By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
Fall is here! And with so many fall festivals and special events coming up, there is no shortage of fun things to do — your challenge, on the contrary, is choosing which ones you will actually get to visit. Our annual guide to Northern Virginia Fall Festivals lists more than 20 options for season-long events, from large festivals at farms to smaller pumpkin patches that offer kids some fun, and our Community Festivals page has one-time or weekend-long seasonal events. While some of these events and festivals are free, many of them have admission fees that can add up for larger families.
And yes, prices have gone up in years: I myself have seen the costs rise and I remember not-so-many years ago when, for example, Ticonderoga Farms charged for a carload (all the people in it) about what they now charge for a single admission. But guess what? In that time, the farm also has added many more permanent and seasonal attractions, included in the price. As another example, Cox Farms, with perhaps the biggest fall festival around here, also has raised admission fees slightly in recent years — but has done so while also adding new attractions and even drastically reducing its prices on some discount days.
The bottom line is that yes, prices have gone up in some places (as costs generally have increased for just about everything these days) but so have the features. The great majority of these festivals are hosted by local family-run farms whose owners genuinely want you to have a good time. Over many years of running this website, I have met several of these owners and I can tell you that these are some of the hardest-working folks in our community who try provide you with good value — but ultimately that means different things to different folks. With that in mind, below we present eight tips to help you get the most “bang for your buck” during the fall festival season.
We can’t show you how to get out of a corn maze, but we can show you how to save money
8 Ways to Get More Value from Fall Festivals
1. Attend the one-day festivals: You won’t find attractions like giant slides or wagon rides at one-day festivals, but these events still pack the usual fun that you’d expect at a regular festival (moon bounces, live music, and petting zoos, for example), plus seasonal fun such as pumpkin painting, hay forts, and scarecrow-making activities. Our Community Festivals page has dozens of one-day or short-run events coming up, many of which have free admission with some or all activities included. Some of the biggest ones include the Fall for Fairfax Kids Fest Oct. 3-4 and the City of Fairfax Fall Festival Oct. 10.
2. Pick the right seasonal festivals for you: The ongoing fall festivals around here are by no means “one size fits all.” Some are huge events where you could spend the entire day and still not get to do everything, and some are pumpkin patches or garden centers where you could spend just an hour or two giving your kids some fun without committing to a whole afternoon or the entire day. And they all have something special to offer. Pumpkin Village includes an indoor play area, zip lines, and admission to the Leesburg Animal Park petting Zoo. Great Country Farms has a pumpkin-munching dinosaur and pumpkin cannons. Cox Farms has more slides than anyone else, including the longest one (six lanes) in our area, plus daily entertainment and a one-of-a-kind hayride. Amazing Farm Fun at Ticonderoga now has pedal carts and it’s the only place where you’ll find a wobbly bridge. Cows-n-Corn includes a hayride tour of a real working dairy farm. Wayside Farm Fun, Temple Hall Corn Maze, and Hartland Farm have pig races…. you get the idea. What you get out of a festival will depend largely on how much you’re looking to do, how much time you have, your kids’ ages, and other factors. Selecting the right festivals for your family will help you get the most value.
3. Pick the right day and time: Festival admission is often higher on weekends, holidays, and peak days, and cheaper (and less crowded) on weekdays; some offer evening hours at a cheaper rate. Cox Farms recently announced $5 admission Value Days on select dates. If you have some flexibility, weekday attendance often can be a better deal.
4. Review carefully what the admission covers: Carefully look at all the information on the festival websites. Some places may seem pricey at first until you realize that they include all or nearly all attractions plus live entertainment and other special features, for a price around the cost of (or only slightly more than) a movie ticket, yet you can spend all day instead of just a couple of hours. Some smaller places with no (or low) admission fees, such as pumpkin patches (for example, Nalls Produce in Springfield or High Hill Farm in Winchester), offer a nice amount of free or cheap activities good for younger kids, making them a fantastic value. Admission fee or not, note that at places that charge for activities “a la carte,” this system can give you a lot of flexibility but the fees may add up quickly. Bottom line: do the math and see all that is offered — and what you think you’ll make use of — to properly compare festivals. What is a great deal for one family may only end up being okay for another one.
5. Look into memberships and other perks: Check out any special offers from the festivals. Cox Farms, for example, offers free memberships that provide you with special perks during festival season and beyond: this can be anything from discounted tickets to outright free passes. Wayside Farm Fun is offering Fairfax Family Fun readers 20% off admission on any day of the festival all season long, and always has free admission for active-duty military. Pumpkin Village at Leesburg Animal Park offers multi-day passes for a discount.
6. Follow the farms and festivals on social media: Most of the large festivals are very active on social media, where they sometimes run promotions and ticket giveaways. Following these festivals Facebook and Twitter channels also keeps you updated on any last-minute scheduling announcements.
7. Look for giveaways: Here at Fairfax Family Fun, during this fall season we will be giving away tickets to Cox Farms, Wayside Farm Fun, Pumpkin Village at Leesburg Animal Park, and others. Other websites and local family magazines may be hosting giveaways, too.
8. Search for coupons and deals: Look for discounted offers through discount services such as Certifikid and Groupon, and check your coupon mailers (such as Valpak and Clipper Magazine) for special offers. You may want to follow the social media pages for these coupon sites as well.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, have fun! These festivals only come once a year, so that alone makes them worth a visit!
Photo (c) P. Hall