The Carolina Renaissance Festival, a Feast for the Sensory

Before my Aspergirl flew out of the nest to college, we took yearly a “mother-daughter day” in the fall. This time together was unbreakable. We’d pick a sunny weekend morning and drive over to the Renaissance Festival early, just as the gates opened. My husband would stay home with the dog, and a bit of peace and quiet, as the two of us trampled the raw ground at Ren Fest.

For those on the Autism Spectrum, with Asperger’s, the Ren Fest can be a bit of calm in a neurotypical sea. It’s a great place for those into cosplay, or who simply love to dress however they choose. In fact, a friend of mine sews period-piece dresses as a hobby, and the Ren Fest provides her a wonderful opportunity to wear her art. From flower headpieces to fairy wings to armor, there are countless ways to dress the part.

Or not. Yours truly has yet to dress in anything other than sensible shoes. Well, except for a necklace from Fellowship Foundry. (This year’s choice was a double dragon with a blue crystal.)

That’s the thing about Ren Fest; you really can be yourself!

Crystal Dragon Heart Pendant in Blue from Fellowship Foundry


One thing to keep in mind is the Carolina Renaissance Festival is a very sensory place. For sensory seekers, this is great! Sensory avoiders may be ok, too. It’s all in how you plan, and by planning I mean understanding what to expect as you walk the grounds. Here’s a brief overview of what each sense can expect.

On the way into the village before the sun peeked out

SOUND: There are all sorts of unique sounds, from the chatter of festival goers to performers. There are usually a few harpists, which I find quite calming. There are also stage performers who can be rather loud, while some are “just right.” Again, it’s all in how you prefer to process auditory sensory input, right?

SMELL: This one gets me every time I’m here! The sweet smell of cinnamon is all over and I love it! There are a few stands that sell roasted nuts. Having an almond allergy means I can’t partake in anything but the scent. (I’m ok with that.) If I could craft that smell into a candle, I would. One other thing to note is there are a few incense sellers. I realize incense can be seen as controversial to some. However, for some sensory seekers, stopping by an incense stand can be a true delight! There are many who adore it because they love (seek out) those type of fragrances. In fact, a friend of mine, Donna, owns “Merry Olde Smokers,” which are handmade clay incense smokers including dragons that “blow smoke” and Gnome Homes with smoking chimneys. They are adorable.

SIGHT: The Carolina Ren Fest is set on a nice piece of land in the middle of the woods. It’s glorious! There is color and texture everywhere including the storefronts. Being there really does feel like you are stepping away from it all. Aside from colorful costumed festival goers, there are performers who wander throughout dressed in period attire. The wares offered for sale are largely hand crafted and unique, and so fun to check out. Most of what is for sale is hard to find in a store outside this village. As a visual person, myself, I keep a handmade clay dragon in our guest bath. It just makes me smile.

Aside from wares and architecture, there are countless shows. (Know that some are suited for older audiences. This is a Ren Fest…) Two of my favorites are the glass blower and the falconry show. The glass blower demonstrates how to make an item from start to finish, but does have bursts of flame, in case that is a bit much for some. The falconry show is great for animal lovers! Be advised the birds do fly over the audience. Again, this will be enchanting to some, dreadful for others. You know yourself (or your child) so keep these things in mind.

TASTE: Food and drink are not allowed to be carried inside the festival, so be prepared to buy what you need. There are several stands all over that offer anything from steak on a stake to coffee to your typical fried whatevers. There is even a crepe stand if you prefer sweet over savory (they offer both) for lunch. From creamy cheesecake to crunchy nuts, there is a good selection available for those with sensory preferences.

TOUCH: The grounds are a dirt-gravel combo. This is nature; the ground is not perfectly even like a concrete floor, nor should it be. But this is something to keep in mind if you are pushing a wheelchair or use other helps. (See their website for more info.) It is accessible, just keep in mind there are tree roots in spots, etc. As for seating for shows, they consist of wooden “benches” with no back. For sensory seekers who are animal lovers, there is a petting zoo as well as greyhounds you are allowed to meet. If you are looking for a gift for someone who is tactile, there are sellers who feature feathers, smooth hand-blown glass and more. In other words, there are a lot of tactile bits about! (Reminder; just because someone is wearing an incredibly textured outfit does not mean you can ask to touch it. There are boundaries, even at Ren Fest.)

MOVEMENT: There are “people-powered” rides for those who seek movement. DaVinci’s Flying Machines is a great one for those who love the smooth feel swinging brings!

A wizard in the raw – sculpted on site by Merry Olde Smokers by Donna

A fully glazed and fired wizard by Merry Olde Smokers by Donna


OTHER: The Rent Fest is a place my daughter and I love, but we realize it is not for everyone. That’s ok. In fact, the younger set may be better off waiting until they are a tad older to attend. (Again, you know your family and what they like, and what they’ll appreciate a few years down the road as opposed to now.) One thing to note is there is alcohol on the premises, which may be a deal breaker for some. The way some people choose to dress may also be difficult for those who prefer more conservative atmospheres. And the (optional) Dungeon Museum was hard for my sister – and she’s pretty open to all sorts of things. In other words, know what the festival is before you go, so you can decide if this will be a fit for you.

Have you gone? Let me know what sensory bits you love about Ren Fest in the comments below!

Over the years, the Carolina Ren Fest became a special time with my family. First with my Aspie, now with my sister. It was one place my Aspie could go where she could feel like being herself without judgment. She could dress as she liked – or not dress up at all. Now that she is in college, we can no longer go together, and we both miss that special bonding time.

Recently, my sister and I went and enjoyed a beautiful day under a Carolina blue sky together. Ren Fest is a tradition that may morph and shift, but one that always creates special memories for us. It delights the senses and takes me away from this day to day grind; a fact I am thankful for.

~ Julie

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