Monday, August 5, 2013

A Voyage Through the Mists of Time. . .

Back to when kings hosted tournaments to measure the strength and skill of Knights of the Realm in front of an audience of noble guests.  Lords and Ladies cheered as the knights battled fiercely to determine who would be Champion.

Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament went way beyond my expectations.  I was granted two complimentary tickets in exchange for an honest review of the show, but as I chose to take my husband on his birthday, I upgraded my tickets with the Celebration Package.  This got the two of us VIP seating in the front row, a photo of us "on the castle balcony," a slice of cake with our castle pastry, a commemorative program, a knight's cheering banner, a behind the scenes DVD (one per group), and of course a personalized announcement by the King or Princess during the show.  (Tom's announcement from the King:  "Happy Birthday to Lord Tom Baker from your Royal wife!")

When you enter the castle gates, for that's truly what it is, a castle. . .
(Silly me was so enthralled with everything, I forgot to snap some pictures in the grand entrance inside.)  Along with the expected keepsake areas selling assorted memory paraphernalia, the staff is all dressed in period costume.

We were crowned with the color of our seating cards, then led to the photo area.  The photo was shot just across from the castle bar.  (No idea what they offered as we were shuttled from place to place to get all our goodies before we went in.)  My dear husband didn't want to dress in costume for the photo--much to my dismay--but that is an option for a nominal fee.  

After that, I had to check in on my announcement for his birthday.  The young woman informed me that it would take place about forty-five minutes into the show.  (To be honest, there was absolutely no time keeping for me once we entered.)  My only issue with this part was that the counter for the announcement was on the other side from where we were to enter the arena, which made me feel rushed when they called our color and number for seating.  (There was no cause for concern. They allow ample time for everyone to be seated, and they guide you to your seats so there's no confusion.)

Commemorative Program
However, the sense of urgency went away when we were seated at the end of the front row in the blue section.  (Celebration VIP seating)  At our place were "pewter" plates and bowls, a napkin that listed the fare for the evening, and a commemorative program (also part of the package).  In the mugs were the cheering banners for our blue knight.
Napkin with "Bill of Fare"

Blue Knight Cheering Banners
When our wench came around, dressed the part, she stood in front of the section and hollered so her voice would carry to the back row.  She gave instructions on how to select your drink--Pepsi or unsweetened tea--and other various information that my hard-of-hearing self couldn't really understand. The bar wench came around regularly.

I'm no gourmet flavor expert, but my homespun tastebuds were in heaven with the food.  The tomato bisque was delicious with or without the slice of garlic bread.  When the roasted chicken half was served, I could swear she called it a "baby dragon."  Fitting, since it took up the entire plate.  The meat on both the chicken and rib was juicy and full of flavor.  The dessert was a sort of apple turnover that I found marvelous.  (We also got a slice of cake, but I'm not big on cake and it was cold, so I didn't really eat it.)

On to the show (because that's really why I went, and why you're reading) . . .

Those who know me, know that I am a horsewoman, so for me this is what it's all about.  Medieval Times is known for the rigorous training wannabe knights must endure before being knighted.  It is also known for the magnificent Pure Spanish Horses it breeds and trains.  They did not disappoint.  (Before we begin, I must tell you that I am not sure how to tell the difference between a Pure Spanish Horse (PRE) and an Andalusian, but MT refers to both.)

The arena filled with mist as a woman talked about the bond between a knight and his horse.  Then a handsome Andalusian pranced into the spotlight through the mist.  He just trotted around a bit before exiting.

Shortly after, the Lord Chancellor's voice boomed through the arena as he entered, turning to speak to the crowd from the back of his black Friesian.  (When he rode into the spotlight, my heart leapt, for a Friesian is a dream horse to me.  To be so close . . . ) He spoke of the kingdom and the tournament the King had prepared for his noble guests.  
The Lord Chancellor 

Then the Knights of the Realm were introduced.
My Knight, the Blue Knight
It was East vs. West, where each knight competed for his people and also worked as a team with his allies.  Each knight has a name and a history, rounding out their character.

Afterward, the King came out and welcomed us to the tournament.  He was followed by the knights, their squires, and the serving wenches.  (I'm not sure what they call the male servers.)  Then the knights presented themselves to the King as representatives of their people.

The King, Lord Chancellor, and a Royal Guard

Knights Presenting to the King

Royal Falconer

A surprise for me was the Royal Falconer.  She came out and did a presentation where her charge, a decent-sized bird of prey, circled the arena.  He flew over our heads, and back to her over and over, while the Lord Chancellor spoke of her purpose to the kingdom.

King's Guard

The King's Guard also put on a display showcasing exquisite drill team maneuvers.  They trotted and cantered through patterns that crossed and changed over with each other.  A delightful demonstration to behold.

