Exploring the Shire of the NJ Renaissance Faire

Not wanting to limit myself to one type of event (and with my love of tabletop RPGs and blacksmithing), I decided to storm the NJ Renaissance Faire this weekend. Going in, I knew the following:

1) The event is celebrating it’s fifth year.
2) The event only runs three weekends (and improvement over the two weekends of last year)
3) It’s much smaller than the Faire in PA.
4) I would know at least one vendor: my bladesmith instructor.
5) The “theme” of the weekend was Romance.

Otherwise, I didn’t know what I was walking into, which usually makes these events even cooler.

And who wouldn't want to dress up like this guy! A LARP member from Mystic Realms.
And who wouldn’t want to dress up like this guy! A LARP member from Mystic Realms.

==The Pitch==

If you’ve never been to a Renaissance Faire, you should change this if you still want to be a geek. Go on, I’ll wait until your back.

A Renaissance Faire is simply an event for people to dress up in the garb of the time, witness reenactments of various tasks (blacksmithing, cooking, jousting), and witness a progressing storyline from year to year (and sometimes week to week). At these events, a number of actors are hired (or volunteer to have their feet in the door) to try to make you feel more like you are in that time, and the shop owners are suggested to do the same.

This is the kind of event you can walk into in standard clothes and, with some creative financial finaggling, leave in full garb (boots, weapons and all) without horribly breaking the bank (I’m about 2k into this, almost half of it spent on a high-end rapier and main gauche combo I’ve been gawking at for years).

A snapshot of the "period living" section. Making bacon, preparing for some blacksmithing, and just milling around.
A snapshot of the “period living” section. Making bacon, preparing for some blacksmithing, and just milling around.

==NJ Faire Overview==

My experience with Renaissance Faires is limited to a few visits to the PA Faire, so I can’t say I’m an expert. What I CAN do is tell you all about it and how it compares.

First, the Faire itself is located at Liberty Lake Camp. This is a small lake in Bordertown, NJ with some small forests around it. This is a camp normally, but apparently moonlights as a nice, semi-secluded area right off of the highway.

Second, it is a small locale with lots of straight lines. You have the walkway when you enter with some scattered shops, a stage, and food, an area behind the food for a few shops and activities (archery tag, knife throwing, etc), an area across the tiny bridge designated for shops, the jousting area, and a pair of stages, which connects to a walkway that crosses the lake. This line connects a state with a number of stores on one side, and the other leads to another stage and shops dotted along the lakeside. It is not hard to cover ground, and near impossible to get lost.

A shot of the lake and the shops on the other side from the entrance area.
A shot of the lake and the shops on the other side from the entrance area.

There are some scattered actors milling about, each with a crocheted flower, making it really easy to spot one. They try to keep things in period, and are part of various forms of entertainment.

Like the villain of the joust!
Like the villain of the joust!

==The Good==

One of the nice things about a small event: it’s a bit more intimate. When you see and interact with an actor, they’ll probably remember you when you make your next pass. My wife (who was wearing jeans, a tank top and a corset) was approached by an elderly woman in full garb (one of the actresses) and was told that someone stole her skirt, and she would look out for it. Two hours later, the woman found us again and admitted to not having any luck with finding the skirt. A nice touch that you would be hard pressed to find at a bigger event!

It being a small event also made it very easy to navigate. It wasn’t hard to find what you were looking for due to the linear design and small location. Even after being at the PA Faire twice in season and for three days off season for smithing classes, I still have a hard time finding things.

The line leading from one of the stages to the food court.
The path leading from one of the stages to the food court.

An added perk for me was remembering different vendors from the PA Faire from last year. Most of them didn’t remember me (who can blame them?), but it was nice to see a somewhat familiar face.

The other awesome thing involved the groups in attendance. Due to the size and flexibility, they had the Mystic Realms LARP group milling around, which were a group of good people and fellow gamers, which is NEVER a bad thing to find at an event. There was also a group showing how to live in the era, and part of that involved having a trained falcon hanging around!

Meet Lilac, a trained Saker Falcon.
Meet Lilac, a trained Saker Falcon. This bird was calm regardless of the noise around her.

One fun thing to note: the schedule changes every weekend. Each weekend has a theme, different actors, new shows, and the like. I’ve heard that attending it each week is like attending a different Faire each time, but I won’t have the time or funding to go again this year.

