Orlando Dinner Shows – Medieval Times & Pirate’s Dinner Adventure
BY MIKE WARING – JUNE 2006
As I promised previously in Part 1, we did go back and review the last two big non-Disney dinner shows in Orlando: Pirate’s Dinner Adventure! (comes with an exclamation mark) and Medieval Times (sorry, no exclamation mark).
Perhaps at some future point we will do an Extreme Luau Review with a side by side comparison of both the Disney and Sea World Luaus. I can’t guarantee that, though, because after seeing four of these shows in the last five months, we’re pretty much burned out on the whole thing.
I think this show is the grandfather of the horsey, almost-grand spectacle dinner shows. If I’m wrong about that, there’s little anyone can do about it as I rarely take responsibility for anything. According to their website the company has been in operation since 1983 and the Kissimmee location is their flagship venue. So let’s say 23 years.
The Medieval Times theater is located east of Disney World on Irlo Bronson Highway (aka Highway 192) and is easily visible from the road. There’s a “medieval” village (note the quotation marks) outside the arena that is a shining example of what medieval villages were like if they were constructed of cinder block and stucco and were inhabited by high school students wearing “medieval” costumes (there are those pesky quotation marks again).
After a tour of the “medieval” village that took around 20 to 30 seconds, we entered the main building. First you walk though an exhibit of medieval torture implements that appear to have been constructed in someone’s garage, possibly as a hobby. As I remarked to Mary, there’s nothing that gets my digestive juices flowing before dinner as much as viewing torture implements, especially badly built ones.
After handing in our tickets we were given paper crowns (which turned out to be color-coded to the area in which we would be seated later) and then taken though the usual souvenir photo procedure, meaning you’re hustled in front of a backdrop and have your picture taken by some bored high school kids. In this particular case, the kids taking our pictures were clowning around and I think they may have actually accidentally jumped into the shot. In any case we never saw the pictures, although many people around us in the stands were offered photos during the show. So we assume that our pictures probably didn’t pass muster. That was $20 saved.
We ignored the instructions to arrive 60 minutes before the show was to start, because we like to think we’re rebels. In the pre-show area there were some activities going on, such as getting a picture taken with the King and listening to the jester cracking jokes or something. We were too far away to hear much of it. Like most of the crowd, we sat near the bar and had “medieval” alcoholic beverages which appeared to be suspiciously similar to beer and margaritas. Who knew tequila was a popular beverage choice of the Dark Ages? Bet that made sitting in a hovel waiting for the barbarian hordes to sweep down and slaughter one’s village that much less forbidding.
The pre-show area was also chockful of what Mary likes to call “shopportunities” to purchase a vast assortment of things, including real swords and daggers (available only to those 18 and over). Mary wouldn’t let me buy a real sword. Plastic swords, shields, and helmets could be purchased for children, who commenced to have a great old time wailing on each other while their parents tried to drink themselves into insensibility. We tried also, but unsuccessfully.
After an interminable 30 minutes or so we were directed to our seats in the arena. Just like all the dinner shows we’ve so far attended, the seating is arranged in tiers and you sit on a bench behind a long counter. Servers maneuver along aisles between each tier and serve food and drink to the merry populace. Mary noted that this particular venue made ample use of laminate and vinyl, no doubt so the whole thing could be hosed down. Somehow this detracted from the “medieval” atmosphere in her mind. The actual arena is floored with the usual sand and somewhat narrower than the other examples we’ve seen (see Part I of this report).
Dinner was quite similar to the other two dinner shows we had previously attended. At all three shows (Dixie Stampede, Arabian Nights and Medieval Times), the servers have to run back to the kitchen and collect a large bin or bucket containing vast quantities of one food item, then move down the row serving that one item until it is depleted. Then they sprint back to the kitchen and retrieve the next item. The result is that you receive your meal in stages, with each item arriving about 5 minutes apart.
In this case the servers first brought out buckets of vegetable soup and ladled a portion into each person’s bowl (no utensils, remember, so you drink from the bowl). This was followed by half a roasted chicken, a single spare rib, an herb basted potato, garlic bread and the piece de resistance, an apple turnover for dessert. Fortunately, there’s also unlimited cola, beer and less fortunately, unlimited wine to wash down one’s vittles. It was a nice pink color.
Overall the food was not bad. I felt it was a touch above Dixie Stampede and Mary thought it was on par. We both agreed it was much better than Arabian Nights. The spare rib was all right and the chicken was moist and fairly flavorful. The potato was better than a similar item served at Dixie Stampede, while the apple turnover was pretty much a representative example of its class. I’ve eaten worse.
Just in case they have not sucked enough money out of your pockets for the princess hats and plastic swords your kids will desperately NEED you to buy for them during the pre-show, there’s more stuff for sale during the show itself. You can purchase photos (assuming they come out), glow necklaces and other stuff. I will say, however, that unlike Dixie Stampede, which tries to sell you flags during the show, at Medieval Times you’re given a “free” souvenir in the form of a color-coded ribbon flag on a stick that you can wave to support your knight. A “suggested” 15% gratuity is collected as the meal draws to a close.
