Since March 2014, Macau has started welcoming luxury cruise ships to its port after many decades in the doldrums. The port of Macau is in shallower water than neighbouring Hong Kong, which has meant that the largest global cruise lines have not been able to attempt to negotiate their way into the port.
Sea Dream Yacht Club’s SeaDream II – which is much smaller than other international cruise ships and is suitable for those new to cruising – was the first to make the visit, taking passengers to a gateway to many World Heritage Sites and a world-leading entertainment hub. Royal Caribbean International now operate full-day shore excursions to Macau, although their ships venture into the port of Hong Kong and then transport cruise passengers across the water for a 60-minute ride on a turbo-powered vessel to Macau; taking in the spectacular scenery of the Lantau islands and Cheung Chau.
Macau: a 24/7 state
This special administrative region of China, which faces the South China Sea, is fast becoming a major stopover for tourists in Asia. Macau now welcomes over 30 million visitors annually, with a fantastic blend of the glitz and glamour of its decadent casinos that rival Las Vegas, to the 20 historical sites and its Portuguese heritage dating back to the 16th century. Macau is a state that never sleeps. It is regarded as the most densely populated country or state on the planet, with a population of 18,500 per sq. km and with such a vibrant and diverse population you can guarantee there will be one of their many annual festivals or events going on during your time here. It’s a hugely fascinating sailaway port too as there is heaps of architecture and scenery to digest on your arrival and departure from Macau.
Although Las Vegas rightly retains the tag of ‘party capital of the world’, many people within the tourism and gambling industries claim that Macau has overtaken Vegas as the world’s number-one gambling destination. Gambling in Macau has been legal since the middle of the 19th century, but for many decades, it had a reputation as being somewhat downtrodden and unsafe for tourists. Wind the clock forward to the present day and Macau’s gambling resorts are not only revered throughout the Far East, but people travel from all over the world to experience the casino floors here. Macau even has casino hotels just like Vegas. People don’t really visit Macau for the party lifestyle, they simply game to their heart’s content. In 2016, Macau raked in $28bn in casino revenues, compared with just $6.3bn along the Vegas Strip.
SeaDream Yacht Club’s boutique cruise ships, which house only 112 guests per ship at a maximum, ventured into the port of Macau in March 2014 as part of a 13-day voyage around Asia. Helen Wong, general manager of the Macau Government Tourist Office (Australia and New Zealand), hopes the success of SeaDream II’s overnight stay will encourage other small boutique cruise lines to consider a visit to Macau in the future.
“To have a cruise ship of SeaDream II’s caliber call on Macau speaks volumes for the appeal of the city as a genuine port of call, perhaps for future small cruise ships to visit,” said Wong.
“Macau’s mix of east-meets-west, old-meets-new features makes for a fascinating visit for the 100 or more cruise ship passengers.”
The battle against Asia’s ‘casino cruises’
Undoubtedly, the biggest threat to Macau’s tourism and gaming industries are the increasing number of ‘casino cruises’ in Asia, which attempt to target Chinese customers on the radar of Macau. These low-cost, super-convenient casino cruises also attract residents from Hong Kong and Singapore; hopping aboard in the early evening and returning in the morning in plenty of time to get to work the next day. Passengers from Hong Kong avoid the cost of the 60-minute ferry to Macau, while Singaporeans can gamble without paying the $70 casino entry tax in their state. Furthermore, table stakes on board these cruises are often considerably lower than land-based casinos in Macau and with comparatively low overheads, these cruise operators can entice passengers with ‘comps’ such as free boarding, drinks or meals during their time on the ship.
Nevertheless, this state, which was a Portuguese colony until as recently as 1999, remains a hugely engaging melting pot of Portuguese and Chinese cultures. A lot of people still compare Macau to Vegas, but the former arguably has way more to offer in terms of the whole package – entertainment, culture and heritage in one unique bundle.
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