The seating in this cinema was well set out and comfortable but it was very hot and stuffy, and the food was not good and incredibly expensive!
This review is actually for the Odeon cinema in Norwich, as Odeon took over the UCI chain and this cinema a couple of years ago. The cinema is situated in the middle of Riverside in Norwich, near Nando's, a JD Wetherspoons, Old Orleans and next to the currently shut bowling alleys.
Around ten years ago, cinemas in Norwich were quite limited. There was the old Odeon cinema in Anglia Square, which had really seen better days, and an ABC cinema in Prince of Wales Road. Today, the old Odeon cinema is run by Hollywood Cinemas, a local chain, and the ABC cinema is now Mercy nightclub. In their place are the now Odeon at Riverside, and the cinema at Castle Mall.
I have been to the Odeon a few times recently, but hadn't been for a few years before then since it was UCI. Little has changed really, there are fourteen different screens all laid out, with a large open plan design inside the front doors.
Tickets vary slightly in price, but are around seven pounds, and the gallery (where you can eat unlimited pop corn and get free soft drinks) is now eighteen pounds. These prices, especially the latter, have increased sharply over the last few years. It may be that the Odeon chain is trying to get rid of the gallery set-up, now just in a few of their cinemas, as the price is very expensive, especially for a family. You can also opt for premier seating for slightly more money, which gives you bigger seats and more leg-room.
Ticket prices are average for cinemas, and within the city, although Norwich has no cinema chain where you can pay a fixed amount (usually around ten or twelve pounds) a month to see unlimited films. The nearest town to have this is Ipswich, and it'd be great if Odeon did launch a similar scheme, although there's no sign of them doing so at the moment.
Car parking is free for up to four hours, in the large multi storey car park at the end of Wherry Road, next to the train station. This should be sufficient for most films, and lets you have time for a drink afterwards. Just get your ticket stamped at the desk when you pay for your ticket. Make sure though that you leave some time before the film, as the car park is often quite busy, and at times such as Saturday nights, you may struggle to get a space.
You can either opt to book your ticket on-line, with a small booking fee (which is a bit of a con, as there's no need for this to be charged, given that it takes pressure off their ticket purchase area in the cinema) and then just put your card into the machine to pick it up near the entrance to the cinema. This certainly saves some time.
Everything else is really standard with this cinema chain, the food and drinks are quite expensive, but they don't seem to mind you taking food in from elsewhere, although don't make it too obvious! There's also a seating area before you go into the cinema if you're early.
One frustration with this cinema is that a film with a start time of say 8pm actually rarely starts until around 8.30-8.40pm. This delay where adverts, previews and the like are shown does seem to be quite long, especially with the longer films. If you're about to watch a two hour film, watching 40 minutes of previews and adverts does make the whole experience quite tiring!
There's a bar in the cinema itself which is licensed. This has been refurbished recently, and is a quiet haven in the cinema for a quick drink afterwards. The prices are however quite steep, so you might be best to head across to one of the other bars in the area, namely the Queen of the Iceni, a JD Wetherspoon pub, where prices are much cheaper.
Overall, the cinema is what you would expect, well staffed, good number of films shown, comfortable seats, good quality screens and sound. There are some improvements, especially with pricing, which could be made, but this cinema is definitely better than the ones we used to have in Norwich ajust over ten years ago!
A few years back we only had a couple of mainstream cinemas in Norwich, both of them were a bit old and not really that well equipped with the latest digital sound etc. With the new Riverside development we got a 14-screen UCI complex which would bring all the blockbusters as well as all the smaller releases that never even got a look in previously. Needless to say the majority of people defected to these new surrounding which left one cinema closing down and the other being vacated before being taken over by a local chain. The Norwich UCI is in a great location, in the city but not actually the centre. It sits in the riverside development amongst restaurants, bars, a bowling alley and residential apartments. When it first opened it would cost you £5.50 to see a film at peak times however there's not competition from the likes of Ster Century so not it's between £4.25-£4.75 depending on what time you go. Compared to the admission prices in London this isn't too bad. Each screen varies in size and naturally the bigger films get the bigger screens as more people want to see them. With a large blockbuster you'll probably find that it can be shown on the hour with a lot of screenings during the day. Each screen is well decked out with comfortable stadium style seating and the screens themselves are quite large and have none of that old fashioned curtain stuff. It also makes a good trip on a really hot day becasue it has some nice air conditioning so you can sit back, relax and cool down. Every screen also have digital sound and the theatres are designed to house that experience to it's full potential. The staff are normally very helpful and polite, they used to introduce the film and be met with cheers/jeers which was always good for a laugh. However they've seemed to put a stop to it now and I don't know why. In the foyer you have the usual refreshments, UCI caters for a lot with hot food and drink as well as a large pick a
