4510 Highway 192, Kissimmee 34746
(888) 935-6878; (407) 396-1518
Prices: Adults $50.95, children (3 to 12) $34.95. Plus tax and tip. 10% discount for seniors (55+).
Times: Nightly. Show times vary from month to month. Call for current schedule.
Directions: On the south side of 192, between Mile Markers 14 & 15.
Back in time to the year 1093 we go as we cross a drawbridge over a murky moat and enter a “climate-controlled castle,” guided by wenches and squires with a decidedly contemporary look about them. Medieval Times, in Kissimmee, is a cheerfully gaudy evocation of a time most of us know so little about that we’ll never know if they’ve got it right — although I strongly suspect that Ethelred the Unready wouldn’t recognize the joint.
Actually, Medieval Times tells us more about American tourism than it does about eleventh century Europe. The emphasis here is more on showing visitors an old-fashioned good time than on chivalry and historical accuracy. The medieval theme is merely a convenient excuse on which to hang a display of horse-riding skills.
Medieval Times is a bit like a large ride at one of the nearby theme parks. As you enter, you are issued a color-coded cardboard crown and have your picture taken for the inevitable (and optional) souvenir photo of yourself in chivalric garb. The large, banner-bedecked anteroom in which you wait for the show to begin does a brisk trade in tourist items and souvenirs, including some lovely goblets and very authentic looking swords.
A burly bearded knight is your host. His booming voice, with its idiosyncratic mock-formal cadences, will become familiar over the course of the evening as he explains the seating process, exhorts you to be of good cheer, introduces you to the players, narrates the ongoing pomp and pageantry, and chides one and all for not having enough fun.
The dinner show itself takes place in a long, cavernous room in which guests are arrayed on six tiers of seats flanking a 70-yard-long, sand-covered arena. Each row consists of a long bench and counter arrangement so that everyone can eat and have a good view of the show. Each side of the arena has three color-coded sections that correspond to the color of the crown you have been given. Where you sit determines which of the color-coded knights you cheer for during the festivities.
The meal and the show unfold simultaneously. The meal is simple — soup, a small, whole roasted chicken, a pork rib, a roasted potato — but the herbed chicken is roasted to perfection and the ribs melt off the bone. In addition, you get to eat with your fingers: It’s 1093, remember. I can’t explain the psychology, but it helps put you in a suitably barbaric mood to cheer on your knight. (Vegetarians will be accommodated on request.)
The show begins slowly and builds to a climax of clashing battle-axes and broadswords that throw off showers of sparks into the night. Demonstrations of equestrian skills and the royal sport of falconry give way to our six mounted knights, young men who race back and forth on their charging steeds, plucking rings from the air and throwing spears at targets.
Before long the crowd is pounding the tables and cheering lustily for their armor-clad champions. Successful knights are awarded flowers that, in the spirit of chivalry, they share with young women in the crowd who have caught their eye. These guys are good at what they do and you may find yourself wondering if there’s a career in this and, if not, what their day job is.
The show plays out to a specially composed score with stirring classical overtones (it was recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic) that sets just the right martial tone. The main event is the joust in which the knights compete against each other, charging full tilt down the lists, shattering their lances on their opponents’ shields, and taking theatrical falls to the soft earth beneath. The battle continues on foot with mace and sword and at least as much verisimilitude as you get in professional wrestling.
There is actually a plot cleverly woven into the show. It involves betrayal, prophecy, treason, and the love of a feisty princess; it leads to a surprise ending that brings the crowd to its feet.
This ain’t art but it’s a lot of fun. And the folks putting on the show not only know their business but keep getting better at it. I’ve seen three versions of this show and the current one is the best yet. Even if you’ve been to Medieval Times before, a return visit is worth considering.
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