Can you imagine your kids walking the tightrope, or heaven forbid standing on top of a bareback horse? You can all be part of the act at The Ringling in Sarasota, Florida.
The late John and Mable Ringling went from modest origins to becoming two of the richest people in the world. John and his four brothers owned the first circus to traverse the entire country. It took 100 railway cars to transport it! Later, the Ringling Brothers bought the Barnum and Bailey show and their wealth grew. When John took over the family business, he owned most travelling circuses in America and became known as the American Circus King.
John and Mable bought a bay front property in Sarasota where they built their dream home. He bequeathed the entire magnificent property, mansion and museum, now known collectively as The Ringling, to the state of Florida.
So much to see and do
The kids will love the Tibbals Learning Center. This is where you can safely walk a tightrope, and stand on the back of a circus horse. They are barely inches off of the ground, but your camera work will make it a much more impressive memory. Step right up for this fun photo op!
Go back in time and watch circus film clips. Look in awe at the Howard Bros. 44,000 piece miniature circus; the minute detail is miraculous and a lot to take in. Catch a great bird’s eye view both behind the scenes and under the big top.
When you’ve had your fill of the circus, head towards John and Mable’s massive 56-room mansion overlooking the Sarasota Bay. They named it Cà d’Zan (Venetian for House of John) and it’s an ornate Italian inspired wonder! Take a seat on the marble seaside terrace, imagining you are one of the famous guests who once partied there.
From the mansion, and hopefully you’ve got some energy left, visit the Museum of Art. In 31 galleries it houses a world-class art collection. It would take a lifetime of visits to even come close to appreciating what is housed within. At the very least, wander amoung the sculptures in the grand courtyard and gaze upon the focal point, a replica of Michelangelo’s David. Much of the art was found at auction in Europe as John and Mable travelled there extensively, in part looking for new circus acts. My favorite piece on display was a silver wig worn by Mabel. How vogue!
Loads of room to roam
It’s like walking through a fairy tale to stroll the extensive grounds. Pathways wind through the property beneath massive banyan trees. There are birds, butterflies, ponds and art installations to enjoy. Make a game of finding the secret concrete cherub peeking through the fantastic tree that has enveloped him over the years.
The rose garden, resplendent with statues, reflects the Ringling’s interest in Italian art. Walk the millennium tree trail and expand your botanical knowledge reading the plaques identifying the species.
And don’t forget to pay your respects to your hosts. John and Mable Ringling are buried in a peaceful flower filled cemetery.
If you tire of walking the 66 acres there are tram stops throughout the property and you can catch a ride. But really the walking is quite manageable for most, and Of course younger kids will want to hop on the swings in the Bolger Playspace.
Shopping and refreshments
You’ll find great gifts for young and old alike in the Museum Store and the Circus Store and just above the Museum Store, there’s the Museum Café. If it’s finer dining you want, Muse at the Ringling is a lovely place to sit overlooking a pond and fountain. For more casual family dining there’s the Banyan Café or you can bring your own grub and relax in a picnic area. And new this fall, there’s a tea house in the Museum of Art.
Special Exhibits and Events
The Ringling calendar is packed with special events both day and night so be sure to check it out while planning a visit. A regular event that older kids might enjoy is Joseph’s Coat Skyspace, the creation of artist James Turell. For five dollars, it’s a colorful light show in the museum at dusk. Either seated or lying down, you will be gazing up towards the ceiling, the center of which is open to the sky. It’s slow, meditative, and pretty magical.
And the surprise is this: Entering the grounds is FREE and you can tour the grounds, play in the playground, and visit the gift shops, restaurants and cafés. It’s a rare opportunity to enjoy such a place at no cost. To tour the buildings or partake in the circus school, paying the admission is required.
For a whole lot more information, events, and ticket prices, check out The Ringling website.