MacauTripping Chapter 2: Delirium Sets In
Welcome to Macau, we've got casino carpeting in our jetway. Our passport control check point looks like a cross between a sportsbook and a Chinese pawn shop. Our security agents smile. They laugh at dumb jokes too. Our luggage carousels happily spin round and round and round... hoping that someday, someone will bring more than a money bag.
Today1 was that day. After clearing customs with the speed and grace of a prize pachyderm, I found my suitcase bags circling a barely used baggage carousel. I spotted Hunter's bag coming out of turn three and heading towards a trap door. I sprung into action and grabbed them both before they became part of the ever increasing Cotai reclamation landfill. Once again2 Hunter was questioned, inspected, super poked and fingered by the man.
With most Macau hotels giving out free toothbrushes and underpants being cheap and plentiful, who needs to bring anything other than a wad of cash and the latest patent infringing microcomputer to Macau?
After procuring our crapola, we walked past a 15 foot tall "Wynn Macau" sign and through a customs check point - which was literally a guy in standing there with a cocker spaniel. We headed into the terminal and fanned out in search of a SIM card vending machine. Two steps later, we find the machine. "It looks just like the photo you sent me" Hunter dead panned. We spend about 20 minutes reading the details and deciding which package would be the best for us ($200 - unlimited data for 7 days.) I bought the same SIM package Hunter did because he knows his tech and I trust him. We head outside and start making our way to the hotel shuttle pick up area where we are greeted by a wall of intense heat and humidity. Funny thing is that this heat doesn't really feel that bad - temperatures in Los Angeles on the day we left was in the high teens.
Wynn bus. We're looking for a Wynn bus. C'mon Wynn bus. Winner winner chicken sandwich Wynn bus.
No Wynn bus.
MGM Macau has one. There are three Venetian buses, three Studio City buses, a Galaxy, a Sofitel and a big purple City of Dreams bus. There are ladies standing around advertising a Wynn bus... but.. no Wynn bus. We wait. And wait. And wait. I mop up what is left of Hunter and wring it out on top of his now crystallized salt form.
Oh look! The Wynn Bus is here!
The side bay doors automagically open, we toss in our luggage, they automagically close and... we're off. The first thing I notice is that the interior of this bus is decidedly un-Wynn. There are no spa jamz piped in or mellow-toned Steve Wynn carnival barking. The slate colored curtains are definitely not from The Roger Thomas Collection... and the scent of Asian Rain has neither been dealt or smelt. For a company so very concerned about providing guests with a sense of arrival, this bus is a bust.
But who cares about that... we're in Macau!
The big red bus gurgles and whirrs away from the airport when suddenly, the majesty of Cotai briefly comes in view.
The last time I was here, Cotai was anything but majestic, it was a half-dozen cordoned off dirt pits with steel pilings poking out, like a giant metal porcupine rising from the mud. The the Venetian Macao had just opened, City of Dreams was three floors tall, as was Sands Cotai Central. Galaxy Macau had towers, but no glass, Studio City was a pile driver parking lot. MGM Cotai and Wynn Palace didn't have names or land rights.
Things have changed. But first... let's rewind a little bit.
An Abbreviated History of Macau
Macau is made up of three parts. "Macau" is a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water and China to the north. To the south is an island called Taipa. Coloane is another island a little bit further south. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side of Macau to the other.
For 400 years these three land masses were a Portuguese colony, called Macau. It was primarily a port for seafaring traders doing business along the south China coast, Japan and India. Around the turn of the millennium, the Portuguese returned the colony to China, who call it Macau S.A.R. SAR is an acronym of 'Special Administrative Region'. Much like Hong Kong, which was a British colony until 2000, Macau is governed autonomously but still part of China under a "one country, two systems" plan. Even though it is one country, mainland Chinese citizens need to obtain visas to travel to Macau. The Chinese government tightly controls how many visas it issues to Macau.
Gambling has a very long history in Macau and has been a part of Chinese culture since the dawn of culture. In the modern era, Macau's casino gambling was a monopoly held by Stanley Ho and his company SJM (Sociedad de Jugos De Macau). When Portugal returned Macau to China, the Chinese government opened up gambling operations to western companies by holding a lottery for gambling concessions.
Initially, a total of three concessions were given. SJM was grandfathered in for the first concession. The second concession was granted to a partnership between Las Vegas Sands and Galaxy Entertainment. Wynn Resorts won the third concession.