Then the games started.  This is what people typically think of when someone mentions Medieval Times.  This is capturing the ring, sword fights, and jousting, among others.

We watched as the knights competed against each other capturing a flag on horseback, then tossing them back and forth on the return.  (Difficult to explain, but definitely a feat.)

Flag Race 
West Awaiting the Flag Race

They did a team effort in a horseback relay race.  I found this one particularly intriguing.  The horsemanship and physical skill needed to compete in this event was astounding.  They galloped toward each other, handing off a baton between them as the passed.

Relay Race
There was also a target-spearing event, where the knight galloped his horse down the center of the arena to thrust a spear into a target hanging in the top right corner of the entry.  (This begs the question: Just how much room do they have beyond that curtain?)  Here I have to brag on our blue knight. He hit the target dead center.

They also did the classic lancing the ring event, as well.  Each knight rode twice, attempting to aim the point of his lance through the tiny ring.

After each event, the knights who completed the task were given three red or white carnations by the princess which they tossed into the crowd in their section.  I loved watching them toss the flowers to little girls waving frantically for their attention.

They took a short break before the joust and weapon fighting, but before they left each knight tied a sash to the tip of his lance. Then, in somewhat of a role reversal, they chose a lady from their cheering section and bestowed his favor on her, pledging to set lance against shield in the joust in her honor.  (Historically, the knight would ask for the lady's favor for luck in the games.)  I was the lucky lady chosen by the blue knight to receive his favor.  I cannot begin to describe the elation this honor gave me.
They took our picture with the favor and offered it in a picture package after the show.  There was an option to add a photo with your knight for a little more money, but we declined.  (Besides, I'd want the horse in the photo, and I doubt that would be possible.)

While the knights prepared for the joust, a wonderful dressage demonstration was put on by a handsome grey Spanish Horse with a rider wearing a deep-blue cloak that draped over the horse's haunches.  For those who don't know, dressage looks like the horse is dancing through the complex movements and high steps as it drifts around the arena.
Dressage Display
When this was over, the knights returned in their jousting and fighting gear.  I didn't notice much difference, but considering what they were doing, I figured they had to be wearing some sort of armor under their tunics.

The event began with the green knight choosing an opponent.  He picked the black and white knight.  They jousted, the lances flying to splintered pieces about the arena floor.  When one knight was unhorsed the fight continued on foot with swords.  Different knights used an assortment of different weapons.  Red and yellow use the battle ax.  One used a mace.  And our own blue knight used a bola. The weapons were swung with such force they occasionally threw sparks.  (I'm not sure if something is added to cause this, or if it's just the type of metal.  You can see it in the video below.)  

I was bewitched by the choreography required to wield such weapons in true fashion.  These knights, while obviously using practiced moves, were putting their weight into the battles.  To watch the bola swing through the air and land with such precision was awe-inspiring.  Each strike and defense required both knights to know exactly where they were and what they were doing.  It was nothing short of amazing.  (You have to imagine this weapon:  a long wooden handle with a chain about the same length at the end, and a heavy metal ball at the end of the chain.)

Sword Fight on Horseback

When they used swords to fight on horseback, they only added to the complexity of the battle.  To wield a sword against another while maneuvering a horse around another horse takes more than a little skill and trust in one's mount.

The music was another aspect that I had never heard about, but one that deserves mentioning.  It was dark and deep, blending with the fog to create a mysterious atmosphere.  Or peppy and boisterous with bright lights to raise the ardor of the audience, encouraging them to cheer for their knight.
There was, of course, a story line that went along with everything.  A herald from the North brought a message to the king, and his arrival was accompanied by fog lit perfectly to appear sinister.  I won't ruin the tale, but I will say that this man ended up in battle with one of the knights of the realm.
Closing Ceremony

All in all, I'd say this was the best dinner show I've ever been to.  My heart was racing the entire time, either from the events and cheering, or from the simple presence of the horses.  I couldn't always hear what was being said, but only because the audience became deafening at times.

My understanding is that the show changes every couple of years, but the Champion Knight changes with each show.  According to Medieval Times, the crowd's involvement--or lack there of--can alter the outcome of the games.  When my son went a few years ago (three, maybe?) for his friend's birthday, he said the show was different and had different characters.

In the video below, the Blue Knight battles the Yellow Knight for the title of Champion of the Realm.  (It's at the end of the fight, and very short.)

Disclaimer:  I was granted two complimentary general admission tickets in return for an honest review of the show.  I bought the Celebration Package as an upgrade to those tickets.  All opinions given in this blog entry are my own, and I was not compensated any further than the GA tickets.

I can't wait to go back!