First Time Visitors
If you have never attended a Renaissance festival before, here are some things that will help you understand what to expect.
What is a Renaissance festival?
Renaissance festivals have been called "a State Fair from the 16th Century" or, as one producer describes it, "a three ring circus with two musicals thrown in."
Simply put, it is an outdoor entertainment event where crafters and other merchants set up tents to sell (and sometimes demonstrate) their goods. There are also entertainment acts that perform on stages, or just walking around, as well as food booths. All the workers (performers, food vendors, crafters) dress up in costumes that fit the 1500s European theme (like Old English "Knights and Princesses", fantasy elements like Lord of the Rings, etc.). There will be costumed performers that will portray certain characters (like the village rat catcher, or the sheriff, or even Robin Hood) that may interact with you, or pose for pictures, or just be there to direct you to the privies (the Renaissance festival name for the bathroom).
Who should go to this event?
Anyone who likes to have fun at outdoor events! Depending on your background, you may think of these types of events as something "just for kids" or "not at all for kids." In California, the original "Pleasure Fairs" (which started in 1963 and evolved in to the modern concept of a Renaissance Festival) are seen as more of a "grown up" environment with very naughty entertainment. But in our area, the shows are kept far more family friendly. While there will be some edgier offerings, and the non-children acts often have some risque innuendo ("it's not our fault if your kids get the jokes!"), there will also be plenty of activities and items designed with families and children in mind. If you like outdoor events and live entertainment and shopping for unique items, a visit to a Renaissance festival is worth checking out. (And you may get a kick out of all the folks working there in those funny costumes and talking in silly accents!)
Do I have to dress up?
No, of course not -- but, just like you might wear a team jersey to a football game, or dress up to go to a themed party, dressing up in Renaissance or pirate outfit may be more fun! Or just wear your favorite Pirates of the Caribbean Jack Sparrow T-shirt! Many of our performers started out years ago as patrons visiting an event, then buying some costume pieces, and eventually joining the show. So, dress up if you want to, and if you don't have a costume, there are often vendors selling everything you need to get started.
What type of entertainment is there?
There may be jugglers, comedians, swordplay demonstrations, singers, musicians, dancers, magicians, fire eaters, belly dancers ... though all try to do their act with a 1500s theme (like the juggler may be dressed as a court jester, and the magician may be Merlyn). Some of the performers are part timers who work for tips (so there is usually a hat pass at the end of each show, or a place to drop a coin or dollar in front of a musician performing in the lanes). Some acts are full time, and this is what they do for a living (though next week they may be dressed as cowboys at a wild west show). The one thing they have in common is they are here to entertain you!
What type of food will there be?
There is usually very little (if any) historically accurate food (thank goodness!), so expect to find burgers and hot dogs (things your kids will eat) and perhaps something that at least feels closer to the time period -- like turkey legs! (Though a historical will point out that turkeys were not found in Europe until the Spaniards from them over from the Americas in the later 1500s. Still, most folks think of turkey legs when they think of a "Renaissance" festival -- which is fine! It's about yummy food more than a history lesson!)
Does it cost anything to see the shows?
No, all entertainment is free (though you are welcome to tip the performers if you like their act). There may be some activities that have additional costs, like a climbing wall. You can show up right at opening and stay until closing and take in as many acts and shows as you can during that time, or just have fun browsing the shops and hanging out "people watching" -- you see all kinds of folks at these events (and we don't just mean the performers).
Are cameras allowed?
Yes! You most certainly should bring a camera along! Where else can you get a photo taken with an armored knight or a group of belly dancers? Please understand that some acts may ask for no (or limited) video recording of their show due to copyright reasons, but generally photos and video is encouraged (just check out all the Renaissance festival clips on YouTube!).
Will my mom/son/dad/cousin/neighbor like this?
Yes, no, or maybe. Some folks just love to see all the fancy outfits and listen to British accents (even if they are fake). Kids usually love getting to meet a "real" princess or pirate. Some love the excitement of a horseback joust or sword tournament, and others enjoy beautiful music and singing... But some folks think it's silly to see a bunch of people running around in costumes when it is not Halloween. , so ... bring them and find out!