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Three nights of Scotch and craps in Macau

Last edit: socalduck on Thursday, 14th November 2013 1:48 pm
Last response by jimmybond 15th November 4:44pm

At the tail end of a recent business trip to Asia, I was able to spend three nights at the Banyan Tree in the Galaxy Macau resort on Cotai. Here are some highlights and observations from my visit:
• Arriving at HKG, I booked a “Super Class” ticket on the TurboJet ferry to Macau. Departures from the airport’s SkyPier bypass Hong Kong customs and immigration. It is a very convenient: simply walk off your arriving flight and head directly to the ferry ticket counter in the transfer area (Sands-owned CotaiJet also provides service from the SkyPier.) When you purchase your ferry ticket, you simply give them your airline luggage claim ticket, and your bags will transfer directly to the ferry. You then clear immigration and customs in Macau. The trip takes less than hour. Ferries are available to both the main Macau ferry terminal (near the Wynn) and the Taipa terminal, which is adjacent to the airport on Cotai.
• From the main Macau ferry terminal, it was about a fifteen minute cab ride to the Banyan Tree. The Galaxy Macau complex includes three hotels, located in two towers: the Banyan Tree and the Okura share one tower, and the Galaxy is in the other. From the outside, the Galaxy Macau is a cross between The Mirage, Mandalay Bay, and Atlantis. It would not look out of place along the Las Vegas Strip. A third tower currently under construction will be a JW Marriott. The biggest drawback of the Galaxy location is that it is somewhat removed from the action of Cotai Central, but because cabs are cheap and plentiful, it is not a big deal.
• The Banyan Tree strives to compete in the luxury segment with Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons. This was my first stay in a Banyan Tree property, and while I felt the overall experience (service, room quality, food, etc.) did not quite rise to the same level of Mandarin Oriental, it was nonetheless excellent.
• Part spa, part Asian bordello, the rooms at the Banyan Tree are pretty amazing. Water features abound, with an in-suite plunge pool, huge wooden soaking tub, and huge walk-in shower with dual rainfall shower heads. You and a significant other should have no trouble finding things to do, as this room was designed for wet-and-wild romancing. When it is all over, one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever experience awaits. Like most Asian hotels, the mattress runs a bit firm, which is to my liking. Lower-floor rooms have the added benefit of a deep balcony, although I did not realize until after I left that you need to contact housekeeping for a key to unlock the door if you want to use it. All things considered, I doubt there is a better standard room anywhere in Macau. The Banyan Tree also has a bunch of super-luxe private villas for those willing to part with lots of patacas.
• The Galaxy has a huge pool deck that includes a sandy beach and wave pool, reminiscent of the Mandalay Bay. There is a separate pool exclusively for Banyan Tree guests that includes some of the nicest cabanas I have ever seen. Despite excellent weather in the high 70s, the pools were almost completely deserted my entire stay, despite high occupancy in all three hotels. While providing all the amenities of a major Vegas result, it was apparent that most guest were simply interested in maximizing time in the casino.
• Speaking of casinos, the Galaxy has a lovely one. Encircled by a shopping promenade, the Galaxy casino is bright, classy and spotless. Like all Macau resorts, baccarat, baccarat variants, sic bo and other Asian table games predominate, but there were also a fair number of slots, and more familiar games like BJ, craps, roulette. After visits to WynnEncore, Hotel Lisboa, Grand Lisboa, MGM, Venetian, City of Dreams and Sands Cotai Central, I actually preferred the general vibe of the Galaxy. The downtown places, including Wynn, seemed geared toward the hardcore gamblers. The Cotai joints have a more relaxed, resort feel, although huge crowds at the Venetian made it feel a bit frantic at times. If you are in the Venetian, make sure to stop by the Fast Action Baccarat pit. Sands has invented the most cost-efficient method ever devised to quickly separate large groups of gamblers from their money. It is a sight to behold.
• My goal was to play craps, and I was not disappointed. Aside from the SJM properties (which are labyrinths, so I may have just missed it), it seemed every casino has exactly one craps table. While the layout and rules are pretty much the same as Vegas, for reasons unknown the stickman is contained within a little gated enclosure. At the Galaxy, the table did not open until the afternoons, and often sat empty while most other table games were attracting crowds. Only the table at the Venetian seemed to be running continuously, and attracted the most Westerners. However, my best experience was at the Galaxy, where I caught a gentleman from Hong Kong ten minutes into a forty minute roll. Chinese bettors seems to prefer place bets, so despite a nearly full table, I was the only player making come bets with odds. It was a great run as this guy kept banging away point numbers, and I finished the night with a USD $4,000 profit.
• If you love Scotch, you owe it yourself to visit The Macallan Bar. Located on the second floor of the Galaxy hotel tower, this may be one of the best bars in the world. While The Macallan is the featured brand, pretty much every type of whiskey/whisky imaginable can be found, including extremely rare and pricey vintages. They also had Hibiki 12, my favorite all-time blended whisky. This was a regular stop each night of my stay, and if I won the lottery, I would recreate this bar in my basement.
• Lots of construction activity throughout Macau. Aside from the JW Marriott, the biggest resort project currently underway appears to be Melco Crown’s Studio City development, which is a sea of construction cranes and 24/7 activity. I went by the Wynn Cotai site, but it was not apparent to me that much was happening there, at least not yet.
• If you need a break from the frenzied action of the peninsula and Cotai, take a trip over the hill to Coloane for dinner at Fernando’s. Delicious Portuguese food and cold beer at a very reasonable price served in a relaxed, if slightly dilapidated, setting. While not the best Portuguese food I’ve had, it was a nice respite from the resorts, and exposes you to a side of Macau that most visitors never experience. Be forewarned, getting a cab back to your hotel may take some patience. As an alternative, there is also a bus stop across from Fernando’s, although I’m not sure how frequently it runs back to Cotai.
I enjoyed my time in Macau, although next time around, two nights would be sufficient. I do look forward to returning once the Wynn Cotai has opened.

