The Arizona Renaissance Festival has changed a lot over the last three decades.
What started out as a colorful curiosity at the far-flung edge of the East Valley back in 1989 has become an annual event that’s both massively popular and just plain massive.
The springtime attraction, which recreates a lively village from the 16th century, now encompasses a 30-acre swath of land in Gold Canyon and reportedly attracts approximately a quarter-million patrons each year.
People flock from across the state to pay a visit to Arizona Renaissance Festival, which takes place from February to April each year, to sample its merriment, watch a joust, or munch on a ginormous turkey leg. It also offers a variety of artisans and craftspeople, dozens of musicians and entertainers, and a host of colorful characters.
If you’re curious about what’s in store for this year’s edition of the festival, which runs until April 1, we’ve put together an extensive and comprehensive guide.
Dates and Times: The Arizona Renaissance Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from February 10 to April 1, rain or shine. It will also be open on Presidents Day, which falls on Monday, February 19.
Location: The festival grounds are located at 12601 East US Highway 60 in Gold Canyon.
Admission Prices: If you’re buying online, tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for active duty military and seniors ages 60 and up, and $15 for children ages 5 to 12. (Kids 5 and younger get in free.)
It’s a buck more for any admission option if you’re buying at the festival box office or a buck less if you get ‘em at local Fry’s stores.
Age Limits: The festival is open to all ages and is mostly family-friendly, save for the occasional performer who might get a little bawdy.
Weather: It’s largely going to be sunny and warm throughout the festival’s run. Naturally, temperatures will increase as things roll into spring and the beginning of the hot season. And it might just wind up raining once or twice.
Basically, you’ll want to check the forecast before heading out and be sure to dress and plan accordingly.
Bring: Any sort of sun protection, including hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, and sunblock. Comfortable shoes are also a must, considering all the walking you’ll be doing. A bag or backpack is also a good idea, as is a certain amount of cash (it’s always faster than plastic).
Don’t Bring: And sort of real weaponry, drugs or related paraphernalia, dragons, or anything else that might be considered dangerous. Outside food or drink is also forbidden.
Getting There: Basically, head east on the Superstition Freeway (a.k.a. U.S. Highway 60) until you reach its end, and then keep going. The festival is approximately seven miles east of Apache Junction.
Depending on what time you arrive, there might be lines of vehicles waiting to get in. Be prepared to deal with traffic and have a modicum of patience. You’ll get in eventually.
Parking: There are acres of free parking available. And the sooner you arrive, the closer you’ll get to park to the front gate.
Getting Inside: There’s little hassle involved with getting into the festival. Just hand your ticket to a festival employee at the front gate and waltz on through like you’re stepping back in time.
Those wearing costume weaponry will need to have it checked out and peace-tied by the security staff. And re-entry is allowed the same day of your visit, provided you get a hand stamp from the front gate staff.
Getting Around: As you’d expect, given the festival’s setting and expansive layout, you’ll be doing plenty of walking during your visit. Wheelchairs and motorized scooters are available for rental, as are wagons and strollers for kids.
If you’d prefer to give your feet a rest (or just ride in style), hit up one of the rickshaw-like cabriolet carts that run around the festival ground. The operate on fares and tips, which vary depending on the number of people they’re pulling and the distance traveled.
Costumes: If you’d like to dress up, that’s totally cool, too. It goes without saying that medieval, Renaissance-style, or even Game of Thrones-inspired get-ups are more than appropriate, but any and every sort of cosplay is acceptable. (We’ve even seen Star Wars peeps at the event.) They’ll even have an annual Doctor Who-themed weekend on Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4.
Water: It goes without saying that you’ll need to drink lots of H20 while traipsing about the festival. Patrons can bring in a 16- or 24-ounce bottle of water that’s been factory sealed. You can also purchase bottled water from food and drink booths. Meanwhile, drinking fountains are located at various points around the festival (usually close to privies).
