Saturday, August 11, 2012

Denver County Fair: Not Worth the Cost

To quickly sum up our experience at the second annual Denver County Fair: it was fun, but it was not worth the money.

The Denver County Fair is at the National Western Complex in north Denver all weekend.  I heard a blip about it on NPR.  From what I gathered, they're trying to mix a traditional fair (picture pie-eating contests, baking competitions, and prized animals) with something a little more modern (cupcake booths, red velvet funnel cakes, gourmet shaved ice, and texting competitions).  It sounded like a lot of fun.  So, we went.

The prices were astronomical. I mean, seriously, we might as well have gone to Disney Land. We took one car, and Andrew's friends took another. It was $10 for each car to park, but there was no other parking available. The light rail doesn't go that far north, and so we had to fork over the money to park. Then, to get into the fair, it was another $10 a person.  

Everything inside cost money. Basically, we dumped about $100 to get into a place to spend more money. Our friends were interested in trying out jousting. They had jousting--American Gladiator style! It was $14 to joust. I'm dead serious. We watched other people joust instead. Oliver was interested in a bouncy castle.  It was $2 to go into the bouncy castle. He ended up being too afraid to enter, but they kindly let us walk him through a little obstacle course instead.  

We spent $5 to buy a single, plain hot dog for Oliver for lunch.  I sneaked one of the chips it came with and found it to be stale.  Really stale.  The "best by" date on the bag was July 3.  I went to toss them but couldn't find a garbage can anywhere.  There were two lunch areas with picnic tables, but no garbage cans in sight. We later learned the only garbage cans were near the bathrooms.  I'm not sure what our $10 entrance fee paid for, but it wasn't adequate AC or garbage cans.

 Stale, expired chips:

I took pictures of the surrounding area to show what the venue was like.  You see, for our $10, we got to see Costco booths, Direct Buy booths, as well as booths that sold windows, bathroom tubs, and house siding.  It appeared we paid $10 a pop to be advertised to.

When we explored the fair further, we found more interesting, local booths that sold canned goods and art. I think those booths should have been featured a little more prominently.

In the carnival area, Andrew finally decided to buy a $5 ticket card so that we did something while we were there.  We took our ticket card over to the strength game.  You know, the game where you pick up a sledge hammer and try to whack the base hard enough to ring a bell.  We got Oliver pumped up to try it.  We were then told they don't accept tickets at that booth, only cash. We paid $3 more to let Oliver take a whack.  We took out ticket card over to some drop-an-item game. They didn't take the ticket cards, either--just cash. Andrew remarked, "Guys, this is just like a real carnival!" I couldn't help but think of The Simpsons episode, where Homer trades in all their vacation money for Itchy and Scratchy Dollars, only to find that no one in Itchy and Scratchy Land accepted it.

We ended up using part of our card on one lap on a miniature roller coaster.  It was the only carnival activity we found that accepted ticket cards and cost under 5 tickets (5 tickets = $5).

We left there and wanted to check out the animals.  It was $3 to enter the petting zoo area, and it cost more to get animal food for them.  It was $20 to pet the tiger cub.  Pony rides cost money, too.  We wandered the area and left.

Upstairs, I decided to get ice cream. It was about 80-85 degrees in the National Western Complex, and with all the people around, we were covered in sweat. An ice cream cone for me and a kid scoop for Oliver ran $10. Yup. $10. Andrew went to a stand to buy a small bottle of water ($3).  The person ahead of him bought two cups of beer. Her total was $17. She thought it was a joke, and when she realized it wasn't, she left the beers.

Andrew still wanted a red velvet funnel cake, but we couldn't find the stand. None of the vendors we asked knew where the red velvet funnel cakes were. There were also supposed to be fried pickles and fried twinkies and such, but we never found those.

Out of pocket, our family of two adults and two kids spent $70. For $70, we got an ice cream cone and a kid's scoop, one bottle of water, and one hot dog in addition to one lap (less than 10 seconds) on a roller coaster, one hit with a sledge hammer, and two passes through a child's obstacle course.

To be honest, the fair was fun for Oliver.  He really liked seeing pies on display and eating ice cream and watching the other kids on the ridiculously expensive rides (read: $8 to jump on a trampoline).  I found myself wanting to enter pies and preserves in the food contests.  Genuinely, the fair would have been fun if (if) it was free.  I could rationalize spending $10 on ice cream, if it had been free to get in.  I could rationalize spending $14 on jousting, if it had been free to get in.  It wasn't free, though.  The group of us spent $100 just to walk in the doors.

Oliver's favorite booth was the pet spay and neuter booth because they had a bubble machine running for kids to play in:

Here's a photo of Andrew.  You can see by his sweat that it was really hot at the indoor fair:

Oliver liked looking at the pie entries.  He has a book about a county fair, and the people in the book bake a blueberry pie for the pie contest.

Yes, Oliver had fun, but the Denver County Fair is a rip off.  They absolutely price gouge.  If, in the future, they take away the entrance fees, I'd recommend taking your family to check it out.  If they don't, then hold on to your pocket books and stay at home.  For the money you spend there, you can buy your own trampoline.

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