Once through the gates of the castle, families are whisked into a holding area, presented with colored tickets which assign them to a specific Knight (one of six) and given a paper crown. From there, it's into a small room to meet with the Princess and her Squires - though beware: no photos are allowed in said room, something I was scolded about alerted to as a Squire reached in front of my phone and stated, "My Lord, no personal photographs are allowed in here," this so you can be presented with the option to buy a professional photo later. From there, it's onto the Great Hall for the pre-show action. On this particular evening, we ran into some friends and neighbors from Little Lake County as The Rock Daughters™ visited with the kingdom's Royal Falconer, and witnessed a welcoming ceremony featuring Lord Chancellor and the King himself, Don Carlos!
In the arena, we were escorted to our seats in the section of The Red Knight - greeted by our server, and given a chance to soak up the scenery. What was fascinating to me was the show itself - something I hadn't really given much thought to in the past, despite hearing about it for decades. Dinner theater mixed with Sports Entertainment (pre-determined Tournament outcome) with a lot of the same appeal of Renaissance Faire - the cross-section of people in the crowd was entertaining on its own, from first-timers like us, to hardcore enthusiasts and fans of specific Knights (the Green Knight had quite a posse of supporters).
The girls were immediately sucked into the fantasy, shouting at the performers down on the sand and rooting (sometimes incorrectly) for various opponents to win their battles. Through various displays of horsemanship and weaponry, there's a narrative that involves a mysterious visitor from the North and his desire to bring "a gift" to the King - all part of a villainous ruse, of course. There's a display of falconry, jousting, comedic banter with the Chancellor, and it all happens while being set to a soundtrack both orchestral and "rock," with concert lighting and fog adding to the mystique. As the Knights eventually clashed on foot, striking at each other with swords and axes that sparked as steel and steel came together, the little ones were excited for what they thought were "fireworks shooting from their swords!"
The "Bill of Fare" (dinner) is a standard, across-the-board affair with tomato bisque soup, garlic bread, herb-roasted potato, sweet corn on the cob, oven roasted chicken and an apple turnover (Pastry of the Castle). Two rounds of soft-drinks were included, as was water and coffee. Our girls wanted milk, which was not available, so water it was for them. For those who don't enjoy meats, a vegetarian option is available. We unanimously agreed that the chicken was excellent, though none of us had the soup (felt bad to waste it, but we're just not into it) and I felt that the potato was over-spiced and a tad salty, yet still tasty.
In the end, it was our Knight who would ultimately be victorious, and much to our surprise (and I need to note that it had nothing to do with my being "The Rock Father"), The Red Knight entered the crowd with sash in-hand, meeting Princess Catalina to crown "The Queen of Love & Beauty" for the night... our oldest Rock Daughter, Adalyn. This is an end-of-show ritual that happens each night, with the winning Knight crowning a new Queen of his choosing. Out of all the kids it could've been, Addie received the crown, and eventually a commemorative photo.
The Bottom Line: With nine locations in North America, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament is highly recommended for families looking for something out-of-the-ordinary, yet close to home. While it's possible that some members of the audience might be sensitive to certain elements of the show (lights, sounds, scents), our daughters are 3½ and 6½ and loved every single minute of it. They've been asking to go back ever since, so a return trip to Medieval Times is something we will certainly embarking on at some point in the months ahead.
Cost: Standard tickets for the Schaumburg/Chicago Castle as of this writing are $61.95 (+tax & processing fee) for adults, and $36.95 (+tax & processing fee) for children under 12. Gratuity for your servers is not included, so you should remember to bring extra to tip those folks. Similar to other live events (think WWE or Disney on Ice), there's other things to spend money on - from photos with the Princess (around $25) to drinks served in "souvenir cups" ($6-10 on average) plus a host of other toys and trinkets that could add-up fairly quickly. While our tickets were comp'd, we still spent around $100 on extras, which included alcoholic drinks for the grownups and battle flags for girls. There is a "Royalty Upgrade" package available (VIP Seating, DVD, Banner, Program) for an additional fee, along with "Celebration" and "King's Royalty" packages for special occasions.
Now through January 31, 2016, discount tickets are available for just $36.95 ($25 off) for adults, $29.95 ($7 off) for kids. Click here for details.