Medieval Times Dinner Theatre
Lyndhurst, New Jersey
[This visit was conducted in NJ, but the experience is very similar at other locations in the Medieval Times franchise.]
Watch knights joust to the death! Eat chicken with your bare hands! ...two enticements at the core of the successful Medieval Times Dinner Theater value proposition.
Originating in Spain, the concept came to America in 1983. We reviewed the Medieval Times castle in Kissimmee, FL, in the original Roadside America. There are now seven kingdoms, including one we recently visited near Jersey's Meadowlands Sports Complex, in Lyndhurst.
You probably know the routine, even if you haven't seen The Cable Guy. Color-coded paper crowns adorn the heads of visitors, who cheer on their favorite hued knights while eating without utensils. Set in a sort of 11th century Spanish Camelot, the mealtime pageantry and Arthurian shtick has changed little. The magic has faded a bit, partly due to MT's own stature as a tourism fixture, and the subsequent rise of hundreds of dinner theater and "eatertainment" options.
The merchandising gauntlet is as fearsome as ever. Ticket-holders are issued crowns at the door, then photographed with a short costumed, bearded man -- the King? The crowd accumulates in a set of large castle rooms, conveniently equipped with several bars, souvenir stands, Trace-Your-Heritage concessions, and a Torture Museum.
The museum, apparently mirrored at the other kingdoms, provide about three minutes of entertainment. The displays are half-baked torture tableaus featuring Halloween-grade decorative skeletons and lots of thick spray-on cobwebs. No attempt at accuracy or realism is made in the three small rooms that visitors traverse in single-file. Mounted on the walls are torture instruments like the "Breast Pincers," and "The Pear." Most of the featured devices were used in some lurid way on victims' private parts. All too soon, the exit appears, and your only recourse is to start drinking heavily.
Once in the arena, the crowd settles in for two hours of horsemanship and chivalrous battle. Merlin no longer warms up the audience with his feeble smaller-than-life magic tricks. Instead, a "Druid" spiritually cleanses the fog-filled arena of evil spirits. Celtic is in, and a Druid has less pressure to perform than the Greatest Magician of All Time.
Meals courses appear rhythmically, from the "stale bread" to the laughable tiny apple pastry that calls itself a dessert. Interspersed are visits by wenches and serfs selling souvenir booklets, illuminated flowers, pennants, and your personal king snapshot mounted in an elaborate promo booklet. An impulse purchase at this point is unwise -- minutes later, they're taking a photo of your group and trying to sell it to you for another 5 bucks.
The show steadily builds -- from stately horses trotting backwards to the final clash of steel and valor in the Tournament Royale. Repeatedly, the tension is broken when the Master of Ceremonies announces birthdays of crowd-members -- scores of them. "The king conveys his blessings on the birthday of Julia King, age seven, Mark Sarto, age ten, Angelo Cucchiara, age twelve!"
The color-coded cheering sections howl for blood as knights lance each other and tumble to the ground, then jump up to snatch an ax or bludgeon. Our Yellow Knight succumbs early, but we quickly shift our allegiance to the neighboring Black-and-White Knight. Shouts of "Bring out the Pear!" mix with the happy din of birthday-drunk little lords and ladies...
As King Don Raimundo II says at the close of festivities, "Got bless Ameh-reeca!"
Medieval Times Kingdoms
- Buena Park, CA
- Kissimmee, FL
- Schaumburg, IL
- Lyndhurst, NJ
- Myrtle Beach, SC
- Dallas, TX
- Toronto, Ontario