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Have you even been to Boston before? Well, if you have then it’s quite likely you have been on this little trip around Boston. Although, just to show that the exception proves the rule – I have been to Boston before (before the Big Dig started) and didn’t go on this very pleasant excursion. Shame on me! The DUCK tours are a very popular attraction in Boston. If you are familiar with the Trolley tours which abound in many of the major US cities then this is very similar, although done with a lot more tongue-in-cheek humour, and with the added pleasure of going on water! That’s right, these DUCKs are genuine, renovated WW II amphibious landing craft. Each DUCK driver tries to get their audience to shout “quack, quack” as loud as possible. Yes, it sounds corny but most people do join in (although we did have one very miserable Norwegian person on our trip who completely refused to enjoy himself!). The children really take to it, as well. You are supposed to shout quack, quack whenever your driver gives the call sign. As we had a nice young lady from down south her call sign was “Well I do declare!” – at which point everybody shouts out. There is also rivalry between the various drivers. And you will be surprised how many people in Boston shout quack, quack at the DUCK – to which you have to respond with gusto! Now, I did mention these craft were amphibious and you do get to go on the water. Not only that but the drivers encourage all the children to take a turn at driving the DUCK whilst it is in the water. They will also take a picture of them to keep – provided you have your camera. And if you are very lucky, they may have enough time to let one or two of the adults have a go at driving too! And yes, I got to have a go at the wheel – thanks to my daughter volunteering me. It was great fun though. You buy your tickets in advance from the Prudential Center, n ext to the John Hancock Tower, and the current cost of an adult ticket is $22 and $12 for children. It may seem a bit expensive but I should emphasise the popularity of these trips and if you are planning to take a trip on one and also take in some of the other sights in Boston, then go and book your DUCK tour first. We tried booking ours at about 11:30 a.m. and the earliest we could go on one was 2:30 p.m. So either arrive early or plan ahead. The tour itself provides a great opportunity to see various places in Boston and certainly helps you to orientate yourself and decide what other attractions you will want to see. And there are plenty of things to do here. The tours begin at the Prudential Center, and go through Beacon Hill, Boston Common and past many famous landmarks. You go into the Charles River and then skirt Charlestown before heading back to the depot. The tours are supposed to last 80 minutes but are often a bit longer due to the traffic problems in Boston. The drivers provide information about Boston and its history, albeit with a slight bias to the American version of certain events. But it’s a great informal introduction to the city. We all enjoyed our trip and children will find it very memorable. For more information you can visit the official website: http://www.bostonducktours.com
Before I start on my opinion of this film I have a deeply embarrassing confession to make. It is so shocking that you may feel you needn't continue reading this opinion. If that’s the case, I understand your decision. Now, are you prepared for my revelation? I have never played Tomb Raider! No, honestly I haven’t. It’s a shocking statement I know but now that it’s out in the open I feel a sense of relief. I hope you feel a twinge of sympathy for me and take my opinion for what it is; an opinion of the film with nothing to cloud or hinder my view. Whilst I have never had the good fortune to have played the game, I am well aware of who Lara Croft is and unless you have been visiting a friend in a very remote part of the planet you will also know who she is. Even Tony Blair has made mention of her! And you must have noticed that Tomb Raider has been made in to a film. What do you mean you weren’t aware? I just don’t believe you. Anyway, Lara Croft, who is amply played by the lovely Angelina Jolie, is in town and at a cinema near you. It’s the cinematic release of the famous game. You have to admit it’s a funny old world where you have films made of heroic characters from a computer game. Perhaps we’ve made films of all the “real” heroes already. Or is it just that their heroic deeds weren’t that exciting? It’s no secret that many a Hollywood leading lady would have been happy to have been considered for the part. For consideration alone would mean that you have a body that computer gamers would die for. Seriously, though, it would be a massive compliment to be thought that you could be the physical embodiment of our Lara. Well, the part went to Angelina Jolie and, having just seen the film, it’s a role she was born for. She looks very much the part in the physical realisation of Lara Croft. The film opens with a scene very reminiscent of Indiana Jones. The action st arts straight away and the opening five minutes or so are just what you want to start the film off. Sadly, the film then drifts off into what can only be described as “fleshing out the characters”. The action set pieces are pretty good but we have several long gaps between them, particularly where Lara is dwelling on her dead father. Lara’s sidekicks are her butler, Hillary, played by Christopher Barrie. He’s a bit typecast as the English butler but I think this is his first film role so good luck to him, although a Red Dwarf film may be on the horizon. It’s not really a challenging part for him to play and it’s clearly a derivative of his other TV characters. Still, better to be typecast than not cast at all! Lara’s other helper is Bryce, her technical guru, played by Noah Taylor. He’s the geek. The nerd. Say no more. The film concerns a magical piece that the holder can use to manipulate time. However, many centuries ago the people realised that the artefact was too powerful in the wrong hands and broke it up and hid the pieces. Now, the race is on. A planetary alignment will give the artefact its powers when the pieces are brought back together. Okay, not too original but it’s pretty good. However, the bad guys want the artefact as well. The main bad guy is Powell, played by Iain Glenn. And here I have to agree with the reviews I’ve read that this is a useless bad guy. At no point in the film do you think that this guy has even the faintest chance against our Lara. He never inspires any fear or concern for our hero in the audience. This is a shame because Jolie looks and acts very much the part and works her cotton socks off, bless her. All in all this is pretty watchable. It is nowhere near as bad as some of the American critics are making out. But, it could have been, and perhaps should have been, much better. I’m very easy to please and quite enjoyed the film – despite its slo w parts. What I am willing to predict is that the DVD release could be a corker. A lovely DTS soundtrack for some of the action sequences would be very good. And how does Angelina stack up against the original Lara? Actually, very well. Very well, indeed. Now where is my son's Tomb Raider game
Shrek is the latest animation to come to the big screen and it’s heading your way now! I was fortunate enough to be invited to a preview screening and, having been pestered by my daughter to be able to go and see it, the whole family decided to go along. At its simplest Shrek is a fairy tale adventure of a fair princess trapped in tower and guarded by a dragon. She needs rescuing and Shrek is the man, well actually he’s the ogre, who can get the job done. Shrek is voiced by Mike Myers, famous for the Austin Powers movies, and he does a decent enough job but I wasn’t quite sure what accent he was trying to achieve. In parts he has a decidedly Scottish lilt and sounds just like John Hannah (Sliding Doors). Perhaps this was what he was asked to do – I don’t know. Apart from the accent, though, the voicing is done well. As is always the case with today’s animations there has to be a funny sidekick. Here it’s Eddie Murphy playing The Donkey. Listen well – the one-liners come thick and fast when he is on screen. The fair damsel who needs rescuing is Princess Fiona who is voiced by Cameron Diaz (recently seen in Charlie’s Angels). She does have a dark secret however but my lips are sealed. In true fairy tale tradition she is waiting for love’s first kiss. Why is she being rescued by an ogre and a talking donkey? Well, that’s because Lord Farquaad, the ruler of Duloc, wants them to rescue her. Lord Farquaad is voiced by the excellent John Lithgow, probably best known from the TV series Third Rock From The Sun. Shrek is another of those excellent animations coming out of the Dreamworks studio, who also produced the wonderful Antz. Whilst I like Disney animations I do think it’s very healthy for them to have competition at this level. Shrek has humour for all ages and, whilst younger viewers will find much to enjoy, there is plenty to keep the teenage and adult audienc e quietly giggling. A lot of the visual humour is taking a bit of a swipe at Disney and you will spot many well known characters making a brief appearance. The humour, at times, is of the “bottom” variety. In my opinion, this is something that is finding its way in to too many children’s films. But, as I said, this is aimed at all ages. All in all, I found the film very enjoyable as did my daughter and I’m sure it’s one of those films that will reveal many new jokes each time you watch it. The DVD release, possibly by Christmas(?), will be a stunner!
Well, being a great fan of science fiction films I decided to ignore all the comments flying around that this one was a bit of a let down. I always prefer to make up my own mind about a film and, if at all possible, avoid any hype – or negative hype in this case – and give the film a chance. So I bought the region 1 DVD and gave it a fair chance and it has to be said – it’s a bit of a let down. The basic synopsis of the story is that earth is in bad shape and the population of earth need another planet to live on (or infest, whatever takes your fancy). They have therefore decided to send a space ship to Mars to colonise it. This is the first manned mission to the planet and the astronauts are all hand picked specialists. On board is a robot called AMEE. Does it all sound familiar? You bet it does. And guess what happens to the robot? On the acting front we have a couple of well known names and, given that the story line is so predictable, it’s difficult to say whether the acting is at fault. I find it hard to blame them for the poor quality of the film but perhaps they could see it turning into a bit of a stinker and lost some of their enthusiasm. The film stars Val Kilmer as Gallagher, a member of the crew bound for Mars – the Red Planet. He's the hero. It has to be said that Val has made some so-so movies in his time so I guess he has pretty poor judgement of scripts! Leading the expedition is Carrie-Anne Moss (recently seen in The Matrix, Chocolat, Memento) as Commander Kate Bowman. Others lending weight to the acting are Tom Sizemore, recently seen in Pearl Harbor, and Benjamin Bratt (Traffic). /*SLIGHT SPOILER*/ The special effects are pretty good but are way short of being able to carry the film. As is completely predictable, the robot throws a complete wobbler and tries to kill the crew. This is not as much of a spoiler as you may think because this is also stated on the DVD cover. The effects for AMEE are good but you just knew this was going to happen. /*END OF SLIGHT SPOILER*/ There are lots of other complaints I have about the film. The petty squabbles felt very artificial and contrived. The characters are never really developed – I know it’s a sci-fi film but even by sci-fi standards this left a lot to be desired. The film is too poor to warrant a separate opinion on the DVD so I’ll say here that the quality of the DVD is pretty good. The film is very clear and the sound is good. For what it’s worth, there are very few extras. Just some deleted scenes and career highlights of the cast and director. I can tell you now that I doubt if there will be a special edition laden with extras on its way! This film is definitely a RENTAL ONLY job. It’s probably worth seeing but it is not worth buying although I’m sure you could find somewhere to sell it on or exchange it.
