It’s a place of outrageous fun, red meat and costumes of varying historical accuracy. Running from early February to late March each year, the Arizona Renaissance Festival is a trip back to a time when men carried swords, women wore flowing dresses and children rode the world’s biggest rocking horse.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $12 for kids, but you can save $2 off any ticket by buying it in advance at any Fry’s Food Store in the state. Come in period garb if you like, but if your closet at home is notably lacking in gambesons and wimples, you can rent a costume at the door.
The festival boasts thirteen stages of live entertainment—everything from the Ded Bob Show to the pipes-and-drums group Tartanic to world-record-holding whipmaster Adam Crack. (While the festival as a whole is pretty family-friendly, a few of the shows can be a bit bawdy, but these are clearly marked as such in the program.) There’s plenty of fun off-stage, too, with themed carnival attractions including da Vinci’s Flying Machine, the Dragon Tail Tower slide and the aforementioned gigantic rocking horse, plus archery target-shooting and the chance to throw tomatoes at a pilloried peasant while he insults you. Stop by some of the multitudinous vendors, too. Here you can get jewelry, huge turkey legs, candles, gyros, medieval weaponry, steak-on-a-stake and your name carved on a grain of rice.
The most exciting event is undoubtedly the jousting. Three times a day knights in glistening mail charge each other on horseback, shattering lances against shields and crashing in the dust. Sitting in the 5,000 seat Jousting Arena you can witness the spectacle of painted shields, authentic mid-14th century armor and wanton violence, and then stop by the King’s Stables afterward to meet the champions and pet their horses.
And then there’s the royal feast, which keeps going all day long. It’s not cheap, but it’s hearty—five courses with Mediterranean cheese, prime rib and butter chocolate truffles. Mid-feast entertainment keeps things lively and the vibrant costumes make it feel like you’re really among Renaissance nobility.
The festival can be found at 12601 E Highway 60, Gold Canyon, AZ 85118.