Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fall Fun: Green Meadows Farm Trail of Jack O' Lanterns and Ooky Spooky Haunted House

Green Meadows Farm is always a fun place to visit with little ones during the fall months during the daytime. This year, for the first time ever, they offered an opportunity to visit the farm at night for their Trail of Jack O' Lanterns and Oooky Spooky Haunted House.

Admission to the Trail of Jack O' Lanterns is $10/person ages 3 and up. While my daughter really enjoyed this event I think that price is pretty steep for what they offered. I bought our tickets on Groupon and using a discount code paid $8 total for tickets for both me and my daughter. i thought that was a very fair price for the event. Also, all the advertisements I saw said the pumpkin patch would not be available during this event but when we entered the farm we were offered the option of buying tickets to visit the pumpkin patch and take home a pumpkin at $3/pumpkin extra.
Parking at Green Meadows Farm is free. The information said to arrive between 7:30 and 8:30 for the event. I strongly recommend arriving early or closer to 8:30 because we arrived at about 7:45 and the line to get in was enormous. We waited about 20 minutes in line to get our stickers to experience the Trail of Jack O' Lanterns. You can rent a wagon or buy a pumpkin ticket at the little store next to the admission booth immediately after you get your sticker. The line to do these things was fairly short but I opted to skip both for the time being. The entire farm is not open for the event so it is definitely walkable for ages 3 and up. The part that is open is dirt paths so it is very stroller friendly. Parts of the path are pretty dark so a stroller or wagon might be a good idea if you have little ones.

When we entered the farm we were directed to the left. Calling it a trail of jack o' lanterns is a bit misleading because the jack o' lanterns are pretty spread out with other lighted displays between them. As you walk along the trail you will find plenty of carved jack o' lanterns as well as special lighting effects. My four year old's favorite thing was the areas where they had tons and tons of small lights raining down from the sky on you. Unfortunately it was too hard to take any pictures or video of this effect on my phone and I didn't have my camera but my daughter spent lots of time dancing around in these lights.

In addition to the jack o' lanterns and sea of lights you will find several different Halloween displays along the path. Some were lights in the trees in the shape of Halloween objects, some were actual displays like a graveyard and a large spider web. Areas between the displays are a little dark but there are employees to direct you along the right path. I found all the displays to be very kid friendly or easily skipped if you think for some reason it is something that will scare your child.

At the end of the trail you enter the Oooky Spooky Haunted House. Again, we ran into a huge line to enter this. The wait was probably about 20 minutes. I talked my daughter into coming back later and going to visit the pumpkin patch for the time being instead. This ended up being a very smart idea. Should you decide to visit the haunted house first you can reenter the farm without waiting in line if you'd like to visit the pumpkin patch or walk the jack o' lantern trail again as long as it is not close to closing time.
Although I only bought one pumpkin ticket both my daughter and I were allowed into the pumpkin patch. You hand your ticket to the employee before entering the patch. I have no idea how they monitor that you only take one pumpkin out/ticket and assume it is just an honor system because there was a different employee taking tickets by the time we left.
The pumpkin patch at night is a whole different experience than the daytime and lots of fun. If you have been to Green Meadows during the day you know the "patch" is really just a huge mound of pumpkins. The kids were having lots of fun climbing on the pumpkins and searching for the perfect one. It is pretty dark in the area so the only way to check to see if you found the perfect pumpkin is to bring it off the mound and over to the lighted area. The employee in the patch was warning everyone to check over their pumpkin before they left with it because apparently squirrels like to snack on the pumpkins and it is very hard to see their bite marks in the darkness by the pumpkin mound.

I let my daughter play on the pumpkins for a little while and she rejected many before she found the perfect one way up at the top of the pumpkin mound. She rolled it off the mound and we checked it over before exiting the pumpkin patch and walking back towards the haunted house. The pumpkins aren't that big so I didn't really see any reason to bring it out to the car vs carry it through the haunted house with us.

