A few tips to make your day easier and more fun!
This year, my husband and I had the pleasure of returning to the Carolina Renaissance Festival. We made our first trip in 2019 and loved the experience—I don’t know why we hadn’t ever been before! Then they had to cancel the festival in 2020, so we couldn’t return until this year.
Our second go-round was even more enjoyable than the first, and a lot of that was because we came prepared.
I’ve compiled a few tips below that will help you avoid unnecessary lines and make the most of your day. In the second half of the post, I also answer questions I’ve received from friends about what to do at the festival and if you need to go in costume.
Tip 1: arrive early
The festival is one of those areas where Disney World rules apply: Arrive before the event opens and skip the long line for parking.
The first year we attended the festival, we waited at least an hour and a half before we could park. I don’t know if that’s a normal occurrence or not, but this second go-round, we arrived around 9:30 and drove straight up! We waited a few minutes in the car line on the festival grounds to get parked, but it was so much nicer to actually get to be there instead of waiting in line.
We waited with those who already had their tickets (see tip 2) for around 30 minutes till the gates opened at 10, and then, we were in!
You’ll find special directions for how to get to the festival on their website. They have a few different entrances to help spread out the traffic, and they ask that you follow the online directions instead of relying on GPS.
Tip 2: buy tickets in advance
After our car line experience, we waited in a second line for tickets. The festival is in a remote location, and internet service can be slow. Connectivity didn’t seem to be as much of a problem this year, but we couldn’t get enough service the first year we attended to amend our mistake and purchase our tickets online.
Tip 3: bring cash
The food and drink vendors, as far as we can tell, only accept cash. Enter our third line of our first visit: an hour-long wait in front of the ATM. Again, I think that may have been an exception from the first time we went as I didn’t notice long ATM lines this year, but still, you want to immerse yourself in the Renaissance atmosphere, and ATMs feel distinctly modern.
We used cards with the artisans we visited, and that didn’t seem to be a problem. But when you’re ready for a turkey leg or wine, you’ll want to be able to go ahead and get them and not have to visit the ATM first.
Tip 4: make time for the shows
On our first visit, we were so excited and overwhelmed by the atmosphere, the incredible artisans, and the costumes that we missed most of the shows and never made it over for the jousting! One of the performers shook his head as we relayed this toward the end of our first visit. He said that’s a really common occurrence with first-time visitors.
We vowed that this time would be different, and we had so much fun cheering for our knights during the jousting.
Questions about the festival
Since attending, I’ve spoken to several friends who have always wanted to go to the Carolina Renaissance Festival but haven’t. They weren’t quite sure what they would do during a day at the festival, and they didn’t know if they had to wear a costume or not.
If you’re in a similar situation, I hope the overview below is helpful.
what to do at the festival
Revel, shop, smile, and watch! (Apologies, I couldn’t resist!)
I love walking around the festival and seeing all the different artisan booths and costumes. It’s a place where people are confident in simply being themselves, and that always brings a sense of ease for me.
The craftspersons at the festival are absolutely amazing! I visited a lot of the jewelers on my first visit, and we stopped by all the leatherworkers on this trip. But whatever you’re interested in, or whatever you would like to see made, you’ll find here!
The artisan aspect reminds me of visits to Dollywood growing up. (I’m from northeast Tennessee.) There are glassblowers, weapon-smiths, candle makers, weavers—it’s really incredible. And almost everything you see has been handcrafted by someone, usually the person in costume welcoming you to their booth! (Or assuring you that, even though you’re a ginger, you can come inside. You won’t catch fire. 😉)
Outside of the artisan market, the food is delicious, and the shows are so much fun. I love the dancers, but there are so many incredible performers and other demonstrations. You’ll certainly find something you’ll enjoy!
do I need a costume to go?
Lots of people attend the festival in their normal clothes, especially on the colder days in November. Wear something comfortable for walking around fairgrounds, and you’ll be set.
That being said, I think it’s a lot more fun to go in costume!
This year, I cosplayed Iellieth, the main character of my novel series Age of Azuria, and it was absolutely magical to walk around as her all day! Iellieth started as one of my D&D characters, so I’m used to being her, but it’s one thing to portray her across the table from Jonathan and something entirely different to walk around a festival as her.
I’ve been building up my Renaissance garb over time. We take more of a fantasy than Renaissance approach, and there’s even a time travelers’ weekend which looks as though it celebrates costumes from lots of different eras and genres. On this most recent visit, I fell in love with some druid armor and a fae feather headpiece, so I have some ideas of costumes to try in the future!
getting a costume there
The first year we went, I bought a set of moon elf ears that the seller dyed to match my skin tone. They’re reusable, and it’s been really fun to be able to slip into my half-elvish self with only the one small adjustment.
There are a few different booths at the festival if you’d like to add elf ears or faery wings. Those sorts of small additions will quickly have you in the fantasy spirit!
You’ll also find several clothing shops at the festival. For me, it was easier to go into the shops with a character in mind. Otherwise, you can easily get overwhelmed or purchase something that wasn’t quite right.
I also like pieces that I can wear outside of the festival. All of the clothes there are extremely high-quality so if you would like to go in costume and don’t have one, you can remedy that with the artisans! The clothes at the festival can be pricey, but you’re purchasing something that’s been handmade with care. For us, that makes it worth it, but we only add a few pieces at a time.
I hope this has helped give you a few things to think about as you plan your visit to the Carolina Renaissance Festival! The tips above are the things I wish I’d known before our first visit.
At Fantasy Afield, we’re all about immersive fantasy experiences. At the festival, you can escape into a realm populated by elves and faeries, with artisans and performers close at hand. I’m certain you’ll have a magical adventure!
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