Believe it or not, there's more to the Renaissance Festival than people dressed in costumes and barrels upon barrels of mead. With shows, rides, parades, games, and more, it can be overwhelming trying to plan out your trip back in time.
We spent a whole day at the hallowed Ren Fest to discover the dos and don'ts of wandering around ye olde Shakopee without missing out on the best parts. We learned plenty, and wanted to impart our new-found wisdom to you — like don't spill mead on yourself because that sweet, sticky mess that will have the bees buzzing around you all day.
Do: Catch a show
After a few hours of walking, beer-drinking, and journeys in search of those elusive turkey legs, you're going to want to sit down for a hot minute. Why not be entertained? There are 11 stages with random performances, including the legendary Puke & Snot, the Tortuga Twins, the Danger Committee, and Tuey, the juggling tight-rope walker. We caught the Robin Hood Show and were treated to some push-'em-in-the-water antics with Robin, Little John, and Marian. You can also catch music on more than half a dozen other stages.
Lots of these shows will be filled with some pretty bawdy, immature humor... but what'd you expect, Shakespeare? Just kidding. Of course you did, since the Bard's 450th birthday is this year and the Ren Fest is paying tribute to the greatest wordsmith with their first-ever onstage Shakespeare Competition during the last weekend of the festival.
Don't: Stand in line for something you know nothing about
First things first: We'll admit we stood in line to see a replica of the Throne of Swords for a good half hour. One of the girls in front of us waited just as long, finally stepped through the veil where the throne awaited... and then promptly came out the other side after five seconds. "I didn't know it was for a photo!" she yelled at the Falstaff-looking guy trying to entertain the queued crowd with his Game of Thrones-versus-real history knowledge. Face-palm. Don't waste your time, and feel free to ask questions if you don't know about something!
Do: Stop to check out the random performers
We stumbled across this guy just balancing eight feet of ice on his head, spouting off limericks like it was no big deal, and we were mesmerized. There are plenty of folks like this roaming around the grounds, so take some time to stop what you're doing and be entertained.
Don't: Be afraid to interact
For everyone working at the Renaissance Festival, it's their job to talk to you and attract your attention. If you clam up, they've got nothing to riff off of... which makes for some serious awkwardness for the rest of us. (Especially if you're waiting in line for something and can't escape.) There's nothing to be embarrassed about, because that's part of the weird, interactive fun of the festival. However, if a hot dog seller says he's got "12 inches of meat to keep that smile on your face," you are definitely allowed to side-eye — or zing him back.
Do: Dress up as a time-and/or-space-traveler
We ran into some Trekkies and the 11th Doctor on our adventures in ye olde Shakopee... and it was actually really awesome.
In a sea of wenches and princesses, squires and knights, it's a breath of geeky, fresh air to see folks getting into the festival in their own way. Plus, everything is anachronistic anyways, so you might as well have fun.
Don't: Miss out on turkey legs
Meat-eaters, know this: The quest for the ever-popular turkey legs will be a harrowing one. With three main places to get these oversized hunks of meat, you'd think that would alleviate some of the congestion. Wrong. We had to salivate in line for 20 minutes before we could chow down, but that was after realizing the first line we'd attempted wasn't moving. Later, we passed by that first line again and watched as a poor guy had to tell a ridiculously long line that they ran out of turkey legs and needed to close for 35 minutes until more birds could be procured. This was at 2 p.m. — imagine the actual lunch-rush. Your best bet for a "short" line (under half an hour wait) is over by Cartwheel Cove. (Though it might not be after you read this...)
For the vegetarians out there, you're in luck — most of your food options will be an infinitely shorter wait than the turkey leg line. We recommend the blooming onions, roasted corn, and funnel cake.
Do: Check out the Fairy Wing Forest
Just to the right of the Gypsy Stage lays the Fairy Wing Forest, a little walking path into the woods filled with miniature fairy houses, a little storytelling stage, and, of course, fairies. If you time it right, you might even catch a glimpse of Ivy the Faun.
It's the calm eye of the bustling storm that is the Renaissance Festival for when you need a little piece and quiet before you get back to reality... and a hundred people in period-garb shouting "Huzzah!"
Don't: Park right near the festival entrance
Sure, it seems like a great idea to park close so you don't have to walk even more than you're already planning at the festival, but when it comes time to leave, you'll be stuck in deadlocked traffic for a very, very long time. (Unless you weave through the rest of the parked cars up to the front of the line — but good luck getting anyone to let you in, because we all saw you do that, asshole.)
Do: Watch the joust
There's a reason this was the entertainment of choice in the olden days. Daring knights, gorgeous horses, and throwing insults at the other audience members — the joust track has it all. We know it's all just play-fighting, but it's sure as hell fun to hear those swords clanging and see those lances shatter.
Always: Get caught up in it
The great thing about having to journey all the way out to Shakopee for the Renaissance Festival is that there usually aren't a whole lot of people that don't want to be there. The Renaissance Festival is like a community of eccentric, history-loving geeks that are into pretty much anything — and that's awesome. You've got the opportunity to wear a puffy pirate shirt or lace up a leather corset, and no one's going to bat an eye. In fact, they'll probably compliment you.
This is your chance to step into the "past" (no, it's not historically accurate. But who cares?) and go wild! Get that henna and face paint! Shoot a bow and arrow! Throw tomatoes at that insult-slinging guy! Wear a flower crown! Buy a replica sword! Let the pickle guy sing you a song! It's worth it.