The 85th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival runs through May 6, 2012, ten full days of festivities that attract about 300,000 visitors each year. Also known as “The Bloom,” the festival offers a mix of “royalty” and glittering ceremonial traditions, a street carnival atmosphere and down-home family fun, huge parades and celebrity appearances. Numerous large and small activities are woven in and around these headline features, each of which is aimed to please everyone, regardless of age, gender or interest.
There is always something new each year, but The Bloom also somehow never really seems to change very much. The glue that seems to hold it all together could be summed up in one word: fun. The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival offers a great time and place to celebrate Spring: In Winchester, Va., and right here in the scenic Shenandoah Valley. This year's festival theme is “Rhapsody in Bloom.”
Following a festival Grand Marshal tradition that began in the 1940s with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Mario Lopez assumes the title this year. He's a well-known TV host, model and actor who has appeared on several television series, in films, and on Broadway. He'll make a single public appearance during the Grand Feature Parade, which contains more than 200 units, including floats, bands, special units and official cars. There's nothing else like it in the entire region.
Longtime parade spectators always are sure to reserve curbside seats weeks in advance for a coveted front row view, part of the thousands that line the streets as the parade meanders its way for three hours through Winchester.
The Firefighters' Parade, with 175 trucks and squad units, is one of the largest of its kind in the nation and has been one of the major attractions of the festival since the 1920s.
The crowning of “Queen Shenandoah,” reins over numerous other, special events. The list includes band competitions, dances, the carnival, midways, Cole Brothers Circus, a 10K run, Firefighters' activities and luncheon parties.
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival originally began nearly a century ago as a way to promote Winchester's apple industry and the orchard operations in surrounding Frederick County.
Although much of the rolling orchard lands are now subdivisions, you may still be able to sense the old “apple capital” flavor at the festival. But nowadays, it's more like: The Bloom just rocks.
And as thousands of festival-goers descend upon Winchester, the entire city always manages to mobilize to meet and greet them. In fact, Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival planning never really stops for festival organizers, sponsors and their army of intrepid volunteers. The moment the dust finally settles from one festival, they are once again up and at it, thinking about getting ready for “bigger and better” next year.
Winchester is less than an hour's drive from Washington, D.C., but during festival week, getting there may only the beginning. Advance planning may be required to navigate around town. Forget about the idea of just cruising in and rolling up to a parking spot within easy walking distance. It may be better to plan to arrive early, be clear about parking options, and bring along comfortable walking shoes.
It's true that some of the quieter, indoor mid-week events can be easy to access and may even be handicapped-friendly. But the main feature events, such as the two big parades, are another matter. It may even be a challenge just to find an open space to stand along the parade route.
Interstate 81 and Route 37 form a beltway around Winchester, offering various points of approach. Consider in advance where you plan to enter the city for any particular event.
Winchester is located just a few miles north of the junction of I-81 and I-66, and a few miles south of the West Virginia state line. This part of the Shenandoah Valley is often referred to as the “top” of Virginia.
There's plenty of information on the official festival website, and additional traveler information is available at VisitWinchesterVA.com, which is managed by the Winchester-Frederick County CVB. They also operate a tourist information center next to the campus of Shenandoah University, located just off I-81 exit 313 at U.S. Route 50. Head toward town on Route 50 and follow the signs to the visitor center.
Parade photos courtesy Diane Elliott/Shenandoah2000, Mario Lopez photo courtesy Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival®. Story copyright ©2012 by Shenandoah Valley Productions LLC.