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If you're thinking of a visit to my home city of Seattle, here's a 42 minute DVD that will give you an overview of some of the sights and sites to experience here.

This is far from a comprehensive or encyclopedic listing of everything to see and do in the region, but it gives you some visual imagery that would of course be unavoidably missing in an otherwise more complete travel guide book.

 
 
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Seattle Great City Guide DVD

An 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 travel guide?

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 cover.

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 website.

The DVD lists for an affordable $19.99 and can be purchased on Amazon - 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 Organization

When you first start the DVD you are given five options :

  • To Play the DVD from start to finish

  • 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

    • Architecture

    • Seattle Art Museum

    • Sculpture Park

    • 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 Fun/Recreation'.

  • Travel Tips, which has two main sub-sections, Getting Around and Hotels and Restaurants.

    A third option 'More tools' simply takes you to a menu that offers the Mini tour menu and nothing else.

    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 structures.

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 your Computer

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 'Valuable Information'.

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 Seattle Toursaver.

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 Doesn't Show

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 misapprehension.

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 visit.

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 Puget Sound.

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 Museum 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 Snoqualmie Falls.

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.

Related Website

You're encouraged to go to the publisher's website 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 and culture.

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 Sol Duc Hot Springs, the lovely Bavarian town of Leavenworth, Victoria on Vancouver Island and Harrison Hot Springs (both in BC).

Summary

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 Amazon 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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Originally published 17 Apr 2009, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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