New Renaissance Festival of Central Florida is up to the challenge of entertaining crowds.
Renaissance fair regulars have three simple tips for first-time visitors:
Don’t miss the jousting competition.
Be sure to watch the human chess match.
Buy a turkey leg and eat it.
Otherwise, no plan is needed. When the Renaissance Festival of Central Florida makes its debut this month, guests can stroll the grounds of the “kingdom” and take in all the unusual sights and sounds of another place in time.
The five-day event runs from 10am-11pm April 7-8 and 13-15 at 31600 Camp Challenge Road in Sorrento. Renfest, as it’s called, is a fundraiser for the host site, Camp Challenge, which is an Easter Seals camp for special-needs children and adults.
Tickets range from $21 for a one-day pass to $200 for an all-access pass and can be purchased at renfestcfl.com. Free admission is offered to any special needs guest who is, was, or could be a Camp Challenge camper, and the festival fully complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Festival executive director Jim Boyle anticipates up to 30,000 people will enter the world of adventure, fantasy, period music, and performers in the “Realm of Doolan.” Jim explains that “doolan” is Gaelic for “challenge,” which is fitting given the locale.
“We have crafted the story to make Doolan a tremendously special place, so special, in fact, that Queen Elizabeth I has decided to have her coronation in 1559 in the Realm,” he says.
The Realm includes five kingdoms, each with its own iconic attraction and themed pub. Vendors, games, activities, entertainment, food, and beverages can be found at each kingdom:
- The Royal Kingdom includes the Village Green home of the Revelers Mainstage, the Joust Arena where valiant knights joust for the queen’s favor, a Birds of Prey exhibition, a giant chessboard with multiple live combat shows, as well as the queen’s coronation.
- The Kids’ Kingdom has a bounce house, petting zoo, camel rides, puppet show, and kid-friendly stage shows.
- Viking Kingdom will house the weapons training area, where the festival’s Vikings train guests in axe and knife throwing, bow and arrow, and other traditional combat. This area hosts the Norse Pub, where guests can hear live Viking and traditional Norwegian music all day.
- The Pirate Kingdom is home to the Privateer Pub, often frequented by Blackbeard, Captain Jack, and mermaids. The pub features live pirate and nautical music provided by local musicians.
- Fantasy Kingdom is where all the nonhuman creatures reside, and is home to the iconic Dragon Encounter, the Fairy Forest, and the Unicorn Encounter.
The Dragon Encounter is a “live” life-size dragon in a set built to look like a dragon’s cave, Jim says. The attraction is hosted by one of Her Majesty’s Royal Knights and built so the dragon and knight can safely engage with guests as they ask questions and take photos.
Acts such as sword fighters, jugglers, acrobats, fire eaters, strolling musicians, comedians, and bawdier acts like the Medieval Madams represent the “last vestige of the vaudeville circuit,” says talent director and performer Arthur Rowan. (See the full lineup at renfestcfl.com.)
He recruited about two dozen acts to fill six stages, along with street musicians and volunteers to portray inhabitants of the town so visitors feel like “wherever they go, they’re in a living, breathing kingdom that they can play in,” Arthur says.
Arthur and his wife, Kelly Morris Rowan, will perform a musical act and as street greeters. As an actor who appeared in the “Spamalot” national touring company, Arthur says nothing quite compares to renaissance fairs.
“I’ve had the privilege of performing before very large crowds,” he says. “And far and away, the best thrill I get is from fairs because you’re performing in front of the crowds and the audience is right there.”
That connection between patrons and performers makes everyone feel welcome, and each day is fresh and spontaneous, Arthur says.
“It’s a place where anything could happen—in a good way,” he says.
When many renaissance fairs pull up spikes at sundown, this new fair will light up the night at 7pm on two Saturdays, April 7 and 14. Electric Renfest will include lights, fire acts, electronic dance music, and VIP experiences geared less toward the family and more for adults, Jim says.
He’s optimistic about the success of the inaugural event.
“The Central Florida area has and attracts some of the best talent worldwide,” Jim says. “Our goal is to bring a totally immersive experience to our guests no matter where they are in the fair—whether they want to hit as many stage shows as they can or just sit in one place and watch ‘what happens next’ in our streets.”