Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cirque weekend

This past weekend was Cirque weekend here in Vegas, at least for us. In order to generate local business a lot of casinos and restaurants run specials for people that live in Las Vegas, usually half off the second meal or a free dessert or something. Normally casinos offer things during the month of December, as that is a fairly quiet month for visitors, but with the economy like it is the number of tourists is a lot lower than it was last year, so there are more offers now. Back in December Cirque du Soleil advertised $49 tickets for locals to some of their shows, and since we like most of their shows and this is really a low price I figured why not support the local economy and went out and bought some tickets.

Well, the first restriction was that you had to go to the casino where the show was in order to purchase the tickets. Normally I just go across the street during lunch and buy tickets over at the TI for any Cirque show (there are seven around town). Now, it might not seem like such a big deal to actually go to where the show is in order to buy tickets, but heck, living in town we don’t want to go down and mingle with the tourists unless we have to. And then there is the navigation of parking garages: well, that is probably several posts alone there, the quality of parking garages here in Vegas. Every big casino or hotel has their own parking garage, most are accessible from back streets (except for the Bellagio, only way to hit that one is from the center of the Strip, a driving nightmare in itself), and most sacrifice driving room for more parking spaces and mark really narrow parking spaces in order to save money and still meet the building permit restrictions of number of spaces per number of rooms or whatever. The worst parking garages are at the Venetian and at MGM. These are the two biggest hotels in town, and have the absolute worst places to park. They both have garages that are about ten or twelve floors high, with the lower three or four reserved for valet parking, with really narrow driving lanes and up and down ramps that are positioned in odd places.

There are two basic parking garage styles in Vegas (oh well, looks like I’m headed in that direction, might as well continue); the first where the entire garage is one big spiral, with continuous parking all the way up with a driving lane down the middle of the parking rows. The other type is with flat floors where you park and separate ramps where you drive up or down to the next floor. The nice garages have ramps that start at one end and proceed all the way up to the top in one flow, with places at each floor to get to the parking spaces. This way you drive up towards the top and find spaces easily, as most people try to park lower down. With the spiral style you are continuously dodging cars pulling out of spaces, and waiting for people sitting in their car blocking the way as they wait for another car to pull out. At the MGM the ramps just go up one floor, and then you have to drive around looking for the ramp to go up higher, dodging the same parking idiots as before, and it’s located over on the east side of the Strip, which would require that I cross that obstacle. The MGM garage probably holds around 5,000 cars. And I wanted to purchase tickets to KA, which is at the MGM. Oh well.

Two of the shows offering the ticket specials are KA and Zumanity. My wife really liked KA so I figured we could go see that one again, and Zumanity is one of the few Cirque shows that we had not seen yet. The other we haven’t seen is Love, but that one didn’t offer the cheap tickets. Now $49 might not seem cheap to you (it doesn’t to me) but the top price for KA tickets is $150 (plus taxes and fees) and Zumanity $129, so that is a reasonable discount. Zumanity is over at New York New York (so nice they named it twice) which is across the street from the MGM, located on the west side of the Strip (the side I live on) and has parking garage access from a back street. Rather than stopping on my way home from work (my place of employment is center Strip, a long walk from the MGM at the south and an even more time consuming drive) I went home and drug B along. I think it was faster to drive home and then back down behind NYNY than it would have been driving down the Strip from work, avoiding all the stupid tourists gawking at the neon (oh, sorry, I mean the visitors that make this town what it is, sorry) (and there is no more neon, it’s all giant video screens now). This was back in mid December after the specials were advertised; I’ve missed out on things like this by waiting and figured I’d be quicker on this offer.

So we navigate the construction obstacles over on Frank Sinatra Drive behind the new City Center and slide in to the back of the NYNY garage, which does have the nice central straight ramp style and nice wide driving aisles but narrow parking spots. Right up to the top of the ramp, around a curve and up to floor six, which was nice and empty. We walked down to the Zumanity box office and got two tickets, then we walked over to the MGM via the direct walking bridge, wandered all the way to the back of the casino (where these things are usually located, to get you past the slot machines and hopefully take some more of your money on the way) and found the MGM box office. The box office was rather empty, as the show was closed for a few weeks during the slow time, so the performers could get some vacation time in, with only one worker who was rather slow at helping us. I guess there is no reason to keep the intelligent positive people on when tickets aren’t being sold.