When people generally think of theme parks in Orlando this is the one that is most likely to spring to mind. This was Disney’s first theme park in Florida. One could say that this was Disney’s “Field of Dreams” – build it and they will come! And boy, did they ever. The building of this theme park quite literally transformed Orlando. Disney already knew how successful a theme park could be with its Disneyland venture in California. But I suspect the people of Florida didn’t quite realise the impact it would have when they built Walt Disney World. But Disney knew what it was about and why people didn’t suspect something when they were busy buying up 27,500 acres of Florida swamp and farm land is anybody’s guess. Their first theme park in Florida, Walt Disney World, eventually opened on October 1, 1971, and the rest, as they say, is history. Getting to the park is relatively easy. Most hotels provide transportation, usually free, or you can drive or, if you are a Disney guest, you can take advantage of the free bus transportation between the various parks. If you drive to the park there is a small parking fee (free for Disney guests). ~ Some Advice If you stay in one of the Walt Disney World hotels you get the advantage of being able to enter the park a full hour before any of the non-residents. This is clearly useful if you want to be fully shaken and stirred before you’ve had any breakfast – unless you’re a very early eater that is. Now, if you are not one of Mickey’s guests then the specified early opening days should be avoided – go to one of the parks that opens at its regular time - otherwise you will arrive bright and early only to find the park already busy! ~ Park Layout Tickets can be purchased outside the main gate. You can buy any of the wide variety of tickets that Disney offer or just simply go for the day. Alternatively, you can buy your tickets from your hotel (probably not the cheapest way) or from many of the vast number of little shops specialising in selling tickets at very competitive prices (and often offering you the chance to look at a time share!). Basically, look around and read the local papers for tickets. I generally bought mine outside the park from one of these smaller outlets and saved a few dollars off each ticket. See if there are any special deals if you buy the multi-passes – they often offer free tickets to some of the shows. You can also buy your tickets before you leave for Florida if you prefer to do it that way. The park follows the “hub and spoke” principle. That is, there is a central hub from where all the “Kingdoms” can be reached. When you first enter the park you stroll down Main Street past the many and varied shops offering a range of goods. At the end of Main Street you are at the centre (center?) of the hub. You now have the choice of five destinations, which I will describe in a clockwise fashion. # Adventureland There are four attractions here but three of them are really for just passing the time. You have the Swiss Family Treehouse based on the film of the Swiss Family Robinson. My wife and daughter enjoyed this and it’s suitable for all age groups but the visit involves a bit of climbing. The next is the Jungle Cruise, which is a popular attraction and can get a bit busy. The Tropical Serenade/Enchanted Tiki Room is an animatronic theatre show but the best and most popular attraction here is the Pirates of the Caribbean, now immortalised by the Jeff Goldblum quote in Jurassic Park. This is a delightful Disney attraction that can be enjoyed by all age groups. Okay, it won’t be “challenging” for the teenagers but it’s a lovely, must-see attraction. # Frontierland There are four attraction here and two of them can be considered very popular. The two lesser attraction are Country Bear Jamboree, involving animatronic singing bears, and Tom Sawyer Island, where you take a raft over to a playground. A big attraction is the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The ride is, in reality, somewhat gentler that you may expect in this western style roller coaster. You take a ride in a runaway mine train through some wonderfully detailed scenery. The major attraction, though, is Splash Mountain. Here you can expect big queues so be prepared. As the name suggests, this is a log flume ride but with Disney’s trademark excellent special effects on the way. The creatures you meet are from Song of the South with Brer Rabbbit and co. At the end of the ride though is an exciting 45 degree slide into the water. Take heed – if you are in the front you are VERY likely to get wet! A height restriction is in place so children must be at least 44 inches tall. Also note that children under 7 must be accompanied by an adult. # Liberty Square A few lesser attractions here. There is a live revue in The Diamond Horseback Saloon Revue, with singing, dancing and clowning about. You can take a ride on an old style paddle boat in the Liberty Bell Riverboat. You can also take in the Hall of Presidents, another of those audio-animatronic shows. It’s all done well but nothing that really grabbed my attention. They do have, however, The Haunted Mansion! I really liked this ride, from the preamble to the ride itself. It’s great fun and not a bit like those cheap and nasty ghost train rides that we get at amusement parks. This is how a ghost ride should be. The effects are great and the ride is not too scary, for young or old. # Fantasyland There’s not really a major attraction here but there are lots of lesser ones to keep you going. Some are quite pleasant and most are very suitable for young children. You have It’s A small World, a family boat trip, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant – loved by all the young children. The Mad Tea Party is one of those spinning rides where you sit in a tea cup. Other offerings are Snow White’s Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight and Cinderalla’s Golden Carrousel and then there is a puppet show of The Legend of the Lion King. Mickey’s Toontown Fair The smallest and newest addition to the Magic Kingdom, it has only a few lesser attractions. Again, it will be enjoyed most by the youngest members of the family. If time is tight, this part can easily be missed out. # Tomorrowland This is, of course, my favourite part of the park and it seemed to be everybody else’s as well. I was last at the Magic Kingdom in April, 1999, but I don’t think so many things will have changed. The are a number of attraction and two MAJOR ones. The better of the lesser ones are the Astro Orbiter, which is essentially a flying rocket attraction. My daughter loved this ride. It’s gentle and you can control the height by the stick. The other is The Timekeeper. This is based on time travel with your guide Nine-Eye. It’s one of those 360 degree projections and you see whatever Nine-Eye sees. Can be a bit disorienting. The first of the two big attractions is Space Mountain. This is a fast roller coaster ride in the dark and it is VERY popular - still. A height restriction is in place of 44 inches. Even though it’s getting on a bit, it is still a very good ride. One of the newest attractions here, however, is Alien Encounter and this is one of the most non-Disney attractions I’ve found. It is not a ride it is an experience. And this show can be very scary for children. What is also odd is that the pre-show build up is very tame and gives no real indication of what to expect inside. Think Alien – think Alien escaped – and you may get some idea of what it’s about. I don’t want to spoil this for people who want to meet it fre sh but parents should be advised that they should consider very carefully whether they let their children experience this. If you are unsure whether it is suitable for your children, try it out yourself first! Many of the children of 10 or younger who experienced this were extremely distressed when they left. **** SPOILER **** This is for people who want to know what it’s about or for parents who want to make an informed choice about whether their children should go on this. When you enter the room you take a seat on your space ship and you are strapped in with secure shoulder restraints which include speakers. There is an experimental transport system that a station wants to use but as they start it up an alien craft is encountered and caught up in the beam. The alien is transferred to your ship and you are trapped. Using clever sound effects you hear the alien near you, feel it "land" on your shoulders via the restraints and you feel his hot breath on your neck. There are the sounds of characters screaming and dying all around you until it’s caught and transported out. This all takes place in complete darkness with the odd light flashing. It’s done very, very well and it’s a great experience but it is not for the faint hearted. ~ Finally There are a couple of other things that people also like about the Magic Kingdom. One of these is the parade. This is very popular so check your map for the route and get in place early. If you can stay until late at night you get to see the excellent (and loud) fireworks display. This park also has some of the longest opening hours. When we were, there were many evenings when it didn’t close until midnight! Visiting Disney is like undergoing army manoeuvres – be prepared for endurance! This is certainly a park that has to be visited if you’ve not been before but it is far from my favourite park. But it is the park that started it all and it still retains a lot of charm and character and is certainly worth visiting. Have fun.
Disney have made some great films in their time and when I first saw this film going to the cinema and then on DVD, I was unsure what to expect. I had read that the film was “different” with hints of what was different so I was keen to watch this one. I have to say that Disney have changed their tack just a little bit here. And I’m quite pleased with the result. Gone are the corny sidekicks that are always looking for the next joke about flatulence or have just had their teeth knocked out! Gone is the “essential” love interest. Gone are the songs too! Also gone is the villain having an English voice. Whilst these things may have their place in some of Disney’s movies, it is quite enjoyable to not have them there as well. This film itself is about a young and very self-centred ruler of a substantial kingdom in an unspecified part of the world – but it does have llamas! He is Kuzco, the Emperor of the title and he gets his own way all of the time. The voice of Kuzco is provided by David Spade and I don’t know much about him as an actor. However, his voicing of Kuzco is very good. The story follows Kuzco upsetting a number of people and generally being an all round spoilt person. He invites one of the villagers in to discuss how much sun his house gets as it is on the top of the hill. When the villager explains how nice it is and how sunny the Emperor tells him it’s all settled. He will build his new water park on the hill. Of course, the villager tries to point out that the Emperor is mistaken because he would have to knock down all the houses. The Emperor agrees and dismisses him and is oblivious to the villager’s pleas (well, I did say he was spoilt). As the Emperor is the “hero” of the film as well, it really wouldn’t do if you didn’t sympathise with him and so there is a bad guy too! Well, it’s actually a bad woman who goes by the name of Yzma. The Emperor decides very early on that he doesn’t want her about any more and sacks her. Of course, she doesn’t take kindly to this and puts a spell on him. She actually wanted him killed but her assistant, Kronk, messes it up and instead Kuzco gets turned in to a llama. This, of course, is where the story starts. The voice of Yzma is provided by Eartha Kitt and is played with great zeal. I don’t recall her actually doing a character’s voice for Disney before and it’s really amazing how many people are still out there who can help Disney maintain such a high standard of voice overs. As another example of this fabulous array of voice talent just waiting in the wings, the voice of the villager called to see the Emperor is provided by the ever excellent John Goodman. He plays the part of Pacha, the villager who befriends the Emperor when he is a llama. He is convinced that the Emperor does care about what happens to the village, even if these feelings are deep down – very deep down. Pacha agrees to help get the Emperor back to the palace and find a cure and tries to demonstrate what friendship really means. Ultimately, this is a tale of somebody discovering his real self. The tale is told well and there is no opportunity for Disney to alter fairy stories or famous legends! I found the approach to be refreshing for a number of reasons, some of which are: there are no songs (whilst Disney can produce memorable songs, the majority are quite forgettable); and there are no irritating sidekicks. All in all I was pleasantly surprised with this film and quite enjoyed it. Needless to say, it’s my daughter’s favourite at the moment!
