City Guide DVD
Insight DVD Guide
Are travel DVDs, such as this and the others in its
series, a worthy successor to travel books?
Or are they a complementary product to be used in
conjunction with, rather than instead of, a traditional
We suggest they are something to use in addition to,
rather than instead of, regular travel guide books.
They provide a different overlapping function as part of
your travel planning (or reminiscing).
Some people make use of video
and print materials to decide what areas in the world they'll
visit. Others use such resources to decide what they'll
see and do in the places they've already chosen to visit. Some
people use these materials for both purposes, and some just
simply go wherever and work out what to do when they get there.
This is clearly a personal
style/preference issue. For many people, however, planning
a trip is almost as much fun as actually going on the trip.
And many people also like to have a range of 'aide-memoires' to
help them remember their travels once they return home.
If you're in one of these
categories, you might find a travel video a useful supplement to
web browsing and book reading.
Here's what to expect on this
Seattle Great City Guide DVD.
About the DVD
The single DVD comes
packaged in a typical DVD case, with a fairly drab and
unexciting cover (pictured above). It has no extra print materials
supplied with the DVD other than some promotional information on the back
The DVD is free of region
encoding restrictions, and so will play on any NTSC player (or
computer - both Mac and PC) anywhere in the world.
In addition to the main 42
minute video, it has a limited amount of additional DVD-rom type material which
can be viewed on a computer, and has links to the DVD publisher's related
The DVD lists for an
affordable $19.99 and can be purchased on
- often with used and new copies being offered for significantly
less on their product page.
The DVD is presented in
standard (4:3) aspect ratio rather than in a wider screen ratio.
It has varying picture quality (due to being comprised of video
materials sourced from several different sources) but none of it
is as bright or clear as you'd expect when watching a recent
Hollywood movie on DVD. It is uniformly dull and lacking
in vividness or contrast - and this is not only because of
Seattle's frequent cloudy weather! Even the sunny day
shots are dull.
The voice over narration is
clear and good quality, and most of the time is backed by a
'high energy' musical soundtrack, with very little ambient sound
from the places being filmed.
Chapters and Content
When you first start the DVD
you are given five options :
To Play the DVD from start to
Section Index, which takes
you to six main sections of the DVD. When you click on
one of the main sections, you're then taken to another menu
with sub-sections within that main section. For
example, if you choose the 'Downtown Seattle' main section, you
then have six choices -
Birth of Downtown
Pike Place Market
Seattle Art Museum
Shopping - for example,
if you click this subsection, you then get a not quite
one minute video played about shopping in Seattle, before being
returned back to the main section index screen.
Mini Tours, which takes you
to four sub-sections. Interestingly, one of these has
the the same 'Shopping' title that was offered via the
section index, but if you click on it, it takes you to a
different presentation to that accessed through the other
menu route. This is a bit confusing.
The other three mini tour subsections are 'Water
Attractions', 'Museums and History', and 'Family
Travel Tips, which has two
main sub-sections, Getting Around and Hotels and
A third option 'More tools' simply takes
you to a menu that offers the Mini tour menu and nothing
The 'Getting Around' section includes such
pearls of wisdom as 'there are lots of one way streets
downtown' and 'city parking is limited and expensive'.
Do either of these revelations surprise you? It also
claims that the
Seattle Duck tours operate every half hour, whereas this
is only the case on Fridays - Sundays, and in off-season
they only operate a very few tours, a very few days a week.
(Note this is Duck as in DUKW - a WW2 amphibious vehicle -
and is a fun tour.)
Are you getting confused
yet? To be fair, it is very hard to have an intuitive and
interactive set of multi-layered menus that overlap and loop
back on themselves on a DVD, especially when they are presented
in an 'arty' manner. It might have been a better choice to
present them in a more clearly logical hierarchy of 'top menu'
followed by 'Level 1 menu' and 'Level 2 menu' choices below
that, with consistent options for moving up and down the menu
Perhaps for most of us, the
best idea is simply to start playing the video at the beginning
and watch the entire 42 minute presentation to the end.
Except that, if you do that,
you won't see everything! Ouch.
Extras if playing the DVD in
If you put the DVD into a
DVD drive in your computer (these days, DVD drives for computers
cost as little as $30, so if you don't have one in your
computer, you might want to think about adding one; and if you
don't want to have to install an internal drive into the
computer case, you can get an
external DVD drive that connects
simply by USB for under $60) you get access to some extra
things - a gallery of photos, maps, discount coupons, and
In this case, there were 45
images, some very similar to each other, one map (not of
Seattle, as you'd expect, but rather of Mt Rainier National
Park, about 90 miles to the south), and a pdf of a coupon book,
with some coupons having already expired back in 2008, and other
coupons not actually offering any discernable special deal.
For Seattle discount
coupons, the best bet remains the
There are also some puzzling
files with a .PAR file extension. They don't play on my
Windows computer, and although I've asked the publisher twice
what they are, they've not been able to tell me.
