Don your novelty paper crowns! Brandish your plastic replica swords! Drain a chalice of ale, dear readers, and come along with me. It’s time for a blast of historically inaccurate family fun. This is the Vacation Issue, after all. For those of you with limited time or funds for a formal getaway — or an interest in trying something off the beaten path — I politely suggest going medieval! In this edition of The Wandering Brooklynite, we’re going to a destination unlike any other: Medieval Times in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
It’s hard to say what exactly drew me to this hallowed ground. Despite my theatrical background and love of English literature, I can’t say this is an era of history that ever held much appeal for me. I’ve never gone in for Game of Thrones and I once spent three of the longest weeks of my life working at a Renaissance Faire in Pennsylvania back in college. However, with a milestone 30th birthday to celebrate, and an eager girlfriend who wanted to take advantage of Medieval Times’ birthday discount, I couldn’t say no. I was especially encouraged by the enthusiastic reactions of my friends and co-workers when I told them I was going to visit this revered destination. My roommate went so far as to lend me his plastic longsword from a recent visit for the occasion. It looked like I’d be ringing in my thirties 12th century style.
After acquiring our tickets online, we boarded a bus out of Port Authority for the short trip. Lesson one in planning a trip to Medieval Times is to allow yourself ample time to get there. The location in Lyndhurst is just a 30 minute bus ride from Manhattan, but you’ll need to purchase your tickets early and navigate a confusing series of corridors to find the right departure point and make it there in time for the 7:30 show. Medieval Times is also not the most economical of evenings either, with adult tickets averaging $59.95 before tax.
Lesson two is to learn to give yourself over to the experience completely. From the moment you arrive, box office employees in full costume will address you as “my lord” or “my lady.” Take it as a compliment, or at the very least, a sign that you’ve truly arrived. After checking in, visitors are led to a large courtyard reception area. A full bar is present along with a throne room, a torture chamber exhibit and full suits of armor on display. A weapons store is also available for those looking for something a little more substantial to bring home with them. My plastic longsword drew a few interested glances from passersby, and more than one asked to have their picture taken with it. Through no effort of my own, I felt like the center of attention on my birthday. It was a nice way to celebrate.
The crowd that evening ranged from kids with their parents, to giggly high school and college students, to even a couple of bachelor parties. Though some had clearly gotten the party started early — at just six o’clock on this Friday evening many did not need to take advantage of the medieval bar before us, but gladly did anyway. The atmosphere was generally pleasant and inviting with no attitude or hostility. A sounding of trumpets broke the dull roar of the peasantry and heralded the start of the show. Massive castle doors opened into the interior of the playing space, an indoor horse ring roughly half the size of a football field. We made our way to our seats in the Yellow Section and were introduced to our champion for the evening — the Yellow Knight!
What followed that evening was equal parts horse show and medieval skill contest. The festivities, presided over by a king and his lovely princess, were a series of equestrian displays and Dark Ages-style combat. Visitors are served a hearty meal right at their table consisting of oven-roasted chicken, garlic bread, tomato bisque soup, spare ribs, an herb-roasted potato and the special “Pastry of the Castle” — which is medieval jargon for an apple turnover. It was all filling and strangely delicious. Eating only with our hands (as they had no utensils in the medieval era, of course) this made for a surprisingly perfect meal to accompany the spectacle before us.
The story, such as it was, had to do with an evil knight coming to forcefully take the princess’s hand in marriage — or something like that. It was strangely difficult to keep track of this very simple narrative with a falcon flying just a few feet over my head and back to the arm of its trainer. If that wasn’t exhilarating enough, the floor show provided plenty of genuine thrills as knights competed in jousting contests and convincingly choreographed weapon play in a tournament to determine knightly supremacy. Our champion for the evening made it as far as the semi-finals before losing in a cheap battle sword battle that Debra and I were still grumbling about on the way home.
This is precisely the spell Medieval Times will cast on you. For a couple of hours, it’s convincing enough to make you forget the grind of your day-to-day urban affairs and dive headfirst into a highly sanitized nostalgia trip. It’s got all the grandeur of professional wrestling, but with enough dignity to elevate itself to a fairly decent theater piece. For all of our boasting about New York City being the cultural capital of the world, Medieval Times is the sort of place that just couldn’t exist within city limits. It’s a world unto itself.
By the time I was on the bus back to Brooklyn with my sword in my lap and paper crown firmly secured to my head, a strange feeling of enjoyment had washed over me. I’d just attended one of the silliest spectacles of my life and walked away from it fully contented. It’s hard to say why, except perhaps that I now felt like a member of an elite club of those who’d ventured to Medieval Times and come back to tell the tale. If Broadway is too highbrow, and your Netflix queue is getting repetitive, hop a bus to Lyndhurst some weekend and leave your inhibitions on the subway. It’s an experience I highly recommend, though the sort of thing one really does have to partake just once — if only for the spare ribs and paper crowns. Huzzah!