By Geri Koeppel
After a hiatus last year due to the pandemic, the 34th annual Arizona Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace returns to Gold Canyon this year with so many attractions, it’s impossible to pack them all into one visit.
That’s why insiders say to go early and go often to get as much as possible out of the event.
“Personally, I think many people miss out on only going for one hour or two and then they leave,” says Killian Davis of Phoenix, who portrays Sir Walter Raleigh on the grounds.
Davis urges visitors to arrive early and go multiple times to see numerous shows, experience various theme weekends and truly soak up the ambiance. “Don’t be afraid to sit down for a couple minutes and just take it all in,” he advises.
This year’s festival runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends from Feb. 5 to April 3 as well as Presidents Day, Feb. 21 — rain or shine. The 50-acre village is home to 16 stages, more than 200 arts and crafts shops, and of course, a jousting arena.
Games, rides, feasts and live entertainment abound, visitors are urged to don period attire and become part of the show if they wish. A costume rental shop is next to the box office, and guests can create a complete outfit from the on-site vendors.
One of the most popular weekends for dressing up is Pirates Weekend March 5 and March 6, says William Cussins of Huachuca City, who served as The Lord Mayor of the festival for the past seven years. (This year, he says he is “lost at sea” and can’t serve in his official capacity.)
“It’s a very fun weekend because there are pirate contests for adults and children,” he notes. “There’s also a contest of: Give me your best ‘Aaargh!’”
Cussins and Davis offered more savvy insider tips for getting the most out of the festival. On the topic of clothing, they implore guests in modern-day garb to use common sense, keep an eye on the weather and wear sturdy walking shoes instead of flip-flops.
On that note, both encourage people to visit on gloomy or rainy days, as long as they dress appropriately for it. “You have children splashing in puddles, the drinks feel so much warmer and pleasant, the food gives you more joy, people huddle with family and friends,” Davis says.
In terms of food, Davis remarks while most people look forward to the turkey legs, his favorite is the medium-rare steak-on-a-stake. “They’re very juicy and flavorful,” he says, adding he highly recommends the fudge.
Cussins, meanwhile, raves about anything from Cottage Bakery. “I always tell people, ‘When you say no to pastry, you say no to life. Don’t say no to life.’” He also sings the praises of the vegetable crepes.
No matter what the guest’s palate, Cussins urges visitors to grab lunch early before the lines begin to stretch. Also, they both strongly advise bringing paper currency, because the food vendors, games and rides only accept cash, and lines can get long at the ATMs.
As for entertainment, popular attractions like The Ded Bob Show and the jousting arena fill up early, so make sure you arrive well in advance — particularly for the 5 p.m. joust, which Davis hints is extra special. And be aware you might not want to be right up front for some acts such as the Washing Well Wenches, unless you have that rain jacket with you.
Other entertainment ranges from live “mermaids” to musicians, dancers, falconers and ever “Cirque de Sewer,” with trained rats and cats. That said, you don’t need to attend a formal show to enjoy the performers — all the world’s a stage here. “We’re not a museum; we’re an experience,” Davis says. “Feel free to approach us.”
What: The Arizona Renaissance Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays — Saturday, February 5, to Sunday, April 3 — and Presidents Day, Monday, February 21
Where: Gold Canyon, 7 miles east of Apache Junction on U.S. Highway 60
Cost: Online and advance tickets are $29 for adults, $19 for ages 5 to 12 and free for age 4 and younger; tickets are $1 more at the gate. Group rates, season passes and other discounts are available; parking is free.