The Minnesota Renaissance Festival is an eclectic annual gathering of some of the most magical, mystical, and just plain peculiar folks you may ever see in one place. It’s also the home of mead, mermaids, and marauding Vikings. If you’re a skeptic, I challenge you to grab tickets and go this season. A surprisingly family-friendly experience awaits! Here’s a down and dirty guide to enjoying your visit as a first-timer! Huzzah!
Is a jaunt over to the nearest gathering of pirates, vikings, mermaids and mythical creatures for you? You might be having some doubts. If you can commit to testing the waters of what might seem strange, this guide will have you cheering and jeering with the crowds and signing up for a season pass for the next year’s Renaissance Festival.
Planning Your Visit – Minnesota Renaissance Festival
If you know you’re going (or even if you decide last minute), swing through the local tourist information center or even places like Subway, Taco Johns, and Cub Foods (or a variation regionally) for discounts of a few dollars off admission prices. You’ll also find by visiting more festival websites, there are themed days — college, dogs, seniors, even a sign language day. If you do some research, there’s sure to be a day for you to save. Generally, kids ages 4 and under are FREE (varies by faire)!
Plan the things you MUST see, unless you’re okay leaving it to chance. The Minnesota Renaissance Festival doesn’t open terribly early (9 a.m. – 7 p.m., no matter the weather). That’s going to make it hard to do everything in a day even with meticulous planning. You will want to leave early if you’re planning on hitting the gates like Disney for a rope-drop type entry. Parking is in a large field (and it’s FREE) and is a few minutes walk and there will be a stream of traffic with the same plan. There is no true “rope-drop” event, but costumed folks will be interacting with you before you even cross into the physical realm of fantasy and fun.
TravelingMom Tip: Most parts of the grounds are totally stroller-friendly (it can be muddy, so bring the B.O.B. or a similar off-road capable buggy). Dogs are allowed and there is a special pet-themed weekend each year.
To Dress Up or Not to Dress Up?
Careful going down this rabbit hole. Folks can pour a lot of money into costuming (and they are gorgeous works of art — not just dresses and capes) BUT remember that mud? Yeah, it’s getting on that pretty dress and lavish cape.
Do remember summery temperatures and open fields with little shade in many areas of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival grounds mean you could get scorched. Some enthusiastic attendees walk around in the mid-eighty degree weather sporting leather hoods, chain mail sleeves, and wool and furs. While the costumes are phenomenal, one can’t help worry about heat stroke as they pass by.
As I said, costumes can get expensive. If dressing up is the route you go, try perhaps a Halloween shop, thrift store, or borrowing from a friend for your first go-around. Choices are many: fairies, fauns, Vikings, wenches, kilted Scots, and of course many peasants and townsfolk from Medieval times are all good options.
Accessories help to fine tune your character, perhaps more than the main costume itself! Leather bags, wooden cups and spoons, furs, wassail horns and belts with knives are all popular choices.
You won’t be treated any differently by wearing contemporary clothing. So fear not, fair maiden, those mom jeans will be fly, too.
TravelingMom Tip: Make sure you read the “code of arms” for the venue — Minnesota’s Renaissance Festival allows some weapons if they are bound, stowed, or carried in very specific ways to promote a friendly and safe atmosphere.
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Get with the Times at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival
I had this roommate in my early twenties who would spend hundreds of dollars on “period costuming” to attend the Renaissance Festival each year, at the end of summer when it would come to Minnesota for several weekends. One would think she was crazy. I couldn’t imagine at the time spending that kind of money on a costume. It could go toward travel! A small down payment on a semester at sea! Or at least a lot of
wine mead. Recently, I changed my tune.
Play Along, It’s Better for Everyone
Even if you aren’t presenting yourself as a fair maiden or a strapping knight, do make sure you let loose and get into the characters. It’s their job to interact with you and make it fun, so spare everyone the awkward moment of silence when no one is laughing, heckling, or taking a jab. It’s so much more fun if you open up, even the other costumed faire-goers are often in-character.
This said, you can go totally quirky and get with future times if you prefer. We saw a few Star Wars costumed faire patrons and it was hilarious to see them interact with folks from eons past, as visitors from the future. The point is that they were interacting.
Even my six-year old got into it. He was sure he wanted to visit Vegetable Justice (the heckling troublemaker destined for a day in the stocks). Though the character kept his insults mostly age-appropriate, without the interaction of the crowd, it would just be a kid throwing tomatoes at a restrained guy in a wall. (Which, I guess still sounds kind of fun!)
As we walked by in street clothes with our stroller, a Viking gasped and yelled (as our toddler jumped out with glee and ran), “It’s getting away! Your beast has escaped the cart!” It was simple but it made everyone laugh.
Keep in Mind
The men’s restroom at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival is a giant trough. Of course, there are outhouses for ladies and children and men who prefer some modern conveniences. Kids will probably think this is a fantastic experience though. But, it’s something to know in advance. It’s also something to remember if you’re donning a billowing skirt or a long cape, as it may be subject to contamination on the floor of a porta-john.
The fair will go on, no matter the weather. Be prepared with lots of sunblock and perhaps an umbrella.
Some parts of the festival are not as family-friendly as others. For instance, the Feast of Fantasy is for those 17 and up only. Bring a babysitter and plan to party! You’ll get a six-course meal and a few gifts, but the experience is reported to be wildly entertaining!
Get a schedule of events right when you arrive. Shows are a big part of the fun and you won’t want to zig-zag for miles without a bit of a plan!
Renaissance Faires and Festivals are hard to box in to a simple one-size-fits-all expectation. They’re all different. As with anything, you’ll get what you put in. If you’re willing to open your mind (and perhaps, to some degree, your wallet) you’ll have a fantastic time, even if fantasy and foreign lands are foreign to you.