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Around Chicago: Revisiting ancient times at Medieval Times

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It's hard to run out of things to do in a city as big as Chicago, but sometimes we overlook activities that are right under our nose.

I was searching for something to do with my two nephews, Rohan and Ravi, on a night of babysitting, and I happened across discount tickets for Medieval Times in Schaumburg. It brought back pleasant memories of my experience at this old world event in Dallas several years ago, so I bought three tickets.

Traveling to Schaumburg from the Western suburbs was an easy commute on Sunday afternoon, and parking in the spacious lot was plentiful as compared to the cramped spaces on an excursion in downtown Chicago, where parking has to be as carefully planned and paid for as the actual event. We spotted the 11th century-style castle from the road, and drove right in.

The "days of yore" experience began as soon as we entered the castle, where we were handed paper crowns and referred to thereafter as "M'lady" and "Young Knights." We had pictures taken with the King, which we received mounted in hardcover books at the end of the evening. Since we were slightly early, the three of us got specialty drinks – blueberry, strawberry and virgin pina colada slushies in cups that were replicas of knight helmets with straws – and walked around the castle before the bell sounded.

I was astonished at the number, types and sizes of souvenirs available – from swords to figurines to helmets to clothing. Just as the bell sounded to be seated, we walked past the Torture Museum and I made a mental note to return after the show.

I had picked Medieval Times as the perfect outing for my 6-year-old and 8-year-old nephew, but when we sat at our seats on a long table with other attendees to watch the show, I was surprised to see several couples behind us. There was also an older group celebrating a birthday of someone who appeared to be in his 50's! I also got the distinct impression that this wasn't the first experience at Medieval Times for these "old-timers."

Dinner was served during the show, which started with a showing of white horses and a bird flying around the arena, and I was pleasantly surprised that vegetarian meals were offered. First, the three of us enjoyed dragon blood (tomato bisque) and garlic bread. My nephews had oven-roasted chicken, dragon claws (herb-roasted potatoes) and spare ribs while I had a vegetable skewer and seasoned rice. Plenty of napkins, but no utensils were available – after all, there weren't any eating utensils in 11th century times - were there?

A variety of drinks were offered which were served in colorful Medieval Times glasses. Afterwards, an apple pastry was served for dessert. Although neither my nephews nor I cared for the dessert, the main meal was quite delicious. An added benefit was the to-go boxes that were available, since the portion sizes were quite generous.

It can't be easy to involve hundreds of spectators when there isn't a ball in play or a home team to root for like at most sporting events, but the storyline of the King and Princess inviting guests to feast with them while six knights in armor competed to become the King's Champion worked. We egged on the blue knight from our blue section as he jousted from horseback, lost his sword, had his squire bring him a new one, lost his shield, had his squire toss him a new one, and fight off his opponent with an axe or ball and chain.

Small touches like the rugged, long-haired knights throwing red carnations to women in the stands (I got one!) and an elaborate formal beginning introduction of the knights to each of their six respective colored sections added to the festive mood before the actual jousting began. Just as each knight took his turn in battle, each section cheered for its respective assigned knight. Each knight was eliminated until there were just two left, including our blue knight!

Moments later, our section rose to its feet in cheer and applause, waving our Medieval Times flags and carnations. The jousting was over and our blue knight had prevailed! I'm not sure if his prize was the princess, as everyone started filing out shortly after the victory was declared. Rohan and Ravi were thrilled that "our" knight had won.

We couldn't leave without investigating the Torture Museum. It was hard to explain, and frankly, unnecessary, to a 6-year-old and 8-year-old how the items on display might be used to intentionally put people in unspeakable anguish, so I was short on the commentary as we walked through the dark chambers. Quite frankly, I didn't want to imagine the horrors myself!

We left shortly thereafter, my nephews clutching their doggy bags, helmet cups, Medieval Times branded glasses, flags and books with our pictures with the King. I also had my red carnation. A great experience was had by all.

So – hear ye, hear ye - as the days get colder and shorter, I, for one, am definitely going to keep Medieval Times in my mind as a great indoor event that is guaranteed fun for all ages. I think I'll even bring my mom. After all, every woman needs to be given a red carnation by a handsome knight once in a while.

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