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Bay Area Renaissance Festival parks at MOSI for month

Editor's note: This story is an updated version of one published in 2008.

TAMPA - On a recent overcast Sunday afternoon, delicate flower that I am, I was perched on a bale of hay at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival clutching a smoked turkey leg the size of Hulk Hogan's calf and cheering my head off for "Sir Richard," a shaggy-haired, sinewy-armed hunk of a knight who was astride a horse preparing to lance his opponent.

The RenFest is part performance art, part craft fair and just a tiny part historically accurate. The appeal for the more than 100,000 fans who attend every year is that it's everything a sterile shopping mall isn't: outdoors, with the sounds of lutes playing and swords clashing and the smells of wood smoke and perfumed oils and salespeople keen on charming dollars out of your pocket with a magic trick or a jig.

It also draws people who love to dress up and revel in their mutual oddness while playing hard. Like Jimmy Buffett fans or Goth kids.

Tampa's version is one of dozens of Medieval "faires" that come to life around the nation -- there were 17 in Florida last year. It's darned hard not to be charmed by roaming through what feels like an Elizabethan sound stage. Here are five things you need to know to get the most out of RenFest:

1. Bring cash

And make a lot of it $1 bills to tip the numerous jugglers, magicians, lute players or stage actors. Many of the vendors take only cash, though a few display the sign "We accept Lady Visa and MasterCard."

You can buy fairy dust, elf horns, henna tattoos, a $50 scepter beautifully carved with a crystal ball on top or jumbo sea salt crystals from Aruba scented with oils to make a potpourri that looks like gem stones ($10 a bag or three for $27).

There's free stuff too, from the noon parade to stage acts to the Children's Realm where kids can make a free magic wand and have it enchanted by a gorgeously costumed old wizard who shows them how to wave the wand and make bird feathers pop out of a hollow tree trunk.

2. Consider your outfit

It isn't just the workers who come in costume. "You can't come and hang out in city clothes," said Denise Kessler of Sarasota, who first got into the scene when her wandmaker friend banished her from his tent until she put on something appropriate. She's now operator of the "Reiki Medieval Massage" booth.

Kayla Kinnaman, 9, of Dade City was the perfect pixie with an elaborately painted face, flowers in her hair and a costume worthy of Tinker Bell. "I got it at Halloween," said her mother, Dawn Kinnaman, knowing the costume would get used again when they returned to the RenFest.

Whatever your outfit, make sure it includes comfortable shoes that you don't mind getting dirty. This is a field, not a paved mall.

3. Arrive hungry

I tried Scotch eggs ($3.75) for the first time and am now in search of a recipe. It's a hard-boiled egg encased in sausage meat, rolled in bread crumbs and then fried. Skip the cheese drizzle, though.

At lunch time, we were intrigued by the soup in bread bowls but opted for the signature smoked turkey leg ($6). There's also standard fair food such as chicken tenders, fries, Greek food, corn dogs and pizza.

4. Plan your day

We got to the RenFest when it opened at 10 a.m., which allowed us to stroll the grounds. By 1 p.m. the place was filling up fast. Most acts go on every hour. The joust and the human chess matches are a must-see and play a couple of times a day.

The constant parade of costumed revelers invites people-watching, so try not to be in a hurry.

Check for the list of themed weekends. This weekend (Feb. 20-21) is Italian Carnivale with bocce ball tournaments and a pet fest. Coming up is Wine, Chocolate and Romance (Feb. 27-28); Buccaneer Beer Fest (March 6-7); Irish Heritage (March 13-14); Wonders of the World (March 20-21); and High Seas Adventure (March 27-28).

5. Put fun before facts

Though "Fittlesworth," the RenFest village, is supposed to be set during the 16th century reign of King Henry VIII, there's also an 18th century pirate village and enough magic wands, elves and wizards to gag a history teacher.

Sense of humor is a higher priority than sense of history. So you get the comic opera "Bubba of Seville," vendors such as the Tickle Ye Fancy seller of plumed hats and a magician named Sir Ryosus.

This is humor so corny, it's cool.

As Sir Richard announced, prejoust: "Children, remember before attempting to destroy anyone with your sword," he cautioned as he clamped shut his hinged steel visor, "always wear a helmet."

Sharon Kennedy Wynne can be reached at wynne@tampabay.com.

Bay Area Renaissance Festival

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through March 28.

Where: Museum of Science and Industry grounds, 11315 N 46th St., Tampa

Admission: $17.95 adults; $9.95 kids 5-12, $14.95 seniors. Info at renaissancefest.com.

Bay Area Renaissance Festival parks at MOSI for month 02/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 1:19pm]
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