One of the top shows on television right now is Game of Thrones. It has all the appeal of a magical land of knights, princesses, and dragons. Unfortunately, there is no such real-life environment. At least for most of the year. But this last year I got to attend The Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission, Texas, just a 15-20-minute drive outside of Houston. There, you step into that magical land. They have knights, beggars, kings, and queens. They have jousting, archery, and axe throwing. They have unique shops, exotic drinks, and delicious food. From the Greek Amphitheatre, to the medieval coliseum, to the pirate ship, with its different areas throughout you can stop, you can put dress up and bee anyone. It’s a place everyone should take time to visit.
So as my first experience, we are driving out and it kind of feels like the boon dock country. But every few minutes as we’re driving down this road, there’s signs “Tex Ren Fes This Way” so we just kept going. And when you get there, you’re immediately immersed in the world. You park in a field, the rows set by these tall trees. The main road that takes you into the festival has chariot runners that for a fee will run/walk you up to entrance. Depending on how far down you are this might not be a bad idea. And the driver’s, true to character, act like 10th century road-rager yelling at passersby “Get out of the way!”, “My dead mother moves faster!”, “Speed up or I’ll turn you into a chariot bump!” It’s all hilarious and in good fun and these people never break character. As you pass by you’ll be passing, knights, archers, princesses, pirate wenches, captains, monks, and a variety of fantasy dressed characters. But these aren’t employees of the festival. These are the attendees, dressed to immerse themselves in the world. We didn’t dress up this last year but next year it’s definitely on. As you enter the gates (and yes, I mean like caste gates) you see this layout of shops lining the streets on either side. It’s exactly as a bazaar or medieval marketplace would look, just with more modern clothes and souvenirs. Everything is decorated on point, from the aged wood, or the stone built walls, it looks and feels like you’ve entered a new world.
One of my favorite spots in the festival is the enchanted garden. A path that winds through next to a stream, with beautiful flowers and vegetation everywhere. Every so often you reach a spot that will have a new statue or landmark from a different part of the world. At these spots they have unique sitting places. From Greek statues to Chinese elephants, every one of these stops has a photo opportunity. In the enchanted garden, they also have a place where you can learn dancing. The classes are at different times but it looked like a fun experience.
That is one of the coolest parts of the entire festival, the different interactive shows. Each area has a show that they put on at a designated time, with the center most show being the jousting show which instead of being a one of show, it actually carries a story throughout. And when I say interactive, I mean interactive. In the coliseum, depending on where you sit, you are asked to cheer for your knight as they take on the other “nations” knights. Or at the barbarian belly dance show, they ask for volunteers to come up on stage with them. Much of the same is found throughout at all the shows and it just adds to the experience. And if you’re not an out-going person, no worries, with the crowds at each place, there’s no worries of feeling like you’re the only one. And who knows, after a few rounds of mead you might even be the one raising your hand for an event.
Speaking of edibles, each section has their own specialty drinks and food. I highly suggest trying a little bit from each one throughout the day. They all have your normal food and drink, coke, hamburgers, margaritas, but each also has something unique. My personal favorite was the honey mead in the medieval section. Absolutely worth the price if you’re of legal drinking age and want something different. And the food is some of the best you’ll ever have. Even the simple foods like chicken tenders is top quality.
Besides immersing yourself in costume, and stepping into a new world, the Renaissance Festival also has things you might not get to try elsewhere. They have an archery and axe throwing station where you can try your best and compete against your friends. Or you can dunk the village idiot or village wench. Now I know this sounds the same as something you’d do at the local town fair, but trust me it’s far from it. These people know how to throw some real insults that can get under your skin. It’s so funny to watch a random person pass by and get bombarded with these side-splitting insults that they can’t help but pay for a chance to throw something at them. Where else also, especially in Texas, are you going to get a chance to ride an elephant. Yeah, a real elephant. That’s a story will make your kids the king of the playground. There’s tons of activities there that for a small fee you can partake in that you might not get a chance anywhere else.
Finally, after a long day of photos, eating, drinking, and having one of the best days of your life, you get to come back to the coliseum and see the grand finale: the pyrotechnic show. You crowd into the stadium to get a seat and watch as professional fire dancers play with fire like we do jump ropes. The show is very mesmerizing. And when you start think it’s through, BANG! The fireworks show, that puts almost any other to shame, starts. For 15 minutes or so you get to watch this amazing fireworks show continue with a finale that leaves stars in your eyes.
At the end of it all, those same cart runners will be there to take you back to your car for a fee, which after a long day on your feet is worth every penny. The neat thing about the Renaissance Festival is it’s always different every year. We plan to make it an annual event and we are going all out this next year. If you’ve been before and are looking for new things to do, there’s a camping ground, where you can meet other’s and enjoy a different experience around a giant bonfire. And not to worry, the grounds keepers are also in character. The Renaissance festival is a great place for families to have fun and create lasting magical memories.