The Florida Renaissance Festival is coming off its best year in its 30-season history. Ticket sales were stronger than ever — 100,000-plus attendees, according to organizers — following a one-year absence due to the pandemic. And the festival also posted a record number of first-timers, which bodes well for the future of the medieval event.
So why is the Florida Renaissance Festival changing things up this year?
"We like to keep things fresh for the regulars, especially those season pass holders who come seven, eight or nine times [per season]," Bobby Rodriguez, the festival's founder and producer, tells Miami New Times over Zoom. "We want to give them a reason to come back. The last thing we want to hear from the patrons that come to the Renaissance Festival is that it's the same thing every year."
One of the most notable changes to the festival — which returns to Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach from February 4 through March 26 — is the increase from seven weeks to eight weeks. And just like all the other weeks, week eight will have a theme: a Mad Hatter's Circus. This new Lewis Carroll-inspired theme joins others such as the Wizarding World's Faire, Barbarians & Dragons, Steampunk & Time Travelers, Pirate Invasion, and Highland Fling.
"Our line is that the Florida Renaissance Festival is between myth and history," Rodriguez says. "We're not just trying to be historically correct. We also want to bring in myths like fairies and magic. We started doing that ten years ago, and people really bought into it. A lot of the themes have nothing to do with the renaissance, but that's what people wanted."
Also new this year is the redesign of the festival's layout. Expect new walkways to go along with the new stages, signs, and props the festival has been building since the summer. There was some pushback the last time the festival underwent a dramatic redesign, so Rodriguez is aware of the risk involved when introducing a brand-new layout.
"I thought it was awesome and would work great, but people just hated it," Rodriguez says of the previous redesign. "Some people like to know that when they turn the corner, the music stage will be there. I'm crossing my fingers that after 30 years of experience, I won't make as many mistakes as I did years ago."
The jousting show, the festival's most popular attraction, will continue to occur thrice a day. The R-rated tent will pack 'em in again with its adult-oriented comedy shows, including the new "Filthy Irish Pub Stories." You can still throw a tomato at the insult-hurling antagonists in the Tomato Torture game and shoot Captain's Cannons. And, yes, there will be turkey legs for sale, as usual — it wouldn't be a true renaissance festival without them.
If you're looking for something sweet to eat, Chateau Hibbele will only sell crème brûlée. Rodriguez says the first-time vendor will use a dragon-head lighter to burn the sugar on top of the classic French dessert for that desired caramelized effect. Other notable desserts include the nitrogen smoking ice cream and cereal puffs from Shawn Grissom (A.K.A. Magical Desserts and Drinks) and alcohol-infused cakes from Spirited Slices.
As for costumes, they aren't mandatory but, as always, are encouraged — not that attendees need much coaxing. More people than ever are dressing up to attend the festival.
"It got to the point seven or eight years ago when we had all our performers wear badges so that you'd know they were part of the show. But the badges didn't help much," Rodriguez says. "A big percentage of patrons dress up. They don't need much of an excuse to wear a costume."
Florida Renaissance Festival. Saturday, February 4, through Sunday, March 26, at Quiet Waters Park, 401 S Powerline Rd., Deerfield Beach; 954-776-1642; ren-fest.com. Daily tickets cost $14 to $32; children 5 and younger get in free.