WINCHESTER — After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival events last year, attendees at the Apple Blossom Carnival were more than happy to return when the gates opened on Friday.
Although the carnival doesn’t look exactly the same as previous years, carnival-goers said life is beginning to feel a little more normal since the pandemic hit last year now that the carnival has returned to the back of the Ward Plaza shopping center at 2260 Valley Ave.
Sanitizing stations are located throughout the attractions. There is a limit of up to 900 people in the outdoor space, and people must have their temperature checked upon entering the carnival. Anyone with a temperature of 100.3 or higher will not be allowed to enter.
Per Gov. Ralph Northam’s orders, people don’t have to wear a mask outside as long as they are able to maintain 6 feet of distance.
Even the carnival games have to operate a little differently, said game operator Frank Rodriguez. At his game, people have to throw baseballs at stacked colorful PVC pipes to knock them over and win a prize. This year, Rodriguez requires anyone who wants to play the game to sanitize their hands and then he cleans any baseballs that are used.
Even though it might be a little more work for Rodriguez, he’s happy to do it, adding that he missed working at the Apple Blossom Carnival last year.
Carnival hours today, Thursday and Friday are 5 to 11 p.m. Hours on Saturday are noon to 11 p.m. Hours on Sunday are noon to 6 p.m.
There are more than 70 attractions overall at the carnival, including food, games and rides. About 30 of the attractions are carnival rides, said Marc Janas, public relations director of Powers Great American Midways.
Rides require tickets, and one ride requires three to six tickets to get on. One ticket costs $1.50, 20 tickets cost $20 and 50 tickets cost $50. Or you can purchase a pass for a day of unlimited rides for $25.
Tickets for rides can only be purchased using cash at the site of the carnival, and you can only pay cash to play carnival games, as well. Food can be purchased using cash or credit/debit cards.
Food offerings range from the carnival classics of funnel cakes, corn dogs, cotton candy and fried Oreos to street corn, gyros and some new menu items this year — turkey legs and loaded tater tots.
Also new this year is the “Itsy Bitsy” 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel. Janas said the Ferris wheel was made in Mexico, and its spiderweb design will light up across town at night.
Annabelle Newman, 18, of Winchester, said she’s attended every Apple Blossom Festival since she was a child, and she was disappointed when COVID-19 shut down the festival last year.
“I was sad, because that’s the only exciting thing that happens in Winchester, for real,” Newman said. “Everybody looks forward to it and that’s when you see everybody.”
Annabelle’s friend Christopher Collazo, 17, of Winchester, said the opportunity to go to the carnival makes things feel a little normal again even with the COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
Newman was excited to grab some funnel cake, and Christopher was looking forward to riding on the circular roller-coaster known as the “Inferno.”
Lindsey Tisdale, of Winchester, was happy to bring her 5-year-old twins Aiden and Autumn. Tisdale, who grew up in Winchester, loves her memories of the festival and said she’s happy to give her children a glimpse of it this year.
She’s sad, though, that she can’t take them to the parades, which are not being held this year. It’s disappointing, she said, especially because Aiden loves fire trucks.
Tisdale added that she’s still happy the community and the children still get to enjoy the carnival this year.
“I think it’s good for them,” Tisdale said. “This is a good thing for kids.”