Take one step into the Festival Village of Fairhaven, and you’ll get whisked away to 16th century Europe for a medieval adventure full of jousting knights, sea fairies and circus performers.
One of the largest renaissance festivals in the nation, the annual Arizona Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace returns for its 35th year with old and new amusements and antics.
With a cast of nearly 2,000 costumed characters roaming a 50-acre festival village, guests can immerse themselves in the Middle Ages with an artisan marketplace, whimsical circus, people-powered rides and games, jousting tournaments and nonstop theater performances.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through April 2, festival goers of all ages can revel in the village’s many festivities at the foothills of the Superstition Mountains on U.S. 60.
“We have a festival that’s always been in one place, one spot, for going on three-and-a-half decades now, and people count on that and make it a tradition to come see us,” said Jerome Hill, the festival’s promotions coordinator and the King of the Fools. He called the fest’s 35th year a testament to its standing power as an attraction here.
In commemoration of that anniversary, each weekend will have a special theme. Throughout March, the event will celebrate pirates and BrewFest, wizardry and magical creatures, the art of theater, Celtic culture and artist appreciation before the Fool’s Masquerade Final Huzzah on closing weekend, April 1 and 2.
“One thing that I really like about the Renaissance Festival is that it always has been, and is always just going to be like a full-family outing – families with kids or people that just want to come on their own. There’s sort of an all-ages appeal to it,” said Grayson Coleman-Shelby, a performer.
A focal point is the festival artisan marketplace, an elaborately adorned open-air collection of storybook shops, studios and galleries.
Over 200 talented artisans offer handmade wares fitting all budgets, ranging from pottery, to clothing, to home decor. Some even perform demonstrations right in front of festival goers, creating time-honored crafts like glassblowing, blacksmithing, woodcarving and coin stamping.
“A lot of the merchants have the same goods they’ve been making and selling themselves for years,” Coleman-Shelby said.
The marketplace also features a spread of cuisine and beverages.
At the village’s many food stalls, visitors can feast their way through turkey legs, shepherd’s pie, soup bread bowls, funnel cakes, steaks-on-a-stick and a variety of meads.
The Piazza Pub is a new addition, serving mixed charcuterie boards and a selection of wine and beer in a cozy courtyard setting. Transylvanian Treats is also new this year and offers custom-made European chimney cakes that have received rave reviews.
“Spend time investigating all the different food stalls, you might find stuff you didn’t know we had here,” Hill hints.
The pinnacle of the festival’s culinary experience, however, is The Pleasure Feast, held by Captain Rook and his fearsome, rascally pirates. During a 90-minute five-course meal with beverages at the Old Manor Hall, the pirate crew provides surprise entertainment complete with upbeat music.
Tickets for the feast are $100, and include a souvenir limited-edition toasting goblet. Seating is limited with only two events a day at noon and 2:30 p.m.
The village comes to life with entertainment, which includes three competitive jousting tournaments a day, and interactive games and people-powered rides like giant rocking horses, paintball battles and climbing towers.
There is also a 16-stage theater presenting endless comedy, music and swordplay.
One of this year’s new additions is The Renaissance Men, a thrilling sword-fighting comedy show. Coleman-Shelby and Daniel Christopher, who play the characters Rowland and Florian, battle it out for the audience’s validation and the title of The Renaissance Man.
“It’s family-friendly, because we want to be able to have people of all ages be able to watch the show,” Coleman-Shelby said. “It’s high energy, it’s high excitement.”
The Renaissance Festival’s team is always working on new attractions to give guests the opportunity for a fresh new experience, while bringing back beloved favorites.
“You can come here probably the entire weekend and still not really explore everything. It takes a really long time to really get into the nooks and crannies of everything that festival has to offer,” Coleman-Shelby said. “That’s one of the really cool things, an attraction that’s always evolving and appealing to a broader audience base.”
Whether one has visited the Renaissance Festival once or a dozen times, they are always able to transport to another time and place and leave their troubles at the gate for a little while.
“You get to have this fun, immersive experience, and that just sticks with you for a long time,” Coleman-Shelby said. “A lot of people find that it’s a yearly thing that they almost need every year just to get through (something), and we help them with that.”
The jousters, mermaids and pirates look forward to sweeping you away on a medieval escapade to the Festival Village of Fairhaven.
If You Go...
What: Arizona Renaissance Festival
Where: Arizona Renaissance Festival grounds, 12601 E. U.S. Highway 60, Gold Canyon
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through April 2
Cost: Tickets start at $33 for adults, $21 for children ages 5 to 12. Children ages 4 and under are free. Discounts are available at the box office for military and seniors 60 and older. Parking is free.
Info: 520-463-2600, arizona.renfestinfo.com
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