When you find yourself in Cuba — and, as it opens up to Americans, you will find yourself there at some point — everyone will expect you to go to see a performance the Tropicana. Like Atlanta’s World of Coke or Seattle’s Space Needle or New York’s Statue of Liberty, a pilgrimage to Havana’s Cabaret Tropicana is compulsory for first-time visitors.
The Fathom cruise line sells a Tropicana excursion for about $129 per person. This includes entry to the club (a $100 value), plus round-trip bus transportation to and from the venue. Other travelers told us they spent $80.00 on round trip cab fare, plus $100 on the their show tickets — so this is one of those rare occasions when the organized shore excursion can save you money.
The bus ride is an attraction in itself, as the road to the Tropicana takes you out of Old Havana and through less historic neighborhoods. Very few people can afford electricity in Havana, so you’ll be surprised how very, very dark the city is after sunset. We saw crowds of people waiting for busses at pitch-black bus stops, the occasional restaurant lit by one faint florescent tube, and many homes lit only by the flickering light of an old-school tube television.
After a twenty-minute bus ride, we found ourselves at the epicenter of old school, Rat Pack era entertainment — Ricky Riccardo’s home base. After passing under the Tropicana’s odd neon archway, we walked through a lobby that would make Donald Trump proud: mirrored walls, chandeliers, fat bouquets of tropical flowers, and exotic ladies. There’s even a dress code: no shorts, no flip-flops.
Is it me, or does that font look kinda snaky?
From there, men in tuxedos herded us into a cavernous, air conditioned room the size and shape of an aircraft hangar. Under a black ceiling studded with optic fiber stars, our seats awaited us: long rows of uncomfortable chairs, wedged as tightly as possible between narrow tables.
Busloads of tourists made up about 80% of the audience.
Even the best seats at the very front of the house are perpendicular to the stage, forcing the audience to sit with their necks craned to the right or left for the full two hours of the show.
No amount of alcohol can prevent a neck ache after two hours of craning your head to one side!
After wait staff dropped off champagne, rum and coke, and a fist full of mushy peanuts per person, the Tropicana cast served up two hours of high-volume, high-energy song and dance.
Scantily clad men and women abound, so there’s something for everyone.
Yes, the costumes were elaborate. Yes, the men and women gyrate their various body parts at alarming frequencies. Yes, there were two acts brazenly stolen from Cirque du Soleil.
This looks particularly uncomfortable to me.
And yes, there are dozens of meticulously choreographed song and dance numbers set to songs that that seem to end with end with big brass flourishes and the words “Mi cooooooooo-ra-zón!” (“My heaaaaaart!”).
Unfortunately, the dancers’ broad smiles never quite touched their eyes, and their performances never quite touched our hearts. We found the Tropicana show more predictable than magical, right down to the moment the audience was compelled to stand up and join the dance.
If you’re over sixty, a fan of Vegas-style shows, and lucky enough to snag a seat at the very front of the house, you’ll likely enjoy an evening at the Tropicana. But let’s face it: Havana (and all of Cuba, really) provides many, many opportunities to see and hear more sincere, more honest performances. Not recommended.