The luxurious resort owned by Sheldon Adelson sports the world’s largest casino, but there are so many other options to occupy your time, you many never get there.
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
When I explained to the senior PR representative of the Venetian Macau Resort Hotel on the Cotai Strip that I could not press the button on the elevator, use my electronic door key, answer the phone or sign any document on Shabbat, her immediate response was: “No problem. We will send a valet to your room. Just tell us in advance what time is convenient.”It was just one of the many extra services provided by the sumptuous vacation spot owned by Las Vegas magnate Sheldon Adelson.The Venetian was a bonus thrown in by Adelson’s representative Dan Raviv, who had arranged for me to go to Singapore not only to see the breathtaking Marina Bay Sands integrated resort complex, but also to a get a sense of one of the key business and leisure destinations in Asia, and possibly of the world.While there are similar concepts behind the Venetian and the Marina Bay Sands, with each making a significant impact on the local image and economy, they are entirely different entities.Though a long-term electronic media journalist before becoming a special adviser to the Las Vegas Sands and to Adelson, its chairman, Raviv, who is currently responsible for international media placement of Sands properties in addition to being a special adviser to the Las Vegas Sands, said there was no point in describing the Venetian to me; I would have to see it.The Venetian is a 40-story, $2.4 billion anchor for the seven hotels on Macau’s Cotai Strip in Macau. Modeled after its sister casino resort – The Venetian in Las Vegas – it’s the largest single structure hotel building in Asia and the largest casino in the world.Opened in 2007, the hotel’s casino features 3,400 slot machines, 800 gambling tables and a 15,000-seat Cotai Arena for entertainment and sports events.AdvertisementA company limousine was waiting for me at the airport when I landed, along with a hostess in a distinctive blue trench coat who ushered me into the car. The hotel was less than a 10-minute drive away. Pereira Ho was waiting outside to greet me, and took me into the VIP lounge for registration, to discuss my itinerary and to give me a map designed to help guests find their way through the various lobbies, lounge areas, suites, banking and travel services, cafes, restaurants and bars, shops, the pick-up point for the gondolas, etc.Moments later, a waitress glided in bearing a tray with a warm, moist facecloth and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. No sooner had she disappeared than Raviv came in, bearing a broad, welcoming grin. He had come to walk me through the exceedingly long but magnificent entrance lobby, with brightly colored frescoes on the ceiling, a striking golden sphere adorned with mermaids and lions near the entrance, and two rows of majestic columns leading to a giant casino, which at five in the afternoon was already three-quarters full.We walked straight through the casino, mounted one of several escalators leading to the shopping area, and walked through a short aisle of shops. The floor tiles, which looked like cobblestones, appeared to be wet, but it was an optical illusion, just like the sky outside which gave the impression of broad daylight, when in fact it was already evening in Macau.When we reached the “daylight” area, it was as if we had just arrived in Venice. There were winding streets with Italian names, canals and beautifully upholstered gondolas manned by serenading gondoliers who were dressed just like the Venetian gondoliers and who were not all Asian in appearance. Actually, there were very few non-Asians around.We walked past some of the hundreds of stores ranging from haute couture such as Valentino, Chanel, Fendi and Versace, to mid-level such as Pull & Bear, Mango and Zara. The winter sales were going strong, in addition to which everything was duty free. There were strategically placed touch-screen computers that enabled shoppers to find the stores they were seeking in addition to which there was also a Shoppers Directory with a “street” map and the names of all the stores which shoppers could carry around to help them navigate.Raviv wanted to give me a brief glimpse before sending me to my suite to get ready for the theater.MY WINDOW looked out at some of the other hotels in the complex comprising Sands Cotai Central, which is literally a resort city with several hotels, casinos, swimming pools, dining, shopping, conference, exhibition, entertainment and sporting facilities, including a mini-golf course, under one roof. The other hotels, which were technically across the road, or across a bridge, were seamlessly united with the Venetian via the numerous passageways in the shopping mall. Thus within seconds, anyone staying at the Venetian could find themselves in the Sheraton, the Conrad, the Holiday Inn or the Four Seasons.My suite, one of 3,000, was split-level, with two steps leading from the bedroom area to a sunken lounge/dining room. There were large flat-screen television sets in both the bedroom and the lounge. The latter, which was separated from the bedroom by a metal grille and wood divider, also contained a business section replete with printer, copier and fax machine and Internet access.There was even a convertible plug. Needless to say, there was also a well-stocked bar.The bathroom was huge, with a large, deep bath, separate shower recess and a vanity table, aside from the countertop surrounding the wash basins. The toilet was behind a closed door. Here too, there was a Venetian aura, and the array of complimentary toiletries was in excess of the norm in most other prestige hotels.Downstairs, Raviv took me to see the indoor stadium, used for mega-performances by international entertainers as well as for awards ceremonies and major sports events.Making our way back in the direction we’d come from, my eye caught some information related to a convention that was starting at 6:30 a.m. the following day. Then I began to notice scores of people wheeling in their luggage.