When we got over to the haunted house the line to get in was very short and we waited less than five minutes. This was at about 8:45. At that time they were asking everyone to make sure they had already walked through the pumpkin trail since it was getting close to closing time.
You are led through the haunted house in small groups by a guide. The haunted house isn't supposed to be very scary but many young children were frightened by it. There were some continuous loud noises inside that really frightened them. My daughter, on the other hand, just thought it was funny. She especially enjoyed the rooms with the spider webs and bubbles in them. I would enter with caution though if you have a sensitive or easily frightened child. The entire "house" is very small and takes about five minutes to walk through.
Overall, we had a great time and really enjoyed visiting Green Meadows at night and walking the Trail of Jack O' Lanterns. The entire trail will take the average person between 10-20 minutes to walk depending on how often you stop and how long you spend looking at the various displays. I thought it was well worth the $8 but would've been very disappointed if I'd spent $20. The $3 pumpkin fee was definitely worth it for the fun of watching my daughter experience the pumpkin mound at night and picking out a pumpkin in the dark.
If you go I definitely recommend showing up early to avoid the long line to get in. Once we got to the trail of jack o' lanterns it was not crowded at all but we spent more time waiting in line to get in than we did walking the trail. If you wait in a long line to get in chances are good you will have to wait in that long line again to get into the haunted house. Going to the pumpkin patch until a lot of the crowd left ended up being a really good idea for us.
Keep in mind that it is dark on the trail so strollers or wagons for small children are also a good idea. Although we went without I had to keep reminding my daughter not to run and I ended up firmly holding her hand after she came way too close to falling over yet another root. A lot of the kids also had glow sticks or necklaces and my daughter was very disappointed we hadn't brought any. Bringing something that glows may help with lighting the path a little bit or at the very least help you keep better track of small children not in a wagon or stroller.

Green Meadows Trail of Jack O' Lanterns and Oooky Spooky Haunted House were definitely fun evening activities to do with a four year old but I definitely recommend looking on groupon or elsewhere for discounted admission because for what it offers the full price is a little steep.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fall Fun: Road Trip to the Pickin' Patch in Dunnellon, FL

If you think there is no place in the state of Florida where you can bring your child to cut a pumpkin off a vine, guess again. The Pickin' Patch in Dunnellon offers exactly that as well as lots of other fall fun for little ones.

The drive to Dunnellon is about an hour and a half from South Orlando but completely worth it. We always combine it with a trip to see the waterfalls at beautiful Rainbow Springs State Park, which is only about 15 minutes away.
The Pickin' Patch is open select Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in October. Fridays it does not open until 3 pm but Saturday and Sunday hours are much longer. Check the Pickin' Patches' website or Facebook page for current hours before making the trip. Admission is $3/person ages 4 and up, kids under 4 are free. Everything but your pumpkins is included in that price.
The main attraction at the Pickin' Patch is the pumpkin patch. This is no small pumpkin patch. They grow both regular and specialty pumpkins and the patches stretch as far as your eye can see.

The employees recommended we go on the hay ride first, which goes around the perimeter of the field, to get an idea of where all the biggest clusters of pumpkins are. My daughter, however, had her heart set on finding the perfect pumpkin right away so she hopped in one of the free wagons they provide and off we headed to the pumpkin patch.

The Pickin' patch is stroller friendly, however, I would think it would be a little hard to push a stroller through the patch. There are plenty of wagons available (with or without hay in them) so I recommend leaving the stroller behind and using one of them if you can. Make sure you also grab a pair of pumpkin cutters/shears before you head out to the patch so you can cut your perfect pumpkin off the vine and check out the price list as you exit the tent.
My daughter traipsed through the patch and examined many before she found the perfect pumpkin. We walked past pumpkins in many different stages of growth, which was perfect for teaching a four year old a little bit about the life cycle of a pumpkin and how they grow.
She had her heart set on finding the biggest pumpkin she could and she eventually found one that she felt fit the bill. She was able to cut it off the vine herself this year (with VERY close supervision from us) but it was so big she couldn't even lift it up and put it into the wagon! That was okay with us because the pumpkins here are very reasonably priced and it will be perfect for carving a jack o' lantern.

