Update (September 2016): For 2016, the event dates are September 16th – October 2nd. This post is from 2011 so it’s possible that it may contain some out-dated information. This post should still give you a great overview of The Big E experience, but please check The Big E website for details about things like hours and pricing.
Planning a trip to the Big E? I’ve got one word for you: “Jeet?” For those not familiar with the smallest state’s peculiar vernacular, that’s Rhode Islandese for, “have you eaten yet?” As it happens, Tuesday (9/20) was Rhode Island day at the Big E and this native daughter was ready to eat, eat, eat!
Okay, so before anyone pounces on us for falling asleep in geography class back in middle school, technically speaking this is not a Connecticut-based event. However, we figured that since it is popular with tons of Connecticut families, it was our obligation to scope it out first. That and the whole eat, eat, eat part.
It was still raining at my house when we set off for our Big E adventure at about 12:30 p.m., but the weather cleared as we headed north on 91. We followed the direct route detailed on the Big E website (Mandy and her crew explored one of the alternate routes, and that worked fine too), but even if you just hopped on 91N without a clue where to go after that, you would have no trouble finding the fair. The signage all along the way is great. It took us about half an hour to get there from Glastonbury, but there was no traffic on this overcast Tuesday afternoon.
As I mentioned before, the signs directing you to the fair grounds are everywhere, and the signage for the parking lot is no exception. It was easy to find “Gate 9,” which appears to be the main parking spot. The cost to park is $10 per car, which does seem a little steep considering admission is another $15 per adult ($12 if you got your discounted ticket ahead of time online or at Big Y by 9/14). There were other, unofficial parking options advertised on the road leading to the fair, but if you travel with a lot of gear like we do, it’s probably worth the extra few bucks to park on the fair grounds. Additionally, the parking situation there is very well organized. Pay for your parking ticket at the gate and parking attendants will direct you to a spot. Handy row markers make sure you’ll be able to find your car among the masses when you’re ready to go home.
In an odd coincidence, we found ourselves parked almost directly behind Mandy and her crew even though they arrived a full 15 minutes before us. That’s sort of a miracle when you consider the size of this lot.
We loaded everyone into the strollers and headed for the main gate. Sparkles was leading the charge.
It was just barely sprinkling, but we still figured the rainy start to the day was responsible for the thin crowd. A lucky break! Although, we later learned from a fair official that the Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week tend to be the least crowded days. It’s like we knew what we were doing!
Since we had our tickets already, we bypassed the ticket booths and went for the entrance.
Whew. Good thing I left my iguana at home. (Kidding.) Although, you have to wonder about a place that feels the need to specifically prohibit reptiles…
If you didn’t bring a stroller, there are these cute little car/wagons for rent. They call them Fun Rider Strollers.
Actually, there were all kinds of transportation aids available, for a fee of course.
Once we had all made it in, there was so much to look at and so many ways to go, that we had to regroup in front of the directory and map out our afternoon some.
The plan? Snack on some fair favorites, scout out the rides and games, and maybe learn a little bit about North Eastern agriculture.
First lesson: People will fry absolutely anything.
Since fried Oreos didn’t sound like much of a lunch, we decided to head over to The Avenue of States to see what was happening for Rhode Island day.
Giant turkey leg, anyone? Uh, I’ll keep looking, thanks.
When we arrived at the avenue, there was a Rhode Island swing and jazz band called Avenue A playing outside the building, which is a replica of the Old Statehouse in Newport, RI. I did recognize the building and the band. However, I spent my first 21 years as a RI resident, and I have no idea what the deal is with that giant banana.
Or Mother Goose. But it did make for a cute photo.
Inside the building we made a beeline for the clam cakes. They did not disappoint.
Then on to the Del’s Frozen Lemonade counter. Del’s is a frozen treat unique to my home state that used to be sold on trucks outside the schoolyard when I was a kid. Although, now there are Del’s kiosks in the parks and malls too. That brings back memories of childhood. Hubby likes lemon, but I’ve always been a watermelon girl myself.
Still on the hunt for lunch, we spy a sign for Maine Baked Potatoes and after we get over our initial shock at seeing “Maine” and “potato” in the same sentence, we decide to check out the Maine building.
On the way to the potatoes, we run into the lobster rolls. Now that’s more like it.
