Macau: City of Dreams

GALAXY MACAUThe latest addition to the Cotai is the $2 billion Galaxy Macau, a 5-star, 5-casino resort whose motto is “World Class, Asian Heart.” It’s three truly Asian hotels: the 1,500-room Galaxy, the 248-suite Banyan Tree and the 480-room Hotel Okura. They share palatial rooftop cupolas tipped with enough gold to cover 87 soccer fields, all rising around a third-floor, 43,000-sf wave beach.

“We emphasize resort here, not just gaming,” says Jane Tsai, marketing manager. “We’re trying to increase the time that groups spend in Macau.”

That “beach,” with its 350 tons of white sand, helps. The busiest pool we see—filled with boogie boarders—is one of six pools on the property.

Meanwhile, the 136-acre development continues to unfold. A 9-screen Cineplex opens in November, and there are already over 50 bars and restaurants specializing in every possible cuisine.

“As Macau becomes the entertainment capital of the world, we’re leading the charge,” says Tsai. Overall, the Galaxy is an over-the-top, upscale party and entertainment hotel. A bevy of Miss-Universe-style beauties greet arriving guests, and a thunderous floor show features a 40-foot wide diamond stage rising from a fountain as a symbolic offering of prosperity for all.

For planners, the 430-pax Grand Ballroom at the all-suite Banyan Tree caters to groups seeking refinement and prestige. The Indonesian-based spa resort is so luxe that every suite contains a relaxation pool. They also have two wall-lit conference rooms that manage to look like red velvet while being thoroughly business-like.

At the Okura, six banquet/meeting rooms are models of Japanese restraint, with enchanting first-class service.

Our group has a blast sampling the sumptuous food. At Sukazuki Sake Bar, a sake sommelier takes 20-pax groups on tasting tours through some of their 50 sakes. At the 130-pax Yamazoto Restaurant, the elegant tea master Shirai Yayoi lead us on a tea ceremony that’s like a trip to another time, all in a glowing white, other-worldly globe. The 68-pax Macallan Whiskey Bar and Lounge—the only one outside Scotland—is stocked with over 360 whiskeys and a roaring Edinburgh-style fire. And boy, they love their tasting parties.

MANDARIN ORIENTAL

We stayed on the verdant edge of the peninsula at the 213-room Mandarin Oriental Macau, a stunning 5-star boutique that opened in 2010. The Mandarin Oriental exudes urbane sophistication while offering real respite to guests. Rooms are large and elegant, with iPod docks and espresso machines. Massive marble bathrooms have hydro-massage showers and separate baths with views of the Pearl River Delta. Twice-a-day housekeeping shines shoes on request, leaves yoga mats for a morning stretch and drops off an afternoon snack.

Planners get a truly elegant 3,400-sf ballroom whose floor-to-ceiling windows show off the waterfront to perfection, plus two meeting rooms and a 653-sf boardroom for EVP confabs. Do book private dining at the elegant 108-pax Vida Rica Restaurant—especially the Chef’s Table for 12-16, connected to the kitchen for demos. The very creative chef Dirk Haltenhof clearly loves deconstructing and interpreting traditional Portuguese, Macanese and Chinese dishes. We actually wrote home about the fruit-cured lamb.

Dirk’s Vida Rica breakfasts are a culinary world tour. The omelet station, yogurt vats, airy croissants, fruit stores, and cereal alone would please anyone. But homemade jams were rosewater infused, the miso soup stand delish, the trays of dim sum fresh and photographable. And then comes the soup station. We add Chinese cabbage, wontons and noodles into an aromatic broth to make a gorgeous, warming meal as we gaze on the South China Sea, fortified to tour Macau all over again.

CULTURE HOPPING

Macau’s bling isn’t confined to the Cotai. For downtime, planners take the troops on a simulated tour through the riches of Europe. In Macau’s Portuguese-built historical city center on the main peninsula, pastel-shaded Neoclassical buildings look like Lisbon. Much of this area forms a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is popular for educational group tours.

Most irresistible: The stone façade of St. Paul’s, the first Catholic church in China, built with help from exiled Japanese Christian stonemasons. Rising on a hilltop—the sides and rear were destroyed in a fire long ago—it looks like an elaborate stage set for a movie about the expansion of Western civilization. And seemingly, amid the crowds, there’s almost always a bride and groom being photographed at the scenic spot.

“The main peninsula is so rich in beauty and history that Macau gets more interesting the more people explore,” says João Sales, spokesperson for the Macau Government Tourist Office.

Make sure to breathe in the fragrant incense at the A-ma Temple, dedicated to the Taoist goddess of seafarers for whom Macau is named. Dating from before the first Portuguese landfall in the early 1500s, the Taoist temple weaves Buddhist deities and more ancient animistic spirits into its four levels of prayer pavilions—just more evidence of multicultural Macau.

The dining options are outstanding, offering within a historical context: African chicken, curried vegetables, spicy noodles and those fab egg tarts! And the authentic Portuguese restaurants are famous with Hong Kong daytrippers, so we spend our last night in town on the thoroughly Euro-village streets of Taipa Island.

Michelin-recommended Antonio Restaurant offers a zesty array of seafood and chouriços (sausage), with fresh bread and plenty of refreshing vino verde, the classic Portuguese wine. The swashbuckling Antonio himself is on hand looking like a happy pirate, preparing his famous crepes flambé on a stove before our table, then using a sword to open our champagne.

With all of the glamorous infrastructure and pampering pursuits here, there’s still an energized spirit of exploration and global intrigue coursing through the veins of the Macanese.

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