Medieval Times–The VIP Experience

Over the last few years, the Fab Five and I have become big fans of Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. We went for the first time in 2017, and really enjoyed the show. When we heard they had an all-new show for 2018, this time featuring the castle’s queen, we returned. And when we were back in Chicago in May, I decided we should go back, because we were at a point in our history curriculum that fell right in the middle of the medieval period.

Things were pretty much the same upon arrival, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a walk around, especially when we got to stop and talk with the falconer and learn how they train their birds.

The meal was also mostly the same (although, instead of the pound cake we were looking forward to eating for dessert, we ended up with ice cream):

But the big difference in our experience was that I splurged on VIP tickets. Now, it was only the “Royalty Upgrade” which is the cheapest option, but we very much enjoyed the benefits, starting with the special lanyards and cheering banners we received (and we even got to support the Yellow Knight for the third year running!):

We also got to jump part of the line at entry, which was nice, but the biggest bonus was that we also got priority seating that landed us in the second row! We got a great view of all the of the action, and it was a whole new level of exciting!

Based on normal family rules, once we do a thing three times, it’s a tradition. Unfortunately, I had to tell the Fab Five that we can’t go back next May when we’re in Chicago, because it’s just too expensive for a large family to make it an annual event. You never know where I might find a loophole in the future, though!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Three

Day three of our vacation was also the day that Combo Breaker began, and of course we had to get a family photo while we were all in the same place (which didn’t happen very often this year!)!

A highlight for whichever children have money to spend is visiting the Gaming Generations booth to buy something video game related. This year, it was all plush, and the nice folks selling them even gave us a discount for being frequent shoppers!

Walking through the resort, we discovered that Pheasant Run had set up this nice table of treats for the gamers to enjoy as they came through the lobby:

After a swim in the Garden Atrium pool (which was surrounded by casuals set-ups for the first time this year, and provided us with a nice soundtrack of buttons mashing), we headed back to Medieval Times for the third year in a row, and for the third year in a row, we got to support the Yellow Knight of Navarre. This year, Ladybug received one of his carnations!

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were exhausted, so we didn’t even stop by Combo Breaker again…just a bit more Food Network before we crashed!

Medieval Times–The New Show

We were all so excited to go back to Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament when we were in Chicago last month! I’d been planning on a return visit ever since I came up with the idea for this year’s summer school at the end of last summer, but the visit was even more anticipated once we learned that Medieval Times had debuted an entirely new show!

Some things were the same. There was plenty to see and do before the show started, and lots of opportunities for photos:

But it didn’t take long to spot the biggest difference…there is now a queen ruling over the castle!

In honor of her, my girls wanted their picture taken in the castle’s thrones:

The meal was the same…tomato soup and garlic bread, roast chicken, corn on the cob, and roast potatoes, with pound cake for dessert. I tried the castle’s signature drink, the “Royal Knight,” as well.

Just like last year, we cheered for the Yellow Knight from the Kingdom of Navarra.

There were spectacularly trained horses, a falcon, contests, and jousting…all the highlights we enjoyed from the last show.

But the Queen was clearly in control, and demanded mercy in her castle. There was a surprise twist in the story, which I won’t share for fear of spoiling the show, but I was very pleased with how it was handled.

In the end, the black and white won, and while he wasn’t our champion, he was one of our allies, so that was fun.

This is such a fun activity, and the children are already asking if we can go back again someday. I’m tempted to check out the Medieval Times in Orlando when we visit Florida this summer, to see how the castles are different, but I don’t think I’ll be able to make that happen on such short notice. We may find ourselves back at the Chicago castle in the future, though, because it’s such a good time!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Three

Day three of our vacation, and we finally get to the reason we were there in the first place…Combo Breaker!

Ryan had been working long hours the previous two days to help set up for the event, but this was our first chance to take a look, and let me tell you, it looked GREAT! We always have fun checking out the different games being played (Chicago’s “Mystery Tournament” is always a favorite), as well as taking a look at the different vendors who have set up shop.

Of course, that wasn’t the only thing we did on Friday. We went swimming (again), in our favorite of Pheasant Run’s pools…the indoor Garden Atrium pool:

And we went back to Medieval Times for the second year in a row. It was a real treat, because it was an all new show! After seeing art, armor, and illuminations at the Art Institute, this was the perfect lighthearted summer school field trip, and Ryan even had a break in his schedule (sort of) to go with us!

Up next: We had to revise our Saturday plans a bit, but that left us with more time for Combo Breaker, plus a visit to a living history farm.

Medieval Times

While we were up in the Chicago area for Combo Breaker, we enjoyed an evening at Medieval Times in Schaumburg. It was difficult to find a comprehensive guide to the experience before we went, so I have attempted to create one here.

First of all, yes, the facility is built to look like a castle. The children loved it from first glance!

Our tickets were to the 7:30 p.m. show. We were advised that the doors would open at 6:15, and we were there promptly (actually, a few minutes early). This ended up being a good thing, because it was a rainy evening, and there was only so much room indoors for the line, but we were there in time so we didn’t have to wait out in the rain.

