The 109th Florida State Fair kicked off in Tampa at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, February 7 with the flip of a switch from Gov. Rick Scott, lighting the midway and signaling the official start of the 12-day event. The theme of this year's fair is built around the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Ponce de León's arrival in Florida. "Florida Agriculture: 500 Years in the Making" focuses on the agriculture, livestock and more traditional aspects of the 109-year-old fair.
Richard Renner, playing the part of Pants to'Long (Ponce de Leon), asks Mason how many times he has been on the big slide. Renner's character reflects this year's theme, celebrating 500 years since Ponce de Leon's discovery of Florida.
Lots of people go to the fair for the food. This year's offerings were no disappointment. However, unlike last year, when Krispy Kreme bacon cheeseburgers were making their debut, nothing really outlandishly new was on the midway.
John Craver sinks his teeth into a strawberry eclair from the Alessi's Bakery concession inside the exhibition hall. The confection was a regular cream-filled eclair topped with whipped cream, strawberries, and a strawberry glaze. It was Craver's dessert after eating a turkey leg he got from the midway. He says he hopes his doctor does not see this picture.
This year's event features over 7,000 animals and over 100 carnival rides. Here are some more pictures from the inside.
Corn dogs are a perennial favorite. The smiley-faces were made by adding food dye to the batter prior to frying. Funny enough, one of the chief complaints of the people working at the stand is that some fair-goers think that these are free samples, even though there is a big red sign to the contrary.
Cover chicken in your favorite cereal, mix it in batter, and deep-fry it. In this picture Amy O'Neill explains the samples in front of her. On the left is Captain Crunch cereal with a peanut butter drizzle, two Rice Crispies treats with a marshmallow drizzle, and on the right Honey Bunches of Oats with a honey drizzle. It's hard to decide if these would be better washed down with milk or a cold beer!
Yep, fried everything. Chicken, fries, candy bars, cereal, and yes, deep-fried Twinkies were everywhere. Despite the rumors of shortages and efforts to stockpile the Hostess treats prior to the company declaring bankruptcy, there were plenty of Twinkies available.
had pounds and pounds and pounds of the gooey treat. Pictured here, Robert Morgan from Michigan says that he has been providing his special brand of homemade fudge for 34 years at the Florida State fair. The ingredients are mixed on-site, heated up in a special vat, and then poured onto a cold marble table, forming their "loaves." Wow, that's a lot of chocolate!
Krispy Kreme doughnut cheeseburgers were back. But people can't live on doughnut burgers alone. The vendor also offers a Polish burger, a redneck burger, a mac and cheese burger, Hog on a Log, pork chops, and turkey legs. I had the Piso Burger: a grilled hamburger with mozzarella, marinara sauce,and a fresh basil leaf. It was delish but bring your wallet. The burger fries and a small drink set me back 13 bucks. And like the sign says, NO FREE REFILLS.
Grilled turkey legs are another fair favorite. These three were finishing up their time on the grill while a worker from Cox's Food Corral talked on the phone.
After you fill up on fair food, dozens of different activities are available. Inside the Expo Hall there's a lot going on. And I mean a lot. You can buy a new car, hot tub, jewelry, shoe cleaner, or mattress. If you need pots and pans, they are waiting for you. If you need a massage, superglue, air-conditioning repair, or even a stress test by Scientologists, they're all available and included in the cost of admission.
Scientologists are available for consultation, explanations of L Ron Hubbard's book Dianetics, and even a stress test (note the E-meter — a device used by the Church of Scientology to measure stress — to the right)
Carlas Williams and Alex Athy promote iDream mattresses inside the hall. They said the first-day sales were a little slow but expected business to pick up by the weekend.
There was a whole lot of booty-shaking going on. Devices like this were part of a larger display of massagers and other healthcare implements. As these ladies stood on the vibrating platforms, they giggled while they jiggled. It sort of reminded me of the old belt butt-shakers sold in the ’50s and ’60s to help people lose weight from their backsides.
Outside of the Expo Hall, other buildings housed agriculture, contests, and other arts and crafts.
Did you know that the Florida State fair had a national wine competition sponsored by the Florida Grape Growers Association? The competition is in its 25th year. In 2012 there were over 180 entries. Who knew?
Walker the Brahma bull was part of the livestock competition last year. Plan some time this year to see the rabbits, pigs, cows, horses, and the other beautiful livestock put on display during the fair. Watching the judging is also free!
And lastly don't miss the midway. There are over 100 rides this year. There are also games of chance, skill, and just plain fun.
Five-year-old Atorion Roberson had a blast at the ring toss. Look at the size of the stuffed animal his mother is carrying!
A star in the making. Six-year-old Jason from Tampa wasn't a winner this time at the break-a-bottle game, but he plans to come back.
Dr. Vitka, as he is known on stage, calls the crowd to come inside the World of Wonders sideshow.
"Alive and in person. See Spidora, the creature with the head of a woman and the legs of a spider. See the headless Lady or the weird woman with three legs," says Victa as he stands on the elevated stage between two performers, one holding a large boa constrictor and the other in handcuffs.
Nemo?? Chuck's Live Fish game was popular with kids on the midway as well. The idea was to toss a ping-pong ball into a fishbowl. If a ball goes into the bowl, the player wins a small fish. With five wins players can trade up to one of the larger fish shown here.
Jimmie Johnson from Buffalo New York has been working at the Florida State fair for 35 years. This year he is working the Gunball game, where players throw a baseball in an attempt to knock over containers. Part of the fun of walking the midway is listening to the workers try to coax or shame passersby into playing their games.
As night fell, it began to sprinkle. Rain has become as much of a tradition at the fair as the food. Sometimes it's good, sometimes not so good.
Many fairgoers come prepared. As the rain began, umbrellas and rain suits came out. Most people won't let a little rain get in their way. According to the National Weather Service
good weather should prevail through the weekend and for a good part of next week.
Really, dude? No wonder they are thinking about laws to discourage using your phone while driving. This guy was crashing into everybody!
Even through the rain, fairgoers had a great time. The Florida State Fair
continues through February 18. Tickets are $8 -$10 for adults, children age 6-11 $4, ages 5 & under FREE. Parking is also free.