The show was fairly bleh. Mary found it excruciatingly boring, while I left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Essentially the entertainment consists of lots of men wearing fake armor riding on horses and hitting each other with swords and maces. That’s pretty much it. There’s a bit of a plot revolving around a usurper for the crown, a king, a pretty princess, and contests to win her hand. Every seating section gets a knight to root for, who is color coded for ease of identification. (The laminate/vinyl in your section is the same color as your knight.) After the fifth or sixth beer I’m sure this is helpful.
The Medieval Times show lacks any comedy relief, which is a significant aspect of all the other shows. The awe inspiring stunts are pretty much limited to using softwood lances which splinter spectacularly when they hit the opposing jouster’s shield. (The shields are conveniently concave shaped to prevent the lance from deflecting off as they were designed to do in real life. But that’s quibbling.) The hand-to-hand fighting is about as convincing as professional wrestling but might impress little boys. Mary noted that some of the cast members seemed bored and had difficulty staying in character.
After much riding to and fro and bashing with aforementioned weaponry the alleged winner of the various contests confronts the usurper, who we knew all along was the bad guy, and vanquishes him in a less-than-epic battle. He wins the hand of the pretty princess and rides off into the back stage area. Huzzah!
Well, as the ancient don of dinner theaters, this show has been around for a while and with a total of 8 outlets they must be doing something right. Small children, especially boys, will probably enjoy all the knights riding around and pummeling each other with representations of archaic weaponry. Dads will probably enjoy unlimited beers and eating with their hands (hey, who doesn’t – right guys?). Moms will probably regret coming and certainly be ready to behead somebody after Bobby hits Sally with the plastic sword in the back of the minivan for the fifteenth time. Young girls will get to see horsies. It’s a family event. It’s clean, the food’s decent if uninspired, and well, it beats another round of mini golf. Maybe. If you pay the full price “at the door,” we can pretty much guarantee you’ll feel ripped off. However, you can get deeply-discounted tickets in advance through dealers.
We’d rank this show overall a notch below Dixie Stampede. Each offers lots of people riding horses around in circles, which is appealing to younger family members while not presenting anything that would tax brain cells frazzled by day after day in the theme parks. The food is roughly equivalent. At least at Medieval Times they give you more than two glasses of beer or soda. On the other hand Dixie Stampede had pig races and that’s pretty hard to beat. Hmm, racing pigs or all the beer I can drink in 90 minutes, that’s a tough one.
- Undercover Tourist, a very reliable ticket dealer, offers Medieval Times discount tickets.
Arrr! Pirates! Well what more do we need? Three thumbs up! It’s got pirates, matey! Shiver me timbers. Arrr, again!
All right, I like pirates. What self respecting boy over the age of three doesn’t? Pirates are cool. All boys want to be pirates and say Arrr all day or sometimes Y’arr for a change of pace. So a dinner show based on this theme has to be a winner, right? Well, perhaps, perhaps not.
Located close to Universal Studios, Pirate’s Dinner Adventure has been in business for 10 years. A second show has recently opened in California, so it’s now a multi-state megacorporation.
The outside of the building has not very artfully applied painted fake stone work and rustic looking architectural features. There’s also a large mock up of a real pirate ship outside so one can take a picture next to a real pirate ship mockup. Inside the décor is pretty much the same, with fake wood beams and more fake painted stonework. At least there isn’t a “medieval” village. (Though I do miss the promiscuous use of quotes in the previous section.) Oh, and no torture implements. Instead they offer access to a maritime museum at no extra charge, which we did not check out.
As usual we ignored instructions and did not arrive the recommended 90 minutes prior to the show, thus reducing the amount of income they might have derived from selling us multiple alcoholic beverages. After having the requisite souvenir photo taken, we did have enough time to get one drink and check out the pre-show area which was large and open with a rather elaborate stage and a big bar across one end of the room. Unlike any of the other dinner shows, at Pirate’s Dinner Adventure the teeming masses were offered appetizers in the pre-show area. I really was more interested in securing a few beers to fortify myself for the buccaneering pleasures to come, but I’m I pretty sure there were both hot and cold snacks like ravioli, meatballs, pasta salad and veggies and dip. Good pirate fare – y’arr!
We arrived too late to stake out a good viewing spot for the pre-show entertainment, but from what we could see it appeared to consist mainly of some singing and activities by the fellow who is listed as ‘comedy relief’ in my notes. People seemed to like it. Or at least they weren’t storming the stage to hang the actors.
We were soon seated in the usual tiered seating with benches, long counter-style tables and aisles between for the serving wretches. In an interesting variation, the servers at Pirate’s had mobile steam carts on wheels, so the food arrived hot and all at once on each person’s plate, which contributed quite a bit to the quality of the meal. This also cut down a lot on back and forth by the servers. In addition, rather than wandering through on occasion and refilling the individual tankards with soda, pitchers of cola were left on the table and replaced at fairly frequent intervals.
