Don Eduardo del Rey, draped in yellow and black armor, galloped into the stadium. His smile was snide but sincere as he rode his steed in parade with a confidence becoming of such an accomplished knight. We cheered for him, waving our yellow flags with revelry, as others booed. We swooned as he handed out roses to the girls in the crowd, secretly hoping he would bestow one of us. We clapped in elation when he crowned Heather, our guest of honor, Queen of the Tournament. We scrambled to our feet whooping ovations when our knight took to battle, as he eloquently defeated all of his opponents, as he was appointed King’s Champion of Schaumburg Castle.
As a child everything seems magical and anything possible. Unicorns roam the forests. Faeries can exchange teeth for quarters. A jolly bearded man delivers presents down a nonexistent chimney.
At the mall, I’d take a pennies from my dad, close my eyes tight, and throw them into the courtyard fountain, wishing as loudly as possible in my little head “I want to be a princess!” As if a fairy godmother could actually spring up and turn my nightgown into a ball gown, my stuffed raccoon into a horse.
When I met Tigger at Disneyworld I was mesmerized and wouldn’t stop hugging him and making my parents take our picture.
I had collected a box full of loose nuts and bolts and drew notebooks full of plans to invent the first ever flying machine belt.
The lines between real and make believe were blurred.
But then we grow up. And we realize that there is no tooth fairy, there is no Santa Claus. We realize that that Tigger is just some out-of-work actor in a costume. We realize that no one is going to appear out of nowhere and turn roller skates into glass slippers. You realize that real princesses aren’t like they show in the movies anyways.
Everything gets a little more serious. Everything becomes less blurry. We become “too old for that.”
But then we grow up even more. And some of that blur returns.
Instead of throwing coins in a fountain we plunk them down for IPAs, wishing to forget everything else in the world. A rum and coke makes you feel sexier, more confident, lose your inhibitions. A vodka tonic momentarily makes the world magical again.
This is why going to Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament as an adult is a mind-blowing experience.
Medieval Times, for those who don’t know, is a dinner and jousting show. Set in Spanish-inspired castles in nine North American cities, guests are treated to a three-course feast of tomato soup, ribs, chicken, potato, and pastry that must be eaten, in true old-world style, with your bare hands. All the while you’re watching a stage show of falconry, horsemanship, and knights in battle: jousting on stallions, fighting with swords and maces and bolas.
As you enter the castle your party is given crowns of a certain color designating which section you are to be seated in and, in turn, which knight you are to cheer for. We were crowned in yellow. We were to root for the yellow knight, Don Eduardo del Rey.
It’s a kids show, really. One designed to milk parents for all the money they’re worth. Got $30? Get your photo in costume superimposed with a horse. Got $20? Get knighted before the show. Upgrade your flag. Purchase a commemorative tiara. Pick up a totally authentic light up sword.
I’d been to Medieval Times twice before this night. Once was as a child and, while I don’t remember anything from that experience, I am sure I was enthralled by both the show and the gift shop. And the last time, as a teenager, in the summer before I left for college, when it was kind of fun, but kind of lame (I could post the one photo I have from that day here, but it’s a photo of two girls I haven’t talked to in a long time, both of whom my high school boyfriend dated after me…and so it’s maybe kind of awkward.)
When my friend Heather said she wanted to celebrate her 32nd birthday at Medieval Times, I reluctantly agreed to go. She actually had wanted to go on New Years Eve, but I said no (I’m single, I’m 33, I want to spend my holidays in places where I could possibly make out with a cute guy and no the idea of going home with a “knight” didn’t sound appealing). But for her birthday, sure, why not. It was her first time, she’d never had that childhood experience, it was how she wanted to celebrate her day.
Things are different, in your thirties, at Medieval Times. Next to the souvenir stands and the photo backdrops and knighting ceremonies swarmed with wide-eyed children is a new chamber of the castle to explore: the fully stocked bar. There you can pay $7 for a cocktail of choice in a plastic cup or upgrade to one of their many glasses (goblets in varying colors, light up wine glasses, etched beer steins) for prices varying from $16 to high twenties (with $7 refills). While I know I really didn’t need it, I got my strawberry-infused concoction in a pink glass goblet. After all, you can’t feel like a member of a royal court without appropriate glassware. I guess those upsells work on wide-eyed adults too
Before the tournament was set to begin, my group was shown to our premium front-row seats (Heather’s friend worked with a guy who moonlighted as a serving wench — knowing people in high places gets you extra special service). We barbarically gnawed at our fare with our fingers while watching the yellow knight, our yellow night, take to the stadium. We cheered with voracity as he jumped from his horse to duel with his enemies. We refilled our goblets and toasted his victories.
For two hours we watched the tournament with growing enchantment.
The world was allowed to seem magical again. Unicorns existed. Faeries were real. A castle in suburban Illinois was truly medieval Spain. Being Queen of the Tournament meant everything. Don Eduardo del Rey, our yellow knight, was a hero.
p.s. Happy birthday Heather!