After devouring the lobster roll, we move the crew outside and hubby goes back for a potato.
Apparently they are very popular. This is where the line usually forms.
Seems like a pretty big deal to make over a spud topped with some liquid cheese and Bacos. On the other hand, it might be the only quasi-vegetable available for human consumption (unless you count the deep-fried vegetables).
Next we wander through the New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut buildings.
Lego world headquarters is in Enfield? I had no idea!
We decided to backtrack a little to catch a free animal show and exhibit. Unfortunately, Boo was antsy so we couldn’t stay put for long. But the older kids seemed to be enjoying the show that featured real animals like snakes and something that looked like a small fuzzy monkey, and lots of audience participation. Yes, the kids got to touch the snake.
Heading back down the lane with all the storefronts, we discovered a free petting zoo in the middle of all this retail madness. Unfortunately, you can’t bring your stroller inside, so I volunteered to watch the gear while Mandy and the boys gave the kiddos a tour. It also gave me time to snap some pictures of this lady and her child riding an elephant. That’s right. I said elephant. There are also pony rides, if that’s more your speed. Each costs $5.
We also found this helpful place. Always good to be prepared.
A little farther up we stumbled on the large outdoor concert stage called the Court of Honor where the big shows happen. We’d tried to get to one of the Vegas-style magic shows earlier, but we didn’t quite know where to go so we missed it. If you’re hoping to go to a show, definitely make sure you figure out where the stage is ahead of time so when you hear the announcement on the PA, you can head straight over. Show times are also listed on signboards outside the stage areas, so if you miss one show, you can see when to come back for the next one.
Since we had just come for the whole experience, we pretty much wandered aimlessly in one direction until we ran into a directory, then wandered in a new direction until we hit another directory. That approach worked just fine since there are plenty of signs directing you to events, attractions and restroom/information centers. However, there did seem to be a few people hawking fair programs, but I never got close enough to see if they were free or not. (From the bits of information I found online, looks like you do have to pay for them.) I would imagine they contain all kinds of helpful information like a map and show times, so they might be worth it if you want to be sure to catch specific things.
While we’re on the subject of specific things, let me assure you that there are plenty of pretty decent restrooms in every corner of the fair. Not a porta-potty in sight except for outside the gates in the parking lot. Restrooms with changing areas are even marked separately on the map. Plus, the bathrooms all have attendants stationed inside. At first we were grousing at the prominently displayed tip jar, but as the day went on we realized that having those attendants there really made a difference. With so much traffic, I can’t even imagine how gross those bathrooms would have been without someone constantly cleaning up. Some of the restrooms even had flowers in them! I figured I could spare a dollar for that.
Around another corner we found a giant building labeled “Farm-A-Rama” filled with farm animals including beautiful horses, adorable hatching chicks, alpacas, sheep, a pig (and her little piglets), and plenty of clucking chickens.
By far the best spot at the fair for baby-changing.
After we got everyone cleaned up (a soggy Boo needed a wardrobe change), we decided to head back toward the Midway to see what kinds of rides and games there were for the toddler set. We also needed to hunt down one of those famous Big E Cream Puffs. Since the food court was right next to the Midway, we could cross both those items off our list. As we walked, we passed yet another grouping of these strange foot-massaging chairs.
This time, however, there was an occupant we could interrogate. After a game of 20 questions, we decided it was worth a quarter to find out what it was like firsthand. Basically, the metal plate just vibrates super fast so it feels like an electric current is running up and down your legs. We giggled like schoolgirls taking turns hopping on and off the seat while our husbands watched the actual children. But afterwards, we definitely noticed that our feet felt better. (Please note the baby drool all over my shirt. Classy.)
With a new spring in our step, we headed for the cream puff window. At $3.75, it’s probably the biggest bargain at the whole fair.
So here’s the cream puff in all its glory. We were ready to dig in.
Sadly, it turns out the cream was much better than the puff. It kind of reminded me of a slightly sweet, slightly stale kaiser roll. From all the hype, I was expecting some kind of heavenly creation. Maybe my expectations were too high. The verdict? We dubbed it fair fair fare. On to the Midway.
