Medieval Times (Dallas, Texas)

Maybe youíve seen the ads for Medieval Times.   Itís a dinner-and-show setup that simulates the Medieval era (ca. 500 AD - 1500 AD)   —   dinner is food from that era, and the show involves prancing horses, a demonstration of falconry, and simulated sword fighting (and mace fighting, axe fighting, etc.).

In December 2002, I went to the Medieval Times in Dallas, Texas. If you go, hereís what to expect:

There was a big crowd that night (it was a Saturday). The first thing that happens when you go inside is that they take money from you ... about $50 per person. To me, thatís a chunk of money. They donít give ANY prices on their website (nor in any of their newspaper ads), so I experienced somewhat of a sticker shock.

Next, they throw a robe around your shoulders, stand you next to a costumed figure, and the flash from a polaroid hits you in the eyes. They immediately take the robe from you and push you toward the next phase (they have lots of people to shoot), which is ....

The Big Lobby. In this area (itís about a half an acre), somebody is standing with a microphone making announcements, and the sound system (and the acoustics) are so bad that you canít understand one word that heís saying. You hope that he isnít giving instructions for the fire exits.

The Big Lobby features four or five kiosks where you can buy souvenirs and even authentic medieval weapons (swords, poleaxes, maces). And thereís a bar ... where the drinks cost $12.95. No kidding.

The entrance to the "torture chamber" is off to one side, but if you want to go there, you have to pay extra.

After youíve waited around for some twenty minutes, the announcer tells you that itís time to go into the actual jousting/tournament arena. You are herded in according to color   —   the color that youíre given when you first fork over your money. Four colors, four areas of the arena. We sat with the "red group."

The seating was true arena style. They use those awful narrow movie-theater-type seats where you canít figure out who has rights to the armrest: you, or the fat guy in the next chair. Good thing Iím not claustrophobic. In front of you, hooked to the back of the seat in front of you, is a long board that will eventually serve as your dinner table. Plates are sitting there, empty, reminding you of how you are getting hungrier and hungrier by the minute.

Again you wait, just sitting there, for more than thirty minutes. You are facing an arena where absolutely NOTHING is happening (hell, they could put in a stand-up comedian. "I just flew in from Atlanta, and BOY ARE MY ARMS TIRED!!!").

And then, finally, the show starts.

Itís a kind of a story, and itís much too intricate and complicated for the venue in which it plays (and much too complicated for me to tell you now); it involves a king, and knights who wear different colors (which correspond to the colors that you are assigned when you first come in), and a prince who has died mysteriously. The announcer asks, "Is everybody ready for the show to start?"   —   followed by the crowd yelling "Yes"   —   after which the announcer complains that it doesnít sound like we really mean it, so heíll ask again. Groan! I outgrew this kind of stuff in junior high school.

And itís the same routine when dinner is about to be served. "Is anybody hungry out there?!?!?" etc.

The show itself is good, although (like I said) the "plot" is tedious. Horses do tricks; "knights" go charging toward small hanging rings, which they try to skewer with their lances; they ride toward targets which they try to hit with a thrown spear; there is simulated jousting, with trick lances that splinter (very flashy stuff); and the audience members cheer for their own knight (the red knight, or the yellow knight, according to which section youíre seated in). Fog machines go on occasionally, and thereís a wizard who has a voice deeper than James Earl Jones?

Dinner is eventually served, without any forks or spoons. Theyíll tell you (if you ask) that this is the authentic Medieval style of eating. The food was excellent: a potato pancake kind of thing, and a half a chicken that melts in your mouth, and a delicious barley soup (served in an iron bowl with a little handle so that you can pick it up like a mug). And I didn't mind eating with my hands; Iím somewhat of a slob anyway. I couldnít help wondering what would have happened if I had secretly brought a fork to eat with. Would they have thrown me out?

The Medieval mood is spoiled by period-costumed girls who occasionally show up, walking among the spectators with cheesy stuff that they're selling, such as fake roses that have some kind of tiny battery that makes them light up (I'm pretty sure they did NOT have these during the Middle Ages). Or the "extra-special" souvenir brochure (it's a couple of notches better than the free one that you're given when you first come in). And they bring you the polaroid that they took of you when you first walked in; theyíll sell it to you for $12 (mine made me look VERY fat).

Well, after youíve been sitting in the same place for over two hours, it's all over ... and they wonít let you go to the bathroom! Iím not kidding. The doors open directly to the outside (and you donít exit into the parking lot; you have to hike all the way around the building to get to your car). I had a bladder that was painfully full, but they told me that they can't let us back into the main lobby because there are crowds of people waiting to come in and be seated for the second show.

In other words, THEIR convenience is that much more important than my comfort.

And that, my friends, is why I am never, EVER going back.

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