For me, this park has turned out to be the best theme park in Orlando. It is owned by Universal and is situated right alongside its first Orlando theme park, Universal Studios. But this park is the most recent addition to the excellent attractions in Orlando and it will certainly pull people away from the mighty Disney parks. Before you could have done Universal Studios in one day, two if you wanted a more leisurely go at it. But no longer. Now you need at least two full days at Universal, if not three, to cover both parks. The park contains some of the most stunning and wonderfully themed roller coaster rides that you will ever experience. Ever! Apart from the stunning rides, there are also motion rides that utilise some of the most sophisticated technical wizardry you will see anywhere in the world. The good thing is, the other parks are also responding. Both Disney’s MGM Studios and SeaWorld have introduced excellent new roller coaster rides with the Rock n Roller Coaster and Kraken, respectively. Which is just great for all of us who visit these parks. Islands of Adventure is relatively new. During our first visit to Orlando in 1999, you could buy a ticket to the new park when you were visiting Universal Studios. However, the park was not completed and they didn’t guarantee that any of the rides that were completed would be working. As we were very pushed for time just trying to see the established attractions we decided to give it a miss. However, on our second visit in 2000 it was fully operational and we spent a full day there. That was one of the best decisions we made. The park is stunning and it is a MUST see. Do NOT miss this one out. The park was formally opened by none other than Steven Speilberg. If you’re going to open a major new movie studio theme park, they don’t come much bigger than Steven Speilberg! ~ The Park Layout Getting to the park is the same as for Universal Studios. You park i n the (very) big multistorey car park and walk, and walk a bit more. You then reach a junction and you can choose whether you go to Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. Well, given the subject of this opinion, you know where we are headed. Once you are through the main gates and pick up your map you will find it is similar in layout to Universal Studios. It has a large central lagoon and six “islands” that surround it. As you approach the lagoon you will see on your left the awesome ride that is The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk-green metal rails seem to spring out of the ground and twist and turn every which way, including going under the bridge into this part of the park. This sight (and sound of people screaming) is a huge magnet for the people entering the park and the ride gets very busy very early. I found it better to come back to this ride in the early to late evening. On your right, however, is Seuss Landing and I’ll describe this part of the park first and we wander around anticlockwise. ~ Seuss Landing To really know what’s going on here it helps you know the characters from the books. It is said that there is not a straight line here and that’s easy to believe. The focus here, though, is clearly on much younger children with a whole host of fairground style rides, often with a difference. As my daughter was all of 9 we didn’t spend too much time here but for families with young children it’s going to be quite popular. ~ The Lost Continent Continuing on our anticlockwise journey around the lagoon brings us to this fabulous place. It contains one (or is it two?) of the most wonderful rides ever conceived – the truly stunning Duelling Dragons. I will discuss this ride below because it really deserves its own special mention. It also has two other attractions that are worth seeing. The first is The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. This is a show where Sinbad has to rescue Princess Amoura. There are lots of loud bangs and plentiful special effects. Apart from the noise, it’s good family fun. Outside there is a magical fountain which squirts water at you and, by means of a hidden microphone, will have a conversation with you. The older children enjoyed it whilst trying to find out where the hidden person is and avoiding being squirted! The other show is Poseidon’s Adventure. My wife and daughter went to see this (more on why I wasn’t there below) and said it was pretty decent. Duelling Dragons This is a simply stunning ride. The whole concept is brilliant. Even from approaching it, where you see the huge red and blue dragons at the entrance, you know this is something special. The red dragon is Fire and the blue dragon is Ice. And it is two rides that run together. The ride features several near miss scenarios (best enjoyed from the very front of the dragon – but you will have to wait longer to get one of these seats) and a number of loops and twists. The two rides ARE different so it’s worth trying them both out. I still don’t know which one I prefer – definitely needs further investigation! The ride starts with Fire and Ice lining up alongside each other. You are then launched at the same time and accelerate up to the top before Fire and Ice break off in opposite directions. During my visit this ride was pretty quiet and you could go straight on to either ride. There was a short queue for the front seat so I waited to ride in the front of Fire. It was really good. On Ice I was able to ride in the second seat. Not quite as good, but okay, but there was no waiting. I could happily have alternated between rides for quite some time but the family was waiting. There is a height restriction of 4ft 6. This ride is a MAJOR attraction so you should expect some big queues but having two rides should keep things moving along. ~ Jurassic Park The major attrac tion in this part of the park in the Jurassic Park River Adventure although there are several other attractions as well. A lot of them are focused on educational aspects, such as Triceratops Encounter and Discovery Center. There is also a gentle ride called the Pteranodon Flyer. Here you can gently soar through the air. The problem here is that the queue for the ride is very slow moving, the flyer only holds two people, and an adult must be accompanied by a child. As we were a party of three, two of which were adults, it didn’t suit us particularly well. Still, my daughter and wife did enjoy the ride. Now, as I said, the major ride is the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Here you set off in your boat but you soon find that things have gone wrong and you are no longer heading on the safe route but through dangerous territory where the raptors have got loose! There is also a T-Rex on the rampage. You are finally faced with a stark choice – face the T-Rex or take the 85ft plunge to safety. And a good soaking for some! A great ride that can get very busy. There is also a height restriction of 3ft 6. ~ Toon Lagoon Now, given the title of this island you would not be wrong in thinking there may be a bit of water about. and there is. Here we have two water rides so make sure you have some dry clothes handy. The first is Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges. This one has you floating on a raft into the white water and you face a high probability of getting a good soaking. You are then faced with Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. This is an ingenious log flume ride that winds you around and carries you up to a 60ft drop at a very acute angle. You then plunge down to the lagoon below. The chances of getting wet are high! As a word of advice, the drop is very quick so make sure children are held firm. My daughter wasn’t quite ready for the sheer drop and took a slight battering when we hit the water. Again, there is a height restricti on of 3ft 8. ~ Marvel Super Hero Island This island contain some jaw-dropping stuff. The three attractions here are all MAJOR ones. As the Hulk brings them in so these other excellent attractions keep them here. It is probably the busiest part of the park. One of the attractions is Dr. Doom’s Fearfall. If you like being launched vertically to a height of 200 ft and dropped back, then this is for you. My wife didn’t want to go on it and my daughter was too small (minimum height to ride is 52 inches). Fortunately I’d been on a similar ride in Las Vegas so was happy to pass it up in favour of going on The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman. This is a truly breathtaking 3D motion ride. You set off in your car and soon Spiderman lands on the front. As soon as he lands you feel the car lurch in response to his weight. He warns you that his arch enemies are about but he will try to protect you. It is crammed full of special technical effects as you get caught up in a fabulous superhero fight. This is a MUST NOT MISS ride. The Incredible Hulk I mentioned earlier that I didn’t go on Poseidon’s Fury and this is the reason. I had to choose whether to go on The Incredible Hulk or see Poseidon’s Fury with my wife and daughter. The ride had been really busy all day with a huge queue so we (I) gave it a miss in favour of the other attractions. My wife didn’t want to go on the ride and my daughter was not tall enough but my wife is understanding and knew how truly desperate I was to try it out. So off I ran to take advantage of the (now) very small queue. The whole look and feel of the ride is amazing and the ride itself lives up to expectation every inch of the way. This has to be one of the best rides in the world. You are twisted, inverted, taken under a bridge at breakneck speed - it is wonderful. It was so good I just ran back in to the queue and rode it again. And it was even better the seco nd time around. I than rejoined my family, very much happier and burbling hopelessly to my wife about how good it was. As we were leaving the park I made a final plea to ride it again and had a third go. As I said, she’s very understanding. ~ And Finally In terms of thrill rides and well thought out parks, this is the best of the best. No other park comes close. The rides and special effects are superb in every detail and I can easily see this park becoming one of the most popular in Orlando. I would thoroughly recommend this park to anyone because it has lots for all ages but is really well suited to those that know no fear! As the Americans say – enjoy!
