TODD MISSION — About three hours away, the Texas Renaissance Festival offers patrons the chance to escape modern day life and return to a simpler time — one filled with musical and comedic stage performances, elaborate costumes and, of course, turkey legs.

Although I’m a regular visitor, this year was much different for me because my girlfriend, Navina Bhatkar, accompanied me on the adventure across 55 acres of land. A few friends also managed to stay by our side for most of the journey. Bessie Walker and Evan Taylor managed to keep pace for most of the day.  But I did give everyone the disclaimer ahead of time: as TRF has grown in capacity and popularity, it’s very easy to get separated from your group or find yourself distracted by random music, performers or shiny things. I warn people to always keep their phone charged and ready in case they find themselves lost. And sure, that happened early in the day, but our little troupe kept together until after the final show at the Sea Devil Tavern.

The other piece of advice I offer to people is figure out what sort of experience you want to have. Some people, like my brother and niece, want to watch as many shows as possible and have a strange obsession with riding the giant swing; others just want to wander around the Magic Garden; while certain patrons just like to sit at one particular venue and socialize.

By noon, the festival fills up pretty fast and while performers put on shows multiple times a day, it’s sometimes easier to get closer to the talent earlier in the morning.

In addition to offering a variety of coffee-based drinks, The Puffin offers hookah and is home to one of the best shows at the festival. The Dauntless Dance Company, mixes modern music and belly dancing to deliver a surprising amount of laughs, especially when one of the servers of the hookah lounge, Nemo, chimes in. Though most of the punchlines come at his expense, he and the ladies do provide some much needed levity inside their own little haven.

During our trek we also stopped to watch the Full Armored Combat show. A combat tournament of sorts without set winners or jokes. Oskar Hasselhoff’s new show touts realism as fighters use sharp, steel blades and don full armor in combat. The show begins with all five combatants going after each other with no reservations. Although the show seemed to end abruptly (one of the fighters just dominated the final two matches it seemed), we did appreciate the fact that there’s a show for the boys. Yes, we like heavy metal battles where weapons clank and opponents get thonked.

One of the new shows this season really surprised me. It is New Tribesmen located at the Barbarian Inn. The duo sing an offensive, adult-oriented song, but the rapport between the pair adds flair to the lyrics and punchlines. They resemble a few acts around the fair, but more with a Nordic edge and humor. Again, the jokes and lyrics should only be within the earshot of adults, and kids really should stay away, despite how cool the venue seems from afar.

And yes, there are tons of shows to see. After visiting a few times, my friends and family start to have particular ones they have to see. For instance, my brother and my niece might have seen the Fire Whip Show about 30 times in the past three years, but I tend to favor the Sturdy Beggars (the mud men) and the Ded Bob Show, while some of my friends really like Sound and Fury.

At the end of the day, I always like to go see the Pride of Bedlam, the band of pirates that sing all sorts of shanties and sea-faring songs. Of course, the other three in our tour group obliged me.

All weekend, I had talked about getting fried alligator on a stick, and we made that happen while we headed over there. Bessie, obsessed with getting a turkey leg, followed, and I swear I witnessed a happiness dance when the vendor handed it to her. Meat in hand, we then made our way to the Sea Devil Tavern for the pirates pub singing show. Because we arrived pretty early, we managed to secure a table and enjoy the grub before the singing began. Feeling festive, we abandoned our table halfway through the performance to get closer to the band. However, by that time the place had filled up and we only managed a distant view (in my opinion) of the singers. We all had a great time, and despite everyone dispersing as soon as darkness descended, I never lost the girlfriend. And fortunately, everyone made it back to camp without any major issues.

Overall, the inaugural trip to TRF with the girlfriend turned out to be a successful one. We are already talking about trips in the future and everyone in our group seemed to enjoy themselves and, despite cool weather, we all shared plenty of smiles and laughs by the end of the festival.

TRF does offer discounted tickets to military personnel and their families. Members of the military, law enforcement, and first responders with current ID may purchase up to four tickets per festival day at the discount price of $25 per adult (age 13 and older) and $15 for children (ages 5-12). Tickets can be purchased only at the will call booth at the festival entrance. Visit https://www.texrenfest.com for more information.