The meal started off with a small salad accompanied by the same sort of dressing container you’ll get on airplanes now if you have the opportunity to fly First Class. (If you’re flying Coach these days, no salads for you!) Supposedly there was a choice of ranch or creamy Italian dressing but I didn’t see anything about different dressings and had to content myself with the latter dressing.
For the main course you can choose from shrimp with beige gravy and rice, or beef with brown gravy and roast potatoes (both fairly tasty, and amazingly the shrimp wasn’t overcooked), plus everyone gets a quarter roasted chicken and some decent mixed vegetables. Dessert is apple cobbler a la mode which is actually not bad and a definite step up from the apple turnovers we were offered at other venues.
Along with the unlimited soda there was unlimited beer. Well maybe not quite unlimited but they kept refilling my mug all through the show so I wasn’t complaining. I believe there was also wine available but no one around us ordered any and after trying it at three other shows we weren’t about to order it ourselves. I’m sure it was a nice pink color though.
The show itself takes place on an elaborate stage set which roughly resembles the deck of a pirate ship. Very roughly. There are also a number of platforms situated around the stage that are set up to allow the pirates to swing through the air on ropes like actual swashbuckling pirates did back on the Spanish Main. Interestingly enough the stage set is surrounded by water so the cast can in some cases fall into the water or putt putt around the stage in little boats. (With electric motors, which I’m sure were quite useful back before the invention of electricity. But again I quibble.)
As with Medieval Times, each section of the Pirate’s audience is assigned a color coded pirate of its very own to root for and support. There were a total of 6 pirates and a pirate captain, a pirate captain’s wife, an apprentice pirate (or comedy relief), a captured princess, and her chambermaid. I think that’s pretty much it. Oh, there was a first mate but he’s killed by the pirate captain a couple of minutes after he appears so we needn’t devote any more time to him.
Mary says she found the plot, such as it was, confusing and pretty much incomprehensible. I find this difficult to understand as it was a simple plot based on concepts that have been central to the theater since time immemorial. Princess is captured by pirates and sequestered on pirate ship. Pirate captain kills first mate because he’s prettier than pirate captain and even prettier than pirate captain’s wife. Pirate captain needs a new first mate and offers to allow all the other pirates to compete for it even though one is his own son and he’s going to choose him anyway. But son betrays him and falls in love with princess and wants to leave pirating and settle down and open a little dry goods store. The pirate captain is unhappy with this and sets half the pirates against the other half as an example of good team building. After several competitions and battles and much aerial rope work that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, the son gets the girl and they sail off into the sunset with the treasure. Oh, and there’s singing. (Some pretty good, some awful.)
See, what could be simpler?
So there are pirates swinging around on ropes, girls swinging around on ropes, sword fightin’, musical numbers and a lot of audience participation, especially by the kids (primarily those in the front rows, whose parents have paid an extra $5 per person to upgrade into premium seats, where they also receive a fabulous paper pirate hat and a string of Mardi Gras beads), who either get to be junior pirates or British soldiers. The kids appeared to enjoy their stints as unpaid extras in the extravaganza.
The only things sold during the show were the “arr, we’re a family of pirates” souvenir photos taken during the pre-show, priced at the usual $20. Obviously whoever is in charge of merchandise has missed the boat here! Frankly we found it quite refreshing not to be assaulted all through the show with junk offered for sale. As with all of the shows, a strongly-suggested gratuity (in this case, $5 per adult, $3 per child) was collected at the end of the meal.
After the show you can go to the Buccaneer Bash (held in the pre-show area, but this time with disco music and flashing lights) and dance with real life pirate actors and drink more overpriced alcoholic beverages. As appealing as this was, we passed, because we’re old and disco is dead. Or should be dead. In any case we don’t have any kind of a report on this aspect of the evening’s entertainment so you’ll have to take your chances.
Food at Pirate’s Dinner Adventure was slightly better than the other dinner shows. The use of the mobile steam carts meant that the meals came out hot and as fresh as you’re going to get at one of these things. The dessert was definitely better than at any of the other venues. Pitchers of soda on the tables were a nice touch, and unlimited beer is always good, even if it is domestic.
The show itself is confusing if you actually like to follow the plot. My advice is, pay the extra $5 a head to upgrade when you arrive, let the kids join in the show, drink another beer and just kinda flow with it. It actually is different from the other shows because there are no horses involved. (This seemed almost unnatural.) It’s hokey, the music is well? usually not painful, and some of the stunts are pretty good. I’d rate this show as a little more entertaining than the others besides the Arabian Nights show. The audience participation is definitely a plus.
In terms of value, with the discounts widely available through brokers, we think you get a pretty decent evening for your money. There is no way we would pay full price for this show (or any other non-Disney dinner show, for that matter).
- Undercover Tourist, a very reliable ticket dealer, offers Pirate’s Dinner Adventure discount tickets.