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CityWalk – AMC Universal Cineplex

This is the mall multiplex writ large and it’s hard to miss because it’s the first thing you see on your right as you arrive from the parking lots. Given its 4,800 seats in 20 theaters on two stories, it’s unlikely you have anything quite like it at home.

The soaring lobby is decorated with giant black and white banners depicting cinema heartthrobs, and escalators whisk you past them to the nine theaters upstairs. The theaters range in size from an intimate 150 seats to nearly 600.

Unfortunately, 20 theaters does not mean 20 films. Expect the usual assortment of first-run features with the very latest releases playing in multiple theaters and midnight screenings of cult favorites. If you live in or near any moderately sized city in the United States, chances are all the films playing at the Cineplex are playing back home; it’s just that here they’re all under one roof. Of course, all the theaters here have stadium seating with plush high-backed seats that rock gently, and the screens are about twice the size of those you are probably used to. The Cineplex shows the new “RealD” digital 3-D films, and you can keep the glasses. Every theater is also equipped with Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS), touted as “the most advanced digital cinema sound system in the marketplace today.” So all in all, catching a movie here is a viable option for a rainy Florida afternoon.

There is also an IMAX screen in the Universal Cineplex. If you're wondering how they removed the roof to install one of those massive screens you remember from the science museum, don't worry: they didn't. For this new all-digital version of IMAX, an existing theater (in this case screen 17, already the Cineplex's largest) was retrofitted with dual 2K projectors and a beefier sound system. The original screen was replaced by one marginally larger and closer to the audience, and the first couple rows of seats were removed (though not enough to make sitting in front on the sides anything but nauseating). This "patented geometry" is supposed to create the illusion of a much larger picture, but it isn't worth the premium for normal films. IMAX 3-D, on the other hand, is more immersive than its RealD competition, and may be worth the extra bucks. If you want the "real" giant-screen IMAX experience, you'll have to drive down Universal Boulevard to Pointe Orlando's Regal Cinema.

Admission (including tax) for adults is $10 for evening shows; bargain matinees (all shows that start before 3:55 p.m.) are $8. Children 2 to 12 pay $7. “A.M. Cinema” (shows that start before noon on weekends and holidays) are $5. Seniors (60+) pay $9 and student tickets are sometimes offered. Add an additional $4 per ticket for RealD 3D, $5 for IMAX, and $6 for IMAX 3D. Annual Pass holders save $2 off the admission price (no further discounts).

In addition to the regular box office windows, there are vending machines to your right that allow you to skip the line and purchase tickets, at no extra charge, using your credit card. More detailed information can be obtained from a human being by calling (407) 354-3374. Or purchase tickets in advance online at www.fandango.com. Fandango charges a “convenience fee” of “up to” $2; tickets can be printed out at home or picked up at the box office.

Don't worry about going hungry while you watch. There is the usual array of soft drinks, popcorn, and candy, all at inflated prices. More interesting are the mini-pizzas, nachos, and ice cream sundaes. There's even a coffee bar if you crave a latte and a full liquor bar serving up exotic cocktails and coolers. The 32-ounce draft beer is the best brew bargain on property. Anyone who has suffered through a serious drama with a munchkin kicking the back of their the seat will appreciate AMC's "Distraction-Free Entertainment" policy. To quote: "In order to provide the most enjoyable experience for adults attending R-rated features in the evenings, no children younger than 6 will be admitted to these features after 6 p.m." Bravo!

Universal occasionally screens classic and foreign cinema or hosts film festivals, but it's a shame it doesn't dedicate one screen to fare outside the modern Hollywood mainstream. On the other hand, the Cineplex has regular midnight performances of cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, complete with a live cast of bizarro fans in costume acting out on stage, so film buffs shouldn't be too disappointed (visit www.richweirdoes.com for midnight movie information).

Tip: You may want to exit on the upper level, even if you are seeing a film on the Cineplex's bottom level. From there you can either descend the narrow zigzag street lined with shops, or stroll along the sloping Promenade, home to CityWalk's row of restaurants and nightclubs..

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Universal Orlando 2011


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