Last week, the Boy and I were sitting on the couch, reviewing my calendar for what would be happening that upcoming weekend. He likes our weekends to be as chill as possible, so when he saw “Maryland Renaissance Festival” on the schedule, he was confused.
“Why is that there?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s just a reminder for myself that I plan on writing about that on the blog next week. I’ll use pictures from last year. Don’t worry, this weekend can still be wide open and quiet.” I answered him.
“…But could we go to the Renaissance Festival?” he asked after a moment.
“Uh…sure.” I said.
No really. That happened. I was planning on using my photos from previous years to illustrated this post, but then my boyfriend wanted to go. We would have gone together at some point anyways, but decided that we could do a quick trip on Sunday morning, and then go back on another occasion with the girls. This way we would get to do all the stuff we thought was fun, and not merely be dragged around by little girls. I’m such a lucky lady. 😍
But before I get ahead of myself – the Maryland Renaissance Festival. It turns out that it’s been there for 40 years, with it’s anniversary being this coming weekend (September 17 and 18). Which is awesomely nerdy, and just awesome. It’s located outside of Annapolis in a wooded area that has been built out over the years to include stages, shops, pubs, a jousting field, and much more. It’s awesome. I first visited this one when I was in high school. And somehow it slipped away from me until I got back from grad school and went, first in my homemade bodice and a borrowed skirt, and eventually in an “ordered from etsy” bodice and skirt that I think of as an amortized investment in fun. I feel like I’m a veteran Faire-goer, but even I am far from those with season passes (though going twice the past few years makes me feel like I’m slowly getting there…), and I haven’t invested in a full dress yet. Yet. But I’ve been enough where I feel like I can offer some advice to people who haven’t been before, or who go irregularly, and aren’t sure they’re doing it right. So these are my tips.
1) Get there early. Not only because it’s cooler in the mornings (important during the hot late-summer time when it’s held), but because the crowds are less, and you also get to see the opening ceremony which is held at approximately 9:45 am each day of the fair. You’ll also be more likely to get a close parking spot (parking is free!) if you get in earlier.
2) Grab a schedule and map after you walk in, but also – take a look at the schedule before you even leave the house. There are so many things to see that it’s better to figure out what’s important or interesting to you ahead of time, and that way you don’t end up missing a show you really wanted to see because you didn’t know when they were playing or where.
3) If you’re interested in doing things like archery and ax throwing, go do that first thing. The crowds filter slowly through the faire-grounds, and those activities are at the back of “Rebel Grove” (as the grounds are called). You can go and shoot a few arrows – doing either poorly or only mostly terrible, depending on your skill level – and not have to stand in line, which wastes valuable time. (related to above: we didn’t dress up this trip because it was hot and it was only for a short visit. A casual Sunday at the faire, if you will)
4) See jousting! It’s the state sport of Maryland (true fact), and there aren’t a lot of places outside of Medieval Times restaurants where you can see it live. It’s thrilling. It’s loud. It’s…always sunny on the jousting field. If you want the spot where the sun won’t be beating directly into your eyes and face, face the Royal Loge, and then choose the section to your right. Sitting towards the middle will also give you a better view of that “crash” moment as it happens.
5) See some shows! We have our favorites, mine being the Dueling Fools (who are on a break this year because of stuff like George’s wife having a baby…pssshhh), and the Boy’s being Wolgemut. But there are sword-swallowing acts, singers, children’s shows, acrobats/tumblers, theatrical productions, and comedy pirates. Literally something for everyone.
6) Don’t plan on eating healthy. Food at the Faire is like the State Fair, and it is awesome. This year I went with an old favorite and a new favorite for my lunch – mashed potatoes with garlic garlic butter and Thai fried green beans with peanut sauce. Later on I got a limeade that I was able to ask for as “half sweet”, and it was perfection.
7) There is booze everywhere. Lots of beer, some of it is even good (craft) beer, which is awesome. There’s also more cider here than you’d see elsewhere. Also, this is your opportunity to try mead, which is honey wine, and MUCH stronger than you’d think. Still tasty. You can get properly sloshed (provided you’ve got someone sober to drive you home), or just happy enough to be there.
8) Shopping. The Boy and I love to do a very specific kind of shopping at the Renn Faire, though there’s so much for sale across the entire gamut. We love the Bee Folks for honey, mead kits, and beeswax lip balm. I also make a yearly visit to Herbalist Delight, which sells loose-leaf teas from the Eastern Shore Tea Co. for a reasonable price (cheaper per ribbon bag than buying online, unless you buy 6 or more). The Boy has a place that he goes to for well-made, cut-to-order, tooled leather belts that are subtle and beautiful. I love to look at the art, the clothing/costumes, the wares that would be deemed “too niche” for sale in some other places. I’m looking into getting a flower wreath or some kind of headware for my visits…and this would be the place to do it.
9) The talents on display. I mean…where else will you get to see people doing awesome things like glassblowing outside of a trip to an actual glassblower’s studio? This was terrific, and it’s a 10 minute demonstration every 30 minutes. First time in my many years of visiting that I’ve actually stopped to watch, and it was well worth the time. Now I want a fancy champagne flute!
10) Costumes and dressing up. As mentioned earlier, I have my own costume that I bring from home. It’s not super fancy compared to some people’s. If you’re interested in renting a costume there, you can. They have men’s, women’s and children’s in a variety of sizes. It’s a good way to get into the spirit of things. BUT you don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to. There are plenty of people at the faire who are not in costume at all. There will also be people in odd-not-quite historical costumes, and that’s ok too. Where else is it ok to go out in public dressed in your best blue fairy get-up? Or a demon costume? Or a full fursuit? Very few places. No one is judging each other here, so it’s a place to feel free in your costume expression. Just because I don’t want a tale or horns doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of people who do.
11) Wear closed shoes with a sturdy sole. It’s dirty and dusty ground, and if you aren’t wearing closed shoes, your feet will be gross at the end of the day. I speak from very recent experience. The Faire is also in the woods, and there are some roots and rocks on the ground. If your shoes are flimsy, you will feel it every step of the way. Choose your shoes carefully.
I’m not a perfect font of wisdom about the Maryland Renaissance Festival, but I think this is a good starting place. If you have specific questions, or memories of going to the faire, or are interested in joining us when we return in a couple weeks, let me know in the comments. It’s a good time for all, and an experience that you won’t regret.