We stopped at the Rain Forest Café for something to eat. This was a really popular place when it first opened; a theme restaurant made to look like a jungle hangout, with trees and vines overhead filled with animatronics animals that periodically came to life as you ate. Unfortunately the opening was quite a few years ago and now the overhead plants all looked like they had an inch or so of dust on them, and the animals are getting a little ragged. When it first opened the MGM Grand was part of the then popular themed resorts, catering to families with kids. Casino owners finally realized that families with kids don’t gamble too much and don’t go to the expensive fancy restaurants, so the profit margins are low and now most hotels have dropped the kid friendly themes. The MGM Grand patterned itself after the movies that the MGM Studios owned, with the casino having a yellow brick road to walk down headed to the rides at the kid’s park in the back (also long gone, replaced by condo towers). Along the walk were people dressed in movie themes, such as Dorothy and the Scarecrow, and characters from whatever movies were being pushed. You used to walk in on the corner, between two big MGM lions, right onto the yellow brick road, but now there are pedestrian bridges and the two lions have been changed to a single bigger one. The casino has new carpets and the characters are gone, but the lion habitat is still there in the middle, with some sad old lion laying around behind glass having it’s picture taken by the tourists.

The tickets we purchased two months ago were for shows this past weekend. We hit Ka on Friday and Zumanity on Sunday. I didn’t pay much attention to the seating maps when we got the tickets, and so were surprised at where we ended up. At KA we were down in the eighth row over to the side, in the expensive area. At Zumanity we were in the fifth row right in the middle of things, rather than way up in the balcony where I expected to be. Ka was as impressive the second time as it was when we first went there, with a cast of fifty or so running around stages that moved back and forth and flipped through the air. B says that she was able to look at details she missed before, and we’ll probably go back again to catch even more of it. Zumanity is the ‘adult side of Cirque’, with a lot of skinny girls in topless outfits performing on stage. There were a lot of risqué jokes, girls wearing G-strings and nothing else in giant martini glasses and swinging on ropes and poles and fabric, bare-chested guys wrestling and a dwarf and two sisters that did not fit in the skinny girl mold and lots of things happening. It wasn’t full nudity, but they don’t let anyone under 18 in the show. It was more of the old style Cirque, with an open stage and just people performing an assortment of stunts. There were about twenty performers who each did a few bits, more like a variety show than a themed evening. The girls were ‘topless’, but also athletic performers, which meant that there is probably more breast in one enhanced performer in a typical Vegas topless joint than was total for all the Zumanity girls combined. It was entertaining, but not in the grand show style, and not really worth the $129 each that some people paid (probably not worth the $49 we paid). But KA was only about two thirds full (and that on a Friday night!) while Zumanity appeared to be sold out. (An inside joke if you do go to see Zumanity: the mistress of ceremonies is really a guy, she did look pretty good though.)

We parked over in the NYNY garage for both shows, and ate at different restaurants each night. No, I still haven’t had the tasting menu over at Joel Rubichon’s place yet, still hard to take the $350 per person hit on that one (plus wine), no matter how decadent it is. It was warm on Sunday but cloudy, we ended up at the Irish pub at NYNY as I felt like having fish and chips. Usually Sundays are pretty empty days here, as most tourists come for the weekend and fly out Sunday afternoon, and the new crowd for the upcoming week has not yet arrived, but there was a 45 minute wait at the restaurants there. Rather than wait we ate out on the patio (no waiting) - a little cool, as it was down to 67f by that time. We did catch a few drops of drizzle as we were finishing up, no rain was predicted and we did not get enough to measure, but did feel something falling and sure hope it wasn’t somebody from the balcony above us. As we paid I found that the pub’s local promotion was giving the second glass of Guiness for free, but I passed on that as I didn’t want to fall asleep during the show. So it was two pleasant evenings spending some tourist dollars right here in town.

Wow, a whole post with no photos. OK, have to put something here. For those of you unfamiliar with just how big parking garages can be here is a shot I took of the Wynn employee garage across the street from where I work. It’s smaller than the guest parking garages, and a lot shorter, but it might give you some idea of the size. This is just one side of the cube:

Yes, it continues off to both the left and right of the photo. I couldn’t get back far enough to get it all in. That’s our monorail track up in front. I'm not sure of the size, but it probably holds around 6,000 cars.

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