Day Trippin': Ohio Renaissance Festival
The Ohio Renaissance Festival (henceforth referred to as the ORF) is opening its 31st year at a permanent and easily accessible 30-acre site off I-71 between Columbus and Cincinnati. It's a pretty cool day trip for families.
In many ways, the ORF is like a county fair. There's parking in a grassy field, a multitude of vendors, overpriced food and drink (most everything costs $5 - or 5 as the signs read there, even though it really means $5), and overpriced games and "human-powered" rides (like giant swings, horse ride, maze - most of them $2 to $3 a pop). It's either dusty or muddy, depending on the weather, and the "privies" (glorified porta-potties) are going to be an issue for fussy children.
And yet somehow the ORF is much more entertaining and therefore bearable (at least for me) than a county fair. Mostly it's because the people sucking away your dollars are just so gosh darn enthusiastic and genuinely into the role playing that goes along with this setting. No creepy carnies here.
The role playing doesn't come across as weird nor are these folks overbearing with their barely-there British accents. It's just fun to see people dressed up like knights, princesses, pirates and Vikings (and, boy, do they owe Harry Potter big time for injecting new life into this entertainment genre). You can even rent a costume for the day ($25 for children, $35 and up for adults), but you won't feel out of place if you're dressed like the 21st-century muggle that you are.
The highlight of each day, which most people build their visit around, is one of the three jousting exhibitions that take place in the Arena of Champions. Think of these like professional wrestling - only more impressive because they've got horses playing along, too. You'll want to get a seat at least 15 minutes before the jousting starts (and be forewarned that some of the participants' audible humor is very PG-13). And pay attention to the wind direction if you want to stay upwind of the dust that will be generated on a dry day.
You can bring food into the festival grounds if you reason nicely with the entrance staff (they said they wouldn't refuse someone who has special dietary needs), but for the most part, you can expect to spend at least as much as your entrance fee on all those turkey legs, mead, wooden great swords and princess garlands.
Ohio Renaissance Festival
10542 E. State Route 73, Harveysburg
(about an hour's drive from Downtown Columbus)
Hours: weekends and Labor Day from Sept. 3 through Oct. 16, 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., rain or shine
Cost: $20 for adults, $10 for children 5 to 12, and free for children under 5. Online discounts and packages are available. Parking cost $2.