BY VERONICA GRAY
Hear ye, hear ye! Come one, come all to the 39th Annual Bay Area Renaissance Festival. Meet King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine Parr in the village of Fittleworth and join the festivities with a lively cast of characters from nobility to peasants to fairies and mermaids. The festival has live shows, games and activities, heckling characters, and a wide range of food and drinks to try.
The first thing I was greeted with was a sense of time travel. Once I stepped through the gates, everything I saw, minus a few uncostumed patrons, were styled from the Medieval Era, from the vendor booths to the signs pointing towards the nearest “privy.” I was thrust into the action as soon as the gates opened with a Village Dance hosted by characters and other performers I continued to see throughout the day. Throughout the rest of my time in the village, characters such as the village dancers, the court members and even some guards interacted with me as a common villager as I passed by. A slightly embarrassing example of these interactions took place after I purchased a turkey leg to eat. I had walked by some guards and stopped to watch them interact with some of the other patrons when they took notice of me and immediately jumped into action. They talked with each other about how it was unfair of me to be eating in front of them and “arrested” me by having me stand in a square they had drawn in the dirt. Have no fear, the princesses stopped by and had them release me, of course after the guards had me sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with my mouth full of turkey. The festival vendors also got in on the act. With each passing stand there were a few different calls from the tents, vying for the business of those nearby. Those working the tents as well as the different activities dressed and acted as the other characters had in the rest of the festival.
The vendors at the festival are not your typical fair vendors. A majority of these vendors sold wares that were specific to being part of the Renaissance theme, from leather work to hand made corsets and jewelry tents. I was able to view a few of the really amazingly done works up close in a vendor tent that sold hand crafted leather accessories. The detailing the creator went into these pieces went all the way down to the moving pieces of a buckle on a belt they had crafted. There were also several tents for those who are looking to get a henna tattoo or face painting. Some of my favorite tents had beautifully made cloaks as well as amazing costumes I could have purchased to dress the part while at the festival. The sizes, I found, had a wide range from children’s sizes to plus sizes in adults, which was extremely encouraging in the hopes of finding the perfect costume. There is were a few stands around to help either braid hair in a Renaissance fashion or add a pair of pointy ears to finish off an elven or fairy costume. Food vendors were also not in short supply.
Food and drinks at the festival ranged from stands with turkey legs and soda to meal plates and beer. The food stands were great places to grab some on-the-move food including corn on the cob and turkey legs. I personally tried the turkey leg after finding it highly recommended by the festival. The quick meal was a perfect fit for the day and the smoky flavor the meat had was excellent, which made spending the cash that much more worth it. There were other stands with tacos or chili or other foods to try as well, which I thought was clever of them to appease as many of their patrons as they could. There were also places like Pirates Galley where you pay a set amount of money for your choice of meal and Pepsi product and get to sit in a tent to enjoy your meal. As for alcoholic beverages, there were a few pubs and taverns located around the festival that I passed by. The festival even features a Pub Crawl for patrons to join each weekend. (Note: Pub Crawl costs extra and must be purchased separately from general admission tickets)
Apart from the food and the vendors, the festival also has activities for everyone. There were a few stands where I was tempted to try my hand at throwing a knife, axe, or throwing star. Near those stands is a tomato throwing stand with one annoying heckler who had made quite the show in trying to get me over to the stand. There was also a place where you can shoot a bow and arrow or a crossbow. There are also a few manpowered rides or games to check out including a large barrel rope swing and some fake jousting. There was also an activity titled Medieval Combat Training where you can learn to wield a sword or knife from professionals for free. Shows are constantly happening all across the village where you could catch dancers, live music, or several types of comedy shows to enjoy while resting your feet. I happened to catch a comedic acrobatics show after I had wandered around. Even before the performance had begun the acrobats had started acting out their crazy characters, which included having one of the female acrobats named Orange climbing up in a tree over some of the audience members. It was a silly little show, but it was definitely fun to watch.
Even though my time at Fittleworth is over for now, I look forward to my next visit. The festival has something to offer every time with a new theme highlighted each weekend the festival is open. Coming this weekend, Feb. 25-26, is the theme of Chocolate Fantasy featuring a fencing competition, different chocolate themed events, and a wedding wars. Future themes include Pirates & Pets and Time Traveler weekend with special events each weekend. Also, the festival offers special additional packages like the Pub Crawl for those looking to add to their experience. You could have tea with the queen, or enjoy another ale tasting at Henry’s Happy Hour. For couples, there is a package for Renaissance Romance which includes two general admission tickets and a gourmet lunch. There are also special balls after the festival closes for the day on two different occasions for those looking to continue the renaissance fun. (Please note: some of these packages may not include general admission tickets)
The Bay Area Renaissance Festival is open rain or shine every weekend, Saturdays and Sundays, from Feb. 18-Apr 2 10 a.m.-6 p.m. in Tampa by USF and MOSI. You can find the exact address and advanced tickets, along with more FAQs and a complete list of weekend themes and events, at www.bayarearenfest.com
Veronica Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org