WRAL booth at the fair.