An Epic Post of Medieval Proportions
Written by Bwog Staff
Last weekend, in honor of NJ Transit’s “Free Student Week,” Bwog featured a list of fun things to do in New Jersey. We liked the list so much we decided to send staffers to actually go and visit the places on it. In what is hopefully the first in a bi-weekly series, Paul Barndt recounts his trip to the fantastical and slightly surreal Medieval Times.
Medieval Times, the theme restaurant chain that owns a large castle in Lyndhurst, bills itself as a “Dinner & Tournament” experience. You eat a meat heavy, utensil-free meal while watching men dressed as knights ride horses and beat each other senseless. All MT employees insist on calling you “my lord” or “my lady,” and you are encouraged to refer to them as “serf” or “wench.”
If this sounds lame to you, I’m sorry. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Maybe the next Jerz Adventure will be more to your liking. But if this sounds awesome to you, either ironically or unironically, do not hesitate to find a convenient weekend, pay the hefty $55 ticket price (or about $40 per person if you’re in a group of fifteen or more), and take the half-hour bus ride from the Port Authority out to Lyndhurst.
Your $55 covers the “Dinner” and the “Tournament” portions of the evening, but what Medieval Times fails to mention in their advertising is the “We Will Try To Nickel And Dime The Shit Out Of You” part, and that’s where I come in. I won’t try to recap all the awesome and awesomely cheesy moments of my visit to Medieval Times, but I will try to illustrate some of the small eccentricities that make the experience worthwhile, and how I got some good bang for my buck in a place that is brazenly trying to empty your pockets.
The large stadium, where you watch jousting and eat chicken breasts with your hands, takes up a large part of the Lyndhurst castle, but by no means all of it. Outside the stadium is a series of adjoining rooms that together form one amazingly tacky gift shop. Within minutes of my entering, dozens of preteens were beating each other with flimsy lightsaber-things ($8), and one guy about my age offered a girl one of those pink, conical Maid Marian hats ($18)…she gave him the stink eye in return. At the center of all this is a bar that serves the biggest margaritas I’ve ever seen (and I’m from Texas), and tropical drinks with names like “Maiden Kiss” and “Dragon Slayer.”
Medieval Times tries to trap you in this gift shop wasteland for over an hour—their tickets ask you to show up at 5:30 for the 7:00 show, knowing that they won’t open the doors to the stadium until 6:45. One course of action would be to simply show up at 6:45 and skip all the preliminaries, but where’s the fun in that?
One advantage of showing up early, at least from my experience, is that you get to cheer for a better knight—there are six knights in the Medieval Times tournament, and so the stadium’s seating is divided into six cheering sections. The first people who showed up (including myself) were rooting for the eventual champion. Other early arrivals got to root for the saucy, dastardly Green Knight. You don’t want to cheer for a first round loser, would you?
But even if showing up early ensures a better time at the show, there’s still the matter of the hour outside the stadium. My saving grace here was the bar. I ordered a gin and tonic. It cost $10, but it came in a large holographic soda cup that was filled to the brim, so it was more like four (or five) gin and tonics. One of my friends was so tickled by the fact that this medieval restaurant served tropical beverages that he ordered a piña colada…and regretted his decision after about three sips. I, on the other hand, was set for the evening, and although I’m not a big “Let’s get drunk and do ____” person, being slightly unaware of one’s surroundings is well suited for the slightly surreal Medieval Times.
If you are drinking, get one of these mammoth mixed drinks beforehand, because the only drink (and I mean the only drink besides water) included with your meal is Pepsi. I was expecting at least one flagon of mead, but the wenches let me down, and this was the one time at Medieval Times when I did feel ripped off. Good thing I had my 24 oz. G&T. Expect to pay professional sports game prices for Miller Lite and the like, or even heftier prices for the shots of Patrón that a jaunty serf was offering near the end of the show (The best explanation I can offer for the unexpected appearance of top-shelf tequila is that Medieval Times got its start on the Spanish island of Majorca, but, like I said, it’s all a little surreal.)
In any event, with drink in hand, the one worthwhile stop before the tournament is the “dungeon,” a mini-museum of medieval torture instruments of dubious authenticity. It is a macabre, incongruous corner of Medieval Times that merits the $2 entry fee (remember what I said about the nickel-and-diming?). The description of the “Judas Cradle,” a metal pyramid with a pointy top onto which people are lowered, informs us that this device is still often used in many third world countries. The picture next to the “Breast Ripper” is an Edward Gorey-ish tableau that shows a terrified, buxom damsel clawing her prison walls as a hooded man approaches, spiky clamp in hand.
The second stop should be a table. Plop down with your friends and people watch. At one point, a few special boys and girls get their pictures taken with King Alfonso the Magnificent and become “knights of the realm.” They aren’t using a camera, a voice on the loudspeaker explains, but a magical, phoenix-powered device called “Merlin’s Box.” Behind me, one very frustrated kid sighs, “God, they only knight you if it’s your birthday or something. It’s so gay.” Then he hits his friend with his light-up sword. Ah, to be eight again.
I haven’t talked much about the Medieval Times Dinner or the Tournament, but they are about what you’d expect, for better or for worse. If you’re in the “better” camp as I am, then do yourself a favor and go already. Just avoid the evils of the gift shops, be a cost-effective drinker, and enjoy the show, by which I mean both the people who dress themselves in velvet robes and peddle this wonderfully eccentric medieval fantasy, and the people who come to see it.
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