Renaissance Festival with preschoolers — Mommy Daze

RennFest01Every time we drive by the Maryland Renaissance Festival grounds in Crownsville, my kids point and ask if they can go inside “the castle.”

For the past few years, my husband and I have actually avoided taking them. Don't get me wrong, it's not because we don't adore the RennFest, we love it there! But that's precisely why we didn't want to take them.

Let's be honest, taking babies and little toddlers to places like that is a lot of work. My husband and I have been going to the festival since we were kids. I have tons of amazing memories of that magical, whimsical place hidden back in the woods. So we decided to wait until our boys could also enjoy making those memories — and not be in diapers anymore.

So now with our fully potty-trained boys being 3 and almost 5 years old, we decided this was the year to give it a try. We chose Labor Day (the only Monday the festival is open) because weekends are usually busy for us, plus the temperature was unusually cool and the sun was out. Adult tickets are also discounted through Sept. 11th and children younger than 7 are always free. I snagged our tickets online the night before so we wouldn't have to wait in line at the gate.

RennFest02We got an early start because we've seen how quickly the roads leading to the festival get backed up. After parking close to the entrance, we were able to walk right in with our printed tickets when they opened the gates at 10 a.m. I thoroughly enjoyed watching our kids faces as they took those first few steps into the festival. There's so much to take in — the bustle of activity, unusual costumes and accents, uncharacteristic sounds of medieval instruments and armor clinking, and the delicious smells of fried dough and roasting meat.

We all sat at the little fountain near the entrance to get our picture taken and just let the boys look around in amazement for a few minutes. I felt transported back in time, not to the Renaissance but my own childhood, where I remember staring up at a colorfully dressed, spirited lady on stilts, blowing bubbles.

We took our time, letting the boys stop whenever they wanted to watch a little side show act, or peer inside a shop at the shiny swords and magical creations. Since the place wasn't too packed yet, we were able to make our way around to most of the midway-style games and a few shows quite easily before getting lunch. There are so many places to eat, it's hard to have just one meal there. We ended up munching our way through the day, grabbing something before a show or when we'd find a vacant seat. This became more rare as the day progressed and the festival grounds filled with people.

We made sure not to miss some of our favorite activities, including the jousting match (though it's almost impossible to find a seat unless you go at least 30 minutes before the show starts), flying down the huge slide, lounging in the over-sized hammocks, having the boys get “knighted” by the king and queen, watching Johnny Fox swallow swords, and eating fried cheese till our stomachs ached.

We also discovered some areas of the festival that are great for families, like the “Wee Ones” play area with a pirate ship playground, the free pony rides, a reptile exhibit, juggling school, maze and even a display of royal crowns and swords tucked away inside a small stone chapel. We pretty much just wandered the whole place for six hours, occasionally stopping for a show or snack, and didn't even come close to seeing everything there is to see.

So if you're thinking of checking out the festival this year, here are some quick tips from one parent to another.

Renaissance Festival tips for parents

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes and clothes you don't mind getting covered in dust.
  • Bring a backpack with small snacks for the kids (for when the food lines are long), one bottle of unopened water per person, blanket to sit on, hand sanitizer (only portable toilets inside the festival), suntan lotion and little fans that mist water if it's hot.
  • Bring cash, as most places inside the gates don't accept credit cards and the ATMs charge a hefty fee.
  • If needed, bring a wagon with off-road tires or child carrier backpacks instead of a stroller as there's no paved walkways inside the festival and plenty of hills with gravel.
  • Avoid the theme weekends as those are notoriously more packed.
  • Check the schedule online before you go and try to visit as many of the shows you want to see early as they get more crowded as the day goes on, especially the jousting.
  • Plan to arrive early, since traffic gets backed up going into the parking lot, and you don't want to have to park in a faraway field.
  • Plan to leave an hour or two before closing because traffic gets backed up leaving the parking lot, and sometimes the crowds of people exiting the pubs and taverns at the end of the day can be a little more boisterous than I prefer my kids to be exposed to.
  • Don't be in a rush or have too strict of an agenda for the day, because as we know with kids, it takes 10 times longer to get from point A to point B, especially when sometimes you gotta just stop for some fried cheesecake on a stick.

Watts FamilyClick here to read more Mommy Daze.

Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.

Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.

 

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