New concession holders immediately set out to procure land and commence construction. Sands Macao, Galaxy Star World and Wynn Macau were the first wave of non-SJM properties to open on in Macau.
A rift developed between the partnership of LVS and Galaxy about control of the concession. Unable to reach a settlement, the Chinese government split all concessions in two, giving LVS and Galaxy their own concessions and offering SJM and Wynn the opportunity to sell their second concession to whomever they wished. SJM sold its concession to Stanley Ho's daughter Pansy Ho, who partnered with MGM Mirage to create MGM Grand Paradise company. MGM Grand Paradise set out to build MGM Grand Macau. Wynn sold their concession to a newly formed partnership between Stanley Ho's son Lawrence Ho and Australian gaming and publishing magnate James Packer. MelcoPBL began construction on Crown Macau in Taipa, which has since been rebranded Altira. (See also: Macau Gaming Concessions - who owns what)
Las Vegas Sands Corp (now Sands China) spearheaded the idea of reclaiming the land between Taipa and Coloane islands to create the world's first masterplanned casino neighborhood. The new neighborhood was to be called Cotai, a portmanteau of Co(loane) and Tai(pa). Sands China trademarked the name "The Cotai Strip™" and "Asia's Las Vegas™" and immediately set out to build the Venetian Macao, the first integrated resort on the Cotai. (See also: Cotai Strip Casino Map)
An Even More Abbreviated Future of Macau Casino Resorts
One by one, other concessionaires have designed, built and opened mind boggling resorts on Cotai at massive scale and more are on the way. Wynn Palace Cotai is scheduled to open in August 2016, The Parisian in Fall 2016, Grand Lisboa Palace, MGM Cotai, City of Dreams' Zaha Hadid designed tower and Galaxy Macau's phase 3 expansion in 2017. The Roosevelt and Louis XIII resorts are currently under construction in Taipa and Coloane respectively. There are tentative plans to build Hilton, Jumeirah, Fairmont, Raffles and Hotel Kitty branded hotels as well as a theme park on Cotai's uncommitted land parcels. There is also a big construction project at the mouth of Fishermans wharf, between Sands Macao and where Casino Macau Palace was moored before it was decomissioned.
We've traveled across the planet to see all of this stuff, but specifically to attend the (since scratched) grand opening of Wynn Palace. The good news is that there is a zillion other things to see... and we have ten days to do it. I'm a baby, opening my eyes on a new Cotai for the very first time.
"You see it!" There it is... Wynn Palace. It looks taller yet a bit more stout than photos and renderings make it seem, at least from the back. Steve might say "it's got a great ass." The white and gold glass form a crown that sits atop the bronze towers. They glow magnificently in the afternoon sunshine - think more stripes, less cake. The Zaha Hadid tower at City of Dreams is progressing skyward, and wrapped in construction cloth. The seriousness of MGM Cotai's ominous wall of block is tempered by its playful colors in person. And just like that, the zephyr that is our 30 second glimpse at Cotai vanishes as Wynn shuttle makes a hard right turn and heads towards Taipa.
We blast through the hills, passing storage yards and a terraced hillside graveyard and Taipa ferry terminal before heading towards Macau via the Friendship bridge. I grabbed my camera and took three dozen shots of the Macau peninsula skyline. We head down Avenida de Amizade... passing Sands Macao, Grand Lapa, Presidente, Star World, L'Arc, Encore and eventually Wynn Macau. It all looks familiar, yet definitely evolved.
We hop off the bus out side of Wynn Macau and make our way to lobby. Encore has its own stop on the Wynn Bus too. Hunter makes note that some of the exterior designs echo classic stuff from the Wynn-era Golden Nugget. He's right.
You Have Arrived
Welcome to Wynn Macau.
Ooooh... spa jams. Surprisingly, Wynn's signature Asian Rain scent diffuser has been dialed back considerably. The lobby looks great... including the murano chandelier and... oh wow, there's The Bucchleuch Vases that Wynn paid a fortune for five years ago. Very cool.
Hunter goes up to reception and checks in. I feel his delight from afar when the receptionist hands him an iPad to sign in with. His passions, intersected. I hang back with his bags and make conversation with a bell man, he gives me a Macau map which is nearly identical to the map I got in 2007... none of the new resorts on Cotai or street names have been filled in. Ha!