I’m sure Disney’s plan is to take over Orlando! And if they keep creating theme parks like this one then there won’t be too many disappointed people. The Animal Kingdom is Disney’s newest theme park in Orlando and it has to be said, that it’s very different to its other theme parks. There is no doubt that this park is intended to compete with the relatively nearby Busch Gardens, and compete it does – on a grand scale. The park opened in April 1998 but it was far from complete. My family went in April 1999 and again in April 2000 (but sadly we won’t be going in 2001). On both occasions, the park was busy – and you knew it! This is in contrast to Sea World where even on busy days you still feel there is space. The park itself is some 500 acres in size but a lot of this is given to creating space for the animals and the impression of viewing large open spaces, the sort you would see on a wildlife safari. You could easily imagine David Attenborough popping up from behind one of the bushes! I mentioned that it is competing against Busch Gardens and to do this Disney have introduced a number of rides and experiences. These are well tucked away but there are some decent attractions here, the vast majority of which are suitable for all the family. ~ The Park Layout As with all of the theme parks in Orlando you need some form of transport to get there. Many hotels offer free shuttles to the parks or you can take advantage of the fly-drive holidays. If you drive to this park you will find a large car park where guests can use the free Disney trams to take them to the park entrance. Here you can buy your entrance tickets if you don’t already have them. Make sure you pick up your essential park map which you can do when you buy your tickets or just inside the park entrance where guests also have access to lockers to store away those necessary but rarely used items. You can also h ire buggies (strollers) for the youngest members, wheelchairs, and probably all manner of other stuff. Disney has stuck with its tried and tested formula of having a central location near the park entrance and a number of spokes emanating from this hub. These lead to the various attractions and features. I’ve mentioned before that Disney pays great attention to detail and this park is truly one of their masterpieces. Like most theme parks it is divided into a number of sectors and each sector has a theme. However, whilst the park itself is great, some of the themes seem a bit odd. In keeping with the animal theme you get sections on Africa and Asia and the wilderness theme continues with The Oasis (at the park entrance) and Safari Village. But then you get Dinoland USA and Camp Minnie Mickey! Oh well, I guess you just have to accept these oddities with Disney. The attractions take the form of musical shows, such as Festival of the Lion King, and some pretty decent rides. Almost everything is worth seeing at least once in this park but in reality, though, the park doesn’t have as many attractions as Disney’s other parks (yet). This is reflected in the opening hours being somewhat less than the other parks. I do expect other attractions to begin appearing as the park gets itself firmly established. But now on with a description of what you’ll find here. ~ The Oasis This is a gentle introduction to the Animal Kingdom. Walking through you will get to see plenty of well detailed habitat with lots of birds, ponds and little waterfalls. It gives a very restful feeling. This is a very small section and really serves only to get you to the central hub known as Safari Village. However, this year they seem to have changed the name. Safari Village is now known as Discovery Island. ~ Discovery Island This is the central hub of the Animal Kingdom and when you arrive at Discovery Island you get to see o ne of Disney’s more magnificent achievements – the Tree of Life. This is a stunning piece of work and at 145 feet in height it completely dominates this sector. The trunk is 50 feet wide and the tree has amazing carvings all over it (reputedly 325 of them) taken from the Circle of Life. Not only does it form a glorious centrepiece but underneath the tree is a wonderful, and not to be missed, 3D show. The trail wanders around the tree and to get to the show you spiral in and get an excellent opportunity to see the carvings and all the hard work that went in to creating this feature. It’s Tough to be a Bug: If you have a fear of bugs then this show is NOT for you. It features grasshoppers and a range of creepy crawlies that have some particularly distasteful ways of putting predators off – which includes “acid rain”. And when the stink bug lets loose an ominous green cloud – well, say no more! The theatre holds 430 people so the queues do move pretty fast but this is a popular show and you can easily be waiting for an hour or more at busy times. A word of advice, some younger children may not like some of the effects. They can be pretty scary. There are some other features in this sector, such as a short cruise that is suitable for young children, but not too much more you keep you here. If you like the Disney parades then this is where you need to be, but that’s only in the afternoon, otherwise it’s time to move on. ~ Camp Minnie-Mickey Well the name may be a bit of an oddity but this is a popular part of the park. There are two attractions here: Pocahontas and her Forest Friends, which is great for the younger children, and the fabulous Festival of the Lion King. Festival of the Lion King: the is an extremely colourful show that features all the popular songs from the hit film. The show lasts about 40 minutes and is one of the most popular attraction s at the Animal Kingdom. To get a good seat you need to be queuing early! As well as lots of singing and dancing, there is also a lot of acrobatics with people swinging on the trapeze and bouncing on the trampoline. This is a high quality show and not to be missed. ~ Dinoland USA Yes, yet another slightly odd sounding name but it does now contain two excellent attractions: the first is a musical show based on the Tarzan animation and the second is a themed ride called Countdown to Extinction. Tarzan Rocks: This is a great, and different, type of musical show in that it features a live rock band (and they are pretty darned good too!). The songs in this film were not that memorable but they are certainly given a bit more of a punch from the live show. However, it is not just the band but a whole host of the characters from the film. The monkeys helter-skelter about the place on roller blades – do keep children out of the way as they hurtle around the walkways – and up and down the on-stage ramps. Tarzan and Jane also appear swinging their way in. This show was new in 2000 (at least to us) and it was proving to be very popular. Expect pretty big queues. Countdown to Extinction: This is the major ride at the Animal Kingdom with a nice pre-show build up. Here you get to travel back in time to the Cretaceous Period but your ride is hijacked! The ride is very good with lots of detail but it is bumpy and there is a height restriction. Younger children may also find it a bit scary in places. You can expect big queues for this ride. ~ Africa There is lots of detail in this part of the Kingdom. As you wander through Harambe you will arrive at another very popular destination with the visitors, which is Kilimanjaro Safaris. Kilimanjaro Safaris: This is actually a ride on a big truck. This is always busy so try to ride early. On this trip, you go out with your driver into the African bush to see rhinos, elephants, zebras and all manner of other African wildlife. You also get caught up in trying to stop some elephant poaching. There are lots of other trails to explore and plenty of refreshments nearby. Take a nice gentle stroll here. ~ Asia There are several good features to see here and it’s one of my favourite sectors. Again, lots of great detail, and the lovely Maharajah Jungle Trek, complete with tigers, to wander along after trying one of the rides. Kali River Rapids: Be prepared to get wet here and if you're unlucky – VERY wet. Here you board one of those dingy-type vessels to go for a wonderful raft ride. On our last visit here my daughter and I got very, very wet indeed. As you all know, the distribution of weight is important to spread the soaking about but on out last visit I was the heaviest there and my daughter decided to sit next to me. We seemed to be always at the front for every bit of dunking, splashing and watery rapids that we encountered. We were soaked. Neither of us have ever been so wet. Still, with the great weather in Orlando we were soon getting dry again. It’s an excellent ride and not to be missed. Flights of Wonder at Caravan Stage: This is a lovely show (no music) with a host of birds. They get to perform some amazing tricks both vocal and flying. They actually have a parrot that will truly stun you as it sings “How much is that doggy in the window, the one with the waggly tail”. This is a really nice show to relax to and you will be amazed at the birds. ~ Rainforest Café When you have had enough of the Animal Kingdom then you can round off your day with a visit to this famous watering hole. It’s always busy but the food is pretty good and the now famous scenery is great fun. ~ And Finally This is a great park but it does get busy. However, when we were there in 2000 Disn ey had introduced their fastpass system. You can use this to pre-book a time when you go on the ride. You just enter your card and it gives you a ticket with a time slot. You return to the ride at your allotted time and there is little or no queuing. It works quite well. However, you can hold one pre-booked ticket at a time but if your careful you can get most things done in a day. This park will be expanding and other sectors are planned. Perhaps they will be available this year!
Halton Borough Council is very new. In fact, it became a unitary authority on April 1st, 1998. At that point in time, it took over funding for all local facilities i.e. education, libraries etc. All the services that councils normally fund. Prior to that, all services were provided by Cheshire County Council. Now, who’s actually heard of Halton Borough Council? Hmmm. Just as I thought. Nobody. Well, if you delve into this opinion you will find out a little more about it. You may even be able to impress your friends by saying you know all about Halton Borough Council. So, where is Halton? The borough is situated in the north west of England. It lies between Chester and Liverpool and actually spans the River Mersey. The two main towns within Halton Borough Council are Widnes and Runcorn. What separates them is the River Mersey. If you go to the web pages for the council you will see a very nice picture of the bridge that connects the two towns. It’s all lit up and looks wonderful. What you don’t see is the traffic! This is the only place to cross the Mersey for miles and during the rush hours the traffic just grinds to a halt. In fact, if there is even the slightest thing amiss on the bridge you get gridlock! Very quickly. ~ Some History Yes. Believe it or not, Halton does have a history. In fact, it goes back to before the 12th century. Well, that’s not strictly today’s Halton but the relationship between Widnes and Runcorn stretches that far back. Halton, as it is today, was created in 1974. The first mention of Runcorn, though, is in 916 (no, I haven’t missed a 1 off the beginning of the date!) when it was visited by Princess Aethelfreda. A fort was built on the river and she came to inspect it. After that, Halton was a Barony that was awarded to the Constable of Chester. ~ The Surrounding Villages There are a number of small, pleasant villages in Halton. One of the more well known i s Daresbury. Its main claim to fame is the fact that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known to you and me as Lewis Carroll, was born in the village in 1832. The village houses a lovely old church and, as a tribute to Lewis Carroll, there are some famous figures from Alice’s adventures in the stained glass windows. The church also featured in the Christmas (2000) Songs of Praise and it looked very nice too. Two of the other villages are Preston Brook and Moore. Both of these have the Bridgewater Canal running through them. Another village with some fame attached is Hale. Here was born John Middleton in 1578. He grew to the astonishing height of 9 feet 3 inches. ~ The Canals Halton has plenty of links with canals. Two major ones than run through the borough are the Manchester Ship Canal and Bridgewater Canal. Whilst the Manchester Ship Canal goes through some very industrial areas and is still quite busy with ships the Bridgewater Canal contrasts with this and has some very pleasant, scenic walks. My family and I have often walked along the towpaths. You can also hire barges from Preston Brook. On a sunny day it looks a very idyllic pastime. ~ The Industrial Aspect There is no getting away from it, Halton contains many eyesores. It does, after all, have many chemical industries in the area. Some of these are, quite frankly, ugly. Still, the positive side is the employment opportunities these companies offer. However, recent trends have been to close many of these operations down or sell them on. What’s left then is just the eyesore. This problem remains a major challenge for Halton Borough Council. ~ Education This is an important aspect for most councils and for Halton it’s no different. Sadly, the schooling is an aspect that gets a bit of a thumbs down. On the positive side, the villages have some very small, traditional looking schools (lots of red brick). From my perspective the education offe red to younger children looks okay and some are very good. The problems begin in the high schools. Here the results are far from good. The council do recognise the problem and do actually spend more money on education that they are required to do (it's actually 50% of its income). Given that Halton is still young and has only recently held its own destiny in its hands, perhaps things will change for the better. ~ The Web Site I have to say that the web site is truly excellent. Halton really do wish to move into the 21st century and they seem to have put a lot of time and effort into the web site. Now it may surprise you but I have actually used the web site. When I did, I found it very useful indeed. At the time I was having some trouble over hiring a car in Orlando. They failed to provide the car I had paid for and it was necessary to upgrade upon arrival. I therefore wanted to claim this back from the hire company and, when they were proving to be a little slow in responding, went to the Halton web site to contact the consumer protection people. I found their details very easily and they were very helpful and supportive. In the end I didn’t need them but it was nice to know they were there if required. Since then, the web site has improved dramatically. Having checked on things for this opinion, I was stunned at how good it really is. The site is well laid out and looks very clean. It contains lots of information about the councillors, how the council operates, who you can contact as well as loads of information about the towns and villages. The layout of the web site is simple and easy to follow. The are four main sections: Your Council: covering an Introduction to the Council, Councillor Information (all names, addresses, telephone numbers, email, surgery times and pictures too!), Unitary Authority, Best Value (explaining what this means and what they are doing), Public Participation (lots about ho using policy, social inclusion policy etc.), and Customer Services Assurances (explains what all of the directorates do). Your Services: A-Z of all Services (what it say really), Directorates and Main Services (there are several directorates and their title and contact points are listed here), Halton Direct Link (this is something that is coming this year and will enable people to get everything done in one place), Contacting Halton (what is says), Halton UDP (download their development plan). Corporate: Economic Development (all about inward investment, local jobs), Business 2000 (business opportunities, developments, contacts), European and Regional (explains all about its contact in Europe and its role in the Regional assembly), Committee Minutes (feel free to download the minutes!). Your Borough: About Halton (learn all about Halton and its villages etc.), Halton Maps (a range of maps showing different aspects of Halton), Historical Halton (find out about the history of the area), Nature in Halton (find out about the nature reserves in the area). I would have to say that this web site is as comprehensive as any I have come across – and I’ve seen many! I think they definitely deserve praise for all their effort. I think there is still much to do in Halton and it faces many challenges. Moving from the “old” chemical industry sector to a more modern one is clearly high on the list. As with any area like this, employment (or the lack of it) is a major issue and in fairness to Halton, they seem to be doing all they can in bringing in external funds. I wish them luck and I think progress is being made. And if it isn’t, then the web site will certainly tell you who to complain to!
