I absolutely love going to fairs, but we haven’t gone the past two summers because our son used to have such a hard time in the car and it wasn’t worth it for the hour and fifteen to hour and a half or longer in the car to get there. Even 20 or 30 minutes was a struggle and so we tended to stick to trips close to home as much as possible.
This year, he’s finally doing well on longer car rides so we planned to go. I wasn’t looking forward to the drive down but didn’t think there was another good option because it would take hours and 3 bus transfers to get there.
A couple weeks before we were going to go, I just happened to see an add for the Sounder light rail train (which is usually a weekday commuter train only).
It turns out that the fair actually charters the line on a few select Saturdays and we could take it directly to the fair and home again!
The station is 1 mile from my parents’ house and we were going with my mom and grandma, so it worked out perfectly.
I was so excited to find out that option existed and we took the train down last Saturday. There were only two trains each direction, so we had to plan ahead to make sure that worked for us but it really wasn’t a big deal. We took the 10AM train down and planned to take the 5:50PM return trip home.
The train ride was an hour and 25 minutes each way, which was really no longer than it would have taken to drive, and we were all able to relax and walk around during the trip. Our son LOVES trains, so the trip down was just about as exciting as the fair itself. We spent the time looking out the window as we passed other trains, the lake, construction sites, and other interesting scenery. Unlike a car or bus, we were also able to get up and walk around a little, which makes a huge difference for a toddler.
Once we got off, there were shuttle buses lined up to whisk us right to the fair and we even got to go in a separate entrance, which meant we didn’t have to wait in a crazy line while they checked bags. The train option just kept getting better and better compared to driving.
By the time we got into the fairgrounds and walked around for a few minutes, it was time for lunch and then nap for the little guy. Half of the reason for the fair is the food, so we got some awful, delicious, greasy, overpriced food (but we did bring our own bottles of water – I put my foot down at paying for water at $4/bottle).
As our son slept, we walked around the fairgrounds and just looked at all of the different rides and booths. Again and again, I would turn to my husband shocked at the sheer price of so much of what was offered. $9 for a pint of craft beer when you can get a growler fill for the same price is hard to wrap my head around. Regardless, the beer garden was filled with people drinking away $10 bills.
I’m not big on amusement park rides because I just don’t think they’re worth $5 or $10 for such a short ride, and I absolutely WILL NOT ride a Ferris wheel, but the fair had a really cool looking human slingshot ride so I dragged my husband over to take a look.
As it turns out, the ride costs $35/person (and an additional $20 if you want a video) for something that last a full minute. They were turning 2 people through at 2:10 per round, so that one ride was grossing a minimum of $2,100/hour! I refused to pay the $35 to ride myself, but I can imagine that is a pretty lucrative income for whoever owns it for the month of the fair.
It’s incredible to me the sheer amount of money that can be spent on one day at the fair when it can be such a fun day regardless, especially when so much of it is for 2 minute rides or giant stuffed toys that will just end up next week in storage at best and in the landfill at worst.
We spent $18/person on the train ride and fair ticket combo pack (our son was free because he is under 5 years old), and by leaving the car at home we saved $59.70 on gas and wear and tear based on the AAA calculations I did for my vehicle plus an additional $8-$20 on parking. Other than that, we did splurge on a gondola ride over the fair ($21 for the three of us) and about $40 on fair food over the 6 hours we were there.
While ~$100 is somewhat a lot for a day out, it did include a train ride and two meals, so I feel that was a reasonable amount for a full staycation type day.
Other than the gondola ride and the food, the rest of the day was spent doing all of the free activities that fair provides. We did a lot of walking around and looking at all the different crafts and displays and all of the farm animals, and our son was able to “go fishing” in a stocked pool. The fishing was a free kid’s activity and it’s the one thing he keeps talking about days later. We probably could have skipped the gondola ride and had just as much fun 😉
There was also a fire engine with a firefighter handing out free fireman tattoos. The fair has SO MUCH free fun it’s crazy to me to think how people spend hundreds of dollars on the super expensive not free options. We had a wonderful day and I don’t feel like we missed out on anything by keeping the price reasonable, other than missing out on an extra large credit card statement next month!
At 5PM we headed back to the train (again, via quick and easy shuttle bus) and rode home. After a full day walking around and exploring, it was really nice to sit and let someone else take us home and not worry about getting out of a packed parking lot and then sitting in traffic. Instead, we got to relax and enjoy the ride and the view. We all agreed that from here on out, the train is the way to go to the fair.