As is usually the case for the event, the streets around the park are absolutely packed – so you’ll want to be prepared to walk a bit (not to mention walking within the park itself), however this year some churches were supposed to be offering “satellite” parking so that you didn’t have to fight the crowds. Park at the church – which cost $5 – and get a ride right to the festival doorstep.
Or you could fight the crowds, park wherever you find a free spot, and walk yourself in. Depending on what you prefer to do, you have plenty of options. We happened to find a free spot on a lawn, just outside the park gates, so our walk was limited to the length of the parking lot (still perhaps half a mile or so – it’s a hefty lot). Even if you chose to park yourself without using the shuttle service, the walk wasn’t bad – unlike the Charlotte Dragonboat Festival held earlier this year.
One word of warning – be prepared for a crowd. We went on Saturday afternoon, hoping to catch that time where people were leaving from getting there in the morning, but arrive before the evening crowd arrived. I don’t really know if we were successful or not, as there were a lot of people there. Not so many in the park – and festival – but the streets were rather crowded. Plenty of police helping to move things along, but as the park is situated in a mostly residential neighborhood, it’s not really easy to handle so many cars at once. Keep that in mind.
Assuming you actually get yourself parked at some point, you then have to trek into the park. It’s not bad, and it’s mostly shaded (good, because the temperatures picked back up this weekend). Still not a bad walk.
After you pass the ball fields and get to the end of the parking lots, you arrive at the children’s area, and this year it’s been hugely expanded. Though it has been a couple of years since I had been to the festival, I don’t remember more than an inflatable or two out there – now there are powered items for the kids, and even a ferris wheel for the adults. It’s really grown up quite a bit, and is almost a full-fledged carnival. Of course, these rides take money, which is in sharp contrast to the rest of the festival, which is free (admission, anyway).
The other nice thing about the play area is that it’s outside the festival proper, which takes some of the pressure off the pathway. If you get too many people on that route, it can get really congested, really quickly, and this was a nice move.
Speaking of congestion, you next find yourself in the food court – understood, because they want people to have a place to go to eat. Unfortunate because it’s right where everyone enters (and leaves) the exhibits in the rest of the park. I think that it would be well served to move the food over to the right, around by the hill section, where the movies are shown. There would be a lot more room and it wouldn’t be as clustered. Of course, there isn’t as much shade there either, so it’s a tough call.
Food at the festival is fairly standard for a fair – there are a few unique items such as Mama’s Home Cooking and Asian Noodles. If you elect not to eat on your way in – and that’s a good choice, since you don’t know what else you might miss – there are some other choices along the path, but this main area does contain the largest selection. The other booths are scattered about the path.
You then can elect to go to the left or the right of the lake and it doesn’t really matter which way you choose, since it’s a lake and you just loop back around eventually. Most of the exhibits at the festival are artistic, but there are a handful of crafts as well, and a few companies pop up from time to time. Then there are the aforementioned food vendors – both prepared food and packaged food – along the route.
That’s pretty much it. Unless you like arts, crafts or food, then there isn’t much here – but it is an event, and the fact that it’s free certainly helps! If you haven’t had a chance to get to a fair this year, then you can come out to the festival and at least get a taste without breaking the bank.
Did you visit the Festival in the Park this year? What did you think? Have you been to another event in the Charlotte area, or do you know of something coming up? Let me know so I can check it out!