I am sprawled across a leather La-Z-Boy recliner in the VIP theatre at Cineplex Cinema in Park Royal Shopping Centre as a server sets down a huge platter of nachos and a glass of white wine on my swivel tray.
These seats are palatial. They come in double sets so you can raise the armrest and turn it into a love seat. Perfect for date-night canoodling. The aisles are super spacious. The screen is huge. There seriously isn’t a bad seat in the house.
Never in my life have I encountered such a comfortable movie-viewing arrangement – not at my home or anybody else’s home theatre; not in a first-class airline compartment; and most certainly not at a Cineplex. It is worth the premium price tag of $25 a ticket. The VIP food and drink? Meh, other than the delivery, there is nothing special about it at all.
Dining out has always been a form of entertainment. Just this week, Bells and Whistles, a craft-beer pub in Vancouver’s Fraserhood neighbourhood, launched Sunday retro-movie nights on its jumbo screen with surround sound. Next month, QuanJuDe, a luxury Chinese restaurant chain with a fully immersive 5D dining experience that includes animated visuals dancing across the table, will open on Cambie Street. You can dine high in the sky, under a winterized dome or snuggle in bed with food delivered from your favourite restaurant and a new release streamed on-demand.
As the options expand and lines continue to blur, Cineplex has been raising the bar on the movie-going experience with VIP theatres that feature adult-only zones with upscale lounges, state-of-the-art screening rooms and in-seat meal and beverage service.
The Park Royal VIP in North Vancouver was the latest B.C. location to open, in May, following Marine Gateway, Fifth Avenue and Coquitlam.
I don’t go to the movies very much, mostly because I find the experience chaotic. I am reminded of this the minute I step into the new Park Royal Cineplex and am assaulted with blaring ding-dings and bang-bangs from the game-room arcade.
The VIP section is off to one side. We show our digital tickets to the attendant and escape into a dark lounge that must be at least 50 decibels quieter. Ahh, that’s better
The lounge looks similar to a standard-issue West Coast chain restaurant with its stacked-rock fireplace, globe-cluster chandeliers and brushed-nickel accents. There are flat-screen TVs (volume turned off), billiard tables separating the bar from the dining room and black-and-white stills from Warner Bros. films adorning the walls.
We take our seats and try to flag the bartender, who is huddled with the manager.
“Sorry,” she says, “We were just talking about the new local beers,” which will include selections from Parkside (a respected craft brewery in Port Moody) and Stanley Park (a smaller cog in the giant machine of Anheuser-Busch.)
At least the beer offerings will be more interesting than the wine list, which is monopolized (for national consistency, the bartender explains) by ho-hum labels from giants within the Constellation Brands portfolio – Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Kim Crawford – priced at $9 to $15 for a six-ounce glass.
She makes me a decent Boulevardier ($13) with a solid ice sphere. My date orders a three-ounce Passion Ice Tea ($17) served in a fishbowl, which is as watery and awful as it sounds.
We take the drinks into the theatre so we can order dinner before the movie begins. Our server sidles over with a tablet as soon as we sit down.
Oh, these seats. They really are impressive. My date is 6-foot-6 and his toes don’t even dangle over the footrest when fully extended.
In-seat service continues throughout the trailers. If your food and drink hasn’t arrived by the time the movie starts, you must go pick it up at the door. Although there doesn’t seem to be a paging service, so I’m not sure how you know when it is ready and whether the server waits with your tray or just leaves it on the floor. If you want to order anything during the movie, you must go out to the bar and wait for it there.
Fortunately, the food comes fast, in about 10 minutes.
The Bacon and Bleu Burger ($17) is as good as you would expect with an elastic-y beef patty on an Ace Bakery bun (now available at No Frills supermarkets everywhere). The blue cheese overwhelms the caramelized onions and roasted garlic aioli. The fries are thin-cut and crispy.
The nachos ($15) are huge, but boring. The white corn chips are allegedly house-made, but taste store bought. The roasted corn-and-pepper salsa is tasteless. At least the cheese is layered plentifully throughout the mound.
I knew I should have ordered the quesadilla. Or a pizza. Or a protein bowl. Not that any of those options looked any more appetizing according to the photos on my app. But the bartender and server both swore the nachos were amazing.
We were going to order some more food in the lounge after the movie, but I balked at paying any more money for food I knew I wouldn’t enjoy. I’d rather go to White Spot around the corner.
With tickets, drinks, food and gratuities, the evening cost $152. That’s an awfully expensive night at the movies. I would go again and pay for the VIP viewing experience. I’d order drinks to my seat. I might even recommend the Wednesday night Dinner-at-the-Movies special – two tickets and three shared courses for $69 (a $14 savings, provided they give you the regular-sized portions).
But next time, I’m sneaking in my own snacks.