This is one of the major attractions in Orlando. It seems like it’s been there forever but in fact it only opened to the public in June 1990. There is also a Universal Studios in Los Angeles which has been around for a long time and, whilst that one is very good (I went there in March 2000), this one is much better. This studio could be seen as a rival to Disney-MGM studios and, of course, it is. But don’t think they are the same sort of thing. They are not. They are both related to filming of course but there the similarity ends. So if you’re planning on visiting MGM or Universal and thinking “I’ve done one so I’ve seen it all” – think again. You haven’t. Like Disney, Universal Studios are always looking to the future and have recently opened a new theme park called Islands of Adventure. All of this is great for the public because things are continuously changing and improving. Personally, I think the value for money is excellent. Anyway, let’s get down to business and see what this theme park has to offer. ~ The Park Layout Getting in to this park requires quite a bit of walking, although there are some moving walkways to help. Not matter how early we got there we didn’t get close to the entrance! The car park is huge so make a careful note of which section you are in and what level you are on. You could get seriously lost here if you are not careful. Just follow all the people as they converge onto City Walk, a place where you can visit for a break from the park or just spend time eating and drinking and shopping. This is outside of the park so you don’t need a ticket to get here. There is always lots of nightlife here as well because it contains many clubs. You know when you are by the park entrance because you will see a large blue globe with Universal around it. Once inside the park gates you will find that the park itself i s organised around a large man made lake. If you can stay late, about 9:45 PM, you will get to see a fabulous stunt show on the lake called “Dynamite Night Stuntacular”. It features high speed power boat chases and, as the title suggests, lots of explosions. It is only shown late at night. However, you may get to see the power boats in action during the day as they rush towards the lower bridge and spray people (remember it’s hot in Orlando!). The park itself is split into five section. These are Production, New York, Hollywood, Expo Center, and San Fancisco/Amity. With the exception of Production, all of the other sections have at least one MAJOR attraction. Make no mistake, this park contains a lot of things to see, do and experience. You will not do it all in one day but you should be able to cover most of them – if you’re dedicated enough! Food and drink is available at lots of locations too. Production This section has no major crowd puller but it does have quite a few things to visit. You can look at the cinematic tricks from Alfred Hitchcock, see behind the scenes with Hercules and Xena, see behind the scenes of Nickelodion (more appealing to the Americans I think), see some classic props in The Bone Yard, or have a ride in The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera. It’s probably best visiting these if it’s very busy elsewhere but it’s my least favourite bit of the park New York The sector is actually quite small but it does contain two big attractions. Both are definitely worth seeing. It also houses a musical tribute to the hit film The Blues Brothers. You get to join Jake and Elwood, suitable adorned with hats and dark glasses, as they perform their hit songs. With 5 shows a day you will have plenty of time to see this. The two big attractions though are Twister and Kongfrontation and queues for these can easily get up to an hour. Kongfronta tion is based on the hit film starring Fay Wray when Kong gets loose in New York. Do you remember some of the scenes? Here you ride the ill-fated tram and have an encounter with Kong himself. The scale of the ride is really magnificent and Kong looks every bit the part as it IS a full scale replica! Compared to most modern thrill-seeking rides many will find this a bit tame but it was enough to completely spook my daughter (who had just turned 8 but has the most vivid imagination – more on this below!). It’s quite enjoyable and fun. Twister is the other major attraction here and it is based on the hit film starring Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. They feature a lot in the pre-show build up as well as many clips from the film itself. They really try to build up the tension and, for my daughter, it got to be too much. She just couldn’t cope and had to leave. We did return in the year 2000 when she was 9 and, although she severely wobbled as we got closer, she did manage to get to see the show. And she enjoyed it. The show does advise parental discretion for younger children but I knew she would enjoy it. The show itself is quite loud and intense as they recreate a scene from the film and you get to witness the power and might (albeit simulated) of a tornado. The real thing must be so scary! San Francisco/Amity The section has four main attractions. There is a musical show called Beetlejuice’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Graveyard Show. The main character is, of course, Beetlejuice, but he is accompanied by Dracula, Frankenstein and others as they perform songs such as Wild Thing and Great Balls of Fire. It’s an interesting, if eclectic, show. You should be able to get a seat at one of the many shows throughout the day. The other show is a western stunt epic called The Wild, Wild, Wild West Stunt Show and features a lot of loud gunshots, some excellent stunts, and a good bit of corny slapstick humour. This is one of the more popular shows and has a stadium that holds about 2000 people. The name of this sector should give some hint as to what some of the attractions are about. Now, what is San Francisco famous for? And what do you think could be in Amity? Well, if you haven’t guessed yet I don’t know whose fault (sorry) it is! San Francisco, of course, is famous for earthquakes and one of the all time classic disaster movies – Earthquake, starring Charlton Heston. And Amity is rather well known for that toothy creature (no, not Tom Cruise!) – Jaws. Both of these shows are popular and particularly Jaws. Earthquake is pretty good. In fact, it’s a three-part attraction where the first two parts show you some of the tricks of the trade. There is also the chance for some audience participation as you take part in the special effects used in the famous film. You then get to take a tram ride and witness an earthquake registering 8.3 on the Richter scale. The most popular attraction here though is Jaws. For some reason people all seem to go for this ride. Here you take a boat trip which, of course, goes a bit wrong with the great white roaming in the water. It’s still good fun, even if it is getting a bit long in the tooth! As a word of advice, avoid this ride when the wild west stunt show ends as it’s close to one of the exits. Expo Center This section is one of the most popular and many of the attractions have big queues so be prepared to wait for some of these. One of the more delightful shows is called Animal Actors. It features a whole host of animals that reputedly take part in television and film shows, including Babe, Lassie, Benji and Beethoven. I don’t know if they are the real thing but they certainly look (and act) the part. The stadium is big and can usually accommodate all people waiting but to get a good seat you will need to be in the queue early. There are als o a number of attractions for children to see as well that include Barney, Fievel’s Playland, and Woody Woodpecker’s Kid Zone. There are now three MAJOR attractions here. The first is Back to the Future. This is another of those motion rides where you lurch and twist about as you try to catch Biff, who has stolen one of the time travelling cars. This is one of the most sophisticated of these types of rides and it is great fun – if a bit bumpy. Again, this is relatively close to one of the wild west show’s exits so avoid periods when that show finishes. The next MAJOR attraction is E.T. and this ride is immensely popular with children. When we went on the ride in 1999 the wait was about 75 minutes but it can be even longer. My daughter loved it and in terms of queuing it is one of the sneakiest. Initially you are outside in a queue that seems endless. And then you get to the door and get invited inside only to find you have just joined another long queue! However, inside it’s cooler and the scenery is stunning and looks just like the woods in the film. The ride itself is very gentle as you ride on board a flying bicycle to go to E.T.’s home planet to help save it from ecological disaster. A brand new ride brought in during 2000 is Men in Black. This is a new type of show where you have one of the ray guns that feature in the film and as you ride through the city you have to shoot the aliens but not the good guys! It’s quite neat. When we were there in April 2000 the show was open for the public to try out and we got to have a go. Soon after, it broke down. I’m sure it’s working fine now and will prove to be very popular. Hollywood There are only a couple of minor things in this section that include learning about gruesome makeup, taking an interactive look at the history and future of movies, getting your photograph taken, and a spot dedicated to Lucy (popula r with the Americans). Now, given that these are little more than resting spots and fillers you might expect there to be something special in Hollywood. And there is. In my opinion, this is the best show in America, probably the world, and is worth the entrance fee alone. The show is Terminator 2: 3D. The show features state-of-the-art 3D features combined with live action. It is simply breathtaking and, at all the shows I’ve seen, has got a huge round of applause at the end. Yes. It really is that special. In the pre-show warm up, your host from Cyberdyne systems welcomes you to the theatre to see their latest developments. The 10 minute pre-show is excellent as your host says how super Cyberdyne are and then Sarah and John Connor break in to the transmission to warn you. The main show then combines 3D vision with real actors mixing with the film itself. There are many LOUD bangs here. It is an intense experience and I would not recommend it for young children. The whole thing cost $60 million to create and was put together by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the rest of the cast to take T2 even further. And it does! ~ And Finally Well, I left the best until last with T2. This is a good park to visit but I feel some of the shows, whilst still pulling them in, have all but had their day. However, they are introducing new attractions, such as Men in Black so they are continuing to enhance things there. What I did like about this park was that, while queues were a bit long, they actually provided fine sprays of mist next to fans to help keep people cool in the Orlando heat. There were also plenty of water fountains for people in the queue to get a drink. We really did miss that at Disney. As I mentioned at the beginning, Universal have now introduced Islands of Adventure which opened properly in 2000 (although you could go in the park in 1999 but only some of the rides were available and even then not guaranteed to work!). If you want to try everything at this studio then you will need two days. In fact, with the new park as well, you will probably need 4 days. I’m sure Disney will respond and it’s all great for the public. Again, I’ve got carried away and it’s turned into an epic. If you got this far - my apologies.
