Macau is the only place in China where casino gambling is legally allowed, and the Cotai Strip is where it’s all happening. Made up of reclaimed land between the two islands of Coloane and Taipa, the area is now the site of the world’s largest gambling city. The name Cotai is coined from the first two syllables of the two islands now geographically joined as a result of this project. Casino developments spearheaded by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, MGM Resorts and other major players has propelled Macau to first place in terms of gaming revenue, overtaking Las Vegas in 2007.
The Vegas-inspired Cotai Strip may boast an entire district of casinos, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting for non-gamblers. We easily spent over 5 hours there without betting a single dollar on poker tables or slots. Here are 8 things to do that don’t involve gambling!
1. Drive-by on a free shuttle bus
The Cotai Connection is a free shuttle service that runs between the major casino resorts on the Cotai Strip. However, you don’t have to be a guest or gambler to use it. Anyone can take the shuttle bus, which departs every 15-20 minutes from 11:30am to 9:30pm, and ferries passengers between the following establishments:
City of Dreams -> Wynn -> Galaxy -> The Venetian -> Studio City -> Sands Cotai Central
Individual casinos also run frequent free shuttle buses to the airport, ferry terminals and border gates.
I recommend taking a free shuttle at night, when the lights are at their prettiest and the entire street is ablaze with magical bling. To give you an idea, here’s the journey from one end of the strip, Studio City, to the other end, City of Dreams.
2. Check out the world’s 2nd largest casino: The Venetian
Modelled after its Las Vegas sister, The Venetian Macao is one of the largest casinos in the world. It stretches over 980,000 m2, with 3,400 slot machines and 800 gambling tables. However, the casino only takes up 51,000 m2 of this massive 39-storey structure. The rest is made up of a luxury hotel, convention space, retail, and the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena, in which entertainment, concerts, and sports events are held throughout the year.
True to its name, The Venetian features a very cool Venice-themed shopping mall on the 3F, complete with canals, arch bridges, and fake sky. You can even take a gondola ride down the waterways, accompanied by a serenading gondolier. A ride will set you back MOP 135 per adult/MOP 103 per child, and you can have the entire gondola to yourself for MOP 540. Complimentary (or discounted) tickets are likely available if you spend over a certain amount at some shops in the mall.
In the faux-Venice shopping mall, there are plenty of shops to occupy you for hours, with brands ranging from Victoria’s Secret to Swarovski to A Bathing Ape. There’s even a food court. Speaking of which…
3. Try the famous Lord Stow’s egg tarts
Anyone familiar with Cantonese food will know of 蛋挞 (egg tarts). These delicious fluffy pastries are believed to have been first introduced in Guangzhou by the British, undergoing slight variations as they spread throughout the entire Canton region. However, the Macanese version has its roots in Lord Stow’s Bakery. Established in 1989 by an Englishman, Andrew Stow, the bakery puts another spin on the traditional delicate taste but adding a creamier taste to the filling. The top is also baked brown, resembling its Portuguese counterpart. As the official website explains:
During a trip to Portugal in the late-80s, Andrew had become familiar with their popular Pasteis de Nata – a kind of egg tart, which had its origins in Belem, Lisbon in 1837. Andrew wanted to produce Pasteis de Nata for his customers, but had no recipe……He dispensed with some conventional methods & ingredients, and introduced an English touch. By doing so, Andrew created his own specialty and introduced the “Portuguese” Egg Tart to Asia in the form they are now recognized and known.– Lord Stow’s Bakery
The branch in The Venetian is located in the Venice-themed shopping mall (Grand Canal Shoppes) on the 3F. They are served fresh from the oven, and there is a cafe where you can enjoy your heavenly tart with a drink.
Tip: I recommend you try both the richer Lord Howe egg tarts and the more familiar-tasting egg tarts from the ubiquitous pastry souvenir store Koi Kee in downtown Macau. Both are delicious in their own way, but you may find one suits your palate more than the other. And if you’re in Hong Kong or Guangzhou, try their versions too!
4. Behold the half-scale Eiffel Tower replica
Two doors down from The Venetian Macao, and also owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, is The Parisian Macao. With a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower out the front, you can’t miss it. At night, from 6:15pm to midnight, the lights change in sync with music that plays every 15 minutes. So hang out on the street for a free light show.
