For Austinites wanting to do the renaissance festival thing, our choices so far have been a long drive out to the Texas Renaissance Festival towards Houston in the Fall, or a long drive to the Scarborough Renaissance Festival up near Dallas in the late Spring. Well starting now (Spring of 2010), we have a new option in the Sherwood Forest Faire which is a mere 35 miles east of Austin, Texas on U.S. Highway 290. It opened for the first time this past weekend, and my family and I went yesterday on the festival’s second day of existance. This is my review – with an eye for the vegetarian aspect as well as the family fun. They are open from 10:00 a.m. until dusk and we got there around 11:00. The drive is so much better and easier than the hike out to TexRenFest. It was short enough that the kids hardly had time to get restless.
The last bit of the drive there was a pain – over a stretch of rough pavement and then an even rougher stretch of dirt road. Once at the festival, the faire grounds were impressively large and everything seemed well constructed. I was surprised at the number of large permanent buildings already built. It is evident that they have really committed to this project with the sheer size and scale of what they have built for a newly-opened facility. Much of the construction of things like fences, bridges, and stages was done with rough-sawn wood boards so it gave the impression of being rustic construction, but was very solid. A number of the food and merchandise shops were full-on buildings – some even two story and a few of the bar areas had huge concrete slab seating areas. The toilet situation appeared to be all port-a-potties (I really like the constructed bathroom facilities at the Texas RenFest), so they have room to grow in that area. Other than that, everything I saw was solidly constructed and looked great.
Being the first weekend ever of the festival, the turnout of people wasn’t huge. This was both negative and positive; each of the different stage areas had sparse audiences which both made the performers more accessible while also making the shows seem less like a proper production. When thinking about it in hindsight – and considering the size of the festival grounds and the number of different stage areas – the turnout was really pretty good.
Ah, faire food – my favorite. If you are trying to eat vegan or strict gluten free, you probably already know this isn’t a good place for you. For vegetarians, however, there was plenty of food and it was excellent. We had fried cheese sticks (our kid-approved favorite), french fries, cheese quesadilla, nachos, and churros with ice cream (another kid favorite!). Other veggie-friendly items I noticed were veggie burritos, hummus and pita, cheese pizza, fried jalapenos (which I tried to order, but they were out), fried eggplant strips, plus the usual suspects like funnel cake, roasted nuts, and kettle corn. Note that the menu on their website is not complete. They actually had much more variety at the faire than they list on the website. The food was a definite highlight for myself and for the kids.
We caught a few of the shows and it was the standard renaissance festival performances. As I commented above, the low turnout made the shows we saw seem more intimate, but less like the large performance spectacles I am used to. I was surprised to see that they had a jousting arena set up and . The program ($1 just inside the gate) lists 22 different performance areas.
I was impressed, we had a great time, the kids enjoyed it and they are already talking about going back. Other than just continuing to get the word out to get more guests to show up, I really didn’t see any faults at all. Make sure you check it out and help them get going. The festival runs now through April 4 on the weekends and you can buy discount tickets on their website, or from HEB stores. I’m looking forward to next time.