A recent thaw-out trip to Sarasota that has been the subject of several recent articles included a delightful Valentine's Day visit to The Ringling complex;
This former estate of circus co-owner John Ringling and his wife Mabel aptly boasts their literal palatial mansion, a circus museum, and a world-class art museum. (Not to mention a rose garden and another garden fully of creepy stone gnomes.) It also is home to the Also Theater, which offers films and live performances in an setting that is as opulent as the home and the art museum.
One of the nicest things about this complex is that it keeps the spirit of the circus alive years after the demise of Ringling Bros. A personal perspective on this is a early job being the Assistant Marketing Manager for the company that owned the circus.
As an aside, the numerous perks of our stay at the Hotel Indigo Sarasota included use of the sparkling-clean hotel shuttle and its jovial drivers. The Ringling is one option for a shuttle ride.
Our day (rather than night) at the museum began with a warm and friendly greeting by James Ingram, who is the Assistant Director of Visitor Services. The hospitality cred. of Ingram includes being the former concierge at the uber-exclusive Cinderella's Castle suite at Walt Disney World. This nice young man who has met at least two Jo Bros rocks skinny trousers as well as those preteen idols, Ingram also pays homage to his Mouse Factory days by wearing a coveted Dumbo pin.
The jovial volunteer who greeted us at the circus museum did us a solid by suggesting that we begin our visit by watching a short "day in the life of" film about the circus. This enhanced the experience of watching the MASSIVE 50-year labor of love diorama by master miniaturist Howard Tibbals. There truly is nothing else like this anywhere.
The actual railway cars in which the Ringlings traveled was the second favorite exhibit. It showed what it meant to travel in style.
Other exhibits included numerous circus props and dazzling costumes. We also go to learn about the stunts, the clowns, and the animals. This is not to mention an actual film of Ringling Bros. performances.
The obligatory stop at the circus museum gift shop, which has tons of cool merch., netted me valued Valentine's gifts. The most treasured is a stuffed elephant whom I have named Horatio simply because he seems like one.
Our next stop was a fun and informative exploration of the aforemetnioned Ca' D'Zan mansion; although there are many options for seeing this replica of a Venetian palace, the full-guided tour is the best choice.
The provided perspective included that the Ringlings choose Sarasota for their second home to avoid the scorn of the social elite, who looked down on new money and on circus folk, Also, the Ringlings had friends who were their kind of people in the area.
The house itself and the ornate touches throughout are very consistent with the showmanship of John; it is also provided a showcase for some of the tons of art that the couple purchased during Charles Foster Kane style trips to Europe. The overall apparent real and reel world attempts were to show that money can buy class.
The post-tour treat of getting to sit on the oceanfront lanai and look out on the water provided a good chance to chill before the next destination.
We had lunch in the outside sitting area of the surprisingly reasonably priced cafe across from the circus museum; although we opted for cold fare, the grill served hamburgers and other hot meals looked tasty.
Wrapping up our day at the art museum created a general cautionary tale. Both the building, which has the literal walls from a room in the Astor New York mansion, and the amazingly wide range of art are must see. At the same time, your not-so-humble-reviewer feeling the combined effects of already having toured the grounds for a few hours and of the moderate Florida heat resulted in going through this museum a little quickly.
Ringling visitors are advised either to rank their priorities regarding the three museums and visit them in the corresponding order or to take at least an hour of refuge in an air-conditioned space mid-way through a visit.
The casualties related to the art museum included not finding a temporary exhibit on armor. All who have toured it have highly praised it.
The bottom line is that The Ringling offers the best of both worlds by providing a taste of Disney pageantry with a strong dose of entertaining culture in a setting that is free of long lines and hordes of unruly children.