Springtime in Arizona brings a yearly phenomenon. The temperature climbs, the flowers start to bloom, and the Arizona Renaissance Festival opens its gates for eight weekends of fantasy and fun.
Rachel, Jill, and I have each attended this event before, but it’s a unique experience every time. This author excursion had less of a specific motive and more of a general one: the festival’s fanciful atmosphere fosters creativity, and the specialty shops provide a slew of resources.
The Arizona Renaissance Festival could, perhaps, more aptly be titled the “Arizona Fantasy Festival.” We arrived half an hour before the gates opened and stood in line alongside warriors and princesses, elves and fairies. Yes, the festival cares more about imagination than it does historical accuracy, but that’s part of its charm.
Dressed in our modern digs, we strolled through the motley crowds like the tourists we were. We took in a comedy show and ate lunch on a stretch of shaded grass.
My obsession with all things feathered drew us to the birds of prey exhibition, where we enjoyed the opening-day antics of vultures, owls, eagles, and falcons. Most of the birds, still crowd-shy, cooperated reluctantly or not at all, but they were so beautiful that no one seemed to mind the hiccups.
Afterward, we took in a glassblowing demonstration and investigated the rows upon rows of artisan shops: costumes, jewelry, glass, stones, metalworks, and lots more. We admired the elephants (available to ride for only $5!), ducked into a book shop, and stopped by one of the three chocolatiers for an afternoon snack.
The Renaissance Festival has something for everyone. The marketplace features a vast variety of food and drink. Jousting tournaments run throughout the day, along with performance-arts shows and craft demonstrations.
Festival participants assume their roles with passion, and they know their stuff. The clerk at the music shop taught Rachel how to play a flute in under thirty seconds. One of the specialty jewelers gave us the full and fascinating history of puzzle rings.
And right in the middle of the street, while I absentmindedly stared at cluster of happy festival attendees, a story epiphany struck me like a lightning bolt. I’m stoked.
- Sunscreen. Be vigilant. Apply often. Avoid the burn.
- Cash is king. The food vendors only accept bills and although several artisan shops allow cards, the high-tech process clashes with their ambience. ATMs, while available, had long lines throughout the day.
- Opening day is a sort of dress rehearsal for many shows and exhibitions. But, it allows for some fun moments, like falcons that decide to head for the horizon. (We assume the apprentice recovered him. Eventually.)
- Don’t bring food to a birds of prey exhibition. We didn’t, but the lady with the turkey leg got scolded, and people had to hide even their drinks when the black vulture came on scene.
- Vultures are totes adorbs.
- Glass-blowing is fascinating and wonderful.
- Jill would cosplay as a fairy princess in a heartbeat (not a surprise, haha). Rachel yearns to be a pirate.
- Festival players and attendees alike are the friendliest, happiest people. I don’t think I saw a scowl or heard a harsh-spoken word the entire day.
Take a throng of cheerful people in romantic costumes, put them in a setting that hints at magic and times of lore, add good food and I’m there! Since Barnum & Bailey Circus is no more, the Renaissance Festival will be the new setting for the next Lunch Thief novel!
I can’t wait to go again, but next time I’m dressing up and forcing Kate and Jill to do likewise. I have a feeling Jill will happily comply, but Kate, on the other hand, will need some not-so-gentle persuasion.
- Website: http://arizona.renfestinfo.com
- Dates: Open on weekends through April 2, rain or shine; also open President’s Day, February 20
- Location: 30-acre village in Gold Canyon, AZ, just off the US 60.
- Admission: $24/adults, $21/seniors, $12/children 5-12, free for kids under 5; $1 discounts available for adult tickets online, or $2 discounts available from RenFest sponsor Fry’s Food & Drug. Parking is free.