Monday, October 1, 2012

Texas Renaissance Festival

I've been to the Texas Renaissance Festival every year for the last five years, and I sometimes get questions about it from people who have never been.  So I thought I'd write a blog post with some tips and insights that you won't find on the Texas Renaissance Festival website.

When is it? - Well, this one you will find on the website.  It takes place every Saturday and Sunday in October and November from 9:00 a.m to Dusk (officially closes each night after the fireworks show)

Where is it? - Plantersville, TX (about 50 miles from downtown Houston)

What's with the traffic? A mile or so from the main entrance you'll probably be in a line of cars freaking out that it's going to take Forever to get in.  Don't worry.  The festival is really organized with directing traffic and parking.  The line will move quickly.

Where do I park? Friendly people will direct you to a parking spot. General parking is free. If you're camping overnight, there's a $20.00 charge per vehicle.  There is a separate parking area for if you are camping.

If you aren't camping, you just want "main" or "general" parking.  Follow the signs.  Remember the row you parked in.  There's a huge number above each row.  I cannot stress this enough.  Remember the row you parked in.  Look up, remember the number.  Write it down if you have to.

Do I have to wear a costume? No, you definitely do not have to wear a costume.

Can I wear a costume?  Yes, you absolutely CAN wear a costume.  It is in fact encouraged.  It makes for a fun atmosphere.  Unfortunately, you don't get in for free if you wear a costume. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

Most people who attend don't wear costumes.  But enough people DO wear costumes that you won't feel weird or self conscious if you want to wear a costume.  If you stop at the store or bank BEFORE the festival in your costume you'll probably feel weird or self-conscious.  But hey, that's part of the fun.

Should I rent/buy a costume at the festival? You can rent a costume for the day for anywhere between $20-$65.  I have never done this, but enough people have to where they offer it as an option.  If you're looking to BUY a costume, prepare to spend a few hundred dollars for anything representing a cool, authentic looking renaissance costume.

I never bought a costume at the festival; I've always scraped together different costumes by wearing a cheap Halloween store one, borrowing, having a friend's mom make part of one for me, and last year I bought one from someone on Etsy.  But it's not nearly as cool looking as the ones they sell there, and I do kind of wish I had spent the money on it five years ago.  Greg spent $100.00 five years ago on a pretty authentic looking monk robe.  I thought it was ridiculous at the time, but he's worn it for five years, so it was worth the investment.  If you're not ready to break out the Benjamins for a costume, just "ooh" and "ahh" over them in the stores. Your wallet will thank you.

What's up with the themes? Each weekend the TRF is open, there is a designated theme. This is really just a marketing ploy and doesn't mean too much.  They'll have some contests related to the theme and you'll see more employees dressed in costumes to match that theme (i.e. you'll see more pirates on Pirate Adventure weekend and more fairies on 1001 Dreams weekend).  Don't worry about picking when you go based on the theme.  Pick when you go based on your schedule and the weather.

What should I bring? CASH.  Bring cash.  Even if you're not doing anything crazy like buying a $300.00 dress to wear at a festival, you'll still need some cash (Not $300.00, calm down). I mean literally bring cash though.  The food vendors don't take credit cards.  They have ATMs on the festival grounds, but they charge fees (in addition to your bank fees).

How much? That depends.  After you purchase your tickets, you'll need to budget for food, drinks, games, rides, a program, and souvenirs if any of those things interest you.  Tickets are $25 at the gate. This will get you in the door and access to all the shows.

PRO TIP! Discounted tickets are available at Walgreens and Randalls for $20.00. Buy yourself a ticket there the day before you go. You used to be able to get them at a Woodforest Bank, but I didn't see that listed on the TRF website so that must've changed.

Alright, back to food and such.  If you're going to eat lunch AND dinner at the festival budget about $20-$30 per person not including alcohol. If only one meal, then cut that in half.  I know, "$30.00 for festival food, ugh!"  Well, you could get your hand stamped, drive to McDonald's, and then re-enter the festival. But that would be lame.

Cough up the $6.00 for a turkey leg or steak on a stick. It's part of the experience. I also recommend trying the gyros at the Greek Agora. And finally, if you find yourself at any time saying "I want some dessert," head over to the Queen's Pantry and order a "Death by Chocolate."  You will not regret it. There is seriously a ton of food to try there, and if you can't find something you like then you deserve to eat at McDonald's.

Alcohol? Alcohol is expensive. Not "bar" expensive.  "Concert or ballpark" expensive.  You're going to pay $8.00 for a beer.  Get over it or don't drink.*

*I am not recommending this for legal reasons... but *some* people have been known to sneak flasks into the festival.  I have no idea who these people are. It's just what I've heard.  I've also heard they carry them through the gate in large purses and are discreet about it when they drink from them.

