The ultimate rubber ducky race at Durham American Tobacco Campus

The American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham knows how to throw a party. The rubber ducky race is an annual fundraiser and fabulous family festival. Individuals or groups can sponsor a ducky in the race. Kiddos can arrive well before the race time for the slew of food, music and activities planned throughout the day. Businesses also set up tables offering some pretty compelling discounts, such as a carpet company that had its most luxurious brands marked down 50%.

But mostly there are children’s activities. And more children’s activities!

Cost of admission = Free!

And more freebies!20141004_0183

An acrobatic crew, in costume, performed throughout the courtyard. Team mascots mingled and posed for photos. In the boiler room, kids could customize their own little duckies with materials donated from the Scrap Exchange. By the way, the term “boiler room” sounds scary, but the building is quite beautiful. When the facility was original a cigarette factory, this particular building was the powerhouse for the whole factory. It was innovatively renovated into an urban-chic professional and mixed-use space. The building now houses a theater and art gallery for Center for Documentary Studies and the Full Frame Film Festival.

I didn’t catch the official name, but there were a couple wildlife and animal rehabilitation groups that represented at the event in Bay 7. And, boy, did they ever represent! You could pet baby crocodiles, king fisher, owls, hawks, armadillos, lizards, snakes, cockatiels, chinchillas, and foxes. There was even a de-gassed skunk. I think this was the first time for ME to pet a skunk, too! A playful monkey darted around the tables as we listened to stories about some of the rescued animals and how the staff would reintroduce critters to their natural environments.

acrobatWhile all these things were happening concurrently, an MC kept the event lively and upbeat with humor and by introducing different guests and mini-activities at center stage. One involved hula hoop crowd participation.  The water tower is also used as a covered stage for music performances and entertainers. They even brought in a steam punk juggler.

We already had meal plans off-site, but if we hadn’t, there are a host of choices with kid-friendly menus: Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Only Burger, Which Which, Cuban Revolution and Tyler’s Tap Room. All of these restaurants are within the same few city blocks, so you don’t have to pile back into the car.  The district is pedestrian-friendly for easy access to good eats.

SoVa Tip #1:  Allow extra time for parking.  There are two parking decks for the American Tobacco Campus.  The North Deck and the South Deck.  Both are generally available for public events and are owned by the same company as the Tobacco Campus.  If you arrive later and the parking decks are full, there’s a city-owned deck on the other side of the railroad tracks which is your next best bet.  Parking is ample in the decks but can fill up if there are also major events at the stadium or performing arts center.

SoVa Tip #2: If the outcome of the race itself is important to your youngster, get into a good viewing position before it’s time to release the duckies.  SoVa recommends the brick benches near WUNC.  The Bull River has a strong current, but it takes awhile for the duckies to make it to the finish line.  Consider if the start or the end is more important because you will not be able to see both easily.  They move fast over the rapids and slow down after the water tower.

SoVa Tip #3: There’s a grassy area to sit to watch the performances under the water tower.  Depending on the crowds, you may want a toss blanket for sitting.

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