The Maryland Renaissance Festival, celebrating 39 years of medieval fun

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Autumn days in Annapolis, Maryland remind me of what I love about the area where I grew up. Bright, clear days on the water front, the charming historic downtown, fall festivals, and Navy football makes this time of year perfect for a trip to Annapolis.

The historic port city is also the site of one of the largest and best-attended festivals in the country. For the past 39-years, the Maryland Renaissance Festival has been transporting guests back to the 16th-Century. Situated a few miles outside of ‘Naptown’ in Crownsville, shouts of, ‘Huzzah!’ may be heard echoing through the woods as revelers find themselves in King Henry the VIII’s England.

Festival History

I spoke with the president of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, Jules Smith, and he brought me up-to-date on the story of how this festival began.

The festival started in the early 1970s on an undeveloped parcel of land in Columbia, Maryland. 8-years later, when developer Jim Rouse was ready to utilize the property, the festival relocated to its current location in Crownsville, Maryland. Over the years, the festival has grown into one of the largest and best-attended Renaissance festivals in the United States.

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What makes the Maryland Renaissance Festival different from others?

Smith points out, unlike a lot of other festivals, there’s no ‘hat-passing’ at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

Once you enter, you’re in. There aren’t additional charges for the shows and entertainment, it's an all-inclusive ticket.  He also notes the tickets are reasonably priced. The high volume of visitors translates into a lower, family-friendly ticket price.

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The Storyline

The Maryland Renaissance Festival follows a storyline each year. England’s King Henry VIII’s reign proffers a phenomenal history for the festival to hearken back to. Though, not exactly a living history, the festival borrows from Henry’s reign.

The 2015 festival finds the famous king still with his first queen, Katherine of Aragon.

Tips for first-time festival-goers

As Smith points out, the Maryland Renaissance Festival is a high-touch, not high-tech, participatory event. Visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in a different era when they walk through the gates, but he also suggests some basic planning before arrival.

Come prepared to walk. It’s a rural setting with no paved paths. Though primarily set in the woods, there are portions, such as the jousting events, that take part in open areas. Keep in mind footwear, sunblock, and hats, especially if watching the joust is on your itinerary.

To that point, be forewarned, it’s impossible to see it all in one day. To avoid missing things you want to see, or to keep from being that person who walks in the gate and stands there not knowing which direction to go first, visit the festival website before your journey.

There’s food vendors, shows, artisans displaying their crafts, a sword swallower, jousting – if savoring a turkey leg and drinking ale is what you want to do, make sure to plot your course and have a plan in-hand.

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Tickets, parking and more…

The festival is an annual tradition which runs each year on weekends from late August until late October. This year the festival wraps up on October 25th.

Tickets are released each Monday for the coming weekend and may be purchased on-line or at the door. Advance purchases are encouraged as from time to time the festival sells out, usually after noon. Subscription passes are available.

The festival hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., they open rain or shine, and parking is free.

In addition to the standard festival offerings, there are special events, costume rentals, employment opportunities and even wedding information listed on the festival website. Check out their FAQs for all you need to know before heading to the festival.

Take-away

When I asked Smith the one thing he’d like visitors to take away from their time at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, he replied, “It’s a chance to be somebody you aren’t in your regular life – come, put on a persona as regal or bawdy as you like for a few hours, and have fun.”

Sage advice. Huzzah!

The Maryland Renaissance Festival

1821 Crownsville Rd, Annapolis, MD 21401
 
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Beauty in the glass

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