Going Back in Time in Tampa, Florida: Bay Area Renaissance Festival

Lisa Fritscher February 15, 2015 No Comments


Don’t miss the jousting match, one of the major highlights of the festival!

Dad and I are huge fans of the medieval and Renaissance eras. Throughout my childhood, we always made an annual trek to the now-defunct Medieval Fair at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. When I lived in New Orleans, I loved the Louisiana Renaissance Festival. Today, the tradition lives on with the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, held each spring in Tampa, Florida.

About the Festival
The Bay Area Renaissance Festival began in 1979 in Largo, Florida. Then a small collection of performers and archers, the inaugural faire was a success. The next year, a human chess match and a variety of food and merchandise vendors filled out the lineup. Through the 1980s and 90s, the festival continued to expand, growing from a short local event to a five weekend long regional extravaganza. By the year 2000, the festival drew more than 80,000 visitors per year.

In 2004, organizers decided to move to the grounds of Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry. A carefully constructed site provides the historical accuracy for which the festival has long been known, while the Tampa location is ideal for travelers from across the state. Some people visit both the museum and the festival on the same day, but we have found that each attraction deserves a full day.

The festival is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekends, from late February through early April. As of 2014, adult tickets are $19.95. Seniors (62+) and students (with ID) pay $15.95, while kids ages 5-12 pay $11.95. You can bring your dog for an additional $10 with proof of rabies vaccination. Season passes are also available, with a significant early bird discount.

Wheel of Death

The Wheel of Death was definitely something to see!

Our Experience
Dad and I attended the festival with a friend. We arrived shortly after the gates opened and stayed until closing. The entertainment lineup is extensive, and each weekend is themed. There is no possible way to see everything that is on the day’s schedule, so be sure to plan your day when you arrive. With a quick strategy session, were able to see all of the main entertainment, including the jousting and the human chess match, as well as many of the smaller stage shows. We also tried our hand at some of the games, such as archery, indulged in several medieval treats, and did a great deal of shopping.

Overall, the quality of the entertainment, merchandise and food was excellent. The people who work the fair circuit tend to spend years perfecting their crafts, and take a fierce personal pride in both their work and their customer service. If you have never been to a Renaissance festival, expect a highly immersive experience. You will probably find yourself having spontaneous conversations with wandering characters who speak only in period language about period-relevant topics. You might be good-naturedly picked on during a stage show, or drawn into a conversation about medieval weaponry with a merchant. We appreciated the personal attention, and found it easy to suspend disbelief and slip into the world of the Renaissance for a day.

Bawdy Shows

Some of the shows are a bit bawdy, though not glaringly inappropriate.

Tips for Parents
Renaissance festivals are generally packed with kids, both as attendees and employees. Many of the people on the fair circuit are parents, and the kids learn the family business at a young age. They are given plenty of freedom to roam, as the festival employees form a sort of extended family in which everyone looks out for everyone else. Almost without exception, fair kids are well-spoken, polite, educated, and great at making new friends. This creates a wonderful atmosphere for families who visit, as the kids can play while the adults discuss costumes or listen to music.

There is a dedicated children’s area with medieval-style games and rides. Be sure to stop by, but avoid the urge to stay all day. There is so much to see and do, and kids tend to be fascinated by all of it. Bring cash, as many vendors and attendants are not set up to handle cards. An ATM is available on site, but the fees are high and the withdrawal limit is low.

Note that some of the entertainment is a bit on the bawdy side. Nothing is glaringly inappropriate, but adult humor is the norm. In addition, alcohol is readily available. While we saw no one who was falling down drunk, many of the adults were a bit tipsy. The drinking age is strictly enforced. If you have any doubts about the appropriateness of a particular show, have one of the adults in your group preview it. Most shows are repeated throughout the day. The highlights, including the human chess match and the jousting, are family-friendly.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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