The XL Center & The Greatest Show on Earth

A few weeks ago, my husband emailed me that he had an opportunity to buy tickets to the circus. It was one of those moments where we were like, This child is two years old, do we really want to bring him to something like this? Meaning, was it a complete waste of money expecting our child to sit still for two hours?  

It was the last chance to see “The Greatest Show on Earth” since the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus would end this year.  And the tickets were a great deal through his work, one-third of the price actually. So we decided, let’s do it. Worse case, we leave early (since we weren’t spending a ton of money that wouldn’t completely be a waste).

So last week, we took our boy to Circus Xtreme, the last ever “Greatest Show on Earth” by Ringling Brothers and Barnum  & Bailey at the XL Center in Hartford. 

Normally, I wouldn’t post about an event that will never take place again, but I decided this would be a great opportunity to share with you our experience at the XL Center since a lot of shows take place there. So, while this is a post about our time at the circus, it also will help you in planning any shows you take your kids to at the XL Center. 

For starters, the XL Center is in downtown Hartford. For many people, that is a daunting fact. I actually worked many years in downtown, and Hartford is pretty tame compared to the experiences I have had in Boston and Philadelphia. It’s really easy to get around and parking is not that hard to find.  

Depending on where you are coming from, the XL Center is close to I-84 and right off of Trumbull Street.  

(from Google Maps)

There are a lot of options for parking in Hartford. Many people park in the garage right on the corner of Church and Ann Ucello (behind the Hilton). We prefer the lot under the “stilts” building which is on the corner of Church and Main. The City of Hartford has a great map with all of the parking options. Parking in the city is usually NOT cheap. Event parking often applies – we paid $10 that night.  Many places take cash and credit card, so plan to allow for that expense.  

This is the MAT garage under the 20 Church Street building (“stilts” building). It is diagonal to the XL Center. 

Depending on where you park, there are multiple entrances to the XL Center. The main entrance on Trumbull Street is located under the huge jumbo-tron. 

There is also an entrance directly across from the garage on Church & Ann Ucello. 

Both will bring you into the XL Atrium. 

If you are purchasing tickets or picking them up, you’ll find the Ticket Office right in the atrium. Tickets can be purchased in advance at this ticket office, online or by phone. The ticket office is open during weekdays until 5 p.m. and remains open for an hour after a show starts, during the week. On weekends, they are open for four hours prior to the start time of an event. 

Since we already had our tickets, we walked around the XL Center for a few minutes before heading towards our seats. You can arrive up to one hour ahead of an event. The Circus had brought in some pre-show events that were on display in the Atrium, and a lot of people were there to check them out. 

Heading into the actual coliseum, you’ll go through security and have your ticket scanned. Some useful tips when going through security: your bag will be inspected; no food or drink is allowed (however, I did disclose that I had my son’s sippy cup with me and they let us take it in); cameras are allowed within certain guidelines; strollers are permitted but they really discourage them since you cannot bring them into your seating area (so honestly, I’d leave it home or in the car). For us, we did forego the stroller, and I packed a change of clothing, a diaper, wipes and a few other necessities in my (very large) purse. Diaper bags are allowed. They offer a breakdown regarding which size bags are allowed here

You can find more FAQs and General Information on their website here. Their policies are also found here

This is the only entrance into the coliseum. Once you enter the coliseum, you can either turn right or left. Depending on your seat, you’ll want to follow the signs in that direction. We were offered assistance by several people that worked for the XL Center, they were all really helpful! A detailed map of the coliseum can be found here, and will help you in finding your seat. 

There are signs all over the place to help you figure out where you are going; so honestly, it’s really easy to get around! 

Restrooms are located throughout the coliseum, and while I did not have to locate or use a changing table, according to their website, they do have them. 