After she selected the perfect pumpkin my daughter headed straight for the hay slides. There are two slides reserved for children only. My daughter climbed up the hay bales and slid down the two slides into the hay over and over. These slides seemed to be a hit with children of all ages!

The Pickin' Patch also has a small slide that is just for kids four and under. My daughter went down in but very much preferred the big slides. I'm sure if she was younger she would've loved the small slide as well though. It was new this year and when she was younger she was a bit wary of the large hay slides.

Next to the small slide is a small hay maze. My daughter had fun finding her way through. The hay maze is small and short enough that it is perfect for little ones to get lost in. My daughter found her way out quickly but wanted to go back in a second time to explore all of the pathways and dead ends.
After she had gone through the maze a few times we headed over to the hay ride. The hay ride is covered, which was nice on a sunny day. It goes around the perimeter of the pumpkin patch so you can look at all of the pumpkins growing and scope out which areas you might want to head to when you are ready to cut your own. Our entire family enjoyed the hay ride. There is a shaded area and a few seats if you need to wait a bit for the tractor to return.
Near the hay ride there is also a corn maze. This was another thing our whole family enjoyed doing togehter. There are no maps so you just have to follow the paths and make good guesses to find your way out. We found a car full of scarecrows blocking one dead end of the corn maze and had a good laugh about it. It took my daughter about five minutes to find the way out. Once she did she headed back to the hay slides for several more trips down them.

In addition to the regular pumpkin patch the Pickin' Patch also has a pumpkin patch with ornamental pumpkins (we saw lots of big white ones!), a small sunflower garden where you can cut your own sunflowers, and a gourd patch where you can cut your own gourds. The gourd patch has a little gourd tunnel in front of it. You can't cut any gourds growing in the tunnel but it is worth a walk through to see all the gourds growing down from the roof.
Throughout the area there are lots of spits set up for taking photos. My daughter unfortunately wasn't in a photo taking mood at this point but lots of families were utilizing them.

We let my daughter play on the slides for a while before calling it a day and heading into the tent to pay for our pumpkin. Inside the tent there are lots and lots of fun fall photo spots set up. Professional photography is not allowed but we were able to get plenty of nice shots of our family on our own.
There is also a stand in the tent that sells drinks for $1 if you get thirsty. I didn't see any food for sale so plan accordingly. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in the town of Dunnellon.

We had a great time at the Pickin' Patch and have made it an annual tradition. I am so glad we found a true pumpkin patch where my daughter can have the experience of finding the perfect pumpkin and cutting it off the vine even though we live in the state of Florida!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fall Fun: Partin Ranch Corn Maze

2015 was the second year of operation for Partin Ranch Corn Maze and our second year going. My four year old had a blast! 
Partin Ranch Corn Maze is located in Kenansville, Florida 13 miles south of St Cloud and a short drive down the road from the Wild Florida attraction. It is open weekends in October. Admission is normally $10/ages 13 and up and $7/ages 4-12 (under 4 free) but I was lucky enough to find a groupon good for $12 admission for both me and my daughter. I do recommend buying tickets in advance because the line to buy tickets when we got there was a bit of a wait whereas there was an express line with no wait for people that had bought the groupon or prebought tickets on their website. 
Once you pay the admission fee pretty much everything they offer is free! You walk in past a small corn maze with tiny stalks and educational facts scattered throughout it that is perfect for little children. It had rained just before we arrived so the small maze was closed but my daughter enjoyed it a lot last year and it is much easier for little ones to navigate than the big maze.
The first thing we did was take some pictures in the "pumpkin patch" area. There are several cute set ups in the "patch" for fall pictures. The pumpkins are also for sale and are very reasonably priced. I let my daughter pick out one of the tiny $1 ones as a reward for being cooperative during my photo session.
The next thing my daughter wanted to do was the barrel train. The barrel train makes several trips in circles around some Minions made from hay bales. There was no line for the barrel train and my daughter really enjoyed it so she ended up doing two more rides on it after her initial one.
The main attraction at Partin Ranch is the corn maze. Kids of all ages seemed to enjoy following the winding paths through the huge corn stalks. Make sure you ask for a map when you pay for your tickets because without one the maze can be quite tricky. The maze is in the shape of a barn this year and the corn was quite tall. We didn't have a map at first so we got a little lost but luckily we found one somebody had hidden in the corn stalks so we made it out successfully. If you don't make any wrong turns the maze should take about 5-10 minutes to complete. I recommend bringing a bottle of water in if it is a warm day because it can seem like a lot of walking for little legs. There were a few people pushing strollers through but I would leave the stroller parked outside if you can since the paths can be a little narrow and uneven.

