Monday, October 16

Fall Family Fun: Amazing Grace Crop Maze Review

If you live in Arlington, the options for fall festivities on anything resembling a farm seem to be limited to an hour's drive. That's not a huge deal, but since we figured this might be our last year convincing the kids they want to participate in some of the activities, we wanted to make it one of the more interactive attractions. That left it between Amazing Grace and Conner's A-Maize-Ing Acres. The main reason we chose Amazing Grace was the slightly lower price, teacher discount, and the fact that we were a little uncomfortable with the Redneck Olympics at Conner's. Overall, it was a decent (and pricey) outing that was a little less than expected.

I have to admit that every fall experience I have is measured against Wisconsin's Elegant Farmer. Every year, I'd complain about how much money we'd spend on overpriced apples, pumpkins, and general store goods. But we had all kinds of options. If we didn't ride the wagon or pick any apples, we could pay almost nothing on the farm, and I liked that. Amazing Grace charges a flat fee. Then you can enjoy all the fun as much as you want. I don't mind that formula, but it is different from what we'd grown to love and hate back home.

I understand that you can't grow corn or pumpkins very well in Florida, so I don't fault anyone for using sorghum and picked pumpkins. But those two elements make a maze that's transparent and a pumpkin patch that's just pumpkins stacked inside some fencing. The activities are actually fairly fun for the kids, so that's cool. Our kids were old enough to enjoy archery and basketball shooting. They seemed to like the rat race feature the most. But they also liked the corn crib pool, and that activity looked more substantial than the one at Conner's, anyhow. Some of the activities and photo ops bored them, but that's half-expected.

The only really negative experience was the falling-apart saddle swings that were not only uncomfortable, but honestly looked like a tetanus shot waiting to happen. Our daughter also complained that the "hayride" was just a couple of wagons without hay behind a mini-tractor, but that's mostly because we've been on real hayrides behind real tractors.

We were mostly disappointed that the "farm" wasn't a working farm, and it was surrounded by new suburban houses, with seemingly more on the way. Two calves and a small petting zoo made the whole farm idea half-hearted. Then again, maybe there aren't farms in Florida, either. I'm not really sure. The owners of this establishment have been recognized as farmers, so I assume it's somewhere on the property or across the street.

Unlike the pumpkin patches in Wisconsin, it seems like the main establishments near Jacksonville are closed Sundays. That makes Saturdays busy for families. I'm not going to form an opinion on this, but since most of Halloween and fall activities are fairly secular, I guess I'd just keep it open on Sunday if I was running it, even if I was busy at church myself. In fact, the church pumpkin sales seem to be open Sundays, so go figure.

Another money-making opportunity lost on Amazing Grace is the farm store. While there's some food for sale, we just brought our own lunches and ate after we were done with the fun. No carry-ins are allowed, but it's not like they checked my bag, so bring a water and some snacks. But the country store is really what's missing. Canned goods and overpriced farm products. My wife loves that kind of stuff. Jams and pickles and canned fruits. I could care less, but it's just always been part of our fall experience until now.

Overall, if I'd say we were glad we tried it one more time before the kids are way too old to enjoy the experience, but we'll probably try something new next year.

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