REVIEW: (Medieval) Times They Are A-Changin'

It's been a while since we visited the castle... you know the one - the one standing alongside its  Medieval Village in Kissimmee? It's an icon... a well-known tribute to an era seemingly frozen in time within its mighty walls; and recently, it quietly became a symbolic monument to societal change. Quietly - until you play witness to the show inside!

The flagship Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament opened in 1983. The timeless, beloved tale of battles and romance in the quest for the princess and kingdom unfolded under the watchful eyes of the powerful king for 34 years. This year, that has all changed as Queen Doña Maria Isabella has officially taken the throne following the "death" of the king.

While it seems to be an incredibly relevant time for such a change in regime, the political and social climate whirling around #MeToo, and rejuvenated analyses of gender equality aren't responsible for some frenzied, obligatory rewrite of the Medieval Times performance. These changes have been in the works for a couple of years as a result of guest feedback and certainly just an acknowledgment of the need for something new.

Those of us who found a love for the Medieval Times experience years ago have no reason to worry. All of the elements that lured us originally do still remain. Plan for epic battles of spark-throwing action, graceful displays from noble steeds, thrilling games of skill, the flight of the falcon, and of course - a gluttonous feast fit for royalty.

So what's new - and what's different? The princess used to be the centerpiece of the battle - in true medieval fashion - as the knights battled for her hand. Now, the queen has gained the right to lead the games in the search for the most notable knight in the land - rather than serving as their trophy. The battle is no longer centered around winning her - as the Queen is a worthy ruler with no need for a male counterpart to pave her path. She has even gained the apparent privilege of entering the show on her own Andalusian stallion. The new story is enhanced by new hand-made costumes and custom-designed suits of armor for all performers (including horses), new fight scenes, and new music accentuated by an expertly-arranged, elaborate sound and light production.

There is absolutely no questioning the quality of a Medieval Times performance. The addition of more actors and animal performers has only increased the impressive nature of the production, and I have always been speechlessly dazzled by the skilled choreography necessary to successfully connect so many moving parts. The delivery of the show and the food service are seamless and remarkable for the number of guests and employees involved, and the atmosphere is always one that engulfs you with contagious excitement. These are the unfailingly great qualities of the Medieval Times experience.

However, I do have to admit to a couple of aspects that didn't quite leave me as giddy. For starters (to no fault of the venue) - Medieval Times always seems to have the most active audience in all the land. Due to the distractions of constant traffic amongst the guest seating areas, I actually began to pay enough attention to say that some people left the room a half dozen times. While it is certainly your business if you wish to miss a large portion of a show you paid to see, many of the seats in the venue require you to walk down a long row in front of other guests to exit (squeezing past servers on your way). I always find it to be exasperating to enjoy the show when the traffic in front of me rivals that of I-4. Just a friendly request to future guests... be courteous when it comes to your neighbors and get all of your needs tended to prior to show time!

I was also a bit put off by the very blatant, semi-awkward, mood-quashing insertion of political angling during the climactic point of the final battle. While I won't reveal the twist (no spoilers here), it just fell flat with me. I may be in the minority - and as a woman I'm probably supposed to feel as victoriously enabled as many of my fellow femme guests appeared to at this performance - but I just couldn't really embrace it. While I'm not living in the dark ages personally, I kind of like to when I attend a show at Medieval Times. I don't usually eat with my fingers either, but I do it here! I just feel that the testosterone-laced, no-rules barbarism has a place here. I admire the Queen's kind but firm rule, and I love her place in Kissimmee's "kingdom", but I do wish that the few plot points that push political-correctness were reconsidered. It's just not necessary, and it puts a forced point right into the thick of a strong story.

The Kissimmee castle was the first of nine Medieval Times castles to open across the U.S. and Canada, and the fifth to reveal the new Queen. The shift of command is due to roll out at the following four locations later this year.