It’s one of those places that you have to experience when going on a Florida vacation: Medieval Times, the classic dinner show that has you eating with your hands and cheering for knights as they swordfight and joust on horseback. As a kid coming down for vacation to Kissimmee, this was the ultimate place to eat. Now that I have my own family, I had to visit again and see if it was just as fun as I’d remembered.
We pulled into the parking lot, driving slowly past the front of the towering castle that I’d remembered from my youth. Spiked concrete turrets, flags flapping in the breeze on the rooftop, colorful coats of arms painted on the exterior walls: it was all there.
“Dad,” Tyler yelled from the backstreet. “It has a moat!”
So, out of the van piled Lords Tyler and Drew, a toddling Lady Ava, my queen, Ashley, and me. I’d like to think of myself as king, but the bad dad jokes crown me court jester in this bunch.
Since we arrived a little early, we had time to explore the Medieval Life exhibit within the Medieval Village, a recreated period town center next to the castle. Inside the buildings were various, authentic antiques and artifacts from centuries ago. There was a re-created kitchen filled with pots and pans and other assorted cookery, a basketweaver shop filled with all sorts of woven baskets, and a carpenter workshop to name a few. One room was devoted exclusively to torture devices and contained metal cages, iron shackles, and other wild torture techniques. The boys really enjoyed the blacksmith area, as there were several sets of chain mail on display. But they still had something on their minds.
“Is it time to go see the knights?” Drew impatiently asked. I checked my watch.
“It’s time, buddy.”
We entered the castle through the massive doors in the front. The hallway was lined with suits of armor and statues seemingly standing guard over the castle. Inside, the staff greeted us and let us know that we would be cheering on the red knight. We all got paper crowns to wear emblazoned in red. I put my crown on immediately—why should the kids have all the fun?
As we waited in another chamber, the king appeared and performed a knighting ceremony with one of the guests, complete with a sword tap on each shoulder. Soon, a trumpeter belted out a fanfare and we were whisked away to the main arena.
“Now remember,” I explained to the kids. “It’s important that we cheer on our knight so he does well, okay?” Tyler gave me a thumbs up, Drew flashed his trademark toothy grin, and Ava clapped her chubby little hands. They were ready.
Walking into the arena, seeing the dirt-covered floor where knights would do battle and horses would gallop at top speeds, and the rows and rows of stadium seating lining the walls, brought it all back to me. I was that kid on vacation again.
The show was much more epic than I’d remembered. As the lights dimmed and smoke drifted across the ground, half a dozen knights appeared on horseback and welcomed us as the king and princess watched from their own grandstand. As the show got underway, the food started to arrive.
For dinner, we had roasted chicken, potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, tomato bisque soup, garlic bread, and a pastry for dessert. Without any utensils, the soup was challenging—we basically had to drink it, which Tyler and Drew absolutely relished to the very last slurp. The huge piece of chicken had the drumstick on it so I could wave it around like a sword while cheering our knight on. There was also a full bar on site, so I decided a hearty ale would be appropriate for these festive proceedings.
Between bites of food, we watched a falconer send his trained falcon to soar through the arena, knights fighting with swords, and horses prance around on parade. I looked over while the knights fought, their blades sending sparks in all directions, and caught Ava dipping her fingers in the soup and licking them. She really got into the spirit of the evening and celebrated the “no utensils” thing.
Our favorite part of the show was the joust. I actually jumped back when the riders hit each other with their lances—the wood exploded in a shower of splinters. The crowd roared each time the knights rode by on their horses. As the red knight trotted in front of us with his lance held high in the air, I raised my mug to him and cheered while the boys waved their red banners in the air. I looked over to my wife and motioned toward the kids.
“They’re going to expect all meals to be this exciting from now on, aren’t they?” I asked her. She grinned.
By the time the tournament ended, the boys were grinning ear to ear and Ava had her arms up in excitement. With a last curtain call, the knights came out and took a bow to a standing ovation.
“Did you guys like that?” I asked as the lights came on.
“Yes!” Tyler exclaimed.
“Can we come back tomorrow?” Drew asked.
“Horsie!” added Ava.
As we drove back to our hotel, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the kids all slumped over in their car seats, snoozing away after an eventful evening. The paper crowns were still on their heads, just slightly askew. There’s something truly special about taking your kids on a vacation where they get to experience what you did as a kid. It’s something they’ll always remember—a knight they won’t forget.