Can't afford a vacation this year? Take a trip 350 years into the past, at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. It will run weekends from Aug 21 through Oct 3, with a bonus day on Friday, Oct 1. It's their 40th anniversary year, and it promises to be better than ever.
The fun starts when you walk through the gates. You are entering a recreation of a Renaissance-era village, with all the trimmings. You are likely to spy costumed performers right away - jugglers, fairies, town criers, and just plain characters. The grounds are arranged in two adjoining circles, sort of, so whether you turn to your left or your right, you can see it all. Just do a figure eight.
As to what is going on - well, that depends on which weekend you attend. Many of the weekends are assigned a specific theme. The first weekend is Highland Fling, where all things Scottish take precedence. There's Highland Games, with competitions all day each day - it's actually the Fourth Annual World Amateur Highland Heavy Games Championships. Highland Dancers, Kilt competition, free beer tastings - well, you get the idea. Likewise, there's an Irish weekend, but there's also Silk Road, A Royal Celebration and a Royal Ale Festival, seven in all. Each of these weekends has something unique to offer. But most elements of the Festival are available each and every weekend.
This year, they are throwing a Royal Wedding on Sept 5. And on the weekends leading up to it, there will be Bachelor's and Bachelorette's parties. There is a contest for a chance to get married along with the royal couple - for real - with quite a large winners' package, including a $5,000 jewelry gift certificate, a reception for up to 50 people, and the ceremony on stage. And there are daily Royal Events if you can't make it to the wedding (those cost extra).
In addition to the special events, there is the Royal Fantasy Feast daily with three different seatings. This includes a six course feast, entertainment and special gifts. Plus you get into the really cool feast hall, while those commoners can just peek through the door and drool. It's $80 per person and tickets must be bought in advance. There is actually an array of daily events included in your admission price, not the least of which is the Joust (three times daily), but don't overlook the calligraphy lessons in the Hall of Scribes, comedy performances, glass blowing, juggling and more. Get your News of the Realm, a listing of that day's events, when you walk in the gate and check out what's happening.
Be tempted by over 100 artisan booths, along with fantastic food and drink. You can actually buy mead. There is always something to see, something to do, at the Renaissance Festival. Step back to the 17th century and leave your cares at the door. You won't find a happier group of people at any festival, and this is one of the best in the country. Some of the more ribald entertainment is not for kids, but there is a large Children's Realm, as well as a Games area, elephant rides and usually other beasts, that kids will enjoy. Catch the parade each day at 11:30am.
Purchasing tickets in advance will get you a discount. You can get discount coupons at Subway, Domino's or UPS locations and buy tickets at Walgreen's, SuperAmerica or Whole Foods. Single day tickets for adults start at $17.95, or you can get a two-day pass for $31.95. Parking is free (sponsored by select Buick and GMC dealers). Check the website for other special promotions, such as Celebration of Cities, $3 off if you wear green weekend, food drive and more. Gates are open from 9am to 7pm each day the Festival is in swing, rain or shine.