What else should I bring? Comfortable shoes. I don't care if you're wearing a corset and a mini skirt.  Find a way to work comfortable shoes into your outfit.

Also important! Block off at least half a day for this.  You're not driving an hour and paying $20.00 to get in to "check it out for a couple hours."  Plan on spending a minimum of four hours there.  This gives you enough time check out a couple shows, the food vendors, the shops, all the arenas, etc.

Can I bring my kids? Yes, you absolutely can bring your kids any day the festival is open.  They will even get a discounted ticket price! 

There are some people who will tell you the TRF is not appropriate for children.  Everyone has their own definition of what is "appropriate" or "not appropriate."  Here is what I can tell you.  There are things at the TRF that ARE kid friendly: games, rides, some family friendly shows, face painting, etc. There are some things that are NOT kid friendly: lots of drunk people, some risque shows with sexual innuendo, and lots of ladies in revealing costumes.  The "slut" rule on Halloween (it can't be slutty if it's a Halloween costume) most definitely applies to the TRF. You'll see more cleavage than... well I don't know, but you'll see a lot of cleavage.

Sunday Funday? It's not advertised this way, but it's generally said that Sunday is the more "family friendly" day, and if you're going to bring young kids, you might want to consider bringing them on a Sunday rather than Saturday.  That doesn't mean you'll witness some sort of drug infested orgy if you go on a Saturday.  And if you go on a Sunday, I can't promise you'll never see any drunk people, girls dressed in chain mail, or dudes in togas. But you'll probably see a lot LESS of those things if you go on a Sunday.  Use your best judgement and do what you think is best for your family.

*Parents be warned!  Games and rides are NOT included in the ticket price and are $2-$5 each. That's probably why kids get discounted ticket prices.

Risque shows, huh? Yes, indeed! You know you're dying to know.  So here they are, you devil you! 
  • Sound and Fury - Love the Sound and Fury performers!  Before the show they will tell you that small children won't get the jokes, and teenagers will get more of the jokes than their parents.  The true "danger zone", they'll tell you, is kids 8-12.  They will literally go up to parents with kids who look 8-12 and shame them into leaving.  It's pretty hilarious.  
  • Iris and Rose - These lovely ladies have lewd limericks, songs, jokes, and toasts to entertain you while you enjoy a drink or five at the pub. What more could you ask for? They used to be at the Seadevil Tavern but according to TRF website you'll find them at the Polish Pub this year.
  • Chrisophe the Insulter - This guy will take your money and insult your friends. The more money you give him, the dirtier the insults. (Personally, our group decided it wasn't worth it to pay $10.00 to have someone insult one among us when we could insult each other for free).
Other shows to check out! 
  • Ded Bob Show - a crowd favorite!  Entertaining enough for the adults but clean enough to avoid the Mature Audiences only rating like the ones above. This one's okay for the kiddos. 
  • Tartanic - Best musical act at the festival! And these gentlemen are easy on the eyes, too!  Oh yeah, they also usually have girls with them either belly dancing or schlepping their CDs.  Something for everyone! Seriously, you've never heard bagpipes and drums like this before. Check it out! 
  • Joust - At the main arena. Sure, it's fake. But they put on a good show!
  • Royale Finale - this is the fireworks show that starts at dusk. It got cancelled last year due to the tragic wildfires the area experienced. Here's hoping conditions will be favorable this year. They really do a nice job.

PRO TIP! You're going to want a program to figure out how to get around and which shows are where and when.  It's $5.00 when you walk in. I recommend buying one for your party and not losing it. If you really don't want to buy a program - at least print off the entertainment schedule and a festival map from the TRF website. Otherwise you'll just be wandering around aimlessly, which I guess some people enjoy.

What's with all the tip buckets? - After you see a show, the performers will usually ask you for tips.  Nay, they will probably beg you for tips.  The tipping etiquette isn't quite like a restaurant.  No one will think you're a jackass if you don't leave a tip.  I know you paid $20.00 to get in, and food is expensive.  But that's not the performers fault!  They make their living traveling around the country to perform at Renaissance festivals like this one (which btw from what I understand, is the largest and BEST Renaissance Festival in the country). Anyways, if you really enjoyed a show, be cool and tip a couple bucks.

Can you guarantee I'll have a good time? Nope! As with many things in life, it's going to be what you make of it. Bring a friend, turn off your phone, wear comfy shoes, and most importantly, have a good attitude. Chances are you will have a good time!  Plus there's no better place to people watch.

- Your resident Renaissance Festival expert! :)

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