Joust About An Unbelievable Good Time!

IMG_0530 (1)Why is being a tourist in your own city something that never tops the “list of things to do”?  Just last week I read Amy from Joey and the Owl is moving from New York City to the suburbs, and in her farewell post to NYC she commented how few tourist attractions in the city she’d actually been to.  It made me pause to reflect on the many incredible sites and attractions that Toronto has to offer, practically on my doorstep.  I do make an effort to visit the museums and art galleries, and I have a theatre subscription to both Mirvish Productions and The Young People Theatre, but there are so many places I’ve left undiscovered.

Like, Medieval Times.

Last week Carol and I, along with our families, ten of us in total, trekked through the congested streets of downtown Toronto in frigid arctic temperatures to arrive at the Exhibition Place, home to Medieval Times.

Top 5 Reasons You Should Visit Medieval Times

  1. Betcha Didn’t Know That!

While Medieval Times is simply a fun way to spend time together as a family, it’s also educational, and arguably much more enjoyable than just reading about the Dark Ages.  Servers are aptly referred to as serfs or wenches.  There are no french fries or burgers, only fare that would be typical of a gluttonous medieval feast.  The castle is dark and the lighting used is minimal to replicate the primitive castles of the era, but as Carol’s young son pointed out me, luckily this castle has heat.

  1. Is It Real?

Where you sit at Medieval Times matters, unlike a traditional theatre.  Each seating area represents a knight, and it’s your duty as the king’s guests to cheer on your knight to victory as he risks life and limb in this tournament of heraldry.

Luckily for us, we were seated in the front row and had a clear view of all the action.  Seating is based on first come, first serve unless you’ve chosen to enhance your experience and for a fee.  Carol and I spent some time surveying the various levels and with all seating areas, the view is clear and the knights do make a considerable effort to engage the crowd regardless of position.

Our six boys were sitting at the edge of the seats for the entire spectacle.  Wearing their crowns, and waving their black and white flag they cheered for our knight, who impressively captured their attention, Carol’s heart (until her son stole her intended flower), and several rounds of the tournament.

It was during the car ride home that my boys peppered us with questions, namely, “was it real?”.  I love that they are young enough to be swept away by the magic of theatre and make believe.  I think it added to the overall awe of performance and how much we enjoyed it.  I explained to the boys it’s just like a play with actors who practice, and many behind the stage hands that make the experience come to life.  An interactive show like this is a good introduction to live theatre if you have a child who isn’t likely to sit through a lengthy play with minimal action.

  1. A Feast Not Only For The Eyes!

I imagine that one doesn’t go to Medieval Times solely for the food, but it’s worth noting that while the fare isn’t going to top any “best of” lists, it’s tasty enough and was a hit with the kids.  Garlic bread and a tomato bisque were followed by a half roasted chicken with spare ribs and a potato wedge – all served warm and eaten without utensils.  My boys rejoiced!  I have to point out that while the food may not be winning any awards the service does.  Guests’ dietary restrictions are readily accommodated, like our nut allergies.  The vegetarian dish, 3-bean stew with fire roasted tomato and brown rice, was served to 2 of our party and while they ate with spoons, they seemed to enjoy it just the same.  Be sure to ask for a take-out container to take home your left overs!

Halal meals are available upon request.

  1.  It’s Joust About Unbelievable!

The jousting tournament was actually quite riveting and within minutes, Carol and I found ourselves cheering alongside our boys.  The jousting lances splinter when they’re clashed and the swords spark with each cross, eliciting lots of excited squeals.  On select days in April your child can experience Knight Training where they can learn first-hand how treacherous life as knight can be and how dangerous the weapons truly are.  All Knights-in-Training will be knighted by King Carltos in a special ceremony.  Reserve your space here.

  1.  Because It’s Fun!

Let’s put aside all the lessons in history and theatre for a moment, and dwell on perhaps the most surprising for me.  Medieval Times is fun!  It’s really fun!  How liberating it was to not only allow but encourage my rowdy group of boys to scream, cheer and boo!

And because I am a mom, and this is something that all moms want to know, I will share that the restrooms were plenty and clean.  And because I am a mom, and this is something that all moms want to know, there are several gifts and treasures to be purchased before, during and after the show – plan accordingly.

Be sure to visit the Medieval Times website for discount codes, birthday specials, and a complete overview of the show with information about medieval life and times.

Little Lords and Ladies Medieval Reading List 

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Medieval Jousts and Tournaments by John Green

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Medieval Castle Sticker Picture by A.G. Smith

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Knights and Castles by Rachel Firth

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Sticker Dressing Knights by Helen Davis

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You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Medieval Knight by Fiona Macdonald

Disclaimer:  Thank you to Medieval Times for hosting all 10 of us!  We had a wonderful time and will be back!  Readers, please note that while we received our tickets complimentary, the views expressed in this blog post are our own.

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Gift Guide for Kids

OK, the kids are all quite good at making their own lists, but just in case, here are some ideas for kids, big and small.

From Nathalie

A friend recently shared her family’s gift-giving tradition with me.  Each child gets an ornament to add to the tree every year, Santa leaves one unwrapped gift for each under the tree, and each of the kids gets four gifts from Mum and Dad: “One to read, one to wear, one to play with and one to share.”  It’s a delightful formula that I will borrow for here.

