Last updated: 08:55 AM ET, Sat October 08 2016

First-Ever IMAX Theater At Sea: A Booming Hit For Carnival Vista

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Carnival Cruise Line | Tim Wood | May 24, 2016

First-Ever IMAX Theater At Sea: A Booming Hit For Carnival Vista

Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

ABOARD THE CARNIVAL VISTA — It’s a brand that has expanded rapidly around the world. IMAX founder and CEO Richard Gelfond has evolved his company from a documentary-focused viewing experience to building the film technology into current blockbusters and retrofitting existing iconic theatres with the senses-popping entertainment experience.

So why not a cruise ship? That was Carnival’s challenge to Gelfond and his team, and they have delivered with the first IMAX Theatre at sea aboard the Vista. It is the centerpiece of the entertainment options aboard the cruise line’s newest member of the fleet.

At first glance, the biggest obstacle may seem to be keeping the enhanced surround sound experience from disrupting cruisegoers in cabins around the theatre. But Gelfond and his crew have already solved this challenge in land-based multiplexes so this was a cinch.

The real issue was actually building the theatre that spans deck 6 and 7 midship. Specifically getting the projector, screen and seats into the space during the ship’s buildout. The materials would not fit through existing entrance spaces, so the construction crew solved the problem by cutting a hole in the wall of the theatre space and sliding the hundreds of rectangular-shaped boxes through the hole before resealing it during the soundproofing stage of construction.

Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of the IMAX experience. The sell here is that the screen is taller, wider and closer to the audience, providing 28 percent more viewing area of a film than the typical theater screen. While nice, the sound is often overbearing and while true film buffs will notice the added definition in scenes filmed with IMAX cameras, the average moviegoer won’t really notice the difference. But even I can admit that to have this option on a cruise ship is a huge innovation.

Movie theaters on ships are not new. I sailed on the Disney Dream last fall and saw "Bridge of Spies" while it was still in land-based theaters in a gorgeous stadium-tiered theater.

This is also a 3D theater, so all films screening have a 3D element to them. The added pricetag that comes with the IMAX and 3D additions is steep – the ticket for new releases is $12.95 aboard the ship.  I have yet to see a movie designated in 3D and/or IMAX actually live up to the extra charge. At best, a handful of scenes actually utilize the toys. Often, the biggest innovation is seeing the clichéd ashes or snowflakes seem like they’re falling on your head.

IMAX began making documentaries and are still the best showcase for the tech. Plus, full-length docs filmed entirely with IMAX cameras are nearly half the price of the Hollywood new releases.

“The Jungle Book” and “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” were the main attractions on my cruise aboard the Vista, along with a new documentary, “A Beautiful Planet,” narrated by Jennifer Lawrence.

Gelfond said IMAX intends to use the theatre as a laboratory and showcase for its brand during the exclusive 10-year deal. Both IMAX and Carnival officials said that by mid-summer, thanks to the marvels of modern-day digital filmmaking, the Vista theatre will have first-run blockbusters premiering the same day as they do on land. This would be a breakthrough for cinema theaters to provide the real-time moviegoing experience, especially for kids who always want to see the big new release first.

IMAX is clearly the star of the ship’s entertainment offerings, but not the only new addition. The brand’s Broadway-in-30-minutes brand, Playlist Productions, debuted a number of new shows for Vista cruisegoers, including Flick, a movie-themed tribute show, and America Rocks!, a 30-minute non-stop mashup of the history of U.S. rock and roll.

“Hasbro: The Game Show” is back on the Vista, but the Hasbro relationship expands with a “Clue”-branded murder mystery show. 

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