Food and Drink: There’s a lot of both at the festival. And, yes, there’s more to feast on than the requisite turkey legs. More than a dozen different food and drink stands are set up throughout the event and offer a wide variety of options, from appetizers to deserts and everything in between.
The biggest stands (both in size and offerings) are the King’s, Queen’s, and Joust kitchens, as well as the Pirate's Kitchen & Pub. Each features an enormous menu of items like sandwiches, bread bowls, fish and chips, chicken strips, pizza, and calzones.
There’s plenty of heartier fare, including a variety of roasted meats and sides, not to mention various items served on a skewer of some sort (such as sausage, chicken, and steak).
Smaller stands and booths like The Mediterranean Fare, The Cottage Crepe Shoppe, and Ye Olde World Sausage Maker offer more specific menus and items.
When it comes to beverages, drinks both soft (soda, lemonade, iced tea) and hard (beer, wine, cider, mead) can be purchased.
Entertainment: A cornucopia of live entertainment takes place across 13 different stages each day of the festival. And it includes a variety show-like mix of music, comedy, dancing, and other performance artistry.
There are perennial favorites, of course, like Don Juan and Miguel, Ded Bob, The Tortuga Twins, Hey Nunnie Nunnie, and Zilch the Torysteller, all of whom have been around since the festival’s earliest years.
Other popular acts include the “Ancient Art of Falconry” shows throughout the day (which features birds of prey and other noble feathered creatures), as well as the mud-caked buffoonery of The Wyld Men and attention-grabbing spectacle of Adam Crack’s “Fire Whip Show.”
Elsewhere, you can encounter musicians and minstrels (Bathos the Muse, Lady Prudence), comedy acts (Mother Redempta and Sister Philomenia), and daredevils performing feats of skill (Gypsy Geoff, Barely Balanced), and dance troupes (Jamila Lotus, Fairhaven Morris Dancers)
There’s also Cirque du Sewer, a troupe of acrobatic rats and cats, which appeared on The Gong Show last summer, and a living sculpture known as Statue Comedius de Marbleous.
Various street characters roam the grounds and interact with patrons, including sword-fighting bandit Daniel the Fox, the curious beast Fireflicker the Dragon, and ginormous walking tree known as Green Man.
Marketplace: One of the many draws of the Arizona Renaissance Festival is the sheer number of shops and artisans that are selling handmade items and wares at the event, much it being created on site.
More than 200 different artisans ring the festival grounds, offering such expertly made goods as garb and costuming items, soaps and exotic oils, period weaponry, pottery, glassware, jewelry, sculpture, artwork, tapestries, leatherwork, headwear, furniture, and much more. A full list of artisans can be found here.
Games and Rides: Contests of skill and fun distractions are in abundance at the event. If you'd like to make like Robin Hood, for instance, there’s an expansive archery booth on the premises. If that doesn’t suit your fancy, the festival also offers the chance to hurl battle axes at targets or tomatoes at insult-spewing vulgarians. You can also have fun storming the castle in a sense via the climbing town.
There’s also a collection of people-powered rides at the Ren Fest that young and old alike can enjoy, including longtime favorites like Da Vinci's Flying Machine and Voyage to the New World.
Jousting: Arguably the most action-packed attractions at the Ren Fest is this thrice-daily spectacle of knights engaging in chivalrous combat and competition inside the jousting arena.
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Three events take place daily at noon, 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. and follow an ongoing plot that builds throughout the day and culminates with the showstopping Joust to the Death. A word to the wise: Seating tends to fill up fairly quickly at each event, so try arriving as early as possible to stake out your spot.
The Drum Circle: One of the highlights of the Ren Fest in our opinion is the uproarious drum circle that develops during the last hour of each day.
Starting at about 5 p.m., musicians will gather towards the entrance of the festival grounds and launch into a free-form and improvisational drum circle that keeps going until the final cannon goes off.
All manner of drums, ranging from tablas to congas to timpanis, are banged on during the jam session-like affair, which typically features patrons and cast members dancing like nobody’s watching during the fleeting moments of the day.