A Knight To Remember
medieval times dinner and tournament
Three kids between 6 and 11 mean family attractions need to deliver on multiple levels to get the Ashraf Seal of Approval, something the folks at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Toronto took in their stride when they invited us downtown to catch a show time-travel.
We used public transit to reach the venue, easily accessible at Exhibition Place, but on site parking is available at seasonal rates (and debit/credit cards are accepted).
‘No sooner were we in the door
than time wound back to days of yore’
“‘Twas our good fortune to be delivered of the King’s Royalty Package granting a royal audience. With a larger than life personality His Majesty jested with the children, letting them feel the heft of his sword. He welcomed us to his court, insistent we enjoy his hospitality, before enjoining the children lay hand to his blade as he beheld the photographer with a regal stance and steely eye. Thus was our meeting recorded for posterity.
Taking leave of the merry monarch we entered the cavernous Great Hall. Banners and standards swayed gently from the rafters above us and the walls fairly bristled with suits of armour.
There was much to see and do and I was glad we’d arrived well before the show. We visited the stables and the falcon mews, but abstained from the torture museum to spare the little lord and ladies – I’d heard it’s quite graphic.
Guests marking a hastening dotage knelt to receive the accolade of Lord or Lady of the King’s court in the Knighting Ceremony. Wine, ale and other refreshment flowed, with opportunity aplenty to purchase finely crafted weaponry, from foam or wood swords and shields to decorative replicas of medieval swords and daggers, as well as jewellery and costumes. When word came for us to take our seats in the arena we had exchanged our impish six-year-old for a demure young princess in a bejewelled steeple hennin and veil.”
Lady Ashraf’s Diary
Inside the arena the tiered seating is divided into the colours of the six Knights of the Realm who will compete for the King’s honour. Once all the guests are settled the house lights dim and a hush descends. Anticipation joins the mouth-watering smell of rotisserie chicken hanging in the air. Plumes of mist obscure the arena’s sandy floor, winding skywards in the spotlight beams.
The stage is set.
A single riderless Andalusian stallion gallops into the ring. Majestic and inquisitive, he’s the corporeal embodiment of the opening narration that speaks to the gentle spirit and stalwart bond Equus has shared with man through the ages. At Medieval Times, the horse is the beating heart of the show.
‘They laughed and ribbed each other
With many a jaunty word,
Then went to dine together
Where fine food steam’d on the board’
“The Lord Chancellor entered the arena astride an ebony Friesian – all rippling dark muscles and pent up energy – to introduce the competing knights and announce the entrance of the king and his fair daughter.
Pleasantries over, the games began and our personal wench cheerily saw to it that we wanted for nothing, slaking our thirst with a choice of soft drinks she was prompt to replenish. As the spectacle unfolded mere feet in front of us we were increasingly torn between cheering on the dexterity of the knights and finding time to eat the food she brought.
The tomato bisque soup served with garlic bread was hot and tasty, the roasted chicken moist and toothsome. Add on buttered corn-cobs, herb-basted roast potato and the finger-licking satisfaction of eating with our hands (fear not, the soup bowls could be raised to the lips like cups) and we were truly sated by the time coffee and a pastry arrived to round off the meal.
The knights strove to best one another in feats of skill and valour for the honour of Champion. The clash of lances and splintering of shields held even the youngest of our party in thrall, and our victorious knight rewarded her cheers with a flower given to him by the Princess herself.
Interspersed amongst the courtly rivalry the relationship between man and horse was celebrated as an athletic Andalusian stallion executed the passage, the piaffe and the capriole, forms of classical dressage that demand great expertise from both parties. The skill of the royal falconer too was evident as he loosed his mighty bird to swoop and soar inches above our very heads.”
Lady Ashraf’s Diary
The spectacle of jousting, swordsmanship, thrilling hand-to-hand combat, horsemanship and falconry that unfolds as part of a backstory set in Medieval Spain runs to two hours – a detail that escapes you until you return, blinking, to the Great Hall, hoarse from cheering.
The sparks that fly when those heavy titanium swords clash are real, as are all the weapons used in the show, and what I didn’t know as I watched a studded mace obliterate a shield’s bright heraldry early on was that every knight’s shield must be repainted after each tournament.
A cast of seventy-five actors (and over twenty horses) bring the show to life, and can be found mingling with guests and posing for photos, each one a font of information on anything from historical detail and horse breeds to the logistics of training and performance.
It may be formulaic but it’s done well – the high level of training is evident in the smooth performances, the animals are treated with kindness and respect, and the audience know what they’re getting and respond accordingly. Many are annual visitors relishing some good, clean pantomime fun, and where else can you whoop it up in full medieval costume (available for hire), while you eat, drink and make merry right along with the kids? Just remember, the more the audience puts in, the more fun everyone has.
Vegetarian, kosher and halal meals are available. Party packages are at hand for those looking to spice up a social get-together, birthday or reunion. When it comes to carefree escapism Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament holds the crown.