Celebrites as Tourist Attractions: Jackie Chan, Britney Spears, and More

Millions of tourists visit Los Angeles every year in hopes of spotting a celebrity, but rarely see anything more than gated homes and unemployed actors in character costumes on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some enterprising celebrities are finding ways to become tourist attractions in their own right, with live performances and theme parks for fans to see their favorites (or at least their stuff) live in person.

-Britney Spears just announced a two-year residency at Las Vegas‘ Planet Hollywood starting in December. Over 1,000 fans gathered in the Nevada desert for her helicopter arrival and performance on GMA. Tickets for the pop star’s first 16 shows this winter go on sale tomorrow.

Action star Jackie Chan is opening his collection of historic sandalwood houses to the public in Beijing with a new theme park. The proposed park will show different cultural experiences with no admission, with some ticketed attractions to help maintain the antique buildings.

Film and TV actors on Broadway have become de rigueur in recent years, a way to prove their serious talent and break away from roles they’ve become famous for. This season, you can catch Orlando Bloom, Daniel Craig and Patrick Stewart on stage in New York City.

-Fans of Michael Jackson have been hoping that his Neverland Ranch in California might be turned into a park or pilgrimage spot like Elvis Presley’s Graceland, but part of the property was sold off in 2008 and has since fallen into disrepair. Hearing that his children would like to buy it back, Lady Gaga was rumored to offer to help with costs or open it to the public.

Upscale Cruise Line Offers Something Sinful

Cruise lines are looking for new, different and exciting entertainment options to keep passengers occupied at night. Some have added Broadway shows, others offer interactive audience participation programming, all focused on their target audience and what they want. Celebrity Cruises took a look at what their passengers are looking for in the way of late-night entertainment too. The result: Sin City Comedy.

If the thought of “Sin City” has you thinking raunchy, tasteless entertainment that we might not see from the (normally) upscale Modern Luxury line, think again.

Described as, “funny and a little bit sexy,” Sin City Comedy will tap comedians with tasteful acts for the late-night show offered on Celebrity Reflection and Celebrity Silhouette, rotating to Celebrity Solstice in May, said Celebrity Cruises in a recent statement.

Think of comics who have appeared on Comedy Central, VH1, HBO, (sort of raunchy) “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Conan,” Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” (less raunchy).

That sort of sin.

Actually a product of Sin City Comedy at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, the cruise line version of the show will mimic a two-time winner of the Best of Las Vegas award.

Surprised? Remember, this is the same cruise line that sports a sea-view shower in its top end Reflection Suites. Those allow passengers to bare all to the world but come with an option to turn glass from transparent to frosted to reveal less.

Celebrity’s Sin City Comedy shows are presented at varying late-night time slots in the Celebrity Central venue on Celebrity Reflection and Celebrity Silhouette. 18 and older please. Thank you.

[Image credit – Flickr user STEVENJOHNSELLER]

Harrah’s All Stage Pass offers 2 days of unlimited access to 17 Vegas shows

Almost every visit to Las Vegas revolves around three activities: gambling, eating/drinking and shows. Nobody ever needs any help finding ways to gamble away their money, and unless you are too drunk to locate a restaurant, you’ll also never go hungry in Vegas. Shows are a little more complicated . there are a lot of them and their pricing is often a bit steep (especially if you don’t know where to find discount tickets).

Vegas visitors can save a pretty decent chunk of their gambling budget by purchasing the Harrah’s All Stage Pass. This all-you-can-see show pass builds off the success of their buffet-of-buffets promotion, offering 48 hours of unlimited access to 17 Las Vegas shows.

The pass costs $119 and drops to $99 for members of their Total Rewards loyalty program. Once you’ve purchased your All Stage pass, you can walk up to any of the box offices for the shows and get yourself free tickets.

There are obviously a few caveats – the promotion does not include Barry Manilow, Cher, Donny & Marie or Penn & Teller – though you do get access to $40 tickets for those shows. And while not all the entertainers in the lineup may appeal to you, there are some very worthy shows on offer – including Anthony Cools, Rita Rudner and (if you are into that kind of thing) The Chippendales.

Also – you’ll really need to spend some time doing math and scheduling before dropping cash on the passes, because unless you manage to squeeze in as many shows as you can, you’ll end up paying more than you would if you found some discounted tickets.

