In Dante’s 14th century epic Inferno, the protagonist takes a spiraling journey through the nine concentric rings of Hell. The different layers represent limbo, lust, gluttony, and greed, followed by anger, heresy, violence, fraud and finally, treachery.
It’s darker than any Jodi Piccoult book I’ve read.
I always theorized that Dante was unable to identify a tenth and final layer of brimstone. I mean, who ends on the number nine? Perhaps he failed to find it or maybe he wanted to leave it to our imaginations. Either way, I wondered what this definitive stratum of suffering could be.
And then, just a few weeks ago, it swallowed me. I suddenly found myself deep within its grasp, unknowingly sucked into the most wretched and unforgiving corner of Hell. The one I never knew but always feared to be real.
The Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament.
On the proverbial fun scale, a trip to Medieval Times falls somewhere between tax season and a miscarriage. It’s billed as a “step back into time”, featuring “epic battles”, “royal feasts”, and “romance”. None of these claims are true. Though it did conjure memories of my first sexual experience: poorly coordinated, somewhat drawn out, and it smelled kind of weird. The only thing missing was a poorly timed phone call from my uncle. Though, as I sat in the cramped rafters of Team Blue, I wouldn’t have minded the conversation.
For those of you peons that have yet to visit any of the nine Medieval Times locations in North America (perhaps these are the “rings” Dante was referring to) in person, allow me to quickly summarize the experience: you pay 1/8 of your monthly rent to go to a fake castle, sit on unforgiving bench bleachers, and watch a VERY suspicious set of equestrian actors perform a questionable stage play.
The narrative is loose at the best of times and stalled at its worst. At one point, I literally sat watching a poorly trained Peregrine falcon refuse to fly back to his costumed trainer for 70 straight seconds. It was kind of charming, actually. But that’s where the fun ended. I remember an elimination-based tournament for the King’s throne or his crown or maybe this castle we’re sitting in? I don’t know. It seemed important given all the jousting. And there was a love triangle, too. Kind of rapey, though. Not exactly 50 First Dates, is all I’m saying.
There were also horses, if you’re into that kind of thing. You perv. The highlight of my show occurred approximately 30 seconds into the performance, when the evening’s first majestic steed trotted elegantly out to the center of the arena and just took a huge dump. Upper-decker, for sure. Some audience members saw this as a funny and unscripted occurrence, but I recognized it for what it really was: a chilling and very accurate omen for what was in-store over the next 90-110 minutes.
Did I mention it’s almost two hours long?
The feast is minimal. If your eyes are bigger than your stomach, you better bring glasses, because the four courses zoom by in an unsavory and gassy woosh. Don’t expect any gooseberry reductions or seared beetroot to land on your plate. Instead, you’ll be dining on traditional fifth century staples, like microwaved garlic bread and a defrosted danish. And while the somewhat lumpy tomato soup warms your palette during course one, the single BBQ rib you receive as a final entrée will spell a quick end to the merriment. You’ll finish with an uneasy stomach and sticky hands (did I mentioned they don’t give you cutlery?) wondering what happened and how to avoid it next time.
Everyone who attends is assigned to one of the six fruity knights competing for whatever we decided the prize was earlier. At first, ruthlessly mocking opposing players and drunken spectators on other “teams” was distracting and mildly entertaining. But the novelty was lost about as quickly as the chicken.
Be warned folks: this is not the big leagues, even if they treat it that way. Apparently the knights – and I use that term very, very lightly – must complete pre-performance training for 6 months in Florida, where they learn to joust, ride and presumably blow one another. In other words, these are classically trained actors, which may explain their justification for charging visitors $64.00 (kids are 30% off) just to dine, and an additional $9-$25 per beer, depending on your desired size (SPOILER ALERT: you want the big one). That’s to say nothing of the gaudy gift shops and paper-framed photo ops. Have your Styrofoam sword at the ready and your wallet unsheathed – this bitch is a certified gold digger.
Listen, I understand the allure. I get that this is a place made for kids, where little boys and little girls get to live out their medieval fairy fantasies. I mean, that’s presuming they still teach kids about the Middle Ages in school. They don’t even teach cursive writing anymore, so maybe we can do away with the fifth century Rapunzel shit next. But ANYWAY, I can see why kids would enjoy this and why parents would take them there. A plane trip to Orlando is awfully expensive, and this is all over in two hours.
But it sticks with you for so much longer that that.
Is Medieval Times for you? Well, that’s a tough question. Not really. The answer is no. Maybe if you have kids or if you’re one of those weirdos who’s overly into Game of Thrones and draws character maps and shit – maybe, just maybe, you’ll enjoy this faux Spanish hark back to simpler, more bloodthirsty times. When chicken drums were luxurious. And very dry. When darkness was embraced and history was drenched in murder. Why yes, this could be right up your alley. But just make sure to work your way through the first nine layers of fire and brimstone before you put on that paper crown.
Trust me, you’ll need the warm up.