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 DeucesWild responded on Thursday, 14th November 2013

What was your experience getting comped booze while gambling?

 socalduck replied on Friday, 15th November 2013

Tea and water bottles, but no booze was offered. In fact, I don't recall seeing alcohol in any casino. The only casino bar we encountered (i.e., a bar actually located on the casino floor) was at the Grand Lisboa, although it was roped off from the gaming area, leading to the impression that alcohol could not be consumed outside the bar area. Although readily available, drinking does not appear to be a major activity for most Macau visitors.

 DeucesWild responded on Thursday, 14th November 2013

Good write up, BTW.

 detroit1051 responded on Friday, 15th November 2013

I always enjoy Socalduck's reports. I'm trying to get an idea of distances in Cotai. Is it like walking the Strip from Tropicana to Wynncore, or is it more compact?

 socalduck replied on Friday, 15th November 2013

Thanks, Detroit. To me, Cotai seems much more compact. The Galaxy is sort of off by itself. The Venetian is the nearest major neighbor, and I would say the walk between the two is comparable to the walk from City Center to NYNY, just less interesting. Along Estrado do Estmo, the Venetian, City of Dreams, and Sands are all a short walk from one another, similar to the mid-Strip grouping of the Venetian, Mirage and Caesars in Vegas.

 Chuckmonster replied on Friday, 15th November 2013


Great to see how easy the transfer from HKG to Macau. I arrived so late I spent the night in Hong Kong and waited till i had my wits about me to go to Macau in the morning. Next time, I'll take the Turbo Jet.

Detroit - The scale of Cotai is much much larger than Vegas Strip and parcels are built in squares as opposed to a The Strip. Buildings are bigger, parcels are massive. I walked around the Venetian one afternoon and it took roughly an hour and a half, including time to stop and take photos of dirt pilings and stuff. I'd say it is probably about the size of Wynn + Encore + Golf Course in Vegas.

I'm eager to understand the Fast Action Baccarat. If you could indulge us with a description...

Also curious what thoughts you may have about City of Dreams and finally if you saw and construction progress at Wynn Cotai.

 socalduck replied on Friday, 15th November 2013

Yes, good point about the squares. The footprint on these places are huge, especially the Venetian. I got lost inside the Canal Shops. Twice.

Fast Action Baccarat is pretty wild. Basically it is an oval with about 60 player positions, with just a couple roving dealers and maybe one or two assistants for game protection. Players place their bets on a small layout in front of each position. Losing bets drop through a trap door, while the dealers pay winners. The table automatically sorts and stacks the chips. Also, cards are face up, which definitely speeds up play. It is hard to describe, and definitely has to be seen to be believed.

I was chatting with a guy at The Macallan, and he said it was developed by Sands in direct response to the Chinese govt's limit on tables. So, they simply stretched the definition of table. However, from what I saw, the players loved it, and it does move quick.

 Chuckmonster replied on Friday, 15th November 2013

holy shit. trap doors! i've said it a billion times, but i'll have to say it again... the casino floor at the venetian is so large you can see the curvature of the earth.

 jimmybond responded on Friday, 15th November 2013

Great review, thanks.

Had to google the Fast Action Baccarat and landed this article, bottom section all about the game. rest of the article might be of interest to baccarat players on this site.