If Wrestlemania, Game of Thrones and Ren Faire had a long-haired love child, Medieval Times would be it.
To the uninitiated, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament might seem like a campy take on dinner theatre where you get to wear cardboard crowns, yell a lot, get drunk and eat with your hands.
And it totally is.
Spectators are funneled into color-coded sections, one for each knight, thereby securing allegiance early on. And as the house lights dim and strains of an action-y score swell over the sound system, we’re all waving black-and-white flags so hard they’re flying in our food and each other’s faces as we cheer for a young blonde guy wearing chainmail and wielding a plywood lance.
As a real life FALCON buzzes our eyebrows before landing on his handler’s outstretched arm, just below us, in a pit filled with sand and softened with purple overhead lights and mist, gorgeous Menorcans, Spanish and Quarter Horses are leaping and bowing and generally making everyone white-knuckle their seats while grinning like idiots into the hazy darkness.
The four-legged majesty of it all gets the kids to forget the Dungeon exhibit showcasing gruesome torture chamber tools we saw pre-show, and distracts us all from the sad spectacle of a beautiful show horse penned in a tiny plexiglass enclosure for excited revelers to ogle and annoy.
Our designated knight, Santiago, and his fellows, including a burly, yellow-caped fellow in black leggings who looks exactly like Thor, have gathered fresh pink carnations and are now trolling the seats, looking for young maidens upon whom to bestow their favor. Winnie catches a carnation on the fly, and as protective netting rolls down and the swordplay begins, we cheer ourselves hoarse.
And no, Jeff and I are not just doing it for the kids.
Side eye if you must, but as we sat there drinking dragon’s blood (tomato bisque) and tearing apart baby dragon (roasted chicken) with our hands, fully embracing their period-appropriate anti-cutlery policy that thankfully includes very modern Wet-Nap and allergen-free options, my initial inclination to scoff at the kitsch was lost to something much more primal that made the faux baroque feel the littlest bit real. Even if the triumphant winners are rigged (just as they are in any performance), which ultimately means Santiago emerged sweaty and victorious at the end of the evening.
For all its Middle Ages realism, Medieval Times is a thoroughly millennial operation. Started in 1973 as an attraction on the island of Majorca, it has grown to become a theme restaurant empire, with nine replica castles in North America; sprawling horse ranches in Texas, Florida and Maryland; and attendance numbering in the bazillions. Obviously, their formula of chivalry, rivalry and revelry is working.
The whole two-hour experience is exhausting in the best way possible, and both kids fell asleep on the way home.
We can’t wait to do it again.
Disclosure: We time traveled to the 11th century at the kind invitation of Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, who provided us with four complimentary tickets. Opinions are always our own.