Knight Club: A History of Medieval Times Dinner Theater

Anthony J, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Anthony J, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In the 1960s, on the small island of Mallorca, Spain, Jose Montaner had a thriving barbeque business. So did someone else. Montaner and his rival each vied for customers, locals and visitors from the island’s tourist trade.

One day, Montaner overheard some English tourists talking about medieval fairs, and an idea occurred to him: What if he could lure more barbeque patrons by seating them in front of an indoor dinner theater with dueling knights, serving wenches, and horses?

The smell of manure may not have earned him any Michelin stars, but Montaner was on to something. By the 1980s, he and a group of investors had taken his notion and expanded it into the U.S. under the Medieval Times banner, a sprawling bit of performance art that marries the spectacle of professional wrestling with a four-course meal. While it’s never been heavily franchised—there are only nine locations in North America—the marriage of simulated chivalry and free Pepsi refills has proven to be a surprisingly effective form of entertainment.

Kristen Menecola, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Part of what motivated Montaner’s pursuit of what would become Medieval Times was his interest in Spanish history. He was also influenced by the 1961 movie El Cid, a drama starring Charlton Heston that featured many of the tropes meant to transport his visitors to 11th-century Spain: sword duels, castles, and galloping horses.

Montaner put on a show in Spain for years before an investment panel was gathered to bring the idea to the States. Scouts visited Orlando, Florida in 1980 and came across a prime spot of real estate in Kissimmee, just 15 minutes from Walt Disney World. By 1983, the first Medieval Times on American soil was open for business.

Then as now, the concept of “dinner theater” was not held in the highest of regard. The first stage production that served meals opened in 1953 in Richmond, Virginia, and initially kept their meals separate from their plays until audiences who drove distances to get there complained about getting hungry during the shows. After experiencing a surge of popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, the idea of combining a live performance with a plated meal started to collapse. The aging actors who could provide publicity for such shows started gravitating toward television spots and commercials, where they might earn as much for one day of shooting as they did doing several weeks of stage-and-steak work.

While Montaner briefly flirted with the idea of having Heston appear at the opening of his Florida location (ultimately, the actor proved too expensive to hire), Medieval Times wasn’t dependent on marquee names. The appeal came from the idea of seeing what amounted to a live stunt show, with armored knights hoisting broad swords and ramming into one another in jousts. Their stage would be a massive sand floor; attendees could enjoy Cornish hen and cheer for one of six knights depending on which section they were seated in. In keeping with their (loose) interpretation of medieval practices, no utensils would be allowed.

Whatever stigma had been attached to dinner theater for veteran actors didn’t apply to patrons. The Kissimmee location of Medieval Times saw its attendance rise steadily, from 183,000 in 1984 to 600,000 by 1993. The investment firm opened a second location in Buena Park, California in 1986, and a third in Lyndhurst, New Jersey in 1990. The last castle in their expansion opened in Atlanta in 2006.

Initially, fight choreographers at each location were left to develop their own house style, with knights dueling using titanium swords that had been dulled and edged to create a spark. In 2000, management decreed that the moves become uniform in the event knights had to substitute for one another due to illness or, more rarely, injury. (Knighthood is largely safe, though the occasional bruised finger is not unheard of.)

The duelists appearing in the show normally start out as stable hands for the horses. (Medieval Times uses so many Andalusian, or Spanish, horses that they have their own breeding farm in Sanger, Texas.) After three to 12 months of training, they’re expected to take a physical fitness test—running one mile in under 10 minutes, performing 30 push-ups and 50 sit-ups—before taking hold of the 20 pounds of weaponry.

Although the company tends to tweak the shows slightly every four years, the narrative remains largely the same: A king will read birthday notices or offer retirement congratulations to attending parties. He’s then blackmailed by the Herald of the North, who insists on compliance or the King’s daughter will be held hostage. Six knights duel; a falcon flies over the crowd. At the climax, the winning knight plucks a female patron from the crowd and anoints her the Queen.

For this experience, tickets are typically $66, or $46 for children under 12. The price includes a four-course meal of one half-chicken, tomato bisque soup, garlic bread, and various side dishes, all served by “serfs” and “wenches.”

Boris Kasimov, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

While the nine locations still admit roughly 2.5 million peasants annually, things have not always gone swimmingly at Medieval Times. In 1997, two locations in Buena Park and Kissimmee filed for bankruptcy after being hit with $10 million in IRS tax claims. They remained open. The company was also the subject of a 2011 lawsuit after one audience member at California's Buena Park restaurant alleged that he had been struck in the eye by a sliver of titanium. The suit was settled under undisclosed terms.

One torn retina notwithstanding, Medieval Times has remained stable in a fluctuating economy and evolving entertainment landscape. In a nod to the times, the King will often remark on smartphones and make scornful references to cyberbullying. And while it might be a departure from historical accuracy, the theme restaurant will concede to modern approaches to both hygiene and diet: Moist towelettes and vegetarian dishes are provided.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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America’s Most Popular Horror Movie Villains, Mapped

FrontierBundles.com
FrontierBundles.com

No matter how you feel about scary movies, it's hard to avoid them around Halloween. This is the time of year when the faces of cinema's classic horror villains seem to pop up in every store window and television set you see. Depending on where you live, certain horror icons may be especially hard to ignore. Check out the map below to find out the most popular scary movie villain in your state.

To make the map, FrontierBundles.com chose 15 classic horror movie antagonists and looked at regional Google Trends data for each name from the past year. Frankenstein's Monster from 1931's Frankenstein dominates most of the country, with 11 states including Pennsylvania and Arizona searching for the character. Ghostface from 1996's Scream ranked second with eight states. Chucky from Child's Play (1988), the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise, and Norman Bates from Psycho (1960) also rank high on the list.

FrontierBundles.com

Not every Halloween term Americans are searching for is horror-related. Some of the more wholesome seasonal queries that appear in Google's data include candy, crafts, and maze. But for every Google user searching for family-friendly fall activities, there are plenty looking up horror movies and monsters as well. Here's what people are Googling in your state for Halloween.