By Emily Harrington
Follow the yellow brick road to a fall destination for family fun in our community. If you haven’t been to Curtis Orchard & Pumpkin Patch, you’re definitely not a townie, or you must be new to the area. It’s a must visit during this time of year. Each year our family goes—multiple times. And each year we are happy to see familiar sites while discovering exciting new additions.
Curtis Orchard can be found at 3902 S. Duncan Rd. in Champaign. It is open late summer through early winter. If your kiddos birthday falls in this timeframe, consider Curtis Orchard as a potential birthday party venues! Currently you can visit Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
You’ll see the inviting “Kesis” Native American chief statue towering over part of the north parking lot, and you can’t miss the Wizard of Oz mural, tin man silo and yellow brick road welcoming you from the south parking lot.
We started out on a hot, busy Saturday with the kid attractions. Every year they just get bigger and better. There are some things that cost money, and there are some things that are free. Try to tackle the free things first by playing in Munchkin Land (play houses), taking pictures with the life size cutouts and bigger-than-life rocking chair, crawling along the wood train, petting the goats and looking at the scary chickens. You can also zip on the short zip lines, steer the play tractor, or you can pet the barn kittens that roam free. Hand washing stations are around for use after petting the different animals.
However, your kiddos will inevitably be drawn to the shiny attractions that do cost money. On the weekends you can pay to play the giant inflatable slide, inflatable obstacle course, inflatable pumpkin pad, Wicked Orchard-Shoot Out, putt n’ play (playground equipment and miniature golf), wagon ride, corn maze, Emerald City Maze and pony rides. You can buy (with cash or charge) one token for $1, 16 tokens for $15 or 22 tokens for $20. You can also play all day on the weekends for $25, or play all day on the weekends for $8. (If you visit a lot, you may want to invest in a $65 season pass.) There are reductions if you are buying for more than one child. On the weekdays you will only find the slide, putt n’ play and the Emerald City Maze. Each attraction ranges from one to five tokens. You’ll also find vendors for face painting, kettle korn and carriage rides on the weekends.
We started with the corn maze. The hardcore corn maze is not for unattended little kids. (If you are a little kid, you get in free with a token-wielding adult.) It took my son and husband about 20 minutes to complete. It takes some time and patience. Inside the maze you’ll find stations. If you visit all the stations you earn a free ride on the wagon—our next stop. The wagon takes you around the apple orchard, and it lasts about ten minutes. The best part for my son was closely watching the tractor pulling the wagon. Our last attraction of the day was the Wicked Orchard Shoot-Out. Using a humongous slingshot or air cannon, your goal is to hit a teeny target for a free apple cider slush. We didn’t succeed, but we did hit a flying monkey and hot air balloon set up as alternate targets.
Sadly, my son was under the weather, and he was no longer feeling it. I really tried to talk him into visiting one of the newest attractions—The Emerald City Maze. This maze is basically ropes instead of tall corn. You can see all around while making it much more child-friendly. The maze culminates with a wood tower that provides kids with a great view of the orchard.
We took a break from the heat at the Flying Monkey Café. Here you will find the bathrooms. The café opens for lunch a 11 a.m. They serve stick-to-your-ribs food. This isn’t diet food. I had a chicken salad croissant, my husband had a hot dog with au gratin potatoes and my son had the macaroni and cheese. All good and all homemade. The au gratin potatoes were the shining star. Grab a “Toto’s Lunch” for your kiddos. These kid lunches come with a token! If you’re lucky, your server may even be wearing roller skates.
Because they serve food, you can’t bring in your own food or drink! And as good as the food was, it’s really all about the apple donuts, isn’t it? Hot, fresh, sugary and worth every calorie. We got a six pack to take home and left with only two. The glazed are our new favorites. Our son watched the donut batter plop into the hot oil and take a ride on the conveyor belt through the window. This is something I fondly remembered doing as a little girl.
We grabbed two bags of pre-packed apples to take home, too, but we have participated in the u-pick option. Grab a wagon and bag from the country store and wander through the rows of apples picking them yourselves. The varieties vary throughout the season. The Honeycrisp NEVER disappoint.
Take a look around the store while you are visiting. They sell lots of unique toys, home accessories, baked goods and other treats. The train that rides above your head in the store (there’s one in the café, too) is also a family favorite. Bring quarters to make them move. Lastly, take a minute just outside the store entrance with your donuts while listening to the music from the bandstand.
We will be back soon to visit the vast pumpkin patch as it ripens into fields of orange!
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.