Close to the corn maze is a large jumping pillow. This ended up being one of my daughter's favorite things and she spent quite a bit of time on it. All ages are welcome so if you have a small child pay attention to who is on it so your child is less likely to get knocked over. Some of the older kids started getting a little rough at times and weren't paying very good attention to who was around them as they ran back and forth. 

There is also a large sand pit by the jumping pillow and this was also a huge hit with my daughter. In the sand pit are cranes to sit on and dig with, enormous tires to climb on, seesaws of all sizes, a tube tunnel to crawl through, and a large rope spider web to climb on. My daughter would've spent hours in the spider web if I let her. 
Next to the sand play area is an area with two large corn boxes. The corn boxes have plenty of pails, shovels, and trucks in them to play with. My daughter really enjoyed filling up a bucket and pouring its contents into the various dump trucks. A lot of children were having fun burying their friends or lying on their backs and making corn angels. The corn boxes are under a tent so they are shaded and surrounded by benches so adults can sit and relax while they watch the kids play. This proved to be a nice break on a warm day. 
The line for the hay ride is right by the corn boxes so I let my daughter play in them a little while longer while I waited in line for the hay ride. This ended up being the longest line we waited in all day so I recommend hitting it first if you get there when the corn maze first opens. Otherwise, a lot of adults were holding a spot in line while their children played in the corn boxes or sand pit area. I ended up waiting in line for about 15 minutes.
One reason the hayride line was a little bit long is because only one hayride was running and each ride lasted for several minutes. We rode through a creek and through some fields before turning around and heading back. My daughter really enjoyed seeing the cows. Although I did not time the hayride it is definitely more than a 2-3 minute ride so it is worth doing even if you have to wait in line for a little while.
The last attraction we did was the zipline. Last year this zipline was the first zip line my daughter ever did at three years old. This year at four she had even more fun on it. The zipline is another attraction that gets a line so I recommend heading there early. It seemed to be the most popular thing for kids to do. There are two zip lines and plenty of volunteers to suit the waiting kids up, send them off, and catch and unhook them on the other side. It does have a maximum weight limit (of I think 85 lbs) but I did not see a minimum. When my daughter rode it at 3 she was only about 30 lbs and I saw some really tiny kids riding it once again this year. My daughter really wanted to ride it again as soon as she got off but the sky was starting to get dark and the wait was about 10-15 minutes so I didn't want to get in line only to have her disappointed when we got close to the front and it was shut down due to rain.
We visited with the horses and played a few rounds of duck races before revisiting the sand pit and jumping pillow and calling it a day. 
For $5/person extra you can go for a ride on a combine but I opted to skip that. There were also plenty of booths and trucks set up selling food, drinks, and some products like local honey. Food and drinks were a wide range of prices. I bought my daughter a small cup of lemonade for 50 cents and a large cup for $1 for me on our way out. My daughter played some games in the "pumpkin patch" as I finished drinking mine.
Overall we had a wonderful day at the Partin Ranch Corn Maze. It is very family friendly with plenty for children to do. My daughter had a wonderful time and I look forward to visiting it again next year!