MANATEE -- At only 3 years old, Mara Anderson came to the opening night of the Manatee County Fair Thursday on a mission: to ride the Ferris wheel.
“I want to go on the Ferris wheel, Ferris wheel, Ferris wheel,” she repeated as she jumped up and down.
She’d just fed some sheep at the petting zoo and was more than ready to take on the rest of the activities.
“I gave them carrots,” she said. “I dropped one on the ground, but they ate it.”
This wasn’t Mara’s first time at the fair, but it was probably one of the cooler nights she attended with temperatures hovering around the 40s.
Luckily, her parents came prepared, layering up Mara and her brother Marlan, 19 months.
“We have more clothes in the bag,” their mom Jessica Anderson, 29, said.
But carrying around a few extra jackets was a small price to pay for Jessica and her husband Marlan, as they watched their children’s faces light up at every attraction.
“It’s a family night,” Marlan Anderson, 31, said. “We came to make the rounds and start some traditions.”
The cold school night made for limited traffic at the fairgrounds, and under the flashing lights of the rides and smells of fair food lingering in the air, there were no mobs or lines anywhere.
This is the ideal situation for Karen Jennis.
“It’s great, this is how it should be,” Jennis, 56, said. “It’s been a fun time. We rode rides we didn’t know we would.”
She said one of her favorites was the boat that takes riders back and forth in the air.
“It feels like jumping out of a plane,” Jennis said.
For friends Macy Poelsma, 16, and Sarah Turlington, 16, the fair was a blast this year and they encourage others to attend.
“I haven’t been here in five years, and it’s been a lot of fun” Poelsma said right after she won a stuffed white tiger at a balloon toss game.
Of course, day one was only the calm before the storm. Fair manager Daniel West expects that to change come Friday night when things warm up and the live entertainment begins with country artist Darryl Worley performing at 8 p.m.
“It is cold out there, but you know what, the corn dogs and the funnel cakes taste better in this weather,” West said smiling.