I really do love these theme parks and I should warn you now, if I get carried away with this opinion it will probably get a bit long. This is, in fact, one of Disney’s smaller parks and it is dedicated to movies made at MGM or Disney. It is often claimed that you can “do this park in a day”. Hmmm, not sure about that. It is certainly compact (approximately 135 acres) but there are lots of great shows that get VERY busy. To ensure getting a seat at a major show, such as Indiana Jones, you will usually have to be queuing for the show at least 30-40 minutes before it starts. My family have now been to Orlando twice, in 1999 and 2000. On both occasions we went to this park. Even though it is possible to do everything in a day there are still things I haven’t yet done, although these were not high on our list of priorities. The other problem we Brits have is that we usually go during school holidays – like a lot of other people! So the park is usually busy. ~ Opening Times During our visit the park was open from 9 AM until 10 PM. In the off-peak season, the park closes at 7 PM. If you are staying at a Disney hotel you will be able to gain access to the park at 8 AM. The range of tickets offered by Disney is somewhat bewildering but we usually go for the park hopper. This allows you to visit a range of theme parks, more than one in a day if you wish. For us, this offered the best value but you could just pay for a day entry. ~ The Attractions Okay, let’s get down to business. After all, this is why you are going to this park. There are a large number of attractions and you can split these into major and minor attractions. For the major ones you can expect long queues. Even the lesser ones can be 30 minutes but some you can get into straight away. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular This is a MAJOR attraction in every sense of the word. The show lasts about 30 mi nutes and it's an absolute must-see. Fortunately, there are plenty of shows - 10 in a day when the park is open late. However, you will need to queue for this one but it is worth it. Would you believe the theatre holds 2000 people and it gets full. There is also audience participation. If you want to ensure you get selected you will have to act like a MAJOR Wally. And you will have some serious competition. What people will do to get on stage! The show is explosive – literally. Three scenes are taken from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Our heroes are Indy and Marion. The shows opens with the huge boulder rolling and Indy dodging it. The stunts and explosion are amazing. And the stunt men and women look every bit the part with Indy sporting his floppy hat and trademark whip! A great show that must be seen. If at all possible, go to the late shows when it is darker to get the best effect from the explosions. For those of a sensitive disposition, there are lots of loud noises! Tower of Terror This is another MAJOR attraction that can have huge waiting times, well over an hour at busy periods and even up to two! It is Disney’s tallest ride (189 feet) and it is based upon a Twilight Zone show. For small children the pre-ride build up can be quite scary. The ride itself is awesome – if you like vertical drops! Because this is what it is all about! All day long you will hear the screams of people as they drop from the top of the tower. The theme is set in a haunted Hollywood hotel. Disney’s attention to detail here is truly astounding as they re-create the glorious grandeur of this old-style hotel that is now covered in cobwebs. Amid much spookiness you are taken to the thirteenth floor and dropped! As it is all dark you can’t see where you are or know when you will drop. But you are not dropped once – or twice – you get the treatment three times! You will, literally, leave your seat. I adore this ride but it will not appeal to all. There is a height restriction of 42 inches. The major disadvantage of this ride is the queuing. Most of the waiting is done outside and it can get very hot in Orlando. My advice is to try and avoid going on this ride during the peak (and hottest) periods of the day. The best time is when the park first opens or later in the evening. Rock ‘n Roller Coaster This is one of the newest rides at the studios and was introduced in late 1999. I got to go on it during our visit in 2000. This ride has clearly been introduced to compete with the rides at Disney’s competitor parks but this ride has quickly established itself as one of the major attractions at MGM studios. It is Disney’s first inverted roller coaster ride and it all takes place in the dark! There is a specially commissioned music track by Aerosmith, who also feature in the pre-amble before the ride. The ride is loud, fast and great fun. The launch, in particular, is very high speed. My daughter (aged 9) loved it and has the multicoloured T-shirt as well. There is a height restriction of 52 inches on this. Star Tours I can easily image that this ride would have been astounding a few years ago. However, it is no longer a major attraction and the queues are quite modest, generally 30 minutes or less. As you wait to go on the ride you will meet up with R2D2 and C3PO. The wait passes quite quickly as there is lots of Star Wars memorabilia to look at. The ride itself is a motion ride as you fly on a speeder with an android pilot on his first flight. Of course, it all goes horribly wrong and you leap and lurch and pitch about. It’s a very good ride. As a word of advice, avoid going for this ride when the Indiana Jones show finishes because the audience exit near the entrance to Star Wars and for some reason they all pile in! Muppetvision 3D < br> This is a very funny show and is a must-see. It features all your favourite characters from the muppet show. In fact, the 3 is crossed out and replaced by a 4. What is 4D? Well, let’s just say it involves “tactile” special effects. Even the show’s pre-amble is very funny as you spend 15 or 20 minutes waiting to go in. It’s a continuous show lasting 25 minutes and I’ve never had to wait too long – in fact, I like the pre-show so it’s just like going to a 45 minute show. This show also lies close to the Indiana Jones exit point so tends to be busies when that show has just finished. The Great Movie Ride This, for me, is just an okay attraction. However, the queues for this can be very big. Far more so than the ride really warrants. It’s certainly worth doing but not worth a long wait. You go on a slow ride through famous movie scenes. There are animatronic effects and a few surprises that I will not reveal. Studio Backlot Tour This is a lot more fun than it sounds. It’s a combined walking (not too far, this is America!) and tram ride and you get to witness some excellent effects. The tour last about 35 minutes and I think it’s well worth a visit. The queues for this are rarely very big and it makes a nice break to be away from the crowds for a little while. Voyage of the Little Mermaid This is a really enchanting little show. It opens up with a curtain of water and Ariel behind. Children will really enjoy it and songs from the film are sung here. This show is always packed so unless you’re at some of the earlier shows you could be waiting an hour to get in. Beauty and the Beast/Hunchback of Notre Dame A musical stage show of these popular animations. A 20/30 minute shows manages to grab all the highlights of these films for a very colourful singing and dancing show. Don’t under estimate how good some of these singers are. Disney has better singers in reserve than most modern bands have on stage! This show will be enjoyed by family groups. Doug Live! We really didn’t know anything about Doug when we saw this show. Not sure if I’m any wiser now! It’s a 20 minute show of a famous US TV show. All the children really enjoyed it. Again, lots of audience participation expected. Some children were picked to take part and the others all sang along and shouted in the right places. It was fun, even though we didn’t know the characters or songs. The Parade When we were there, the Mulan parade was on. If you like this sort of thing – and lots of the people at the park really did – then this is very well done. It really is a Disney thing. The costumes and floats are very good and it’s interesting to see. To get a good vantage point you have to pick a spot a keep it! There are several other smaller attractions to keep you going You can see sound effects and the “making of” a current film release. ~ Food and Drink and . . There are lots of places to get food and drink from. You can go to restaurants or diners or just food stalls. The prices are reasonable but they do get busy at the obvious times. And, yes, just in case you haven’t succumbed to the temptation to buy that soft toy yet, you will be provided with plenty of opportunities. No, really you will. ~ And Finally For such a “small” studio there is a lot to see and do. On a quiet day you could do it all. In practice, we have never managed to do it. There is one show left that I haven’t mentioned yet – and that’s the fireworks. To round off the day, there are 2 shows called Fantasmic. This is a spectacular Disney fireworks extravaganza. The story is based upon Fantasia and includes an amazing fire-breathing drago n scene and lots of fabulously decorated boats. It all takes place in a huge amphitheatre that can hold 6900 people – and it is FULL. Usually for both shows. The first is at 8:30 PM and the second at 10:30 PM. Out late night jaunt there to watch the fireworks was really finished off well when the staff showed they really do have a sense of humour. As we were taking our tram ride back to our car we were welcomed aboard the “tram of terror”. Darn it – I got carried away. I knew I would. Sorry.