Ride prices could easily get pretty extravagant if you plan to buy ride tickets ($1.25 for a single ticket). So if you have an older child, or if you love the feeling of the bottom of your stomach dropping out as you plunge 100 feet, definitely purchase a wristband for $25. It gives you unlimited rides for the whole day. I should mention quickly that one ticket does not always equal one ride. Many of the rides we saw required two tickets. Something to keep in mind when doing a quick cost/benefit analysis at the ticket window.
Since we weren’t even sure if the kids would be able to ride in anything besides their strollers, and since Boo had picked this inopportune time to (finally) nap, we didn’t purchase any ride tickets. A short stroll through the kiddie section revealed quite a few fun things for wee ones, including the quintessential carousel, a pint-sized train, and several spinning contraptions. Adults were welcome to ride with their children…if they bought a ticket too, of course.
Since we hadn’t eaten anything in all of 15 minutes, we decided to grab some curly fries and an insanely large beverage. The fries were just okay, and I swear the soda was flat, although hubby said it wasn’t. But at least we have a souvenir cup now.
Especially since I didn’t win anything playing Whac-A-Mole.
By the way, perhaps this is carnival policy elsewhere, but in case you are not a frequent fair goer either, I should tell you that the way you get the really big prizes is by trading in your smaller prizes. So you have to win several times to even be eligible for one of these giant stuffed animals. The cost was $3 per game, so after we lost twice, we figured it would be more cost effective to just go to Toys R Us and buy Boo a giant pig. We’ll save the more costly winning for later when he’s old enough to say, “Daddy won this for me.” Right now we’re still working on “Daddy.”
We finished up with a quick tour of the rest of the Midway.
For now, it was getting late (which means 5:00 when you have babies) and after grabbing a bag of cotton candy to go ($5 for a small bag), we headed toward the exit.
Except that on the way we passed another large building adorned with a sign for a singing fridge and a butter sculpture. How can you pass that up?
Inside we found more farm animals. There were pens filled with goats and sheep, and even a cow-milking exhibit.
The butter sculpture was actually outside in what I imagine is a very temperature controlled glass box. We took guesses as to what it would be: a cow, a barn, a chicken. It turned out to be much more intricate than we thought. Who knew you could do all that with butter?! The artist even has a website if you’re interested: http://www.jimvictor.com/
Before we could turn for the exit, the tail end of a parade caught my eye.
Parade over, it was really time to get moving. We pressed toward the exit until…
Look! You can get a jump on your holiday photographs in the Christmas tree exhibit.
Does it seem random to anyone else that there are hot tubs for sale here?
Before we could leave, I just had to try one of those crazy fried snacks. I passed up the fried Kool-Aid in favor of the fried jelly beans. They just sounded so wacky. They fry ‘em while you wait, and let me tell you, with a fussy baby who doesn’t want to be in his stroller and also doesn’t want to be held, that was a long wait. For this:
I was thinking, where are the jelly beans? Oh, they’re in there. Three or four anyway. But mostly it’s just greasy fried dough. At least now I can safely tell you to skip the fried jelly beans. They really are as disgusting as they sound.
Heading back to the car, we were thankful that we’d paid attention to the row markers. The day had really cleared up and people were still pouring in the entrance even as we were heading out. The gigantic parking area was still over half full.
When we were all tucked back into the car and ready to go, it made us a little queasy to count all the things we’d eaten in only a four and half hour time period:
Del’s frozen lemonade
Loaded baked potato
Fried jelly beans
Of course, if you think that stopped me from breaking into my bag of cotton candy on the ride home, well, you just don’t know me well enough yet. Delicious.
Have you been to The Big E? Tell us what you ate. C’mon. I showed you mine…
875 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, MA
(FYI-Put this address in your GPS to guide yourself to Gate 9 parking)
The Big E Box Office: (413) 205-5109
UPDATE 9/2016: This post is from 2011 so it’s possible that it may contain some out-dated information. This post should still give you a great overview of The Big E experience, but please check The Big E website for details about things like hours and pricing.
A stroller (There is a lot of ground to cover)
Comfortable shoes (See above)
Layered clothing (For indoor/outdoor and shade/sun temperature differences)
Food for the wee ones (Boo took little bites of our snacks, but there wasn’t really anything we could find him that would qualify as a meal)
Your appetite (Enough said)
Check in next week when it’s time to pick a peck of apples at one a-mazing orchard. Plus, we have the perfect spot to “fritter” away an afternoon.