One to read

Check our lists of favourite reads for the year if you are looking for book ideas.

If you are editing your book shelves in anticipation of adding more, please consider giving your gently used books to The Children’s Book Bank.  Every child who visits the Book Bank goes home with a free book.  It is one of the most magical spaces in the city, and I do so admire their mission to help children build their own libraries.  Take your kids for a visit, drop off your donations and go home with one new-to-you book for your child.

Madeleine hanging out at The Children's Book Bank.

Madeleine hanging out at The Children’s Book Bank.

One to wear

Everyone gets pajamas.  I love everything made by Hatley, a company named for the town in Quebec where the founders lived.  These pajamas have staying power: they will last through several kids and live to be handed down again and again.  Also available at Indigo. ($30)

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I like to get snarky t-shirts for Eldest, who is 13.  He loves them and wears them on heavy rotation all year.  This one is from Café Press.  $31.50

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Eldest has also begun to wear cologne, saints preserve us.  I’ve put something that I actually like the smell of into his stocking: 5 Paddles Brewing Company Beer Soap in Lemongrass made by Aide Bodycare from all natural ingredients.  The beer comes from a brewery in Whitby, where my dad now lives.  That’s the kind of connection I love to find for these little stocking stuffer ideas.

Aide Bodycare

One to play with

I’m sorry.  Here’s where I get boring.  All the Littles want is Lego.  Lego, Lego, Lego.

One to share

I like the gift of experience as a gift to share.  Carol recently wrote about her night out with her three boys at Ross Petty’s Cinderella, and the three of us are taking our boys to see Potted Potter next week.  Two actors, seven Harry Potter books, and one game of Quidditch in 70 minutes.  So excited!

And for a gift to share at home, board game night is always a hit with the boys.  This one is a favourite with them and me: Cathedral.  Position your buildings to best advantage inside the walled medieval city and prevent your opponent from doing the same.  I love handling the carved wooden buildings; the kids love beating me almost every single time.  (Did I mention I’m not so good at spatial reasoning?)  $30.  Available through National Geographic.

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And if you like your sharing to be sweet, check out the hand-made marshmallows from Wondermade.  $7.95 a box.  Delish!

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From Beth-Anne

Bring the 90s back with flower print dresses and Doc Martens, like these from Mini Mioche for $80.00  one of my favourite local, eco-friendly kids’ stores.  (Available in a variety of colours)

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Toting starts early – and anyone with a toddler can tell you that the hoarding starts at this stage.  Why not keep everything together with this bookhou print messenger bag?  Mini Mioche, $34

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Every Christmas list needs a whimsical splurge item and for me, it’s Alfred the Moose Felt Factory Animal Head.  Really, isn’t it just so cute? Mini Mioche, $100.

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Make that two whimsical splurge items . . . I have no little girls to buy for this year but maybe next year I will purchase this Star Bright Pettidress. Indigo, $35.20.

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Constructing and playing in forts and tents has always been a favourite pastime of my boys.  This Camo Frame indoor tent is ideal for hiding out, reading a book or escaping for some alone time.  Indigo, $65.95.

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Lego is a big hit around here but it’s Roominate that has caught my attention this year.  Roominate is designed by Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen, two engineers with degrees from MIT, Caltech and Stanford on a mission to show kids, particularly young girls, how engineering is both creative and fun! Indigo, $22.95-$54.95.

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When my boys are not busy building forts or Lego, chances are they are outside.   If we end up with as much snow as last year, the Snowball Blaster will get lots of use.  Indigo, $39.95.

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Boardgames are quickly becoming a favourite with my middle son.  He loves strategizing . . . and winning.  Christmas Story Monopoly, Indigo, $44.95.

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I can’t believe how quickly the years are going by and I need to keep up with these hand imprints as long as their hands still fit on these ornaments! Indigo, $11.60.

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Earphones – I don’t know why but we always seem to need these.  Indigo, $35.00.

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From Carol

Most of my friends are finished having babies, but I’m so glad I’ve got a hold out friends who is due in a few months so I have someone to target for these handmade plush organic cotton animals by Fidoodle.  The ring of the rattle inside is soft and sweet, and baby can chew away at this safe toy with abandon.  The moose is my favourite; there’s also a bunny and a bird.  Available online or at Little House in the City.

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Perfect for older children are Bubynoa‘s handmade toys and dolls created from vintage fabrics – double-stitched because they’re made for use and play, although we’ve known some adults who buy them just to admire.  Little House in the City carries a range of her animal toys.
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For a truly special gift, treat your eyes and your little someone to one of Bubynoa‘s exquisite handmade people dolls.  They take days to make with details lovingly attended to.  And bestill my heart, these dolls reflect some of Toronto’s brilliant diversity, and the boys are just as wonderful as the girls.  Available at Bubynoa’s Etsy shop.

Also gorgeous for the littles in our lives are Hey Pomelo‘s handmade organic baby bibs, hooded towels, receiving blankets, quilts and accessories.  Made to last with fabrics that just get softer with washing, these pieces are truly functional beauty.  Available online and at Little House in the City

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Happy merry-making and gift-giving for the little people in your life!  4Mothers hopes the season is wonderful for you and for them.