nd mix counter, they also have a large selection of ice cream flavours. Naturally all this stuff is quite overpriced but then that's how cinemas make most of their cash and that's the way it's always been. One of the big draws for the cinema is that fact that the larger screens have whats called a Gallery. This is a row of seats at the back of the cinema where you can pay extra and have some VIP treatment such as a bar, snacks and big plush seats. Those looking to treat themselves may like to pay the extra premium and quite often a lot of people do. I've also seen that recently UCI have taken on digital equipment so they're getting ready for the future and I'd imagine that it will be used quite a bit for digital projections such as Pixar movies etc. I can't wait to see it. Of course there's always some niggles to be had. I've notice that UCI quite frequently manage to screw up screenings earlier in the day, on occasion I've seen the lights in the theatre dim only to come back on again once the film has started. The beginning of a film has also been screwed up with incorrect framing and a stop/start in the picture. These are little things but to the purist it can be these things that spoil the big screen appearance and make them go elsewhere to a place that actually gets it right. Another gripe although not entirely UCI's fault is that parking on a weekend night can be a pain, there is a multi-storey car park near the complex where you can park for free once you have your ticket validated. However especially on a friday/saturday at primetime you won't be able to get into the car park due to it being full. Alternative parking facilities close by are few and far between, you could park on the next door shopping park after the shops are closed but the gates normally close at 10.30 and no one wants to be locked in. Perhaps this could be addressed in the future. I'm also not a big fan of companies that
don't have direct telephone numbers to their various locations. All UCI's go through one main number and it can be a real trial to get through to a real person. However these things aside it's a good thing that UCI arrived, we now have a lot more choice in the films we watch and now there's a lot more smaller films being shown at regular times. That can only be a good thing.
The last time I went to the UCI in Norwich with a group of mates we were stopped at the entrance to the multi-storey car park by a man carrying out a survey. "Are you here for the Cinema?" he asked. "Yes," we said. "And where have you travelled from?" "King's Lynn." The man looked at us as if we'd just said "Singapore", before commenting "wow, that's a long trip." For those of you unfamiliar with East-Anglian geography, the journey from King's Lynn to Norwich is around 45 miles. But my friends and I make it regularly, because this Cinema is actually worth it. The UCI in Norwich is part of the Riverside development that has flowered in was once a wasteland between the football ground and the railway station. The development is one of the new "leisure factories", designed to provide alcohol, dining, dancing and entertainment all in one place. UCI's cinema is the cornerstone of this factory. A wide box-office desk greets you as you arrive, with several attendants to keep queues to a minimum. You can avoid the queues altogether by booking tickets on the phone and simply swiping your credit card through a dispenser in the foyer, which then prints your tickets for you. One minor niggle is that there is no facility to book tickets from the web site (www.uci-cinemas.co.uk), Standard tickets are currently £4.50 for an Evening Adult ticket, with discounts for Students, children, OAPs and tickets for daytime shows. Even a full-price ticket is 50p cheaper than my local 3-screen pit, so I look on this a great value. But as you may know Cinema's don't make huge amounts of money on ticket sales. The major moolah is in the snacks. Compare the price of a hotdog from a movie theatre to a pack of 6 from a supermarket and you'll get some idea of the mark-up on these items. But if the price were to go down on snacks, then the price
of tickets would go up, so it's "swings and roundabouts". UCI Norwich has plenty of foyer snack emporiums in which to unload your change. These include the obligatory hot-dog stand, a Ben and Jerry's concession and a pick-and-mix stand that Willy Wonka would be proud of. At the back of the foyer is a small open auditorium where you can watch trailers before going into the cinema proper. This is a good way of killing time if you're early for a showing (more on killing time later). An extra £4.50 on your ticket price will take you away from the cinema-going riff-raff and elevate you to the realms of minor royalty. Pay £9 for certain showings and this entitles you to enter "The Gallery", and a number of exclusive extras, including: A VIP waiting area including bar. Free film food (basically as much popcorn and nachos as you can eat), free soft drinks, and a great big comfy chair to watch the film from. This chair is in a cordoned-off area at the back of the auditorium, so you can look down on haughtily on the plebs below. £9 may sound a lot, but I think it's worth it. The seating is great, and as my mate Andy says "I'd pay a lot more that £4.50 for all the food I ate," and I can vouch for that, he can definitely put it away. A word of warning about the big seats. Each one has a receptacle for placing your monster-sized drink cup. But this receptacle is only a fraction larger than the cup. Consequently it becomes impossible to extricate a full cup from the receptacle once placed. It's always dark, so maybe there?s a magic button that I've missed. Or maybe there's a secret supply of extra-long straws. The auditoriums are excellent, even the standard seating is very comfortable and no seat has a bad view of the action. One of my big bugbears in multiplexes is bad sound-proofing between auditoriums, but I've not once heard anything from the next
screen at the UCI Norwich, which is a big plus-point considering the power of the sound systems. Each auditorium has a minimum 6-track Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) system, with 2 of the larger auditoriums running 8-track SDDS systems. This makes for a very good sound experience indeed. Some negative points. Tickets sell out very quickly for popular films. A mistake we made one evening was not booking early enough and having to take a later showing. We went for the 12-midnight screening, which basically meant 3 hours waiting around in the foyer. The bar closed, the food place closed, the arcade next door closed. It was as dull as a three-hour overnight ferry crossing. The only thing to do was watch trailers in the foyer, which repeated every 20 minutes. Moral of this story... BOOK EARLY!! Overall though UCI have got it right. They've made going to the cinema a good experience again. Until King's Lynn gets a multiplex I'll keep making the trip, and keep surprising the survey teams!