I love this site. No matter how busy it gets – and it does get really busy at times – it always feels like there is plenty of room. When you arrive and see all of the cars in the car park you immediately think it is completely packed and you won’t be able to walk anywhere. In my experience, this has never been the case. No matter where you walk to, you get the feeling of being in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. Whenever we visit Orlando we make this one of our must-see sites. A key aspect of the attractions in Orlando are the rides and shows. At many of the parks, you are very aware of how busy they are and often have to carefully plan which show you want to see and be there well in advance. This just doesn’t seem to happen in Sea World. All of the shows have a vast seating capacity so you always get to see the show you want to see at the time that you want to see it. And there are not many theme parks in Orlando that you can say that about. ~ The Animal Attractions As the name of the park suggests, it is devoted to things relating to the sea. The main attraction are the killer whales, known as Shamu. Whilst this show is pretty spectacular, there are plenty of other shows that range from funny through to stunning. Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island This is a show that is very much aimed at the fun side of things. The more things that go wrong the better. You have GOT to be at this one early. Not because you won’t get a seat – although that is a very slight possibility – but because they have a fabulous mime artist. He is always making fun of the people coming in and it is a delight to watch. It is all done, as they say, in the best possible taste. His performance sets you up for the show itself, which is also very funny. It has the corniest of jokes but the real star of the show are the two sea lions, Clyde and Seamore. One of their funniest sketches involves sharing out so me fish. It’s difficult to explain but very funny to watch. The phrase “did you eat that fish” has now part of my family’s standard saying when something disappears. Key West Dolphin Fest This is another big favourite with the crowds and shows of the athletic skills of the dolphins. These creatures just love to be playing in the water. Their abilities are simply stunning to see. There is also a bit of a twist to the show that I won’t spoil for you. If you’ve been you’ll know what it is. Pets on Stage This is a delightful show that will truly amaze you. These are regular animals that are, or were, pets. So you have cats, dogs, birds, pigs, and lots of others, including a horse. The show is opened with a viewing of clips from some old silent movies – with animals of course. It’s amazing that these things still make people laugh today. The pets here have been rescued from local animal shelters. But they do some amazing things that always bring gasps and laughter from the audience. At the end of the show, the trainers stay behind with some of the animals for the children (and parents) to meet them. The Shamu Adventure The Shamu stadium is really quite big. And it needs to be. Here you get to learn about killer whales and lots of “truths” and “myths” behind these creatures. The show is very good and lasts about 20 minutes or so. Of course, what all the children love is getting soaked by the whale. The swim about and deliberately splash water over the side. The stadium itself is separated in to two stages. The soak zone covers the lower half of the stadium and the upper half is the dry zone. This is where the killer whale shouldn’t be able to get you! This is a good upbeat show and it’s amazing how many people don’t read the signs properly and as soon as they see just how far Shamu can splash, there is a quick gat hering of expensive cameras and gear and a dash to the upper zone. The daytime shows are very nice but the best show of all is late at night (well, about 8:30) when they put on Shamu Rocks America. If you want to really find out just how far these whales can splash – go to this show. The atmosphere is always excellent as they play lots of thumping music in the warm up. The camera is always catching people out and everybody is just having great fun. The show is slightly shorter than in the daytime but much more dynamic. They also run the clips where things haven’t gone so well and you can feel the bruises appearing on the staff! Then they set the whales to really showing what they can do. And boy, can these things shift a LOT of ice cold water. Both I and my wife can testify to this personally. We were near the back of the soak zone and saw the whale heading in our direction. When you see that tail full on you start to wonder and then the water hits you. And there is LOTS of it! On this occasion he did it three times in quick succession – just for luck I guess. I was totally drenched. So much so that we had to buy the Shamu towel – just to dry off. Children permitting, this is a must-see show. Well, I feel this is turning in to an epic so for some of the other animal attractions I’ll keep it a little shorter. There is Shamu: Close Up! where you can see the killer whales. Pacific Point Preserve has sea lions and seals. Penguin Encounter shows lots of polar penguins from the Antarctic. Terrors of the Deep is where you walk underground as lots of coral fish swim about, including barracuda and sharks. The Caribbean Tide Pool is a great favourite with children. Here they can touch starfish and rays. Manatees: The Last Generation? reminds you of how fragile life is for some of the animals in the wild. Here, though, you can walk underground and see these gentle creatures gently swimming about. There is lots of information abou t how these are now endangered. ~ The Rides Like many of the theme parks, there are several rides to be experienced. Recently, they have just built a HUGE new ride called Kraken. I have not experienced this ride because they were still building it when I was last there. It was scheduled to be completed about 2 months after our visit and I have to say I was just a bit envious of the people who would be there when it had opened to the public. The ride looked absolutely enormous. To a large extent, they are having to compete with the new rides at Disney and Universal Studios and this ride does look like it will compete very nicely indeed. Wild Arctic This is a motion ride. You fly on board a helicopter to an arctic base. You get to see some wonderful frozen scenery in a modestly bumpy ride. If you have been on similar motion rides, such as Red Arrows etc., you will know what to expect. It’s a decent ride and probably not suitable for people who are prone to motion sickness. From what I recall, they do have some bumpy moments. When you leave the flight you are really in a cold place as you get to see real polar bears, walruses and beluga whales. Given how warm it is outside, you really do notice – or even welcome – the cool arctic wonderland. Journey to Atlantis This was the big thrill ride at SeaWorld. It is essentially a cross between a log flume and a roller coaster ride, with a pretty steep descent into a water splash. And yes, you can get very wet! As the name of the ride suggests, you are on a journey to Atlantis. Evil spirits are afoot but you are guided along the right track by a good seahorse. After travelling inside (and up and up and up . . ) in the near dark, you are thrust into the daylight and speed towards the watery splash. However, it doesn’t end there because you now gently travel in the water (with water guns being fired at you to get you even wetter!) to complete you roll er coaster ride. A camera is strategically placed during the steep drop to capture the look of pure terror on some people’s face. You can, of course, pick up you photograph when you leave for a small sum. Or you could have your picture on a mug or key ring. All in all, it’s a pretty decent ride and the water is pretty cooling on a hot day! Kraken I have not been on this ride but will do one day! From the brochures I can tell you that it is reputedly the tallest, fastest, and longest of the rides in Orlando. I can personally vouch for it being the tallest and longest having seen it under construction. Given its dimensions it is easy to believe it’s the fastest too! It is 15 stories high and reaches speeds of 65 mph. It is a floorless ride (i.e. your feet dangle) and you go upside down 7 times. There is, of course, a height restriction on this ride of 54 inches. I really want to go on this and I’ll bet the queues for this are pretty long. ~ Other Shows - Cirque de la Mer On our first visit to Orlando we missed this show. In reality, doing all this in one day is very difficult but this is a show we were really glad we made the effort to see on our next visit. Again, this show starts off with some very funny things. I won’t say what goes on but the children were laughing a lot! The show itself features what is essentially a circus act and they perform some amazing acrobatic feats all set to some wonderful Peruvian music. ~ Why Go There Well, I have heard that some people don’t want to go to SeaWorld because it is like a zoo. Well, to some extent that is true. They are animals and they are in captivity. But I feel that there the similarity ends. The primary purpose behind SeaWorld is conservation and education. And this they deliver in spades. But it never feels like they are forcing it on you. The animals are treated very well and are never forced to do tricks. In fact, it’s just as funny when they decide they don’t want to do something. You really feel that the staff are enjoying their work and just love every moment of being with the animals. As with all of these things, it’s what is going on behind the scenes that is the most important. And there really is lots going on here. Visitors help to support the conservation work. ~ What to Do and What Not to Do As I have said, most of the shows have plenty of seats but if you want to get a better seat you are clearly better off getting in pretty early. One thing to avoid is going to an attraction close to a show that is just finishing. Hundreds of people just appear from nowhere! One of the worst for these is Wild Arctic which is right next to the Shamu stadium. The best time to go is during the show because it is very quiet. Just as the show finishes, it seems like everybody has just discovered it and pour in making the waiting time very long indeed. For food, you have plenty of choice. If at all possible, eat just outside of meal times. You then get served pretty quickly and you can easily find a seat. We found the food to be pretty good quality and a fair price. For tickets, SeaWorld have been offering a buy one get one free for some time now. I don’t know if it’s still on but when you leave you could get a ticket for the next day – free. However, what we found to the best value was one of the 4 or 5 park flex passes. SeaWorld offer a ticket for a number of days in which you can visit Universal Studios (a good day out to see Jaws and many others), Universal’s Islands of Adventure (lots of rides and one of the newest theme parks in Orlando), Wet ‘n’ Wild (a water park) and, if you are happy to travel a bit further, Busch Gardens. It really depends upon how much time (and money) you have to spend! ~ And Finally Sorry, it’s a bit long again. But there is so much to do here. This was the first park we went to in Orlando and remains one of our favourites. We have seen the Shamu Rocks America quite a few time now. what I haven’t mentioned is that SeaWorld also have one of the best firework display in Orlando. In fact, many claim it IS the best. The display takes place at about 9:00pm after the Shamu show and it really is worth seeing. It is one of the best I have ever seen – if not the best. I could not consider a visit to Orlando to be complete without a visit here. It is fun, it is educational, it is a must.
My family tend to find it difficult to get to see a film at the cinema. My daughter is only 9 and so we are very limited in what we can see as a familiy. I therefore tend to buy many of the films that we miss when they are released on region 1 DVD. In fact, this often turns out to be when they are doing the rounds in the cinema in the UK or very shortly after. On several occasions, I’ve had the film even before it gets to the UK cinema! This usually happens when they film hits distribution problems. I bought this DVD for a number of reasons. The first is that I am a great fan of Harrison Ford. The director, Robert Zemeckis, has made many really good films. I liked the subject matter. I was also very interested in the first-time pairing of Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, a long overlooked combination. So I was looking forward to getting this film and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed at all. ~ Synopsis of the film The film, at its most basic, is a simple ghost story. Harrison Ford plays Dr. Norman Spencer, a professor at a New England university. His wife, Claire, is played by Michelle Pfeiffer. She is a former concert cellist. They are the perfect couple, with a perfect marriage, in a perfect house, in a perfect location. Soon after their daughter goes to college, however, Claire starts to hear voices. Things start to go wrong and their perfect life starts to fall apart. The film is certainly a homage to the type of film that Alfred Hitchcock would have produced and there are a number of red herrings provided to keep you from finding out the dark secret. ~ The DVD The film was produced by Twentieth Century Fox and is released on DVD by Dreamworks Home Video. The film is rated PG-13 and is 130 minutes long. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1 and the DVD has been given a lovely widescreen anamorphic transfer. The DVD picture is crisp and clear. Given that the film relies heavily on the use of shadows a nd subtle shading, it really did need to be a good transfer. There are several audio options and these include the usual Dolby Digital 5.1 and also a Dolby Digital 2.0 for surround sound systems. What is great about recent region 1 releases is that they get to have the Digital Theater System (DTS) sound system. Why don’t they do this for the UK releases? The UK almost always loses out. The sound is excellent with lots of atmospheric touches. ~ DVD Main Contents The backdrop to your selection is the bath that features quite a bit in the film itself. A nice, eerie feel is created by giving the possible selections a gentle rippling effect and the music plays in the background. The options available are: play movie scene index: a nice animated clip plays from the film as you make your selection special features (will discuss below) audio: choose from DTS, DD 5.1, DD 2.0 or Director’s commentary subtitles: on or off ~ DVD Special Features I guess this is what the DVD fanatics really like. The chance to see behind the scenes or hear what the director was trying to achieve. The extras for this film are now considered pretty standard, particularly for region 1 releases. # Constructing A Thriller: The feature lasts about 15 minutes and explains the motivation for making the film and has some comments from Robert Zemeckis, Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer as well as other involved in the making of the film. It’s a nice short piece to watch but really it’s a lot of jolly good pats on the back for a job well done rather than an insightful look at the film itself. # Theatrical Trailer: Just the one that possibly gives away a bit too much information. I would certainly avoid this until you have seen the film. I think it reveals too much. # Production Notes: Here we have 14 pages of text expl aining how the film came about and some information on the characters. # Cast and Filmmakers: Some background information on people involved in the film. The cast members covered include Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Scarwid, Amber Valletta, James Remar, Joe Morton and Miranda Otto. The filmmakers are Robert Zemeckis (Director), Steve Starkey (Producer), Jack Rapke (Producer), Clark Gregg (Screenwriter), Joan Bradshaw (Executive Producer), Mark Johnson (Executive Producer) and Don Burgess (Director of Photography). # Director’s Commentary: A useful and informative commentary by Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke. As such, the extras are now considered fairly normal but this is still a very nice DVD. The quality is very high and, if you like this type of film, you will not be disappointed by this DVD. My wife and I both enjoyed watching this film and I'm sure I'll be watching it again.
