Quilt shows are always fun, whether big or small. For some quilters, getting to Paducah or Houston can be a once in five to ten years thing, and going to both is not an option. I’ve been to both, as well as to a couple of the Quilt Expo shows in Europe, and I thought a bit of a review might be in order. If your’re on the fence about which one to visit this season, you may find this useful, so here’s my two cents:
In Houston, there are more choices for lodging, so even if the “recommended and on the shuttle bus route” hotels are full, there are many other choices. However, this also means that if you’re not at one of the hotels on the shuttle route, you’ll either be figuring out Houston’s public trans system, or renting a car and paying ten prices for parking, not to mention finding your way from here to there. I did hear when I was there in 2004 that for some strange reason, the city is always tearing up the roads right around Quilt Festival time (and they stressed “always”), and so traffic was sometimes an issue, as well. Eating out was easier in Houston because of the sheer number of choices available. The weather can be really unpredictable that time of year in Houston, and we had absolutely horrid downpours (and “sidepours” if you will, because of the winds!) for some of the time we were there.
As to the show itself, it’s bigger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better, as we all know. It depends on what you’re looking for from the experience. The organizers have it together, and things run smoothly, but they do run a tight ship. Things are “their way or the highway” and there isn’t much they’ll do to accomodate any out of the ordinary requests (in my experience). Food at the convention center is very expensive, though that’s probably fairly normal. It’s a very professional and polished show, and the special events are well coordinated.
In Paducah, it’s a much smaller town of course, so lodging is way more difficult. I was able to find a room in Paducah itself, but I understand that not everyone is so lucky. Hotels and B&B’s in the surrounding area fill up very quickly at showtime. My hotel was not on the bus route (though the hotel next door was and I could have used the bus there I think), but that’s not a biggie in Paducah, since a rental car was an easy solution, and it’s pretty hard to get lost there. I only had a small issue with a one way street in downtown while trying to visit a bank! Eating out was sometimes a bit difficult there, since there are a limited number of places, and the town is bursting at the seams during the Show. Sometimes there are hour long (or more!) waits for tables at dinner.
The Paducah show overall has more of a friendly, hometown fest sort of feel to it. You can get pretty inexpensive food from vendors that are set up outside (or could when I was there), and the show personel, organizers and volunteers are very friendly, flexible and down-to-earth and ready to help with whatever special thing you need. When I was there (in 2002, so things may be better now), they had just opened the extension to the convention center, and the awards banquet was not quite as well presented as it could have been (which may have been growing pains). The weather in Paducah was perfect when I was there, although I’m sure that it can also be unpredictable in April in Kentucky.
Overall, I’d go to Paducah again before I’d hit Houston, and I probably won’t visit the European Quilt Expos again at all. Do leave a comment and add your impressions of these two big shows to this review.