TAMPA — They walked the midway with their mouths full of freshly fried corn dogs, munched on barbecue and hunkered under their umbrellas on the first day of the Florida State Fair.
And though the food courts had bigger crowds than the midway on Thursday, that is likely to change today, when thousands students from Hillsborough County schools are expected to head in for a full day of rides, games, food and fun. They’ll get an official day off from school to do it.
Early on Thursday, the Hollywood Racing Pigs pulled in a full house. The nearby freak show, called the Strangest Show on Earth, featured a three-legged duck and the world’s smallest octopus.
Carnival barkers worked hard to lure people toward their games, while food vendors prepared fresh lemonade, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, cotton candy and cheeseburgers as the crowd began to pick up around lunchtime.
Sammi Thompson and her younger brother, Jack Thompson, 14, drove up from Bradenton for their first visit to the state fair.
“We just moved here from Chicago and we’ve never been, so we figured we’d check it out,” Sammi Thompson said, after exiting the Super Music Express midway ride.
Chris Staggs and Crystal Martinez, drove over from Clearwater, also making their first trip to the fair, strolling under the protection of their black umbrella. “We went to Cracker Country and we actually learned a lot about the governors and the way people used to live,” Staggs said.
Tracy Frazier of Valrico, showed up with a small group of family, including her daughter, 14-year-old Ruthann Frazier, who is showing a Holland Lopp rabbit in the livestock area.
Bree Hampton, 12, of Zephyrhills, hung out close to her pig, 231-pound Ringo, in the livestock area.
“I had to learn to walk him, to feed him and train him and give him antibiotics,” said Bree, spending her fifth season at the fair as part of the 4-H program. “It’s been awesome and I’ve made a lot of friends at the fair. But it is pretty sad when you have to say good-bye.”
The fair pays students for their pigs, which then end up at the slaughter house.
David Sagy, of Ruskin, brought his mother, Peggy Sagy, to enjoy a few games. And they had a plan mapped out to eat their way across the fair.
“We’re here to eat, to shop and to laugh at the people screaming on the rides,” said David Sagy standing on the midway with a Hello Kitty stuffed animal tucked under his arm.
“We started out with fries and next, maybe we’ll have some Italian or shishkabobs,” Peggy Sagy said. “Then, funnel cake, candied apples and deep-fried Twinkies,” her son added.
Entry into the fair, which runs through Feb. 17, is $11 for adults on weekdays and $13 on weekends. Children 6-11 pay $6 on weekdays and $7 on weekends. Wristbands for the midway are available for $30.
The Florida State Fairgrounds are located on the south side of Interstate 4 at U.S. 301.