For those who like their get-togethers a little on the geeky, quirky, and historical(ish) side, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival is one of the top happenings of the year. This weekend marks the start of the festival. There will be jousting, belly dancing, turkey legs the size of your head, and artisans selling things such as beer steins, fairy glitter, pottery, scarves, and yes, real battle axes.
While this list is only a mere sampling of some of the free things to do, it should give you a solid jumping-off point on how to enjoy the event without putting a major dent in your wallet.
Before you head out to the event:
Ye olde admission tickets:
If you plan your day right, admission will be the most expensive part of the festival. Tickets are $22.95 for grownups ($13.95 for kids) at the gate, which isn't too bad (hey, that's less than most big concerts or theater productions, and this event entertains all day). However, if you buy passes beforehand, you can save a few bucks. Advance tickets cost $19.95 ($11.50 for kids), and can be found online.
Bonus: Subway, Wendy's, and Papa Murphy's also have Ren Fest coupons at their stores.
You can also bring five canned food-shelf donations to receive $5 off a ticket.
Also, once in the grounds there are coupon books you can buy for $1 at information booths.
Dealing with your chariot or carriage or commuter dragon:
Shakopee is not a town with a lot of road options, so between traffic heading to Ren Fest, Canterbury Park, and Valley Fair, things can get backed up very quickly. Carpooling is ideal, and getting there really early is even better. However, once you're at the event, parking is plentiful and completely free.
If you're feeling really lucky, put on your best Renaissance-era getup, bring a crowd to cheer you on, and sign up before the gates open for the costume contest. Whoever gets the loudest cheers from the crowd gets in for free. Kids seem to win this contest more often than adults, so you might want to give yourself an edge by entering the little ones instead. (Daily at 9 a.m.)
Other contests offered on the grounds for prizes:
- There's a pet costume contest Sept. 12-13, a peanut-butter licking competition, and the Wiener Dog Races (also Oct. 3-4). Cute!
- Got a sweet Medieval tattoo? Sept. 5-7 boasts tattoo contests daily. You can also enter steampunk costume competitions that weekend.
- If you're the creative type, you can get free admission if you enter the fairy house competition Aug. 29-30. But be sure to fill out the online form first.
- Ladies and gents who like manly legs will want to check out the kilt competition. Will competitors be fierce on the catwalk? Aug. 22-23 and Sept. 19-20.
- Best Beard Competition: Think your facial hair has what it takes? Enter to win during Oktobefest, Oct. 3-4. Categories include most unique, grizzliest, and longest. There's also a category for 'staches.
- Free weddings! Renew your vows Sept. 26-27 for free.
The Royal Joust: Suspense is the major draw of this free event. Arrive early to nab a spot on a bench. There will be pageantry, test runs, and arrival announcements as the royals take their seats before the armored knights sprint toward each other with sharp sticks. Thankfully, this isn't Game of Thrones, so the chances of major incidents are low (and it's family-friendly!). Shows are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m.
Parade: Vendors, performers, and other groups walk this parade daily, so take a look, cheer them on, and be entertained as folks march through the grounds every day at 11:30 a.m.
Ye olde barn and zoo: Meet lizards, snakes, elephants, camels, goats, and other animals for free.
Puke and Snot are on the Legend Stage throughout each day.
Tuey, the guy who does balancing tricks on a loose-rope, is a popular performer. Why? He's a dude juggling on a rope! Oh, and his grand finale involves setting the rope on fire. He's at the Grove Stage, pretty much on the hour.
Highland Fling: Watch feats of strength like log and heavy sack throwing throughout the day Aug. 22-23.
All stage shows are free, but folks work hard at the festival to entertain so if you have a dollar or two to spare, tips are always awesome.
If you can't find free beer (or wine) at Ren Fest, then you are doing it wrong.
During Shamrocks & Shenanigans (Sept. 19-20) and Octoberfest (Oct. 3-4) there will be free beer tastings. Head to the pavilion by the jousting. Get there early. There will be lines (but friendly lines).
Wine, Chocolate, and Romance weekend (September 26-27) has tons of free stuff, including:
- Free wine and chocolate samples: Sign up early to get a buzz and share some sweets with your sweetheart.
- Free vow renewals: Get married... again!
- There will be free wine tastings. This usually entails generous sample pours of five or six different types of wines with sassy commentary from a costumed wine company rep.