It’s no secret that fall is my favorite time of year. This year, it was time for my family to check out a new festival. We chose Belvedere Plantation’s Harvest Festival along the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg. Expecting the traffic from I-95 to be a nightmare, we headed out early arriving one hour after opening time. I was surprised that when we entered and left the festival there were no lines anywhere. The parking lot was packed, but the clever farmers at Belvedere Plantation have so many activities that families don’t have to wait to enjoy the fun.
Things to Do
Our first stop was to the giant jumping pillow. What I liked about this is an employee monitors the ages and times of the children entering the area. Younger and older kids are separated and there is a time limit of 5 minutes of jump time. I thought this was a great idea to make it fair for everyone. Cubbies for shoes are available and socks must be worn.
My 6 year old’s favorite activity was the tractor-led barrel train. The six seated train goes around on the farm and makes two trips through the corn field which was pretty cool. You could tell the farmer operating the tractor was loving the children giggling the entire way through the ride.
Photo ops abound with pumpkin scarecrows, pumpkin families, pumpkin babies in strollers and so on. The flower patch had scarecrows hiding in sunflowers and zinnias. Scarecrow balloon artists and the pumpkin princess flanked with lollipops are present to greet visitors.
Thinking there would be long lines later, we boarded the hayride to the pumpkin patch. I’m not joking when I said this was the best hayride ever. The seats are strong bails of hay, all sides are enclosed, and a strong tarp covers the top in case of inclement weather. The ride was slow and smooth and led us to 40 acres of pumpkins! That’s a lot of pumpkins and I was told that they are going to add more. There is a farmhand available if you need assistance cutting pumpkins from the vine or loading them onto the hayride. The good thing is there’s no waiting around as the tractor leads rides every 10 minutes.
Grab a burlap sack and cruise down the 100-foot pumpkin mountain slides. One side is open while the other is a tunnel version for those seeking an added thrill. Speaking of thrills, kids young and old can enjoy a spin on one of several zip line. They even have a zip line with bucket seats for little tykes – how cool is that?
No farm experience would be complete without feeding the animals. Chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, and a newly born calf can be adored in the barnyard. We bought a bag of food for $2.50 at the ticket booth, but there are also coin operated machines in the petting zoo area.
The little farmer’s corral is the ideal place for hip kids up to age 5 to enjoy wholesome fun. The corral is decked out with tricycles, horse swings, tractor tire sandbox, straw pile slide, and mini maze. I got a kick out of seeing a grandfather racing along with his granddaughter while galloping on inflatable horses.
My favorite part of the visit was the Swine Speedway also known as the pig races. Held at different days and times, farmer Ian and his farmhands entertain audience members with a bit of dialogue, comedy, dancing and cheering for which cute little piggies will win the races. Some pigs ran fast jumping over hurdles while a few slowpokes only moved once the farmhand used a shaker instrument to move them along. The first three races had children represent the colored teams, while the adults led the last colored flag race. If your pig is the winner, the person chosen to hold the colored flag receives a pig nose. If your pig lost, you receive a piggy tail made from a pipe cleaner. Children gathered at the conclusion of the races to purchase $2 pig noses.
Good to Know
While there are no paper maps to take with you, there are giant map boards throughout the plantation. Everything is easy to get to which means no long walks, no hills, and stroller friendly grass/sand pavement.
There are three areas with permanent restrooms with separate troughs to wash hands. The changing rooms have open doors and a rocking chair for nursing moms. There were no lights turned on in the bathrooms which made it a little dark during the day time.
We did not avail of the event menu because it was typical, overpriced fair food. If you want to try something else, they have turkey legs, pretzels and fruit cups. Kids meals range from $5.79 to $6.79 and include a soda, fries, or carrots. If you want to upgrade to a juice box or fruit cup expect to pay an extra .99 to $1.99. A separate stand sells funnel cakes. There are plenty of picnic tables and tables under tents to sit and relax.
On our way out we stopped into the bakery and gift barn. Both are great places to avoid if you don’t want to buy sweet treats or toys for the kiddos. Trust me, along with mine, I heard a few moms tell their children “no” when asking for an item. They had a great selection of items by John Deere, Melissa and Doug, and books relating to the season. We couldn’t leave without a bag of good ol’ kettle corn, especially when a generous “medium bag” is only $3.99. I was bummed that there were no fresh pies made; only take and bake versions. Caramel apple slices, apple donuts, decorative cookies, fudge and cider from Rinker’s Orchard are available. There’s also some neat, vintage items for the kitchen.
Pumpkins are .65 cents a pound or all-you-can-carry for $29.99. Pick a pumpkin at nighttime when the patch is lit up.
Admission and Hours of Operation
There are several price points depending on when and what activities you want to participate in. It is pricey, but if you take advantage of all there is to offer, it seems reasonable.
- Peeping Farm Pass $9.25. Perfect for little ones, this pass is valid Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:30am to 1:30pm. The attraction will be closed October 15.
- Amazing Farm Pass $12. Visit Friday nights from 5 to 10pm.
- Finale $12. Valid November 1 to 3, 2013. The pumpkin patch will be closed for the fall finale. However, on Saturday, November 2, bring a flashlight for the moonlight maze.
- Cackling Farm Pass $17. The standard admission fee includes a hayride to the pumpkin patch, corn maze, fun barn (filled with straw and ropes to swing on), zip lines, barnyard (chickens, goats, pigs, and turkeys), 100-foot pumpkin mountain slide, jumping pillow, barrel train, pedal tractors, little farmer’s corral (tricycles, tractor tire sandbox, straw pile slide, horse swings for ages 5 and younger), little farmer’s maze, swine speedway pig races, Dangerfield Downs raceway, straw jump, tire track and spider web (16’).
- Crowing Farm Pass $23.50. In addition to regular admission activities, this pass also includes flower cutting or craft tent, pumpkin plunkin’ or harvest slinger and a snow cone or cup of hot cider.
- Admission is free for children under age 2. Bring in non-perishable item for the food drive and receive $1 off admission. Military and first responders receive $1 off with valid ID.
Belvedere Plantation’s Harvest Festival is open Saturdays, Sundays and Columbus Day. However, sometimes the festival occurs during the day. The season ends November 3, 2013.
We spent three hours at the festival skipping the regular corn maze and harvest slinger. Bank on a minimum of three to four hours here. The last entry to the maze and hayride is 1 hour before closing. The website doesn’t do the Harvest Festival justice. Belvedere Plantation is celebrating their 30th anniversary of entertaining families. So toast some s’mores, jump in the hay, or visit the Great Pumpkin patch this season.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy.