It’s time for the Bay Area Renaissance Festival, and Queen Catherine Parr invites her subjects to share the fun. Since King Henry is away at war in France, Queen Catherine reigns over the festivities. And if you have a kilt, here’s your chance to join the “Men in Kilts,” so grab your sporran and participate.
This is the 20th year for Caroline Jett as Queen Catherine Parr, the only wife to survive Henry’s legendary marital escapades. After so many seasons, the role of queen comes easily to Jett. And if you’re a fan of Henry, you might want to attend the dinner at the end of the festival, where everyone will bid farewell to Michael Marzella, who’s retired from the role after many years.
But royalty isn’t all you encounter at the Ren Faire (as its fans call it). Varlets and wenches abound, alongside rov- ing bands of gypsies and groups of wandering musicians with unfamiliar medieval instruments. Troupes of fair- ies and other creatures stroll the grounds entreating visitors to join in their antics.
“Children love the gypsies and the fairies and follow them around,” said Jett.
And indeed kids love the whole fantasy of the faire, with its colorful characters. Jugglers, wandering minstrels and magicians enchant the little ones, plus there’s face painting and a petting zoo to keep them entertained.
“This year we have a unicorn they can meet,” said Jett. “And they can also take a ride on our elephant.”
If you’re hungry, grab a turkey leg at the Pirate’s Galley, or if you’re thirsty, you can get beer, wine or mead at one of the fair’s half-dozen pubs. Seek out a soothsayer and have your fortune read. There’s something for everyone here. “With 20 stages, there’s something happening all the time,” said Heidger.
There are jugglers, musicians, magicians, comics... there are some Shakespeare spoofs... and larger-than-life human puppets, to name just a few of the stage acts. Visitors get a schedule at the entrance with stages and times for the various performances. In fact, there is so much to see and do, many folks make several visits during the faire’s seven-week run.
“Jousting is one of the most popular events,” said Heidger. “We schedule three jousting tournaments daily, so everyone has a chance to see it.”
It’s exciting to see knights in full armor charge each other in an attempt to unseat one another. Another crowd pleaser is the Human Chess Match, where players represent a chess piece, and move about the board. The medieval hand-to-hand combats are also very popular, where knights complete with maces, swords, axes and other weapons of yore.
The marketplace is overflowing with unique, handcrafted gifts. There are delightful oddities like Avatar staffs — a must-have for airbenders — as well as all sorts of fiber art and clothing with a medieval twist. For m’lady, a marvelous collection of artisans offer handmade hair ornaments, and a variety of magical rings, pendants and brooches. And there are games — learn archery and other medieval sports.
Each weekend has a special theme. St. Patrick’s Day weekend, titled Shamrocks and Shenanigans, will celebrate all things Irish.
For romantics, there’s a special reservation allowing a couple an hour of private dining in a gazebo, attended by servants, and each day there is a wedding vow renewal ceremony.
The fun annual party opens its gates each Saturday and Sunday, 10 AM - 6 PM beginning February 16 through March 31, rain or shine. To find out more about the many events and a schedule of what’s happening each weekend visit bayarearenfest.com.
The Bay Area Renaissance Festival is located on the MOSI grounds at 1315 N 46th St, Tampa, FL 33617 Phone: (813) 983-0111.