I’ve been coming to Carters Steam Fair for the last six years and last year I began working with the Carter family to support them in in their marketing and social media for the fair. I’ve noticed that as beautiful and iconic as the fair is, whenever I chat to other mums, they always seem to be a bit confused by the ride tokens. Having experienced the fair as a mum and also from the marketing side of things I feel like I’m in a unique position to offer some tips on how to make the most of your visit so when the Carters family asked me if I’d like to write to guest post, I jumped at the chance to share some of my tips so that you can all make the most of your time at the fair.
What are the ride tokens for?
Let’s start with the basics. There is no entry fee to the fair but instead of paying cash for each ride, you’ll need to buy ride tokens. Each ride is 4, 5 or 6 ride tokens per person riding.
Around the fair there are also some vintage sidestalls like Hook a Duck and Hook a Fish where you can win a prize and these mostly take 5 ride tokens.
Everything else at the fair – candy floss, ice creams, and snacks take both cash and cards and you’ll need cash if you want to buy a balloon.
Ride tokens are 50p per token and you can buy them individually, buy enough for just one ride or you can buy a ride bundle from the main token booth or online. That’s when you get much more value for money as you get extra free rides with the bundles, but more on that later.
How do you know how many ride tokens you will need?
This very much depends on how many of you are going, how old (or how adventurous the kids are) and whether you will want to go on the rides too.
Most of the rides for young children (up to around age 7 depending on how tall they are) are 4 tokens. So, you could get a ride bundle of 40 tokens which would give you 10 rides – that could be 10 rides for 1 child or 5 rides for 2 children.
The ‘family favourite’ rides like the Gallopers (you may know it as a carousel) and the Dodgems are 5 ride tokens per person.
The ‘big thrill’ rides like the Steam Yachts and the Dive Bomber are 6 tokens per person.
Top Tip 1 Have a look at the rides and side stalls on the rides section of the website before you go so you can see what your children might like to go on
Top Tip 2 Don’t underestimate the THRILLS of the sidestalls. My kids absolutely love the Hook a Duck so make sure to factor in some ride tokens for those. My daughter’s cuddly toy prize took pride of place in her bed for months!
Top Tip 3 Repetition isn’t dull. You might look at the website and decide that out of all the rides, there are 5 rides that your child will want to go on. What I have seen with my kids and my friend’s kids is that once they have been on a ride once, they are just as thrilled to go on it a second time – there are so many cool cars and funky animals to choose from that it never gets boring.
How can you get the best value for money at the fair?
As with so many visitor attractions, you will get the best value when you book in advance by midnight the day before you visit. That way you’ll get a big bundle of ride tokens and some extra free ride passes thrown in too.
Top Tip 4 The online advance deals are ALWAYS better value than any deals you will get on the day.
Top Tip 5 The free ride passes can be used on a 4, 5 or 6 token ride so they’re a great way of making your ride tokens stretch even further. You can’t use them on the sidestalls so make sure you save your tokens for that to avoid any sad faces from the kids.
If you’ve not booked in advance, then your best bet on the day is to head to the big main token booth as there will still be a ‘deal of the day’ on offer. This typically has the same amount of ride tokens, but half the number of free rides compared to the advance deals.
Top Tip 6 If there are a few of you in your group, then you’ll get more free rides if you buy one big bundle between you than if each of you spent £20.
From time to time you might see some special offers in magazines, or as part of local resident schemes- keen an eye out in local press and on social media for these offers and bring a copy of the ad or your resident card with you to the fair on the day.
What if I run out of tokens?
Inevitably there will be a point in the day when you have 3 tokens left and need 4 to go on a ride. You can actually go and buy single tokens from the token machines around the fair or from the main ticket booth, or you could buy another bundle from the main ticket booth. They take cash and credit cards at the fair but the minimum spend on a card is £5.
Top Tip 7 Tokens don’t expire! I didn’t know this until I started working for Carters this year! If you have left over tokens from previous visits you can still use them at the fair.
Top Tip 8 If you have just one token left you can use it at the coconut shy – you’ll get one ball with 1 token so you could try and win a prize before you go home
If this prompts you to get scrabbling down the back of the sofa then you might find it interesting to look at some of the token designs throughout the years – one even features Harry Hill!
How can I get free rides?
Booking your ride tokens via the website is the simplest way to get free rides, but Carters are very generous on their social media too. In the run up to each event there are always competitions to win free rides on their Facebook page. In particular they love to see photos and hear the family stories about visiting the fair- it has become a family tradition for so many of us.
Top Tip 9 Dig out your photos from previous visits and join in with the competitions and conversation on the Carters Facebook Page for your best chance to win some free rides.
(This photo was taken on our first visit when my daughter had just learned to walk. She was quite a shy little girl so she didn’t go on any rides that day, but she liked looking around and watching her dad win her a prize on the sidestalls!)
What other advice can you give for parents visiting the fair?
The biggest thing that I have learned is how much hard work and love goes into keeping the rides in immaculate condition. I was amazed to hear that many of the rides had been found in a dilapidated state and had been restored by hand – look around at the rides – every line and letter has been painted by hand – not a computer in sight!
Top Tip 10 Carters Steam Fair is more than just a funfair- take some time to explain to the kids about the history of the fair and the beautiful artwork that you’ll see- there are some learning activities on the website which you can download for the kids to do before or after your visit.
Top Tip 11 At many of the locations you can see the vintage trucks used to transport and power the fair when they go on a ‘road run’ around the town. We always watch the one in Maidenhead when they visit in May, but check the website to see if they are doing one near you. It’s usually on the Saturday morning before the fair opens.
Thank you to Jodie for sharing her tips!
Jodie is a blogger and photographer based in our home town of Maidenhead in Berkshire who has now joined the Carters team. You might find her drinking tea and taking photos at some of our locations – feel free to say hello if you do! You can see more of her local Maidenhead blog at www.maidenheadmum.co.uk