Events

No cheese curd eating contest, but lots of summer fun

Giant cream puffs will be sold, but there will be no cheese curd eating contest at the Wisconsin State Fair this year.

After last year’s cancellations due to Covid restrictions, states are bringing back their annual fairs with increased attention to safety, cleaning and disinfecting — plus some changes.

“We are seeing people gravitate towards normalcy — the events, people and places they missed out on last year,” said Misty Belles, managing director of the travel agency network Virtuoso. “Local celebrations that bring together communities, from street fairs to state fairs, are returning.”

At this year’s Iowa State Fair, which runs Aug. 12-22, there will be no farm-to-fair dinner, the family-style sit-down meal for 500 during which Iowa farmers answer questions. Nor will there be the usual on-site grape stomping. However, fairgoers will find a new park for tractor pulls.

At the Indiana State Fair, which runs July 30-Aug. 22, Covid vaccinations will be available, and fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to wear masks. Eating contests — including an ice cream eating championship — are shelved this year. And to spread out the crowds, fair organizers have added a weekend at the front of the fair schedule but are closing the fair Mondays and Tuesdays.

New England’s Eastern States Exposition, known as “The Big E,” will run Sept. 17-Oct. 3 with no restrictions, CEO Eugene Cassidy said. “Minor changes will be unrecognizable, while others may be more obvious, like a combined daily parade instead of two separate parades,” he said.

The Oregon State Fair, which runs Aug. 27-Sept. 6, is also back at full capacity, with no mask or physical distancing requirements or proof of vaccination, fair officials say. But there will be no California State Fair — Cal Expo — this summer because the state fairgrounds are still being used as a mass vaccination center.

As cities and states open back up again, they are going all out to get visitors’ attention — and their travel dollars — beyond state fairs.

Theme Parks, festivals, attractions

Theme parks and attractions from Disney to Dollywood have been welcoming visitors for months, with safety protocols already in place — but with summer shifting into high gear, more attractions are reopening.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood reopened on June 26 after being closed for over a year. Opening hours are adjusted and there are some new post-pandemic additions to the tour, including an expanded Central Perk Café where guests can dine in re-created sets inspired by the show.

At Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, “Our guests are enjoying the Summer Celebration, which opened on June 25 and includes the new multisensory fireworks and drone show,” Pete Owens, a Dollywood Company spokesman, said.

In New York City, the interior of the Statue of Liberty up to the pedestal/interior (but not the crown) reopened to the public ahead of the July 4 weekend. “We’re seeing a homecoming to normalcy with an abundance of new and returning events and attractions across all five boroughs,” said Chris Heywood of NYC & Company marketing company, which includes NYC Restaurant Week and the U.S. Open.

After being dismantled and made over, SkyWheel Myrtle Beach in South Carolina is back spinning, with a new wheel structure, refurbished gondolas, and new state-of-the-art lighting systems for light shows.

Even the Enchanted Forest theme park, near Salem, Oregon, is welcoming visitors again. The family-owned attraction had received death threats when it announced masks and proof of vaccination would be required at the entrance, so it pushed back its opening date until Covid restrictions were relaxed.

Cruises are also back — though limited this summer due to capacity restrictions.

“It’s taken 15 months to be able to say, but cruising is officially back — and for North Americans, there are a number of options to consider,” Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, said.

Ships are scheduled to depart Florida and Texas for Caribbean cruises, and Seattle for Alaskan cruises, and travelers can also fly to St. Martin or the Bahamas and leave on select ships from those ports, she said.

The summer concert season has also returned to many cities, with Lollapalooza at Chicago’s Grant Park on July 29 with headliners including Miley Cyrus, Foo Fighters and Post Malone. The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival is scheduled for Sept. 2-5 in Manchester, Tennessee.

In the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, Tanglewood is back with a full summer season of performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and concerts by Brandi Carlile, soul-gospel icon Mavis Staples and folk singer Judy Collins.

Maryland’s DelFest, founded by bluegrass pioneer Del McCoury, is also back on the books for Sept. 23-26 — and McCoury, now 82, said he is anxious for the festival’s return.

“It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without playing, and since my two sons are in the band, it was especially hard,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very emotional. Tears have come to my eyes many times when I read the notes about how excited longtime fans are to be coming back.”

(This is a slightly different version of a story we wrote for NBC News)

Chocolate at IND Airport; Motivational Mirrors at ELP Airport; Merch at CVG

We can tell travel is inching back to ‘normal’ because airports are hosting fun events and encouraging travelers to stick around and engage.

Two great examples: Indianapolis International Airport (IND) welcomed the Sweets & Snacks Expo to town (yes, that’s a thing!) with an in-terminal chocolate sculpting demonstration.

And as part of its ongoing Elevate Love Project, El Paso International Airport (ELP) has motivational messages on restroom mirrors.

Chocolate sculpture at IND Airport

Indianapolis International Airport (IND) joined forces with Indy-based Endangered Species Chocolate to host a live chocolate sculpture carving by Chef Paul Joachim, known as the Chocolate Genius.

You can see the action in the video clip below.

Motivational Messages from ELP Airport

A Twitter message from El Paso International Airport (ELP) on National Selfie Day sparked our curiosity about the writing on the restroom mirror in the photo.

It turns out that is part of the airport’s Elevate Love Project, so named to fit with the airport’s call sign ELP.

“Our staff submitted their positivity and we placed them on the mirrors to boost the mood of anyone who sees them,” explains, ELP Education and Graphics Specialist Asa Aguilar. “We have had great responses from the public and many people have submitted to this initiative.”

Here are some samples of the messages and the selfies people have shared. Great idea!

We were also curious about the bird in the photo. And we are pleased to learn that this is Red T. Hawk, El Paso International Airport’s mascot and ambassador.

We think every airport should have a mascot and we’re pleased to add Red T. Hawk to our list.

Fresh Airport Merch at CVG

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) now has an online merch store. Our favorite item? The airport socks, of course. Bonus: 15% off.

Airports mark National Selfie Day, Pride Month, and a magical painting

Sharing some of the Tweets airports shared on Monday about National Selfie Day, about short films to watch to celebrate Pride Month, and about the return of a magical painting.

Flight of Lights returns to Dane County Regional Airport

Now that we’re into year two of “how things happen in a pandemic,” we’re coming up on some ‘2nd annual’ events that may stick around even after things return to normal.

The “Flight of Lights” program that Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) in Madison, WI is bringing back for a second year may be one of those keepers.

The free, drive-through light display along International Lane in Madison opens Saturday, March 20, and will run daily each evening from 7:30 pm to 11:30 pm through April 4th.

The light-show will feature six different light displays along the route and will include tributes to first responders; the medical community; Wisconsin sports; animals and nature; tropical and nautical; and destinations people can fly to from MSN.

Organized last year at the onset of the state’s Safer at Home order, Flight of Light follows social distancing rules as a drive-through event with only members of the same household in each vehicle.

Here’s what the Flight of Lights event at Dane County Regional Airport looked like last year:

Lights displays are being installed now and MSN airport officials will share snaps from the test run when available.

In the meantime, we’ll put this on the nomination list for “Airport Amenity of the Week.”

Airports celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Airports around the country have been celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with live music, cultural performances, and art exhibits.

Here is what Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) and Miami International Airport (MIA) put together.