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June 11, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 MGM Grand Macau

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Néih hóu from Macau, China! When we left off last week, we'd just arrived in this gambling Mecca and this week, we finish up by touring the hotels, casinos, restaurants, markets and must-see sights. Although this island has hotels like the MGM Grand, Sands, Venetian and Wynn, you'll soon see that Macau has something that Las Vegas just doesn't have -- culture. If you're up for something off the beaten American path then grab your passport and appetite -- this place rocks! If you don't have time to read the whole story, we have a four-minute Johnny Jet video of Macau to give you a taste of this amazing experience. Looking for something else entirely? Join Sheila O'Connor as she tours us around Puerto Rico under the deliciously hot Caribbean sun.

Even though I visited Macau in 1993 on a quick day-trip, I really didn't know what to expect. I was told that a lot had changed and boy, has it ever! I barely recognized the place. The biggest changes were Portugal's transfer of the island back to China in 1999 which opened the door to the billion or so mainland Chinese; the end of Stanley Ho's casino monopoly in 2002; and opening the airport (in 1995) to commercial traffic. Today, Macau (and Hong Kong) are Special Administrative Regions (SAR). Once business was opened up to competition from foreigners, most of the major players poured in or partnered up. Parts of the SAR are like a mini Las Vegas with familiar hotels: the Sands, Venetian, Wynn and MGM Grand. There is so much money to be made that all the hoteliers are coming in or adding more properties. I passed signs for the Hilton, W, Mandarin Oriental, Sheraton, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Marriott … you name it. There's so much building going on that the government has put a halt on future licenses. Currently, Macau has around 17,000 hotel rooms but in just two years they will add 40,000 more! Is that insane or what? I plan on coming back in 2010 just to see if recognize it or not. NOTE: There are 54 hotels and 28 casinos in Macau.

Each casino has a security check point though they really don't do much and there's never a line. Every time I walked though I had my camera and phone in my pocket and it didn't beep. They search bags too and they won't let you bring in any liquids including the free bottles of water from other casinos … even if they are unopened. There's also no picture taking. They have all the same games you'd find in Vegas like blackjack, roulette, keno and slot machines. The most popular game here is baccarat. I did notice some unusual games like Sic Bo (or High-Low"). Basically, you bet if the total score of the three dice will be high (between 11-17) or low (between 4-10). There are other rules; click here to check them out. A lot of Chinese gamblers smoke but what's interesting is that they don't drink alcohol when gambling. That's because the Chinese don't mess around with money and gambling is not just entertainment for them. But Macau is a whole lot more than gambling. In fact, I spent no more than 20 minutes in a casino out of the entire five days I was there.

From the ferry terminal it was less than a 10-minute ride to the hotel. We must've driven on one of the roads used for the famous Macau Grand Prix because I recognized the start and finish line building from seeing it on TV. I was booked at the MGM Grand Macau and pulling up, I didn't know what to expect. The one in Las Vegas is massive with 6,276 hotel rooms; it has more than any other hotel in the world. I just came back from the opening of the MGM Grand in Foxwoods and that was much smaller and nice but it doesn't compare to this one. I gotta tell ya: I was pleasantly surprised by the MGM Grand Macau. First of all, like any upscale hotel in Asia, you just can't beat the service. You'll notice it the moment you pull up, when an army of porters and bellmen open the door, greet you, grab your bags and escort you to the front desk. I must have gone through their front door 25 times and not once did I ever have to open it myself. There was always a friendly, white-gloved male or female door handler ready to oblige with a smile.

The MGM Grand Macau has an avant-garde design and a colorful, mirrored exterior. It cost over a billion dollars to build the 35-storey hotel, which opened in December 2007. I preferred the MGM to the Sands, Wynn and Venetian because it didn't have the crowds the others had. I hardly saw anyone, which made it feel more like a boutique hotel, though obviously it's not with 600 rooms. The only place in the hotel where crowds really gathered was in the casino, which has 300 table games and 1,000 slot machines. The lobby is bright and colorful and in its center is a Salvador Dali sculpture. The ceiling is beautifully decorated with hand-blown glass pansies; it's similar to the Bellagio in Las Vegas. There was no line at the front desk but had there been, at least there were 42 colorful Dale Chihuly glass works to gaze at. The adjacent space was a high glass-ceilinged conservatory that's also similar to the Bellagio's, except that this one is two and a half times larger. The fairy tale theme changes each season and this summer it's set up like Alison in Wonderland. For a moment there, I thought I was on a Disney film set surrounded by outdoor cafés, a musical quartet and a Portuguese-inspired façade of the Lisbon train station.