There is quite a bit to look at while you wait, and the farther in you get, the more there is to see. There was also a photo opportunity with the king, before we approached the counter where we showed our tickets and received our seating assignment for the night. We were given yellow cards, which signified that we would be rooting for the yellow knight. We were directed toward table nine, which kept our entire group of eight together. There was a bit more of a wait before we were given our yellow crowns and admitted to the main hall, but the map of the Crusades held our interest while we waited.

Once we were in the main hall, we took a moment to get our bearings. Fortunately, there were sings pointing to the different points of interest. We decided to go down the Hall of Stallions first. There were plenty of souvenir opportunities along the way!

In addition to a few of the horses, we also saw the falconer with his falcon, examples of different kinds of medieval weapons, such as flail, lance, and alabarda, and the entrance to the torture museum, which we didn’t tour. There were also seating areas for those who wanted to stop and enjoy the view or a drink.

Speaking of drinks, there was a bar with non-alcoholic slushes, and adult drinks like “The Executioner” and “Maiden’s Kiss.”

The Hall of Arms was really the place to be. In addition to more souvenir stands, this was where the king performed knightings for paying guests before the show. And yes, there were herald trumpets to introduce the king!

Finally, about 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, they let people into the arena. The door you entered was based on the color of your knight. The different sections of the arena were lit up in the colors of the six knights, and each section also had a name. We were in the Kingdom of Navarra.

Part of the experience included a meal, which was served in courses by serving wenches, and included absolutely no utensils. We enjoyed a dragon scale (garlic toast), dragon blood (tomato bisque), a baby dragon (half a roasted chicken), a dragon horn (ear of corn), a dragon egg (roast potato half), and lemon pound cake. The menu was written on the napkin, which I thought was very clever.

Once most everyone was seated, the show began. Fog filled the arena, and lights and music kicked off the event (I particularly enjoyed the score). First was a single white horse and the horse master (or mistress):

Then the knights were introduced by the narrator, who also tells the story of the 11th century show throughout the evening. While you are assigned to a specific knight, there are also alliances in the kingdom, which means that your knight is associated with two others, and they are the sworn enemies of the other three:

Once all of the knights had entered, the king was introduced, with much pomp and ceremony:

There were more beautiful performances by the Andalusian horses:

And the flight of the falcon:

More riders on horseback:

And then the feats of skills and gallantry by the knights on horseback in the Tournament of Games. There were many contests, such as relays, accuracy, and flag tossing. After each, there were winners proclaimed, and those knights received flowers from Princess Catalina, which they then threw to people in their section. Chickadee received a flower from our knight!

After those contests, there was a bit of intrigue, as a foreign kingdom sent a gift (a horseman), to the king:

And then the real contests began with the Tournament Royal! Jousting and sword fighting were the main events. A safety net rolled down from the ceiling, because in addition to sparks shooting from the sword fights, wooden splinters from the joust flew everywhere! There was cheering and booing all throughout the contests…Bunny yelled so much and so loudly that she lost her voice! The atmosphere and energy of the crowd was fantastic, and really made you feel like you were part of a real medieval tournament.

As different knights lost the grand finale was building, to the final knight (sadly, the blue knight), competing against the treacherous visitor from the other kingdom, who has declared that upon his victory, his king will wed the Princess Catalina to unite the kingdoms. I don’t suppose I need to tell you who won! The loser’s life was spared, but he was taken to the dungeon, where I suppose some of the torture devices found in the museum were used on him.

After the show was over, there were plenty of photo opportunities with the king, princess, knights, and even the villain, in the Hall of Arms:

As we left the castle, we discovered that it was lit up in the color of the wining knight. Not our yellow knight, sadly, or even one of his allies, but the previously-mentioned blue knight:

It’s not a cheap event, although there are plenty of coupons available that make it more accessible, but it’s a really fun evening, especially for those who are interested in that time period. It’s a truly immersive experience, and for the time you’re there, it’s easy to forget you’re in modern-day suburban Chicago. My children are already talking about when they might be able to go back, because they really loved it!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day One

One week ago today, the children and I loaded up the car and hit the road at five a.m., so we could join Ryan in St. Charles, IL, for what I now assume is the annual Markel Family weekend getaway for Combo Breaker. It took us pretty much exactly five hours to reach our destination, so we had plenty of time to explore Pheasant Run after we took all of our stuff up to our room (which was on the 15th floor and had an amazing view!).

After reacquainting ourselves with the resort, we hit the pool:

Once the Combo Breaker floor officially opened, we took a walk around. We got to see Ryan both play in the Mystery Tournament and run a bracket.

Some of the children had hoped to find a new plush friend while we were there. I somehow ended buying one for everybody!

No trip to Pheasant Run would be complete without shopping at the mythical Super Target that’s just across the street:

The real highlight of the day, however, was a trip to Medieval Times in Schaumburg. We all really enjoyed the dinner and tournament…Bunny enjoyed it so much, she lost her voice cheering for our knight!

We did also sneak in a little Food Network and HGTV on cable TV when we got back to our room, but it was pretty late, and most of the children crashed quickly. Plus, they wanted to be well-rested for our big trip into Chicago the next day!