What the DVD Shows - and
The DVD both opens and
closes with jokey references and too much video footage of the
rain in Seattle. As one who has lived here 24 years, the
belief that it always rains in Seattle remains puzzling to me
and contradicted by my own experience (I'm typing this on a
beautifully sunny spring morning), and I don't really think a
travel DVD does its destination any favors by playing up this
It is important to
appreciate that the DVD doesn't attempt to be a complete
reference listing of everything you can see and do around the
greater Seattle area. Instead, it is a very brief overview
of some of the things, including some of the more popular things
most tourists will want to experience, and also featuring a few
less well known things as well to help you broaden your Seattle
Because of this, unavoidably
there will be things omitted that any one individual might feel
should be included. It is possible to criticize the selections
this DVD has featured, but the chances are that any
alternate selection we might come up with ourselves would also
be subject to criticism.
With that as
introduction, there were some surprising inclusions and
omissions, and some attractions seemed to be given more screen time than they perhaps deserved. For example,
there was a lengthy piece on a cruise to the
Tillicum Indian Village (something I've always felt to be a
rather touristy/kitchy experience), but no mention of the
shorter cruise that takes you past Bill Gates' house on Lake
Washington. There was also little coverage to Seattle's
network of passenger ferries and the opportunities for
sightseeing via ferry to some of the places on the other side of
There was mention of a tour
to the Boeing Visitor Center in Everett (about 30 miles north of
Seattle) but no mention of the excellent
of Flight, the largest aviation museum on the west coast, on
the south end of the downtown area.
And while there was an
extensive section on touring down to the Mt Rainier National
Park, some 90 miles to the south, there was no mention of the
other national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty
that are all around Seattle, not even something close by like
I'd have liked to see
mention of the opportunity for balloon rides too, and perhaps
some 'Wine Trail' information, which is completely omitted.
On the other hand, I think
that things such as the Aquarium need very little coverage - so
many cities around the world have Aquariums, and to my
unscientific eye, they all look very much the same as each other
- seen one, you've seen them all! The same can be said for
the section on the Zoo - again, I'm making a terrible
oversimplification, but one lion looks much the same as another,
and so when I'm visiting a new city for the first time, I
usually tend to avoid their Aquariums and Zoos unless there's
something truly unique or distinctive about them. There's
nothing unique or distinctive about Seattle's Aquarium and Zoo.
The two sections on shopping
are very brief and lacking in much detail, and I'd have thought
including information about nearby factory outlet malls
would have been a relevant inclusion.
And while the DVD includes
the touring up to Everett to Boeing and down to Mt Rainier, it
gives no information about other nearby cities such as Tacoma,
Olympia, or any of Seattle's Eastside cities.
The 'Where to Stay' and
'Where to Eat' sections were also very light on specifics; this
was something I'd have thought might have been supplemented in
the extra materials or on the related website, but - oh yes, the
related website. Read on.
You're encouraged to go to
for more information.
This sounds like a great
idea, but - and notwithstanding that the DVD has been available
for sale since August 2008, there's still nothing on the website
other than a 'coming soon' item. So who knows what
additional material to expect, and when it might be available.
The publisher hasn't answered my question about this, either.
However, looking at some of
the other city guides they do have currently available suggests
there might eventually be a page of general regional
touring information with links to regional tourism sites and
Google maps, some summary information on shopping and links to
stores, a very little bit of information about dining and
nightlife, a bit of 'family fun' information, a short section on
outdoor activities, and another short section on arts, history
This material is good but
not great and far from definitive. One wonders,
accordingly, if it is worth the publisher's effort to offer
these pages - if one is researching nightlife, for example, one
wants as wide a list of choices as possible, rather than just a
few places mentioned.
Note - I've information on
this site about where to eat in
Seattle, and about related areas to visit such as
Hot Springs, the lovely
Bavarian town of Leavenworth,
Vancouver Island and
Hot Springs (both in BC).
The publishers of this DVD
started off with a good idea - how to extend the typical
'linear' travel video such as we used to buy on VHS (ie one
where you play from start to finish rather than jumping
semi-randomly around) and make it
into a more interactive versatile travelog, with supplementary
material both on the DVD itself and on a matching website.
For this, they are to be commended.
But the net result is a
somewhat confusing mishmash of navigational selections through
the DVD that always leaves you with the feeling there's
something you've missed out and not seen. The extra
materials on the DVD are very limited in their content, while
the promised related website has yet to be put online, even
though the DVD has been published for eight months.
The DVD itself is okay, but
the video quality is disappointing, and isn't a travel video
supposed to be all about the video experience?
The DVD is available on
for $19.99 and they usually seem to have some used and new copies available for
significantly less. As such, the price is reasonable (I
remember, twenty and more years ago, paying vastly more than
this for travel videos on VHS) and as a supplement to your
travel planning and research, or as a souvenir of your Seattle
visit, you might find it a positive purchase to consider.
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17 Apr 2009, last update
19 Dec 2013
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.