If you want to check out the inside, there are observation decks on levels 7 and 37. Tickets (costing MOP 108 per adult, MOP 87 per child under 12) are sold on level 5, where there is also an Eiffel Tower Souvenir Shop. The tower is open everyday from 11am to 11pm, with last entry half an hour before closing.
The tower also hosts seasonal events. This winter until 19th Feb 2019, there’s a Winter in Paris Ice Rink at the level 7 observation deck. While entry to the event area is free, you can hire skates and skirt around this real life outdoor ice rink for MOP 50 per 30 minutes. (Sands members and guests at The Parisian Macao can get a discount).
5. Watch The House of Dancing Water
The House of Dancing Water (水舞間) is a 90-minute acrobatic water-based stage production written and directed by Franco Dragone. Premiered in September 2010, it features over 80 professional gymnasts, dancers, divers, actors and motorcyclists, all of whom must pass an intense swim test and scuba certification in order to perform. The show is held in a 2000-seat theatre built just for it: the Dancing Water Theatre. Situated in the City of Dreams, a casino resort owned by Melco Crown Entertainment and located opposite The Venetian Macao, it was built over 5 years at the cost of US$250 million. It features a 14,000 m3 pool in its centre, one of the largest commercial pools in the world.
The story begins on the coast of Coloane, and follows a fisherman as he is drawn into a magical world by a mysterious force. From there, adventures and drama ensue as he combines forces with a Stranger to rescue the beautiful Princess. The House of Dancing Water has been heralded as a world-class production, and will appeal to fans of Cirque Du Soleil and the like.
Ticket prices start from around HK$600 per person for C Reserve and go up to B Reserve, A Reserve and VIP. The 270-degree theatre promises a thrilling view from any angle. Tickets can easily be purchased online via the official website. Shows start from 5pm and/or 8pm but are not on everyday, so check the schedule when planning your Cotai visit.
6. Have fun at attractions at Studio City
If you’re looking for something the kids will also enjoy, Studio City has your back. Asia’s first resort to integrate film production facilities with gaming, retails and hotels, the cinematic-themed resort contains a family entertainment centre in collaboration with Warner Bros and DC Comics. The building design is Gotham City-inspired and the two holes in the Art Deco tower represent two asteroids careening through. It also houses the world’s first figure-8 Ferris wheel, the Golden Reel, with 17 Steampunk-themed cabins capable of holding 10 people each.
And you can’t have DC Comics and Gotham City without the main hero: Batman. Take a ride on the 4D simulation ride Batman Dark Flight and join our caped billionaire as he battles through explosive action and fends off The Joker, Two-Face and Bane on the streets of Gotham City. Tickets are HK$150 per adult, HK$120 per child.
If you’re not into Batman, head over to the Legend Heroes Park. It’s a tech-based entertainment park which uses virtual and augmented reality, holograms, project mapping and more to give you a truly immersive experience. And for something to please the younger crowd, there’s the Warner Bros Fun Zone, a 32,000 sq. foot playground packed with all their favourite Warner Bros., DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera characters. Tickets are a flat HK$100 per person, and there is no time limit on the play time.
Tip: If you’re planning to do two or more of the above attractions (Golden Reel, Batman Dark Flight, WB Fun Zone), it’s cheaper to buy a pass which combines entry to the attractions. Check out the official website for details.
7. Treat yourself to some fine dining
Needless to say, you can expect some high-class dining experiences in Cotai. Pretty much every resort on the strip has a repertoire of restaurants with local, Chinese and global cuisines. Just head to the resort’s official website to browse their list of restaurants. Or if you have time to spare, you can wander around and pick something on the day.
For something irrefutably classy, dine at La Chine on the 6th floor of The Parisian Macao’s Eiffel Tower, with panoramic views of the Cotai Strip. The cuisine is signature French-influenced Chinese, and courses start from MOP 588 per person, although you can also order a la carte. Dim sum is also available during lunch hours (11:00am – 3:00pm).
8. Practice your photography
With the number of lights and reflections around the Cotai Strip, it’s the perfect opportunity to whip out your tripod and practice some night photography. Long exposures, light trails, silky water fountains – whatever strikes your fancy. Be creative and try taking iconic structures from alternative angles. Or maybe get a willing travel companion to strike some poses. The Cotai Strip is your oyster!