This weekend saw the grand opening of a new theatre in Ottawa: a VIP Cineplex at Lansdowne. As Matt reminded me, the city was pretty thirsty for a downtown movie theatre, two having closed pretty recently, and the only one remaining, the estimable Bytowne Cinema, is more art-house, prone to running foreign films, and while we absolutely love it (and are card-carrying members), it leaves you shit out of luck if you’re hoping to catch the new Will Ferrell comedy.
This new theatre isn’t just any theatre. It’s a VIP theatre, which means for the privilege of double the price of admission, you can also buy beer for twice the normal price. Ostensibly we made our pilgrimage for the sake of reviewing the place but honestly, just between you and me, we were all pretty psyched about the alcohol option.
We reserved our seats the day before and had no problem doing so, even on a busy opening weekend. We wanted to exercise the menu option, and the website warned us that waiters only take orders until the previews start, so we weren’t sure how early to arrive. I also wasn’t sure how I would manage to eat food on a tray table smaller than those on an airplane, and in the dark, and while wearing a white blazer, but what the hell. Live it up!
So we went about an hour early to tour the new facilities. We parked in the underground parking, which can be validated by the theatre for up to 3 hours (it was $1.50 for an additional half hour) by the kid ripping tickets as you head in. The first floor has a frozen yogurt place that’s pretty impressive – serve yourself, with a huge buffet of topping options. There’s also a sizable arcade (that was reasonably busy) and a prize booth, and some single-stall washrooms that were still neat. One escalator ride up brings you to the “regular” theatres, where you can sit and watch a movie the way you always have, with a coke the size of your head, and an even bigger popcorn. Another elevator ride up, however, takes you to the luxurious second floor, where they have the VIP theatres (must be legal drinking age, 19+), as well as Ultra AVX theatres (immersive audio-visual experience with Dolby Atmos and massive screens) and D-Box theatres (seats that move and rumble with the sound and images of the movie – not recommended for the pregnant or elderly).
There’s a slick lounge on the second floor, with beers on tap, a wine list, and some decent cocktails. Matt recommends the rusty nail; I enjoyed the whiskey punch. There’s a pub-style menu as well, with selections including burgers, wraps, salads, and lots of finger foods. We tried a sampler platter – boneless wings, mac and cheese bites, deep-fried pickles, and tortilla chips. It wasn’t exactly generous for the $15 price tag, but all items were tasty, and I especially enjoyed the pickles.
Inside the theatre, an usher brings you to the seats you’ve reserved. Every seat is a comfortable recliner. Arm rests with movable tray tables divide you from strangers, but each couple of seats can be made more cozy by lifting up the arm rest between them. Menus are at every station, pretty much behind your head. They call the menus in here “specialty” which means not quite as many options as in the lounge, but yes, you can still order popcorn or candy in addition to the california burger that I enjoyed, and the jalapeno one that Sean gulped down (Matt found his shrimp cocktail to be good, but insubstantial). Shortly a waiter will be by to take your order, and will continue to circulate until the previews start to run (they ran them with the lights still up, so you can inspect your food upon arrival – I appreciated this). By the time the movie begins, you’re munching away, and I have to say, it wasn’t any noisier than any other theatre. The food is delivered in little cardboard baskets but the alcoholic beverages are in real glasses, garnished and everything! The waiters all have portable debit machines so you can pay in your seat (and tip – a new experience for theatre goers).
The rows are spaced quite generously apart, with oodles of leg room even for Sean, who is 6’6 and used to much more cramped quarters. The waiters slide easily down the aisles with food, but once the movie’s on, they retreat, which is good because you don’t want a lot of distraction, but bad because I could have used 2-3 more drinks. Lesson learned: order a couple up front, enough to last you the film. But do remember that bladders are quite vulnerable to beer!
The chairs are the comfiest you’ll find in a movie theatre, and you’ll want to play with the button while the light’s still on, because these chairs recline. In fact, if you sit in the first row, you have premium foot rests and you can go all the way back – a trade-off, I suppose, because sitting that close to the screen, you’d pretty much need to.
My one criticism was that for a truly VIP experience, I would have appreciated a coat rack of some sort. Don’t put saucy wings on your menu and expect that to go well (they do, I noticed, provide wet naps with every order). So Matt helpfully pointed out that in fact they’re missing TWO things: the coat rack, and a suggestion box.
All in all, we agreed that we’d had a great experience and that for us, it was worth the double ticket price. There was tonnes of staff around (keeping in mind it was opening weekend, so likely to be overstaffed). We didn’t wait long for anything, and Matt commented that he’d hardly been so satisfied with service. I liked having better options for snacking, and I’ve never been so comfortable. Sean loved the leg room. The personal space is also a bonus. We’d all willingly pay for it again, and agree that this will change the way we watch movies. But with the high ticket prices, it won’t be for everyone. And if you don’t have my back problems, you might not be as tempted by the recliners, and if you’re a traditional popcorn kind of guy, then the calamari may not appeal. And that’s okay, because you can still enjoy a movie at this theatre either way.
General Admission: $11.99
Ultra AVX 3D: $16.99
D-Box Ultra AVX 3D: $22.99
VIP (19+): $21.99
Have you had a VIP experience? Let us know if you think it’s worth the price!