Walking down the hallway to the rooms, I wasn't overwhelmed like in other massive hotels. There's a gentle curve to the architecture of this building so the corridors aren't straight and you don't see forever down the hallway. The curve gives it a cozier feel. When the porter opened the door to my standard room I was blown away by how nice it was. They are large and brilliantly modern in design. The most striking feature was the large bathtub sitting on one side of the bathroom. It was just three feet from the bed but between them was a unique, clear, curved glass wall. For privacy all you have to do is flip the remote control curtain. But I preferred to keep it open so I could gaze out at the South China Sea while washing in the walk-in shower, which had a rainfall showerhead. Other room features were a large flat screen TV, computer-size safe, mini bar and all the bathroom amenities you could need. The maids were thorough, spending at least 20 minutes each time they cleaned (twice a day). They replaced the two free bottles of water on every visit. My only complaints were that they kept taking my oversized, soft fluffy towels to wash; I try and do my part for the environment by using the same one for two or three days. Also, there was a smell of smoke but it didn't bother me enough to switch rooms. I'm so accustomed to hotels being completely non-smoking, I forget to even request one but here you have to. The windows weren't soundproof like in Vegas as I could hear music one night. And the blackout curtains didn't really do the job; the bright lights from outside illuminated the tops of the curtains.

The MGM Grand has 12 restaurants, bars and lounges and the breakfast buffet (HK$190 = $24 USD) at one of the restaurants, Rossio, was insane. It had American, European and Asian dishes. In addition, you could indulge on made-to-order pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit and juice. The service was incredible! The moment I was done with my plate, a waiter would come to clear it away. They were so efficient I even played a little game to test things out; I wanted to see if I could count to 60 before one of the wait staff came. It only happened once and I ate there four times and had multiple courses. I also got to experience the hotel's 25,000-square-foot spa that's run by Six Senses. You have to love Six Senses! I was first introduced to them a few months ago in Thailand and I quickly learned that they don't mess around when it comes to luxurious spa treatments. It's the perfect way to end the day and combat jetlag. Just outside the spa is a sizeable outdoor pool and I'm sure there was a fitness center somewhere around but I was feeling so lazy I didn't even look for it. Room rates begin at $177 USD. MGM Grand Macau, Lote A do Quarteirão B2 da Zona B, Nape, Macau, Tel: (853) 8802-8888.

If you don't want to pay the high prices of hotel spa treatments there are alternatives -- though they won't be as clean. I went to Wong Chio Massage Centre (here's a scan of their card). It was just five blocks from the MGM and is open 24 hours. A body massage costs HK$118 for 45 minutes and a foot massage is HK$98 for 45 minutes. I opted for the latter since I didn't know how clean it would be, even though a frequent visitor recommended the place. I told the receptionist downstairs what I wanted and she sent me up the stairs. The semi-dark room was filled with eight or 10 lazy boys; one Westerner was there along with two Chinese men. As I laid back and stared at the fake plant leaves on the ceiling, out came my non-English-speaking therapist with a bucket that had a plastic liner, filled with hot, rust-colored water. The water looked like it was dirty but it turned out to be filled with Chinese herbs. I soaked my feet. She then cleaned them and lathered my feet and legs with a Vaseline-like lubricant that probably wasn't so good for my pores. It wasn't the reflexology treatment I had asked for but at 2am, who's complaining? I fell asleep and when I woke up, the Chinese therapists were on their cell phones, massaging my foot with their free hand. They spoke softly but afterwards, they looked at me and said their favorite English word: "Tip?" They wanted me to be sly about it because they knew I was a dumb American who probably didn't realize that the price included their tip. I knew this but tipped them anyways.

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Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


My First Visit To Macau in 1993

Macau Venetian Casino


Casino Security


Macau Ferry Terminal


Ride To Hotel


Macau Grand Prix


Sands Macau


Wynn Macau


MGM Grand Macau


Cool Design


Dale Chihuly Paintings


MGM Conservatory


My Room


Bath Tub


Rossio For Breakfast


Made-to-Order Pancakes


Fresh Fruit


Six Senses Spa


Not Six Senses Spa



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