*This is based on my opinion, which is based on my experience. Your experience may have been different. Positive suggestions for additions are welcome.*
I went to my first Renaissance Faire in 2002, and have been going 4-16 weekends a year ever since. I've been a patron, a guildie, a boothie, a circuit act, and I've worked behind the scenes on staff. While I am by no means an expert, I am both seasoned enough that I have a good idea of how Faires work, and yet removed enough to understand how to translate "Rennie" to "Normal People."
Because of this, I get asked a lot for tips for "Ren Faire Virgins" or more simply, people who have never been to a Renaissance Faire. And so, thinking perhaps I could a) help people I don't know and b) save myself some time typing it here, I present:
Tips for First Time Ren Faire Goers
1) Don't Dress Up
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, and in fact it goes against what a lot of other sites and similar articles say. Hear me out.
As a Faire worker, we're often directed to give our best show to people not in costume. Why? Because people who dressed up have already drunk the Kool-Aid. They are invested and ready to be a part of the show. People who aren't in costume are new. They need to be shown the wonder that is Renaissance Faire so they keep coming back.
Also, every Faire has its own culture when it comes to costumes. Some are more historical, others tend towards Fantasy, while still more look like Tortuga from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. If it's your first time going to a new Faire, its often more fun to go in street clothes and buy something fun that you like there. Plus, you'll be supporting local small business owners, which makes you awesome.
2) You WILL Be Outside in the Hot Sun
Many people seem very unprepared for this. Don't be one of them. Wear Sunscreen. Bring a Hat and Sunglasses. Bring a Parasol if you have one. BRING WATER! Pretty much every Faire will let you bring in water, and most will also let you bring in snacks or food, especially if you have special dietary requirements. Remember to listen to your body, and go sit down if you feel tired or very hot. The stage shows are fun and free!
3) Bring Cash
Many vendors accept credit cards, however I have never seen a Food Vendor or Ale Stand that did. There are usually mobile ATMs, but they charge as much as $5 per transaction. Plus, a lot of vendors will drop the tax or give you a discount if you pay them cash. Don't bring more than you can afford to spend, but for a first-time couple, I recommend at least $100.
4) Ask Questions
Most of the people who do Renaissance Faire do so because they love creating a part of history. Ask the woman at the spinning wheel about her yarn. Ask the glassblower about his sculptures. Ask the Food Vendor what's in his meat pies. Renaissance Faire is one of the biggest collections of Historians and Artisans in the world. You'd be amazed what you can learn.
5) Have a Beer
If you're able to, have something from the Ale Stand (they often serve Cider and Wine, too). Again, Renaissance Faire is often home to specially crafted microbrews that you can't get anywhere else. Don't overdo it, though, especially on your first day. I recommend drinking one glass of water after each alcoholic beverage.
6) Prices are High
One of the most common comments I get from newbies is shock at how expensive many of the items for sale are. Remember that much of what you see is handmade, quite often by the people selling it. In addition to covering the costs of materials, which are often locally sourced and high quality, they also have to pay for the labor to create it, the packaging, and most Faires charge a booth fee AND a percentage of sales to each merchant that attends. The food you see is typically prepared from scratch on site, often made to order. If you're really questioning a price, ask the merchant about the item, you might find out something amazing about it.
7) Wear Comfortable Shoes
I can't tell you how many unfortunate ladies I've seen proudly prancing in their platforms at 10am who are miserable and ready to go home by 2pm. There are rocks, there is dirt, there is grass, and there's often hills and uneven terrain. Don't be a hero. Wear comfy shoes.
8) Some of the Shows are Not Kid-Friendly
If you have kids with you, be warned that some of the shows are on the naughty side. If you're unsure whether a show is safe for your kids, most performers will be happy to tell you if you ask them. If your kids are particularly sensitive or have special needs, it might be a good idea to take an adults-only trip first to see if it's something they can handle.
9) Be Aware
There are jousters, parades, mounted riders, jugglers, fire-eaters, musicians and hundreds of other performers that can injure you or can become seriously injured by a collision. Get out of the way of parades and keep clear of stages and performance areas.
10) It's An Interactive Show
Many participants will try to include you in their games, their shows, or their "lives" at the Faire. You are free to play along, but you are also free to politely decline, and you are ALWAYS free to set boundaries. We want you to have fun and play, not be embarrassed and uncomfortable.
And now for the bad news....
First Time "Don'ts"...
-Don't touch anyone anywhere unless you're invited to. There's a lot of cleavage and a lot of sexual innuendo, but we are not Sex Workers and you may not treat us as such.
-Don't touch anyone's weapons without being invited. Many of the weapons are museum quality replicas, and still more are functional tools that are well oiled, sharp, and dangerous. This should also be expanded to include instruments, tools, and animals.
-Don't let your kids wander off. At least not on your first visit. We will protect wandering kids as best we can, but there are lots of ways for them to get injured if they're left unattended.
But the biggest and most important piece of advice I can give a first-time Faire-Goer: Have Fun. For those of us who have been doing Faire a while, this is our playground, and we can't wait to share it with you.