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It’s probably one of the most clichéd and derided theme restaurants going (and trust me, I’ve long been among the group that made fun of the whole concept), but damn, it turns out that Medieval Times is a lot of fun.
The occasion was our yearly birthday spectacular; my twins (Jonathan and Aidan) were turning 6 while their grandfather, with whom they share a birthday, hit his 65th. And how else to celebrate such a significant event than a two and a half hour drive to Toronto followed by a parking nightmare (thanks to a pro soccer game and the Psychic Expo) to watch a bunch of guys with 80s metal hair pretend to knock the hell out of each other with toy swords? If the intention was to see knights and comedy, my vote would have been for Spamalot, but alas, when it comes to planning birthdays, I do not live in a democracy.
So we went to Medieval Times. There’s no getting around the cheese factor (really, do I have to wear the paper crown?), and the place is remarkably effective at separating patrons from their cash: a well-stocked bar where parents can fortify themselves for the coming insanity, glowing plastic swords for the young "lords," full-scale metal replica swords, miniature letter-opener swords, medieval jewelry, tee-shirts and even suits of armor (available for approximately the price of a used car). We also ended up paying twenty bucks (two for one special!) to have the twins knighted by a pompous and mildly sarcastic King whose fancy robes did not quite cover his rather current-looking dress shoes. Then we had to run the gauntlet of wandering photographers in courtesan garb who constantly snap pictures, banking on the fact that the dark surroundings will defeat the built-in flash on most cameras.
But once we were inside the stadium, comfortably seated and tearing into our chicken and ribs – no cutlery allowed, although our "serving wench" (their term, not mine) was able to procure a vegetarian meal for our daughter- it was easy to slip into the mode of cheering for your knight and booing the treacherous bad guys. A fog machine is put to good use, the horses are well-trained and the whole jousting spectacle is very well orchestrated, if not quite up to Hollywood-level simulated combat. At one point, a falcon was let loose and flew multiple circuits around the arena, buzzing the crowd. While the narration, music and portions of the dialog are pre-recorded, the King and his sidekick are given plenty of leeway to goad the audience, which was amusing -I’m guessing the comments get even sharper by the time the cast is on their third show of the day. The story is a typical tale of political intrigue, villainy and double-crossing, with a wizard thrown in for good measure and a princess to compete for. In other words, lots and lots of jousting and sword fighting. Two hours of combat, fog, horses and messy eating. Needless to say, the kids were absolutely enthralled by the show.
In the end, yeah it was expensive, but probably not a whole lot more than dinner (at a decent restaurant) and a movie (not a matinee)- not counting all the extras, of course. And at the end of the day, the kids are still talking about it and woke us up this morning with a sword fight; so it’s a spectacle they’ll likely remember. I might even do it again. Or maybe I’ll be able to talk them all into Spamalot next time.