Exploring the Old Shire: Revisiting the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

September, 2006: I had only been back in America a little over a month before being dragged to the Renaissance Faire for the first time. I was coping with re-entry shock, readjusting to American food, struggling to not slip into another language during conversations, and attempting to not lose my mind at how weird everything was after being in Japan for a year.

Even though I had $20 as my budget for anything that wasn’t living/school related for another two weeks, my friends wouldn’t let me miss out on the trip with the rest of the club. They paid for my ticket, loaded me into a car, and hauled me from Lock Haven, PA to Manheim, PA just so I could experience the Faire for the first time.

The day was a whirlwind that I look back on fondly as one of the best times I’ve had in America since my return. Then again, it’s hard to trump milling around a Faire and randomly meeting up with friends, old and new, eating monstrous turkey legs, and watching shows or listening to good music.

Or accidentally eavesdropping in on a conversation between the Queen and one of her suitors.
Or accidentally eavesdropping in on a conversation between the Queen and one of her suitors.

Besides, who can beat seeing a joust?

October, 2014: After eight years, I had finally returned to the PA Renaissance Faire, not realizing it would become a tradition. Like the first time, I spent the day wandering around, this time with my wife and a mutual friend, seeing all of the shops, catching a few events here and there, and ultimately spending far too much money on getting geared up (rapiers are expensive).

But they are pretty!
But they are pretty!

I fell in love with the decor used in October due to my love of Halloween (I got married on the day, what does that tell you?), and the weather was just perfect for it all. After exploring, meeting people, picking up a few business cards, and acquiring information on bladesmithing classes, we called it a day.

Now, October, 2015: After a busy year of bladesmithing and other blacksmithing classes, working logistics with some friends, crunching numbers, vistiing the NJ Renaissance Faire, selling things on ebay to fund the trip, and on the same week as an interview and a case of bronchitis, I’ve returned to the PA Ren Faire. But how did it stack up?

I can assuredly tell you the magic is still there. Each time I come here, I always feel like I’m “out” of time; I lose track of it (a tough feat for me, let me assure you!), I don’t really mind it, and there’s just something about the way everything works that sets me at ease. My wife agrees with me that the PA Ren Faire is just…different from other places and events, and it seems that this feeling doesn’t go away with each visit, but rather seems to become more familiar and even more enjoyable.

Unlike the NJ Faire, the PA Faire has been around for some time and has been able to become quite established. The buildings are actual buildings, and are designed to look the part of being established during the Renaissance (lots of wood, old style architecture, etc). Some buildings look a bit odd (like a few of the various food vendors), but others are pretty solid (like the various smithies, the bowyer, and the theatres).

They also do an archery competition daily. If you win, you get a prize and a free pass to come back for the final day of the Faire for the final contest.
They also do an archery competition daily. If you win, you get a prize and a free pass to come back for the final day of the Faire for the final contest.

The oddest part of the Faire is actually the layout. Even after walking around it three times and going through it for three days while it was empty (due to my classes), I still get turned around and mixed up as to where to find things. All of the roads wind around with only a few spokes to cut through; it is reminiscent of a Roman-style town instead of a modern city (with the exception of two “streets”; one of which is almost entirely food).

What I do think I love most about this Faire is the degree and quality of the experience. The acting staff are pretty good and rather amusing; for example, a friend of mine and I regaled a proper lady, who called us barbarians for eating “men’s legs”, on how we had defeated ruffians in a rather ungentlemanly way as they refused to handle things in a gentlemanly manner, and she just went along with it and fought the urge to laugh. The actors at the various events, including the joust, were well rehearsed, combining serious events with a bit of bawdy humor (and not relying solely on the latter as the NJ Faire did).

Speaking of the joust: we saw a return of the villain from the NJ Faire, who apparently had better lines and support, because I was not horribly let down by this joust (although it wasn’t as great as I had remembered before). It also had a storyline that tied in perfectly to the theme, as we saw a ghost of a dead king, an attempted coup, and bringing soldiers back from the dead. What more do you want in a finale?

And how can you NOT love the building and the field?
And how can you NOT love the building and the field?

As it is October, the theme was Halloween Daze and Spooky Knights. While the finale was tied to the theme in an amusing fashion, I honestly loved the decor. While I didn’t get many photos (my phone hasn’t been very good with storing them due to memory issues), I can say they added random spooky statues, a large wicker man with a pumpkin head (very much like the opening to The Nightmare Before Christmas), and a smoking jack-o-lantern to name a few bits of decor.

Hail to the Pumpkin King!
Hail to the Pumpkin King!

Added bonus: some of the attendees joined in on the theme. As we were leaving, we saw a badger-like creature with glowing red eye. At first I thought it was a statue that I missed, but in reality it was someone in a fursuit. It looked evil as hell and was an amazing addition to the ambiance of the evening.

Badger...OF DOOM!
Badger…OF DOOM!

The one qualm I have with the Faire is the cost. While the value and experience is far superior than the NJ Faire (a $5 price increase for PA in comparison, but there’s MUCH more to there), it is still $52 for a pair of tickets for the event. Granted, the ticket cost isn’t that bad considering you can catch shows at the multiple theatres, the displays at the chess board, the two blacksmiths do demonstrations, there is an archery tournament you can attend (and possibly win a free ticket to attempt to win a bow), and it is almost impossible to see EVERYTHING in a single day (honestly, if I lived nearby, I would consider getting a season pass just to attend every week). As outside food is not permitted, you’ll either be packing food in the car (and fighting to get to it due to the major parking congestion) or “eating through the faire.” My wife and I did the latter. From what we recall, we had a sandwich, two turkey legs, macaroni and cheese, two ciders, one mead, an order of chocolate covered bacon, a basket of potato pancakes, a whoopie pie, a slice of cheese cake, and four bottles of water between the two of us. We estimated, not including “gifts,” we spent somewhere in the $180-$220 range after everything was said and done for the entire trip (gas, tolls, caffeine at Starbucks, tickets, food). Not the cheapest of day trips.

The reaper has come for your wallet and bank account. . .
The reaper has come for your wallet and bank account. . .

By the end of the day, the PA Renaissance Faire is still an amazing place to go. It’s never really the same twice, there’s plenty to see, lots to eat, and a plethora of things to do. I understand why a Faire staffer in NJ said it is the Disneyland of Faires. I’ll have to agree with that staffer, only that unlike Disneyland, I plan on going back again…as long as I can afford it, that is!

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