EAST MANATEE -- The annual Hunsader Farms Pumpkin Festival has grown into a mega-attraction, with thousands visiting this past weekend and similar crowds expected over the next two weekends.
Although dollar bills can fly out of wallets at the festival like pumpkins shot out of the Hunsader cannon, many say the best things at Hunsaders are free or not costly at all. Some even say the constant reaching for bills still adds up to a good deal.
Here, thanks to some actual festival goers on Sunday, is a survival guide for a price-conscious family.
Not nearly like Orlando
The Fadayomi family of Bonita Springs, which includes parents Dan and Janet and Tori, 5, Siji, 3, and Sofie, 1, actually have come to Hunsaders every year for the past five because they are price-conscious when it comes to their family entertainment dollar, the parents said Sunday.
They feel the pumpkin festival is a good deal just the way it is, with $8 admission for each of the parents and children ages 12 and younger getting in for free.
“We probably spend $100 on the day we come,” said Janet Fadayomi, whose husband, Dan, is a computer consultant. “We expect it so we bring cash. We save up for it.”
A day’s outing at a theme park in Orlando would cost much more than $100 just for the tickets to get in, they noted. The $5 charge for a pony ride doesn’t faze them, nor does $7 for chicken-on-a-stick -- which, by the way, gets high marks from festival-goers as among the most popular food items. They also don’t mind $2.50 for a soda or $4 for an ice cream cone.
Butterflies are free, almost
Bradenton’s Kathy Remarsh is a shrewd shopper and here’s her advice for Hunsaders:
“Take pictures of your kids in the pumpkin patch, go on a hayride with them and take them into the butterfly experience,” Remarsh said.
A photo memory made in the pumpkin patch, where pumpkins are sold from $2 to $30, is free, as is the hayride, which hundreds enjoyed Sunday.
Joe and Alison Rini of Sarasota made some photos of their children, Lora, 6 and Ray, 5, in the pumpkin patch Sunday. Lora had an orange ribbon in her hair.
“We came last year, too,” Alison Rini said. “Lora loves the butterflies.”
The butterfly experience, which is an enclosure filled with butterflies that kids can actually hold, is $2 per person, no matter the age.
Finleigh Sanicola, who will be 3 soon, held a butterfly on her finger and studied it like a scientist Sunday. Her mother, Aimee Sanicola, of Tampa, took close-ups of her daughter and the butterfly. The moment seemed magical for both mother and daughter. Aimee’s pictures of Finleigh could one day be priceless family heirlooms.
“Hunsaders can just be the experience of everything,” Remarsh said.
Also free is watching The Pumpkin Cannon shoot pumpkins so far into the sky that they turn into orange BBs.
Mary Ludvigsen, 4, experienced her first hayride along with her dad and mom, Kate and Joe Ludvigsen of Ruskin. She sat on a bale of hay and bounced around as her hay cart was pulled by a tractor. It was free and it was unforgettable, the family said.
“We love it here,” Kate Ludvigsen said. “We are able to get out in the fresh air. It’s a great event.”
There is also plenty of free entertainment, including The Fearless Flores Family motorcycle stunt show (all three weekends), Yellow Design Stunt team on BMX bikes (Saturday and Sunday and the Smage Brothers on motorcycles (Oct. 29-30).
Maze: Two bucks of terror
OK, maybe not terror, but certainly anxiety as you try to find your way out of the $2 attraction, said Nick Derevjanik, who came south from Wesley Chapel with his wife, Cindy, and daughter, Arielle, 12.
“It did trip me up,” Nick Derevjanik said.
The seven-acre maze is the creation of farm co-owner David Hunsader.
“I recommend the corn maze and the quesadillas,” said Cindy Derevjanik.
Amazingly, Arielle didn’t mind being with her parents at the festival, which says a lot since most 12-year-olds usually just want to hang with their pals.
“They’re OK,” Arielle said of her folks, who perhaps had paid for her slushy drink, which probably cost as much as the maze and butterflies combined.