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The Florida State Fair pushed back its start date by two months as a pandemic precaution, but now we’re ready for funnel cake.
The fair, which was first held in Tampa in 1904, returns Thursday for a 12-day run. And while many old traditions remain, things will look a bit different this year.
The state fair drew more than 455,000 people in 2020, when it was held in February. It was the No. 5 most-attended fair in the country, according to the industry tracking website Carnival Warehouse.
This year’s two-month delay was aimed at easing people into a safe comfort zone in the pandemic, organizers said.
“We also wanted to ensure that more vaccinations were taking place,” said Cheryl Flood, who has been executive director of the Florida State Fair since 2016. “We’ve had a year to learn how to live with this new life with this pandemic. We know if we put protocols in place the public can come out and enjoy. But we want them to do it safely.”
Changes in store
Face masks are required in all indoor spaces and also outdoors when not eating or drinking. Entry will be denied for anyone over age 5 without a face mask.
There won’t be a Governor’s Luncheon this year, which was traditionally held with the governor and Cabinet in attendance. A state fair spokeswoman said Gov. Ron DeSantis won’t be attending the fair’s opening day. But Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried will be there to “flip the switch” on the midway, and she and other VIPs will glide down the fair’s three-story slide.
Other changes include wider lanes on the midway and between food stalls and rides to allow for social distancing. Signs will guide the crowd to keep their distance while waiting.
Cashless payment options are available and encouraged.
Facility cleaning protocols have been increased and hand-washing and sanitizing stations will be available throughout the fairgrounds.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the crazy food options.
An innovation this year is a self-guided foodie tour. Guests can pick up maps from the information booths throughout the park to find reimagined funnel cakes and pizzas along with favorite fair foods on the 360-acre fairgrounds.
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Jane Harris, manager of funnel cake masters at the Best Around concessions, said competition is high among vendors to come up with the nuttiest innovation. She’s happy to give out recipes, which have been featured on the Carnival Eats show on the Disney Channel, once she debuts new foods, like her Flaming Hot Cheetos Funnel Cake. “But we don’t collaborate among vendors. We try to hide what we are doing until we bring it out.”
The fair’s circus has been moved outside, and there are many returning favorites among the free entertainment choices. That includes the Hollywood Racing Pigs and the lumberjack show of log rolling and ax-throwing.
Among the other entertainers:
Disc Connected K9′s: 16 rescue dogs who are also world champions at doing aerial and choreographed tricks.
Demolition Derby: One of the fair’s most popular contests returns Friday and Saturday with limited seating. “There can be only one left on four wheels, but until then, there’s gonna be a whole lot of gratifying smashy-smashy,” the fair’s website says.
Fireguy: This strolling performer will entertain the crowds with juggling, fire eating and other flambéed feats.
Daredevil Daze 2.0: The daily spectacle features freestyle motocross stunts, high wire and other death-defying endeavors.
Dark Knights: Miss the Renaissance Fest? You can witness a “real-life” jousting tournament here.
One Man Band: Strolling troubadour Mark Dobson has more than 30 years experience.
To view the full entertainment list, visit floridastatefair.com/fair/entertainment.
What to wear
Besides the required face masks, comfortable shoes are a must. Keep in mind the trails can be dusty or muddy.
A small strap backpack is best to keep your hands free to hold some food on a stick and also make it easy to breeze through security, where bags will be checked. Don’t forget sunscreen and water.
If you go
Florida State Fair: Runs Thursday -May 2 at 4800 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. The gates open at 11 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends, and will close at 10 p.m. each day. The midway opens at 1 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 a.m. on weekends.
Admission: $9 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for children ages 6 to 11. An all-day armband is $30 on a weekend or $20 on a weekday. Tickets are on sale now at floridastatefair.com.
There are a number of promotion days.
- Hero’s Day: Free admission on Thursday for law enforcement, first responders, active or retired military, doctors, nurses, hospital and emergency clinic staff with valid ID.
- Senior Day: Any Monday-Thursday has discounted admission for 55 and older.
- Homeschool Day: Monday features free admission for homeschool students under the age of 18 until 6 p.m. with a paid adult.
- $2 Tuesday on Tuesday offers $2 admission, and select rides and food items for $2 after 2 p.m.
- Thrill Thursday Ride-a-Thon: On April 29, you can get a $15 ride armband after 3 p.m.
- Kid’s Day: On April 30, kids under the age of 18 get free admission until 6 p.m. with a paid adult admission. Adult supervision is required after 6 p.m.