Monday, December 9, 2013

Texas Bucket List: Renaissance Festival

Friends offered valuable advice on what to see and information about what to expect beforehand. "The crowds swell on Saturdays. The crowds drink too much on Friday and Saturday nights. Bring cash. Lots of cash. Don't buy your tickets at the gate. Buy a program at the gate. Don't visit on the Fairy or Barbarian Invasion weekends. Be prepared to cover your children's eyes - costumes vary in terms of their appropriateness, and often consist only of a loin cloth."

As a result, we felt fairly prepared - we knew how to get there, knew where to park, had our tickets in hand, and were prepared for crowds (we had to go on a Saturday) - when we left home.

Because the advice and information we received from friends had more to do with logistics and how to safely attend with children than it did the size and elaborateness of the event, it didn't change how both Tom and I pictured the festival in our heads.

We both imagined the Texas Renaissance Festival as a renaissance-themed county fair. We expected to find a temporary set-up - large circus tents under which entertainers would perform, quick-assembly structures in which games could be played, rolling food carts at which sugary-sweet lemonade and cotton candy would be sold at exorbitant prices - so you can imagine our surprise when we rounded the bend on the path from the parking area and saw the Royal Gates beckoning us into the New Market Village.

This was no temporary set-up.

This was the largest Renaissance-themed festival in the United States.

After we bought our program at the gate, we began to explore the 55+ acre venue. We visited all eight themed villages, watched shows on at least half of the 25 elaborately designed and decorated - and very permanent - stages and tried a couple of festival games. We wandered through a few of the 400 shoppes selling hand-crafted pottery, sculpted metal, woodcarvings, and jewelry; devoured unexpectedly delicious traditional food and drink from the many restaurants and vendors; and admired the thousands of costumed cast members and patrons (nearly all of whom, in addition to dressing in 16th century attire, also "spoke the tongue of lords, ladies, paupers, and wenches") enjoying the festival that day.

I took lots of pictures that day, so I'll try to break them down into categories for you.

First up, "Costumes". These are a few of my favorites "looks" from the day. Some are on cast members, some are on patrons, and all belong on a and all are very, very interesting. I should mention that despite warnings from friends NOT to go on the Barbarian Invasion weekend, we did...

Second, "Food and Drink". I enjoyed a pretzel from the fellow pictured below, and Tom savored a beer from the Brigadoon Brewery. Will, who loves him some meat, thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Renaissance Festival, while Hallie, who only eats foods with which she has experience, subsisted on only an ice cream cone and water that day.

Third, "Venues". As I mentioned above, it truly shocked me to discover how permanent the Renaissance Festival has become over the years. From the first moment I set foot on the Festival's property, it was apparent that everything from the beautiful landscaping to the hundreds of historically accurate and unique buildings, shoppes, and theaters had been designed and implemented as part of a comprehensive and cohesive plan and then well maintained throughout the years.

And fourth, "Entertainment, Games, and Rides". We watched jousting, fire whipping (is that what you call it when someone lights his whips on fire and then swings them at his assistant?), knife throwing, knife eating, sword fighting, juggling, an escape artist, and a strange, masked man play his self-invented, combination piano/bells/levers musical instrument. Will tried his sword at jousting, played (and won at) darts, and ventured through an obstacle course, while Tom and Hallie enjoyed some kind of swing ride.

The first highlight of the day was unexpected. All four of us wanted to watch the sword fighting performance, but when we arrived at the theater we saw these two signs set up in front of the stage.

Tom and I decided to stay, but warned Will and Hallie that we might have to get up and leave if the show became too inappropriate for children.

The show was most definitely inappropriate, but also hilarious. And because Will and Hallie were both just young enough for the inappropriateness to sail right over their little blond heads, we stayed. They weren't too young, however, to appreciate the ridiculously slapstick and scripted sword fighting, and the two of them laughed harder and more authentically throughout that show than I've ever seen them laugh before. They're happy kids to begin with, but for those 15 minutes anyone within earshot could feel their euphoria.
When the performance ended, multiple people sitting near us approached and thanked us for staying, simply because they'd enjoyed watching Will and Hallie so much. Who'd have thought that exposing our children to an inappropriate sword fighting performance could bring so much joy to so many people?!

The second highlight of the day was also unexpected, and made me feel kind of like how the sword fighting made Will and Hallie feel. And I'm going to save writing about it for another day, later this week…I feel like it deserves its own post. 

So there you have it...our trip to the Texas Renaissance Festival and another adventure crossed off my Texas Bucket List. I expect we'll visit the festival again, but perhaps we'll try out another weekend - Pirate Adventure or Celtic Christmas both sound intriguing. In the meantime, I plan to brush up on my 16th century lingo and keep my children as innocent as possible so that we can take them back to the "Grab Them by the Crotch and Throw Them Out the Window" sword fighting show. 

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