To learn more about the shows on offer, the pricing and where to purchase the All Stage pass, head on over to the Harrah’s promotion page.

Living the high roller Diamond Life at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino

Last week, I spent a couple of days at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Now, I’ve been to this hotel quite a bit, but on this visit, I had been invited to enjoy the life of a “high roller” Diamond card member of the Harrah’s Total Rewards program.

The “Diamond Life” starts at the airport, where a limo driver is waiting to pick you up and drop you off at the hotel. To check in, I was able to completely skip the long lines, and walk into the diamond registration lounge.
About the Total Rewards program

Total Rewards is the Harrah’s loyalty program for their casino properties. Any time you spend money on entertainment, slots or tables, you present your loyalty card, and computers behind the scenes calculate how much of your money you are handing over to the casino. The program starts with gold, and grows through platinum to diamond and Seven Stars. Obviously, the more you spend, the higher your status will be. The program currently has over half a million elite tier members.

Gratuitous photo of the 24 layer cake at Striphouse – because nothing says luxury like 24 layers of cake.

The perks of the Diamond Program are quite generous – access to a dedicated diamond lounge with complimentary food and beverages, room comps and upgrades, gift shop discounts, free exclusive tournaments, bonus tier points and priority check-in.

The best part of the Total Rewards program is that it works between all Harrahs’s properties. In Vegas, this means you’ll be recognized at Caesers Palace, Bally’s, Rio, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Imperial Palace, Harrah’s, Flamingo and Bills Gamblin hall.

Indeed – Harrah’s went on a very impressive spending spree in Las Vegas, and ended up owning a large portion of the strip. Outside Vegas, there are 24 other properties where the card will work.

To earn the Diamond tier, you need to generate 11,000 “tier credits” in a year. You earn 1 credit for every $5 spent on the slots, but earnings at tables depend on how long you play, your average bet and the type of game. At tables, one of the hosts will monitor your play, and award points for your gaming.

Living the Diamond Life

Every part of the Diamond perks package is designed to make your life a little easier when you are at the casino. With your card, you don’t wait in long lines for the restaurant, you don’t wait for a cab and in many cases, you don’t pay for food.

Now, the card is not a complete free for all, but if you earned it the hard way (by gambling), you will end up with a substantial amount of free credits, which can be spent at many of the on-property restaurants. Depending on your spending pattern, your casino host can add all kinds of freebies, including free rooms, free meals and other perks. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to how much you spend with them. During my stay, I visited several of the Planet Hollywood restaurants, and my card covered all the expenses.

Of all the basic perks, the queue skipping one is probably the most valuable. During the 100 degree weather, there were at least 50 people in line for a cab, but as soon as I showed my diamond card, a cab pulled up and I was whisked away. Did I feel bad about all those people in the heat? Sure, but if I had spent enough money at the casino to earn Diamond status, I would have felt that I earned that perk – just like I don’t mind pre-boarding at the airport or checking in at the Platinum desk at my favorite hotel chain.

Comparisons with the airline industry

It is obvious that a lot of the marketing behind the Total Rewards loyalty program borrowed inspiration from the airline industry. When you are loyal to one airline, they’ll reward you with a couple of free miles and a shiny card. Once you fly a lot, you’ll board first, find yourself in a premium class cabin, get free drinks in the lounge, and get other basic perks that make the experience more enjoyable.

In the casino it is the same – the whole idea is to keep you happy with the program you picked, and to make sure nothing happens that would make you consider switching to a different property. The more you spend, the more love you’ll get back.

Are the perks worth it?

This one is impossible to answer – I’m not an active gambler, unless you count spending a couple of hundred on the slots. But I did speak to several of my friends who are Diamond members at Harrah’s, and they were quite clear – the perks of being able to use their status at more than just a handful of properties makes being loyal to this chain a worthy investment.

Bottom line is simple – if the perks and treatment make you feel worthwhile, the investment is worth it. Just like at the airlines, as long as your usual airline treats you well, you won’t ever consider switching to a different carrier.

Disclaimer: Harrah’s Entertainment paid for this trip and provided four days of Diamond status for the story. The opinions are entirely my own.