We head up to Hunter's room... an almost identical replication of the Wynn Las Vegas "Deluxe" renovation, but with few minor differences. We explore the subtle detail differences in the room and take photos.
After some decompression, I gather up my bags and head across the street to my first hotel stop, the Grand Lisboa. The walk from Wynn to Grand Lisboa isn't that far, but it requires going down stairs into a tunnel that goes across under the street and comes out on the other side. Under normal conditions, this isn't that big of a deal, but after 24 hours of travel in punishing heat and humidity, dragging my anything anywhere has become extremely difficult. I'm exhausted and it doesn't help that they only have up escalators in this tunnel.
Fuck, it's hot. Fatigue is really setting in here. Every step requires effort... I'm thankful that the journey is about to end. I'm sorta dreading having to photograph and do walkthrough videos of this hotel room immediately.
I finally enter the egg that is Grand Lisboa and head to the registration lobby get my keys and head up to the room. The bell man shows me around the room and tells me what I can and can't take without being charged. Does he read VT?
The interior design of this room is very unique.
The view from my room at Grand Lisboa is absolutely outrageous. After I finished exploring and documenting the room, I spent a big chunk of the evening and following morning taking long exposure photos of the amazing light show happening outside.
While at Wynn Macau with Hunter, he tried to install the SIM card in my phone (tech support!) Apparently, I needed to contact my carrier (AT&T) to get my phone unlocked to support the new network. I got on the phone and called them, after being on hold for 30 minutes, the operator referred talked me through submitting forms on a website (thanks) that told me I was unable to unlock my phone. Apparently, you can't unlock an iPhone that is under a standard installment/service plan they rope you into at the Apple store. So, as such, I can only communicate with the internet, my travel partners and my family when I am connected to hotel wifi. I nearly cried on the phone to the AT&T agent. She apologized. Fortunately, I brought an old iPhone 5s with me as to use as a music storage device on the plane, I've submitted a request to have this device unlocked. Jerks.
I've been talking with people at Sands China about arranging a tour of The Parisian project, or perhaps to see models and talk to someone. It has been a protracted negotiation. Now, I get an email from the contact who says she is cancelling our planned meeting and notifying me that our request has been transferred to the PR department. Another email follows from corporate PR department, asking me to make the case for us to have a meeting with them. They also ask what other companies we are having meetings with. Strange. I put off responding.
As if the day wasn't long enough, I headed downstairs and wandered around Grand Lisboa's five floor casino, playing a little live dealer video baccarat and repeatedly being shooed away from the VIP areas by security staff. They wave you off here by inviting you to go somewhere else with a gentle wave of the arm, as if to say "this way, sir." Amusing.
The model for the under construction Grand Lisboa Palace is located in the lobby. I dream of opening a museum containing nothing but casino project models.
I went outside and walked north towards the inner harbor, taking photos along the way, including an updated version of the casino row profile pic.
The sign at the top is the Chinese iconography for "Pawn Shop." All pawn shops have the same type of sign shape, somewhat similar to the barber pole concept in the U.S..
I headed back into the hotel, locating the Late Night Coffee Shop where I sat down and had a "Lisboa Club" - a sandwich of ham, turkey, avocado, egg, tomato, lettuce and mayo rolled up in a piece of toasted, crustless bread. Tasty, but weird.
I nearly fell asleep waiting for the check to come. When it finally did, I settled up and headed back to my room. I still some room photos to finish up plus the walkthrough video. After finishing up, I connected to the wifi and IM'd with my wife back home. She told me that one of our pugs, Gunther, has been sitting in the window waiting for me to come home, whimpering and crying.
I'm delirious. This has been the longest day ever. It's been awesome and fun and emotional and hard. Part of me is feeling incredibly homesick. Part of me thinks that returning to Macau for a 10 day hotel hopping odyssey and roping two of my friends into joining me might have been the dumbest and most irresponsible idea I've ever had. Part of me wants to go home.
Then, the rest of me fell into the first truly sound sleep I've had in 40 hours.
1 Technically, today part four. Keeping track of today like keeping track of the current line up of Yes or Deep Purple.^
2 Apparently security agents of the world don't like the cut of Hunter's jib. They also don't like the cut of his pants either, his zipper has set off 11 metal detectors in three countries. Maybe Hunter likes having people in poorly pressed, ill fitting jackets give him public wedgies.^