When I was 10 years old, my grandparents packed up my aunt, my three cousins and me and took us to a wondrous place called Medieval Times in Chicago. At that age, my imagination was working overtime to picture what a place called “Medieval Times” could actually be.
When we finally arrived, I don’t recall what I ultimately expected to see, but a castle definitely wasn’t something I had considered. Yet, there it was.
Imagine my surprise as I peeked out the window to see a real-life castle.
That excitement has not wavered in the 20 years since my first experience at Medieval Times. And now, since the 10th location recently opened in Scottsdale, I can go whenever I want.
When arriving at the castle, the first thing that surprised me is the giant wooden door you see after walking over a “desert moat,” as there isn’t any water (or alligators) in it.
After tickets are purchased, there are plenty of spots for photo ops. There are three suits of armor set up or visitors can try their hand at pulling the sword out of the stone. Check out the Hall of Arms, with medieval décor and coats of arms from various families. Or the dungeon, where guests can check out instruments of medieval torture – I shudder at the thought. I wouldn’t have made it 10 minutes back in those days.
Seating assignments are given at the time tickets are purchased, which determines what knight guests will cheer for. The Grand Ceremonial Arena looks down into the jousting area, where six knights will battle to see who is best as Queen Isabella looks on from the royal dais. She leads the knights through a display of equestrian skills and pageantry, featuring the Medieval Times’ Andalusian horses.
I watched each knight come out and present his color and horse. The music (a new soundtrack is prepared for each castle!) alone is enough to make people giddy.
The Tournament of Games begins, with knights competing at the ring toss, javelin throw and flag toss. There’s also hand-to-hand combat with the knights using swords, maces and other weapons to battle. The flight of the royal falcon is a spectacle that had the crowd “ooh-ing and ahh-ing” the majestic bird’s every move. The Royal Falconer must be a real trusting guy.
The part that garners the loudest acclamation is the jousting. If you’ve ever seen A Knight’s Tale (or any medieval-themed show), then you can picture the scene: two knights on horseback stand at either end of the arena.
When the Lord Marshall gives the signal, the trumpeter blows the horn and the knights are off. The lance clashes with the shields, the arena erupts with cheers and clapping. The adrenaline is palpable.
During the revelry, each guest is served a four-course gourmet dinner including garlic bread, soup, chicken, corn, potatoes and dessert. Medieval Times also has one of the longest bars in Arizona (80 feet long) for those who’d like to add a stein of ale to their meal.
The first Medieval Times location opened in 1983 in Majorca, Spain, with the second following closely behind in Benidorm, Spain. The first U.S. location was in Kissimmee, Florida, also in 1983.
Medieval Times is based upon authentic medieval history and is the true story of a noble family with documentation dating back to the 11th century. The theme is a representation of the owners’ lineage; they recreate an 11th-century jousting tournament for guests just as their ancestors would have.
In the 35 years since the first castle opened, over 70 million people have walked through their massive wooden doors. Each show is refreshed every four to six years, but the elements stay the same.
Training to become part of the castle is a feat in itself. Applicants must be able to travel to Dallas, Texas for training from March through June. Knight candidates complete a three-month training program at Chapel Creek Ranch.
During their time at the ranch, knight candidates learn a variety of skills, including horse care, how to ride a horse, weapon training, performance/choreography, social responsibility, nutrition and physical conditioning.
The Andalusian horses they use are specifically bred for Medieval Times. Their bloodlines trace all the way back to the 11th century.
Each horse is born and raised at Chapel Creek and spends about three years there before heading to one of the castles. The horses have round-the-clock care, including Tempur-Pedic mats and fresh running water. There are currently 24 Andalusian horses at the Scottsdale castle. As the stars of the show, these horses are treated like royalty.
Once the tournament is complete, guests are welcome to mingle with the queen and knights as well as the rest of the cast.
There are multiple packages guests can choose from, but general admission is $36 for kids and $46 for adults. For more: medievaltimes.com.