The last fun thing: activities. While there was an additional charge for these, the location offered games like archery tag, the fighting circle (same as the PA Faire), archery, and knife throwing.

==The Bad==

Sadly, this Faire still needs some work.

The food court was literally ripped right from a block party or modern carnival and dropped right into a Renaissance Faire. Modern signs with modern names, staffers in partially modern attire, and the majority of the food had little to do with the period.

Want some BBQ Kabobs, or a Grilled Cheese and Bacon sandwich?
Want some BBQ Kabobs, donuts, or a Grilled Cheese and Bacon sandwich? Granted, the mini-donuts were AWESOME; I left with 3 dozen, they were THAT GOOD.

Additionally, the food was, for the most part, high price. At the PA Faire, I could get a turkey leg and a drink for about $10-$12 (depending on the drink), but here, a smaller leg ran $11, and a small cider ran $4. I spent $20 for a Scottish Egg, a grilled chicken sandwich, some fries and a fruit cup. Not bad, but not very filling for two people (nor high quality food).

This guy probably got his eggs elsewhere!
This guy probably got his eggs elsewhere!

The acting was a mixed bag. Some groups were very much on point: great accents, topics of the time (relations between Spain and England), captains seeking crew, and following the beliefs of the times (like my wife’s “missing skirt”). Others would bounce between accents, break into modern speech, stumble on lines/scripts, and just break character. I think the best actors were a few of the people patrolling in groups and the Duchess herself (I found her correcting a rude young man to teach him manners while in character; awesome).

The storyline felt a bit flat as well: pirates were trying to convince an honest man to go pirate, the villain of the joust went by the motto “Cheat to Win” (and the crowd would chant it), and the pirate was offering her “booty” to the winner of the joust. Bad script, apparently.

I wasn’t horribly impressed by the first joust of the schedule. Normally, when two combatants joust, they move at a very fast clip, smash a lance into the shield, and if they are both still on their horses, they grab a still intact lance and keep fighting.
Not this group.

This looks much cooler than it was.
This looks much cooler than it was.

During the joust I saw, the knights were barely moving faster than a trot. They would slow down before picking up rings, and when they did start striking another, it was a tap along the shield. After the third or fourth pass of just tapping each other, I left.

The cost of the event was relatively steep. With the PA Faire, if you purchase your tickets online, you can save upwards of $10 per ticket. When you order tickets for the NJ Faire online, you are saving $2. . .until they hit you with the $1 per ticket fee. So really, you are only saving $1.
Tickets for adults are $20 online ($21 after the fee), and $22 at the event. The PA Faire is $26 online, $31 at the event (so you’re saving $5).

The final complaint: size. My wife and I arrived at this event at 10am when the gates opened. We left before 3pm, even after breaking for lunch, chatting with some college friends, learning about the LARP group, chatting with my bladesmithing instructor, watching the Vixens En Garde show, and shopping around (I needed a replacement pair of boots for my costume and blacksmithing, and we were both gawking at the options from the shop selling yurts).
While it was nice to have a smaller, more intimate event, the cost makes it a bit overpriced, as you can do everything here in a day, and that’s if you feel like staying the WHOLE day.

The PA Faire is massive; I’ve been there twice and there’s still a number of things I haven’t done or looked at yet; in fact, my wife and I are looking at doing a two-day visit just to see everything through at least once. At the NJ Faire, the only thing I haven’t done was watch the opening and closing ceremonies. Since the schedule changes every weekend, it’s not like I’m really going to have the chance to catch anything I missed, either.

==The Verdict==

I think this Faire is worth attending at least once each year. If you are going alone, be prepared to find ways to stay entertained if you want to stay from start to finish and to spend a sizeable amount of money (I spent about $100 for my wife and I to get in, mill around and have lunch, basically). If you can go with a group (or can make friends quickly), this would be an AWESOME event to attend and take part in the various games; just be ready to sit down and talk often as you wait for something new to happen.

If you are in Southern NJ and want that Ren Faire itch scratched or need to get some items replaced before a bigger faire (drinking horn, boots, kilt, etc), this will hold you over and you might find a good deal.’

Next year, if I’m still local, I’ll be attending again, but even if I wasn’t booked with work, I would probably give a second day here a pass.

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