[Update]I had to change this opinion because the positions are now reversed! I prefer Ster to UCI, but mainly for reasons of convenience than anything to do with the service. The following opinion has been modified throughout. [End update] The UCI in Norwich was the cinema of choice for me and my friends for some time, mainly because Ster Century, in the middle of town, wasn't nearly as good service-wise when it opened. However, the problems have been ironed out for the most part, and because Ster is closer, we tend to go there now. To be fair, UCI was the first real multiplex in the city, and got it right from the start, but now there is little of significance to choose between the two, and it primarily comes down to which is easier and faster to get to for you. UCI is situated on the Riverside development, a major new leisure complex in Norwich. Not only is it close to a number of bars (Squares, Norwegian Blue) and restaurants (Old Orleans, Frankie & Benny's), a club (Time) and a bowling alley (Hollywood Bowl), but it is right opposite the station, on a 24hr bus route, and allows you free parking in the adjoining multi-storey. All this added entertainment can mean that the car park fills up early, though, and there is little alternative parking nearby. You can walk from the city centre in 5-10 minutes, but as more bars and clubs open on Riverside, and especially Prince of Wales Road (the main access if you are walking), it is actually increasingly unpleasant to walk to/from the area late at night, especially on a Friday or Saturday. Walking in, it's clear that this is a cinema first and foremost, rather than an addition to a shopping mall like Ster Century. There are a number of cashier desks, but still there are often queues as not all are open at the same time. Pre-booked tickets are collected elsewhere, so this is a good idea as long as you don't want discounted entry (which cannot be done over the phone). The
food and drink area is roomy, with no real crowd flow problems even when it's busy. On one side is a bar, and in the middle there is the usual concession stand, but over on the other side is Heaven. The Ben & Jerry's franchise was a huge selling point at first, but recently Ster seem to have realised this, and got their own. At £1.25 a tub it's maybe a little pricey, but you have to admit it's a cut above a big bag of Maltesers. These cinema stalls have flavours you never see in the shops, such as Double Trouble, which contains little chocolate cows, and Southern Peach. If you're early, there's a little seating area which shows trailers and previews, but otherwise you just migrate to the screen you want. "Cast Members" (ushers to you and me) are always on hand for those lost in the dark, labyrinthine passages which lead to the screens. You choose your own seats, so arrive early if you have a preference. At busy times you may well find yourself queueing for a long time while some poor sap with a bin-bag tries to clear up the mess left in your screen by the last lot of patrons. The pre-film adverts hark back to the days of little local cinemas, advertising local companies to the accompaniment of piped cheesy chart music. Occasional teasers are included along with the ads, but they have a limited number, so after a couple of visits you've seen them all. A "feature" of the Norwich UCI which is supposedly a great success is the Gallery. I haven't tried it personally, but here's the gist: for £12 (each, you understand), you get a complimentary drink and snack, a larger and roomier seat (the normal ones are by no means bad), and you are allowed to drink alcohol. The downside? These seats are the back two rows of a normal auditorium, separated only by a rope. So, you pay £12, get a cup of coffee and some nacho crumbs, and get to sit way up at the back, a million miles from the screen, and
you're still in the same room as the plebs! Umm, no thanks. But the plebs (students included) get a decent deal anyway, so it's hardly a loss. Just £3.90 gets you a fairly comfy seat in a position where you don't need binoculars to see the screen, and you're spared most of the munching, rustling and slurping coming from people trying to get their £12 worth of munchies. The seats are okay, not as comfy as Ster Century but they do have the bonus of being able to lift up the arm rest if you feel the need to get closer to your neighbour :) A final note on the sound - it's loud. Very very loud. Too loud, I think, but apparently "that's how it is now". Overall, the UCI has gradually lost out to Ster Century on a series of small things. The seats are slightly less comfy, and the sound is a bit too loud. Ster have put their prices down to £3.50 for everyone, whereas UCI is £3.90 for students and more (getting on for £5) for others. Also, running the gauntlet of drunken people to get to/from UCI is increasingly off-putting. All this, coupled with the greater likelihood of finding parking in the city centre late at night, means that UCI is probably not such a good bet these days, unless you're planning it as part of a full night out on Riverside.