Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wanderlust Wednesday: Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

What: The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire
Where: Manheim, PA
When: I go every autumn -- it's open every weekend in August, September and October


I absolutely love Ren Faire. I make it a point, yearly, to visit one of the various fairs we have in the Virginia area and surrounding states. The first date I ever went on with my boyfriend was, in fact, to a ren faire. It's a magical place and appeals to the little kid that is still a part of me. Gosh, if only I could have gone as a child, it would have been a fantasy land. So while I can have my pick of faires to go to, my absolute favorite is the Pennsylvania Ren Faire. 

Located in Manheim, Pennsylvania, just outside of Hershey (yes, like the candy) in the middle of Amish country is the Shire. The Shire is a permanent town on the land of the Mount Hope Winery where Ren Faire is celebrated each year (as well as an assortment of other events through out the spring and summer--more events are done at the winery itself through out the colder parts of the year). The Shire holds a stable town with little houses that provide food, clothing, items for purchase and entertainment. Staffed by a slew of people who are all dressed in period garb, you quickly are sent back in time once you enter the gates to the Shire.

Each weekend has a different theme, so while I've been to a number I haven't been to them all. If you're thinking about going, check out what the weekend themes are for the year, but really--every weekend is fun so please don't let the theme make you give up on a weekend that you can visit. Also, buy your tickets online for a discount. There's also, typically, coupons at various chain joints (I've seen them at Burger King in the past and this year we snagged some coupons at a Turkey Hill gas station) or discounts if you show up in costume. Basically, the price is nearly $30 per person for the day but there are many, many avenues you can take for a cheaper ticket and if I had to pay a full $30 I would still go because it's well worth your money.

I am one of those faire goers who enjoys dressing up. Whether it's in an outfit I've put together or one I've rented, I love getting in costume. This is pretty typical for all faires but for many, you don't quite fall down the rabbit hole as you do for the PA faire. At the Pennsylvanian faire, actors roam the streets and often interact with customers. I seriously can't go down a path without seeing an actor interacting with a group of people. They're always pleasant, fun, a little bit raunchy for the adults and sweet, SO SWEET, to children. If you dress up, you're even more likely to have interaction with the actors, even if it's as small as a curtsey.

The various themes I've been to have been the wine harvest festival, Oktoberfest, children's fantasy weekend, and myths and legends. My experience at Oktoberfrest was probably the most unique. We were surrounded by drunk German men singing songs while swinging beer steins back and forth all as it torrentially rained. The Shire had rivers of water running along the (paved) sidewalks and many people were hiding from the storm. It didn't give up so people ate and drank some more until, eventually, the faire closed early.

So that was a shame, we only got to experience the smallest amount of the faire before we were booted due to the weather, but the faire gave us tickets to return to the festival during the season without having to pay the ticket price again. Awesome!

Generally speaking, I really enjoy going to the faire in October. It's a bit chillier and wearing a full outfit isn't quite so hard. The leaves are full of color and there's that autumn scent to the air. Bread bowls full of soup and hot cider is at hand and it just seems more perfect.

The best thing about the faire is that you can easily spend the entire day there (11 am - 8 pm) and not get bored. There are multiple scheduled events going on at different locations, as well as a game area where you can try to throw an ax or shoot arrows, and even a few "historic" rides. The entertainment is the real fun, though. Beside entertainment performed by the actors of the faire (all are pretty hilarious), there are also the seasonal guests who will do performances here and there.

A few favorite forms of entertainment? The peasant dance, which I'm not sure if they still have but it's a blast. You get to partake in a dance class with some of the actors! The human chess match is essential and always fun. Drama, fighting, chess! There's so much going on and it always is the prelude to the day's final joust, which leads me to my favorite moment of entertainment: the final joust.

The PA Ren Faire goes all the way with the final joust. You have, obviously, quite a bit of jousting but then there's dramatics! Fighting, blood, explosions, it's lively and exciting! Maybe don't take your babies or small children who are afraid of loud noises, but it's a blast for kids and adults alike.

When we take a look at the food options, they're pretty hilarious and generally not "historic." Mac and cheese, for instance is sold here. There used to be Chinese food and pizza and it very well may still be there but I've never gone looking for it. I always go for the sandwiches, soup bowls, and turkey legs which are all fabulous and so, so good.

The mead and wine the festival offers is also top notch. I mean, it comes directly from the winery the Shire is located at!


  • If you're trying to get the best experience for the final joust (the seating area fills up QUICK so if you are trying to get a close and personal experience, it's worth getting there early), leave someone in your party to save your seat at the jousting field and bit by bit, go get your dinner. Eat it at the joust field and by the time you're finished eating the joust will be kicking into gear. 

  • Another pro-tip, bring little hand wipes if you plan to eat turkey legs. There are working bathrooms at the faire (well, for women. Men's bathrooms are a little less refined) but the turkey legs are MESSY and if you plan to make your way to the bathroom to wash up, you may find it a lot less frustrating or sticky to just wipe off with some hand wipes first. 
  • There's also a severe problem with yellow jackets. These buggers are everywhere and can be very aggressive. Don't eat close to the trash cans, they like hanging out there. It seems the more remote of a place I go to eat, the less I'm bothered by the bugs. I have a particular dislike for them as I may or may not be allergic to them (my mother swells up and I have yet to be stung, so we'll see) but the fact that they're so insistent to get to your food is a bit unnerving. This year, they began selling sippy cups with lids for mead which has been a marvelous help. The yellow jackets love meade but with the covers, they aren't as attracted as they used to be and left me alone!
  • Wear comfy shoes! There's a lot of walking up and down minor hills. Everything is paved, so it's very wheelchair friendly, but it can be hard on feet during a full day. 

  • Dress up! There's a costume rental if you're so inclined but also plenty of shops where people sell costume pieces if you want an established costume you can come back to each year. There are plenty of places to get your hair braided or little flower crowns, even tiny dragons to wear on your shoulder or pointed ears. Bring some money (or a credit card) and have a blast! It's like adult Halloween every weekend from August through October so enjoy it! Also, don't be surprised if you see half-undressed people in the parking lot. A lot of people get into their costumes there because who wants to drive three hours while wearing a corset?

On that note, I'll see you soon, Ren Faire! I'll be there in October for one of the Halloween Daze and Spooky Knights weekends.

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