“It’s like this all the time. People are constantly coming in and the hotel is full,” said Raviv.Many guests came with young children. All the hotels in the complex have special children’s zones where tiny tots can play and make friends.First-time visitors are wonder-struck by the mammoth golden sphere and the majestic colonnade and eagerly take a pose for numerous photographs of the scene.The hotel also sports an1,800-seat theater, part of the resort’s convention and entertainment facilities. The performance by 32 young warrior monks from the worldrenowned Shoalin Temple on Mount Song in China’s Hanan province was based on the martial arts, and included some very skillful movements that seemed to be a hybrid of break-dancing and Russian Cossack dancing.It was simply breath-taking. The theater was almost entirely full. The ushers and usherettes were dressed in snow-white, lace-trimmed shirts, white bow ties and black tails over black pants, exuding an old-world elegance.After the theater, we went to an Italian restaurant within the complex where Raviv gave the maître d’ strict instructions on what I could and could not eat. The service was fast and gracious, the food delicious.THE FOLLOWING day, I was taken on a grand tour, without once stepping outside the complex, but walking almost non-stop for more than an hour and a half. My guide was Oren Medicks, vice president of visual media, who used to work as an editor with Raviv, who brought him from Tel Aviv to Macau to visually document the whole process of land reclamation and construction.As we toured, passing from one hotel complex to another without my noticing it until he pointed it out, the sense of harmony was amazing, because each of the hotels was designed by a different architect, and yet they relate to each other so well.Many of the guests we passed looked like Chinese peasants.When I pointed this out to Medicks, Edward Tracy, the president and CEO of Sands China and Melina Leong, vice president of public relations and community affairs, all came up with more or less the same response. Tracy and Leong said that in the hospitality business one must never judge a book by its cover, and added, as did Medicks, that China’s new millionaires often maintain their previous lifestyle, but allow themselves to travel more and to occasionally enjoy luxury accommodation.After the tour, Raviv took us and Medicks’ personal assistant Virginia to lunch in a Chinese restaurant. I imagined that all I could eat there would be steamed rice – but I was wrong. Medicks and Virginia are both strict vegetarians, so I followed their advice with regard to the menu and found the choice very pleasing to the palate.When Sheldon Adelson had initially embarked on the Macau project, one of his close business associates had been of the opinion that this was the worst investment that Adelson had ever made. But he didn’t have Adelson’s faith or vision. Adelson could see the evolution of contemporary China, and he instantly understood the importance of turning Macau, which is so close to Hong Kong, into a tourist and business destination.The Chinese authorities are equally keen on the concept and are building what is being touted as the world’s longest sea bridge – a 50-kilometer y-shaped structure linking South Gunagdong province, mainly Zhuhai, to Hong Kong and Macau. Construction of the bridge began in December 2009. Once it is completed, it will considerably reduce travel time between Hong Kong, Zuhai and Macau. Today it takes between 45 minutes to an hour to travel via turbojet ferry from Hong Kong to Macau.Adelson himself has not yet finished building in Macau. The next project on the drawing board is the Parisian, the construction of which has not been formally announced, but will be soon. Among its most visible features will be an Eiffel Tower – not as tall as the original due to the proximity of the airport, said Raviv, but sufficiently high to be yet an additional tourist attraction.Tracy was proud of the fact that Sands China provides employment for some 25,000 people. Not only that, it also helps to support the community of Macao by funding the Adelson Advanced Education Center, offering scholarships to university students, providing employment opportunities for the mentally and physically challenged, enabling the economically underprivileged to attend star-studded events at the Cotai Arena, donating to charity, encouraging staff to engage in volunteer activities to benefit the community, sponsoring talent shows and working toward preservation of the environment.Because my visit to Macau was so brief, I didn’t have time to explore the museums, galleries, public gardens, temples and churches beyond the resort complex.So I spent much of Saturday wandering through Little Venice, examining merchandise at my leisure, After Shabbat, Anita Jiang, the duty manager, immediately knocked on the door, and though my suitcase was light and I could easily wheel it myself, the VIP treatment continued.A limousine was waiting outside, and when we reached the ferry station, there were two female ushers in blue trench coats who escorted me inside to make sure that my ticket was validated and that I had a seat.The pampering was a delightful diversion from the reality of daily routine, and judging by the number of people flocking to Macau, it’s an experience that everyone wants at least once in a lifetime.
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