The Texas Renaissance Festival is back in town, and if you and your family have never been, make this year your first. As the state's largest festival of its kind (and one of the biggest in the country), it is an experience like no other. Even its 200-acre location has an eclectic story; a former strip mining site turned Renaissance theme park complete with authentic art, larger-than-life statues and structures, and a village of shops, restaurants, and stages that look like they've been plucked from another era.
You'll find the festival in Todd Mission, which is a small town past Magnolia and about an hour northwest of Houston. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for kids at the door, but kids ages 12 and under are FREE every Saturday. Also, the grounds are stroller-friendly! Read on for just a taste of what you can do with the kids at the Texas Renaissance Festival.
Cast members perform a sword fight for guests.
1. Watch a battle reenactment. Throughout the grounds, you can catch a sword fight (just sparring, of course - nothing gory) or watch a full jousting reenactment at the massive arena.
2. Catch a show. There are more than 20 stages featuring shows for guests of all ages, including children. The Falconer's Heath, The Florentine Gazebo, and Titania's Bower Stage feature kid-friendly shows like the Fire Whip Show, Birds of Prey, and the School of Dance. Head to the Odeon Stage for Arsene the Clown. Check online for the full entertainment schedule for all shows and detailed descriptions. Note that ALL entertainment is free.
3. Participate in a costume contest. Head to the Arena at 2 p.m. every day of the festival for a costume contest. You need to be wearing a costume that corresponds to the weekend's theme, and the King and Queen will pick winners! Guests must check in 15 minutes prior to qualify.
4. Watch the fireworks show. At 7:50 p.m. in the Arena, a dazzling fireworks show takes place along with live music. It's the perfect way to close the day.
Weaving and spinning is one kind of demonstration to see at the festival.
5. See an interactive demonstration. One of the highlights of the festival is the numerous demonstrators who have dedicated their lives to studying ancient crafts and skills, from blacksmithing to glass blowing to candle making. You can find demonstrators in front of their shops around the village throughout the day.
6. Shop. Speaking of the village, or New Market Village as it is officially called, it is a recreation of a 16th-century European village and features handmade items of...any kind. Seriously. From furniture to unique gifts, there is something for everyone to at least enjoy looking at.
7. Get close to adorable animals. There is a children's petting zoo in the Enchanted Forest Area as well as pony rides, camel rides, and even elephant rides around the festival grounds.
8. Ride the rides. Now, these aren't your typical automated carnival roller coasters. Instead, you'll find wooden swings and "medieval" versions of popular rides. There are various rides in each area, like swings, tests of strength, and a carousel. Most rides cost $3-$5 per rider.
The swings are one of the many rides.
9. Get bedazzled. As you may have suspected, there are plenty of opportunities for face painting, so those requests for a face-sized sparkly butterfly or pirate paint will not go unanswered.
10. Get lost. The Amazing Maze in the Enchanted Forest is a non-threatening maze perfect for every member of the family. And it's free!
11. Participate in the 13th Annual School Days. On Nov. 7-8, the festival invites public, private, and home school educators and students for this annual event! It's only open to educators, students, and their families, and there are kid-friendly performances of every kind.
12. Eat. OK, this is a given, but there is some serious selection here, including Greek, German, Spanish, French and Cajun, Polish, Asian, pub food, and - of course - those giant turkey legs sent from the angels. Food costs anywhere from $2-$12, and adult beverages start at $3.
It wouldn't be a festival without turkey legs.
13. Dance. One of my family's favorite parts of the festival is the spontaneous dancing. I'm not talking street-style dance battles, but rather group dances led by the festival's costumed characters that usually involve holding hands, spinning, and looking fairly ridiculous. It's great.
14. Stroll through the gardens. If you have a stroller-ridden baby that just needs to be walked, the gardens are the place to be. With wide paths and plenty of shade, the themed gardens are lined by beautiful greenery and decor from all over the world.
A few more details:
- Although the festival is a bit of a drive, it's worth it. Because there is construction on the main highway outbound, FM 1774, plan to leave as early as you can and bring as much patience as you can.
- While most vendors accept credit cards, many of the food and drink shops only accept cash, so plan accordingly.
- General parking is free. But it can get packed, so you can pay $15 at the gate for preferred parking (or $10 online).
- The festival is almost entirely outside and in a wooded area. Bring sunscreen and bug spray!
- Don't forget to dress up!
All photos courtesy the Texas Renaissance Festival