In the coliseum, you’ll find a ton of concessions . As with any event like this, concessions are not cheap. However, I was rather shell-shocked at how much the circus was charging for their food and souvenirs! Fifteen dollars for cotton candy!! Was it made from gold? Yikes! And this elephant was $45!! Ouch! Basically anything that said Greatest Show on Earth cost a small fortune. Needless to say, we did NOT buy a Circus souvenir…      


The concessions sold through the XL Center were slightly more reasonable. Popcorn was $5, and two waters were $10. And of course, ice cream was needed, and that costs us $6.  They also sell hot dogs, pretzels, nachos, soda, and wine (which I almost needed after seeing the cost of a sno-cone).  If you do not want to spend money on food, plan to eat before you come to the show. But honestly, it’s like any event or outing, so bring your cash and enjoy the popcorn! 

Once we were armed with snacks, we headed into the main arena. The lower level had ushers available to help you find your seats, and keep the upper level riff-raff like us from coming down… haha. The upper level had no ushers, and left us to fend for ourselves in the dark. 

We had pretty good seats in the upper level- we were actually just two rows from the bottom. To be perfectly honest, we had a great view. This was my first show at the XL Center, and from what I could tell of the layout there were really no bad views. Of course, being on the upper section, you don’t see the fine details of every aspect of the show, but we were able to see everything going on. The only hinderance we had was the tightrope walk- it was parked right in our direct line of sight and it was sometimes a distraction, but the tightrope has to go somewhere at a circus and it just happened to be right in front of me! 

For this event and for most events, we had to buy our 2 year old a seat.  Tickets are required for children 2 and up. And even though he spend most of the time in my lap, in daddy’s lap, climbing around, and going for walks, he did spend some time in his own seat. The only issue we had with the seats is that they flip up easily under small little bottoms. He is a hefty boy, over 35 lbs, but depending on how he sat himself on the seat, sometimes he would tip back. We ended up wedging our coats and my bag behind him to prevent him from falling into the seat! 

 The show was great! He really got into the tight rope walkers, and he would clap when the audience clapped. There were some bright strobe lights and the music was pretty loud at times, so much so that he would lay his head against our chest to block the sound. Since this was the Circus Xtreme, it was loud (and they warned us of that). I kind of wish I thought to get him a pair of headphones or something; if you plan to take your little one to a show that may be loud, I’d recommend bringing something to cancel out the the noise! 

He did really well until intermission, which was about an hour into the show. We were pretty shocked that he was still sitting for the most pat. We had to each take him for a small walk during the first hour, and he stood at the end of the aisle with daddy for a few minutes.  

We continued to watch the show after the intermission, and then he got a little more restless. Another walk was needed, and then we plied him with Carvel… 

But about 20 minutes after intermission, we decided to call it quits after he tried to climb over the empty seats in front of us!! 

Overall, it was a pretty successful night. When we did finally leave the XL Center, it was already dark, but the city was really lit up and it was easy to get back to your car.  Plus, we were able to enjoy the beautiful city lights!! 

The Greatest Show on Earth has come to an end. But there will be many more shows at the XL Center, and many of them will be perfect for your little ones.  We are glad we took a chance on this experience, since he really surprised us by lasting as long as he did. I think every child is different though and you’ll have to decide if spending the money on tickets, parking, food and more is worth your child potentially having a meltdown. I think if we had to pay full price for the tickets, we would have skipped, but I’m glad we were able to try this out.

Now, let’s see if he can handle a baseball game in June!  


This about sums it up…

 One Civic Center Plaza -Hartford, Connecticut


Hours: Vary by event

Cost: Vary by event


  • Strollers discouraged- and not allowed in the seating arena
  • Bathroom facilities are found throughout the coliseum- changing tables are available
  • Cash and Credit accepted
  • Food for purchase from concession stand- bring cash for some of the food stands. 
  • Diaper bags allowed when a child is present- women’s purses are allowed up to a certain size. 
  • No food or drink can be brought in. 
  • Parking is available in multiple garages around the city
  • Entry into the coliseum is allowed up to one hour before an event
  • Tickets are required for children ages 2 and up (some events require tickets for a younger age)

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