Monday, May 27, 2013

Old School: Drive-In Theater

I loved going to a drive-in movie when I was a kid!!  Sadly there just aren't many of them left.  I'm assuming its because their profit margin is no where near as much as an indoor theater that has many screens, can offer showing at all times of the day, and is open all year long.

When I met my husband he told me about a drive in theater that was still open and was just an hour away from the town we lived in.  We started out going there once or twice a year.  Early on we attempted to stay for two showings.  Yes - they have 4 screens and each screen plays a new release movie as soon as it is dark enough outside.   Then after the first movie is over they play a second movie (that is still playing at theaters but usually a couple of weeks since it's opening weekend)!!  You can move to another screen for the second movie instead having to stay at the same screen as your first movie.  And - you do not have to pay extra to stay for the second movie!!  But, it's always too late for us.  Even in my younger days we would fall asleep and then have to get up to drive an hour home.

A few years back our drive-in announced that they were open for their last season.  I was very saddened because it was something I was looking forward to sharing with my kids (once I had some).  Thankfully, at the end of their last summer they ended up partnering with a larger chain of theaters in our area.  So, they are still open to this date!!  Now my family and I go many times over the summer!!  I often have people ask me where the drive-in is and I am more than happy to share our stories with them.  After all, I want them to stay in business and I also know that the kiddos of the people who ask me would enjoy the experience as much as mine do.

So, here's some information about my drive-in along with my tips to make your drive-in experience (no matter what drive-in you visit) the best it can be.

The Getty Drive-In is located in Muskegon, Michigan and it is part of the Celebration Cinema chain of theaters.  It has 4 screens that always run the newly released movies for first run and then the second run of movies are usually popular movies that have been in the theaters for a couple of weeks.  Like I said, you just pay per person to get in for the first movie and the second movie is a bonus (if you can stay up that late.)

Usually get this packed on summer weekend nights.

The gates open at 8:00 pm.  There is a small shack that you drive up to for ticket purchases.  You pay per person but the rates are much lower than when you go to the regular theater.  Plus, they offer a lower kids pricing and 5 and under are free!  This place is "old school" so no credit cards - make sure you have plenty of CASH!

These are the tickets you get.  My son was free, my daughter was at the discounted child rate, and my husband I have the adult tickets.  The "3" on them means that we were at screen 3.

At the ticket window they sell boxes of gummy bears and Sqwigglies for just $1.
Parking:  there are usually plenty of places to park.  We like to get front and center for our movies (hoping no one parks in front of us).  The parking spots are all on little mounds of dirt so that the portion of your vehicle facing the screen is tilted up for better viewing.  This also helps with seeing over cars if you are not in the front row.  

Many of the parking spots have speakers for you to hear the movie.  Double check to make sure your speaker works before you get comfortable with your spot!  The cords are short so you have to park very close to them.  It's also not very loud.  You can use your car radio to listen in and they have staff to help jump your car if your battery dies.

These poles of course do not have speakers.

We bring our own radio for easy listening and so we can park where we want to without worrying about speakers.  They give you this at the ticket window so you know where to tune in.  

Our radio.  Works perfect and runs off batteries!!
There is a small play area with "old school" play equipment.  It's in front of screen 1, which is usually the screen where they play the most kid friendly movies (if a new one is released for that week).  Screen 1 is also closest to the restrooms, concession, trash, and video arcade.  When we are in screen 1 we like to park right up front (no speakers) so the kids can play while we sit and watch from our car/seating area. 

Play area - dirty but fun.

Of course, the theater is outside with a lot of dirt so we bring plenty of things to clean up.  Also, its outside so bug spray is a must!!!  They do sell bug spray at the ticket booth if you forget.

Some times they have special "attractions".  This picture was when we went to see the Avengers movie.  There was a local artist (that has done some super hero art for movies) there autographing posters.  It came with a small fee but all of it was donated to a cause.
After the kids are done playing, we return to the car to get ready for the movie.  The kids hop in the back of the car (tinted windows) to clean up and change into their pajamas while the adults get the seating ready.  You can change in the restrooms but they are a little rustic.  Since my kiddos are still little, and we have a big area in the back of our car, we just let them change at our parking spot.  
We park with the back of our car facing the screen.  We have cots that lay down or can be adjusted to sit the head up.  We also have lawn chairs that recline.  The radio is either in front facing us or behind us facing the screen.  We also have a trash bag and side tables.  

Don't have a lot of extra room in your car?  Blankets or bag chairs work great too!  Over many years we have built our way up from just blankets and pillow to the set-up we have now.  But, when my kiddos want to start bringing friends with us we will have limited space in the car and will have to "downgrade our luxuries" - LOL
Once we have our site ready we send "dad" to get our popcorn.  You can bring in food from other places (which we usually do).  And there is no fee to bring in outside food - unlike some places I have heard of.  The refillable popcorn buckets that Celebration Cinema sells are good here!  So that is what we usually buy from concession.  However, they do offer pizza, hot dogs, drinks, pop cycles, cotton candy, ....
Concession area

There's plenty of room to play while you are waiting for the movie.  This time we took frisbees,  Other times we have had balls with gloves to play catch.  We have also seen people bring remote control cars to run.  

Glow Sticks!  They sell glow sticks for $1 each and the proceeds go to support Juvenal Diabetes.  It's a great cause but to keep our cost down I buy these packs of 15 for $1 and bring them with us.  

Glow stick fun!  They make bracelets (can also be used for a hoop toss game) and necklaces.
My tips:
  • Parking is usually tight (two cars per space) and you really need to make sure you are only taking up your space so others can fit in.  They will send staff around on busy nights to have you move if you are taking up too much space.
  • Some movies cost more.  We have been there many times and only had this happen once.  I think it was for "The Amazing Spider-man" movie that came out in 2012.  That time they checked people for tickets to make sure the only people at that screen where the ones who had paid for it. Otherwise, it doesn't really matter what screen you park at (even though you have to declare a movie when you pay).  
  • Have CASH!!!  They do not have credit card machines so you need cash for tickets, food, glow sticks, ...
  • Lights off!!!!  The first few years we went to the drive-in we had to check out the manual in the car to see how to make sure our lights did not turn on when we opened a door, unlocked the doors, started the car, ...  You will really have some upset people if your lights go on during a movie!  We go often enough now that we know exactly how to turn all of that off.
  • I personally love going in the fall.  The weather is cooling off and it gets dark earlier (when you are use to staying up later).  
  • The quality of the movie isn't as good as the experience you have in the theater (picture is darker and the sound isn't as good) but it is worth it now and then for the overall experience.  In the past we only went there to see movies that we knew weren't going to be that great.  Now, we are so familiar with the quality that we really enjoy seeing movies there as much as in a theater.

My packing list:
  • Bug spray
  • Sun block
  • Drinks
  • Food (we have a local place we like to order from just before entering the theater but I also bring snacks)
  • Refillable popcorn bucket
  • Radio with batteries
  • Blankets (bring them even if you think it is warm out - we always end up needing them)
  • Sweatshirts (no matter how warm you think it is - its better to be safe than sorry)
  • Chairs (if there is room in your car)
  • Side tables (if there is room)
  • Trash bag/can
  • Wipes to clean up after playing in the dirt
  • Flashlight (to find your shoes or other items when you are packing up to head home)
  • Pajama's (after the kids are done playing we have them get into pajamas so they can go directly to bed when we get home).
  • Glo-Sticks
  • Frisbee or ball with mitt
  • CASH
We LOVE the drive-in and hope that you get the chance to experience one soon!!

Every ride home looks much like this ;-)

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