“Okay all, cut. Tom. You are just too darn fat. You are going to have to lose 55lb or so to look the part. Take the next year off and lose that weight!” “Do you think I’ll get an Oscar nomination for that?” “Pretty darn sure although whether you’ll win I don’t know. Some people are still a bit miffed at you getting it for playing Forrest Gump”. Now what can I do for the next 12 months. Perhaps I can do another film. Let’s see who’s about: “Harry. That you? What are you doing at the moment? Nothing? Look I’ve got a great idea – I want you to do a horror film. Yeah, I know – you haven’t done horror before but that’s the great thing. Nobody will expect it!”. “Michelle. That you? What are you doing at the moment? Nothing? Look I’ve got a great idea – I want you to do a horror film. Yeah, I know – you haven’t done horror before but that’s the great thing. Nobody will expect it!”. Well, I can certainly imagine the conversations going something like that. Here we have Robert Zemeckis in between films as his leading star has to shed an awful lot of weight and he puts together a pretty decent corker of a horror film that is very much in the vein of the great Alfred Hitchcock. The film stars two really big names, Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, both playing roles in a horror film for the first time. Calling it a horror movie is a bit too strong. It’s really a good ghost story with plenty of suspense and a few nice jumpy moments. Whilst there are plentiful special effects, not that you will notice them because they are too subtle, there is no gore. So if you are looking for a gore fest, this film is not for you. As I mentioned, the film was directed by Robert Zemickis, a man responsible for some really good films such as the Back to the Future tri logy, Romancing the Stone, Contact, and not forgetting Forrest Gump! One of my all time favourite actors, Harrison Ford, plays Dr. Norman Spencer. He is a professor at a New England university. He and his wife, Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer), who used to be a concert cellist, live in a house in an idyllic lakeside location in Vermont. They have the perfect marriage in a perfect house in a perfect location. But all is not as it seems. The catalyst to set in motion all that happens is their daughter Caitlin (Katherine Towne) going off to college. Pretty soon after their daughter has gone, Claire starts hearing whispers, noises, minor sounds. Her husband doesn’t believe her saying that it can all be explained away very easily. It could be the house settling etc. However, the noises don’t subside and Claire even seeks out professional help. She eventually thinks there’s a ghost in the house. All of a sudden the perfect marriage in the perfect house starts to crumble and fall apart. There are other things going on too. Lots of red herrings to distract you. These things impact on Claire's credibility making her look particularly vulnerable. I have to say I thought the acting was top notch. Both Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, and particularly Michelle, give stunning performances in making their characters very realistic and believable. I say particularly Michelle Pfeiffer because she is the central character and a large part of the screen time is her character experiencing the supernatural goings on. As with all of these things, there are deeper things going on and all is not what it seems and I certainly don’t want to spoil the ending. The tension is kept really taut from the beginning and I’m sure Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to make such a good film. This is definitely a film that is worth getting out on DVD and, in my opinion, certainly worth buying. All in a ll, this is a darn good ghost story. Lots of tension and character interaction keep this story very tense. It was a film that I was looking forward to and one that I very much enjoyed. And now, says Robert, back to my other film. . . . “Tom. Wow you really look so skinny! That’s brilliant. Your Oscar nomination is as good as done.” (but Robert thinks to himself that Tom will never win it again because there are still too many people who are miffed at him for getting it for Forrest Gump!).
About 18 months ago I decided that it was time to replace our existing television. Everything seemed to indicate that widescreen TV was the way forward. It was part of the digital revolution and, the factor that most affected my decision, DVD had come to town. Films were being released in the form that the director and producer had intended. The term “home cinema” was being bandied about and the only way you could really see films properly was on a “proper” TV. I was hooked! Being a devotee of the web I was happily surfing for my dream TV (Oh yes, and a DVD player, and speakers, and amplifier, . . ). I gathered an awful lot of information. I first decided my screen size and went for a 32 inch TV. Anything bigger was getting too expensive and plasma screens were right out (sadly they still are but perhaps one day?). I looked at several options including Toshiba, Hitachi, Philips and I finally settled on Sony. Sony have a good reputation for hi-fi and electrical equipment and this TV seemed to offer all I wanted. And I’ve since found out, a good deal more! Once I had decided on the TV it was trying to find the best deal. These are expensive sets and I could have bought it over the internet but decided against it for this type of purchase. I bought mine from John Lewis because they had a very competitive price and they also offered a free 5 year guarantee and free delivery. Many people who don’t have a widescreen TV may think a 32 inch model is very big. I have to say that when it was first delivered it didn’t just look big. It looked enormous! The funny things is, though, that within about 24 hours it looked very normal and our old TV (a 21 inch Hitachi) looked and felt like a portable. The approximate physical dimensions of this TV are 86.5 cm (W), 56.4 cm (H), and 56.8 cm (D). The height excludes the stand. On the stand it is about 102 cm high. The stand provides 2 shelves for external devices (VC R, DVD etc.). I should also say it weighs a bit ~ 67 kg. However, the stand does have castors so moving it isn’t too bad but still not something you want to do very often! I had a very definite plan for my TV – I wanted it to be able to display DVDs and be the central part of my home cinema kit. This meant it would have to handle the three primary broadcasting standards from around the world. We will now have a brief digression to explain what I mean: # Some information on broadcasting standards There are three television broadcasting standards used in the world. The UK uses a broadcasting system known as PAL (Phase Alternating Line) and all TVs sold in the UK comply with this standard. It is also in use in other parts of the world, Australia for example. However, I knew I would be buying DVDs from around the world and wanted the TV to handle the other systems too. The important one for me was NTSC (National Television System Committee). This is used in the USA and Canada – the home of region 1 DVDs. The other standard is SECAM (Sequential Couleur Avec Memoire), used in France. This standard is less important for me than the other two but this TV can handle them all. Of course, all of these standards are mutually incompatible. I hear you ask yourself – why? I have no idea. Right, that’s better. Now back to my opinion on this TV! When we bought our previous TV in 1985, the additional cost of teletext put us off going for it. For this TV, it’s all included. Mind you, at this price it should be! It also has lots of other features. What I particularly liked was the auto set-up mode. This is where the TV channels are tuned in automatically. It seems that all modern TVs have this facility and it is brilliant. Can you actually remember how difficult this used to be? Well, I can. Another clever little feature is the “freeze frame” mode. I admit I don’t use this very often but it really is pretty neat. Very useful if somebody puts an address or contact details on screen. You can simply capture the frame! Now, what inputs are available with this TV? It’s easiest to say what these are by looking at the front and rear separately. ~ Front: Socket for headphones (useful for the late-night teenager); S-video input; audio/video inputs (put your camcorder here folks); as well as volume control, channel control and the on/off switch. ~ Rear: 3 21-pin scart sockets (ours are used for a DVD player, VHS player and Sony Playstation); Audio sockets to connect hi-fi; Speaker terminals (left and right) Aerial socket. As a word of advice for those looking for a new TV – never underestimate how many scart sockets you may need. Try to buy a TV with more than one and preferably three! Now on to probably the most important little gadget for a TV – the remote. ~ The Remote Control All the input devices are really one-off things. Once you have your external device connected you don’t need to do anything else (I had to because the TV was not set up correctly for my DVD connection). The one single thing that you are therefore going to use more than anything else is the remote control. Its physical dimension are roughly 205 mm long, 55 mm wide and 25 mm deep. For this TV, the remote control has to be pretty comprehensive. And it is. You can do just about everything to set up the TV and adjust it. The buttons are well laid out and I find them easy to access. The top part of the remote is for teletext access and similarly related features, including the freeze frame option. The next section has all the numbers for channel selection. Just below are four buttons for quick access TV features but for this TV, only three are enabled. These allow you to change settings and each button is colour coded. The blue butt on allows different screen modes (wide, zoom, 14:9, 4:3, smart), and the smart mode is usually the best because the TV decides the best screen size based on the transmission. The next is the green button which is the one that’s not enabled. The yellow button allows you to change the picture (live, personal, movie) but not too clear on the effect! The last (red) button allows you to quickly control the sound types (personal, vocal, jazz, rock, pop, flat). Just below the coloured buttons is the direction control. This allows you to move up/down and left/right to select your preferred options. The last part of the remote has the volume control (on left) and programme control (on right). In the middle is a very important button. It’s the self-destruct. If you press this button the TV will begin a 5 minute countdown that cannot be stopped and it will then explode – probably taking a large part of your house with it! Okay – just kidding on the last part and wanted to make sure you are still with me! It really is an important button though. This gives you access to all the set up features. It is an enthusiast’s delight and a beginner’s nightmare. The good thing is though you can always put it back to it’s original setting if you get it wrong! Pressing the button brings up the list of Picture Adjustment (you can set the mode, contrast, AI, noise reduction etc.), Audio Adjustment (tweak the equaliser to your heart’s content), Features (auto format, timer, parental lock etc.), Set Up (auto tuning, programme sorting, installation, AV set up etc.), and Teletext. Here endeth the lesson on the remote control. To do some of the functions you really will need to consult the manual. Expert or not! ~ Disadvantages Like any product, it’s never all plain sailing. The good thing is though that the following are really very minor things indeed. So far, the set has been 100% reliable. I hope it continues that way too! Anyway, I thought I would mention my minor gripes. The TV takes a surprisingly long time to warm up. I thought there was something wrong initially until others confirmed that their set also took some time to warm up. Out previous TV, a Hitachi, came on instantly. You need to give this one a minute (it’s probably less in reality but it does seem a long time). The instruction manual is not so hot. Even now, I still cannot remember what all the little symbols are next to the codes. I have to keep reading through until I find the description of the symbols. Given the complexity of the machine, though, I would say the manual is on a par with many others. ~ To conclude Put simply, I am ever so pleased with this TV. It was a great choice and we have sat watching films that have really been brought to life on this set. What initially seemed like a big screen is now so normal that other “ordinary” TVs seem odd. The move to widescreen was one of the best decisions we took and DVDs are viewed with their correct aspect ratio with excellent detail and colours. ~ Finally, some helpful hints If you are thinking about buying a new TV then I would very much recommend one like this. However, I would also advise you to consider the following: 1) Will it display NTSC and SECAM as well as PAL? 2) How many scart sockets does it have? 3) Will it handle RGB, S-Video or composite? 4) Will you need to connect a camcorder? 5) Does it have NICAM stereo? 6) Is it digital?