Las Vegas, off the beaten Strip

The Las Vegas Neon Museum doesn’t announce itself with flashy lights; you have to find it in less obvious ways. Take a $20 dollar cab ride up to northern edge of Sin City, past the baking asphalt parking lots erupting with weeds and stout pawn shops eager with WE BUY GOLD placards, to the nondescript building the museum calls home. That’s when you’ll see it. Across the street, shimmering in the desert heat like a mirage: a gigantic, rusty-metal pool player. In one hand a cue, cocked, ready to fire, the player’s torso twisted in contrapposto like a billiard-playing colossus. Near this metallic giant lay dozens of gorgeously decorated neon signs – Stardust, Golden Nugget, Silver Slipper – artwork from a bygone era of Vegas history, out of sight and out of mind. Las Vegas is not a city that honors its past. Yet somehow fragments remain, ready to reveal their secrets to visitors who venture beyond the town’s glittering Strip.

Vegas is town forever stuck in the present; a city that appears to have neither a past nor a future: it simply is. It’s a fact borne out by the city’s relentless reinvention, renovation and recreation. On the famous “Strip,” outdated hotels are leveled to make way for the newest mega-resort. Even finding a clock inside a casino is a challenge. All of this suggests a town that ignores the passing of time in exchange for the pleasures of an ephemeral present. Except not all of the Old Vegas has disappeared; it’s simply been shoved to the margins. Venture ten minutes from ageless Las Vegas Boulevard and a different Vegas emerges; a destination of Atomic Era drinking dens, whimsical pinball parlors and a museum harboring a gallery of neon masterpieces.

If you’ve ever wondered what exists in Vegas beyond Roman Strip Malls and Eiffel Tower knock-offs, it’s time to dig beneath the surface. Let’s tour Las Vegas, off the beaten Strip. Keep reading below for more.A Neon Graveyard
If it’s possible for an Inert Gas to symbolize the magnificent highs and tumbling lows of Vegas history, then Neon is it. This strange element has been fueling the glowing signage of Las Vegas ever since mobster Bugsy Siegel dared to imagine this fantasy desert town as the world’s foremost gambling mecca. Though the casinos of Bugsy’s day long-ago met the wrecking ball, some of their signage lives on at the Neon Museum in northern Las Vegas.

For $15, visitors can explore “canyons” stacked with old Vegas neon signage, and imagine for a moment what once was: a place that hummed with a fiery visual energy, full of wildly exotic genie lamps, cocksure cowboys and colorful flamingos erupting like fireworks in the dark. It might not look like the Louvre or The Met, but this is one of the world’s great repositories of art, strokes of neon artistry left to rust and bake in the relentless desert sun.

Drinking in the Past
The Atomic Liquor Store is more than a bar: it’s a temple to long-lost Americana. Reportedly the “oldest bar” in Vegas, this drinking den got its name from the 1950’s nuclear tests that took place only 60 or so miles from its front door. Swanky Vegas cocktail lounge this is not. In addition to its location deep in the heart of seedy Fremont Street, visitors will need to be buzzed in the locked front doors.

But fear not, this historical oddity is worth the trip. From the minute you catch a glimpse of the sturdy decades-old neon sign out front, greeting you like an old friend, to the inflation-proof $1 cans of Busch Beer and molding pool tables, you’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. The bar’s ramshackle decor, killer jukebox stocked with plenty of Springsteen and Mellencamp and a rotating cast of local Sin City characters is guaranteed to provide a memorable night out.

Playing for Keeps
Games are the de facto language of gambling. In Las Vegas, wherever you move you’re sure to encounter these games, the constant gaze of a slot machine or the hypnotic spinning eye of a roulette wheel beckoning you to try your luck. But a very different type of game competes for your attention at the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. Except instead of one-armed bandits you’ll find 10,000 square feet of vintage pinball and arcade games from the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, waiting for you to give them a play.

Whether you’re a fan of Captain Fantastic or Guns ‘n Roses, Waterworld or Pac-man, there’s a childhood memory begging you to relive the past. Drop in a quarter, and a real-life time machine springs back to life. Bells clink. 8-bit explosions foam in your eardrums. A flickering orange glow of enjoyment fills your view. But too soon, your pinball disappears from view and the machine again falls silent; a teasing vision of a Vegas that once was, but is no more.