Just because you can spend a lot of money at a fair doesn’t mean you have to.
Maine’s country fairs are famous for good food and lots of rides and games for the kiddies. So if you go with your family of five, eat up on hot dogs and candied apples, and ride the Tilt-A-Whirl until the lights go out, you could end up spending your week’s worth of grocery money.
But you don’t have to, if you do a little planning beforehand. And if you pick the right fair.
The Cumberland Fair, which opens Sunday and runs through Sept. 28 just a few miles from Portland, is a great place to practice “fair on the cheap” strategies.
Once you’re on the fairgrounds, there are tons of things to see and do without spending money. There are more than a dozen barns and buildings that house draft horses, oxen, steers, rabbits, goats, miniature horses, pigs and other livestock. There’s a maple sugar house where syrup’s made, pig races and pulling contests. Not to mention live entertainment and demonstrations all week long, including a rodeo, a demolition derby and harness (horse) racing.
What’s more, if you pick the right days to go — and bring the right people — you can save money based on various discounts.
Here’s a guide to saving money while still enjoying all that the Cumberland Fair has to offer.
BRING THE KIDS: Because children ages 12 and under are admitted for free, it makes sense to bring as many as possible. Conversely, bring as few adults as possible. One adult with five children is still $9 — the adult admission price — or only slightly more than $1 a person. To save even more money, have a senior citizen (ages 65 and older) bring the kids on Tuesday or Thursday. On those days, seniors pay just $3.
RACING’S FREE: On the Sunday after the fair officially closes (Sept. 29), there will be free harness racing on the track at 1:30 p.m. They call it “Appreciation Day.” While the rest of the fair is being dismantled and you can’t go on rides or pet the goats, seeing race horses and live racing for free is not too shabby.
READ THE SCHEDULE: By browsing the fair’s schedule at cumberlandfair.com, you can find days that are so packed with things you want to see, you won’t have time to buy food or ride tickets.
On Sunday, for instance, there is a plethora of interesting things to see, including the Maine Miniature Horse Show at 9 a.m.; the Pumpkin and Squash Contest Weigh-In (giant pumpkins!) at 11 a.m.; the Colby College Woodsman’s Team’s snappy chopping and sawing at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.; Maine country music star Don Campbell in concert at noon; a professional bull-riding demonstration at 2 p.m.; and a smash-‘em-up demolition derby at 6:30 p.m.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT PARKING: The Cumberland Fair now has free parking, a change that went into effect last year. You save at least $3 right there.
EAT UP: It might be a good idea to go to the fair after lunch or before dinner so you don’t get too hungry, or pack a lunch and eat in the car. Conversely, you can look for food bargains at the fair, such as burgers sold at the 4-H booth, fudge at the goat barn or ice cream with syrup at the maple sugar house. All of those usually sell for pretty reasonable prices.
RIDE ON THE WEEKDAYS: If you must ride the midway rides at the fair, do it on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday from noon to 10 p.m. During those times, you can pay just one price — $15 — and ride all the rides you want. It’s certainly cheaper than buying individual ride tickets and riding for 10 hours straight.
If you have the stamina to ride nonstop from noon to 10 p.m., that’s only $1.50 per hour — and that is indeed a bargain.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: