Maven Meter: Sands Cotai Casino & Hotel
(Last updated: May 20, 2020)
The Cotai Strip was on one hell of a roll. The arrival of the Venetian in 2007 ushered in a new golden age of Macau gaming, the City of Dreams turned it into a party in 2009, and then Galaxy went up and built the Palace of Asia in 2011. For awhile, it seemed all anyone had to do in Cotai was build something, and they’d be rewarded with a game changing world class resort.
With the unveiling of Sands Cotai in May 2012 though, all of that momentum stopped completely, and instead of raising the bar with something innovative and inspiring, Las Vegas Sands went backward with a property that’s boring, bland, banal and oh so played. It’s the kind of hotel that would have looked great on the Macau peninsula in 2007, but to stick out on the Cotai Strip these days you need to rise above your competitors and do something extraordinary.
Sands Cotai, unfortunately, does nothing. From the hotel exterior to the lobbies, the shopping to the pools, the entertainment to the nightlife, there’s not one aspect of the resort that’s memorable or groundbreaking. It’s a bust.
I wrote that way back in 2012 about two weeks after Sands Cotai first opened. Truer words have never been spoken, and Sands Resorts has finally gotten the message this year. Like the poor horse you shoot when it breaks a leg to put it out of its misery, Sands Cotai is going to be no more.
The whole resort is going to be turned into the Londoner Macao, with conversion work beginning in late 2019. Incorporating themes from England’s biggest and most beloved city, principal design features announced so far include Buckingham Palace guards, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, doubledecker buses and those iconic red telephone booths. And if we’re especially lucky, perhaps even horse drawn carriages galloping down the Strip??
The restoration will be done in phases so as to minimize disruption to hotel guests, with the biggest bother the closing down of the 1224 room Holiday Inn, effective January 2020.
With this new venture, here’s hoping that Sands can produce another winner in the spirit of the Parisian and Venetian. I may even start drinking tea and watching cricket to celebrate its coming in 2021, while my secret crushes on Susanna Reid and Hazel Irvine keep on keeping on. (Seriously, how were both of those ladies born in the 1960’s???)
Till then, tally ho ladies and gents, and see you at the Londoner Macau once it opens!
SANDS COTAI PHOTO GALLERY
Sands Cotai has two casinos, the Himalaya and the Pacifica.
All it takes is one look of the Himalaya casino to know it’s a Sands casino. Organized very well and extremely straightforward, all games are neatly grouped according to type, with signs above clearly stating what they are. The 8 games offered are all staple Sands selections, pretty much identical to what’s found at the Sands and the Venetian. As for how it looks, the Himalaya casino takes a page from the latter casino, only on a much smaller scale, using the same type of decorative pillars and exquisite chandeliers.
Most games at the Himalaya go for $300 while the majority of Commission Free Baccarat tables are $500 plus. The 600 or so slots in the casino mostly stay under a dollar, while there is no longer any Live Gaming Baccarat. As for electronic games, there are only three options, Baccarat ($10), Roulette ($10), and Sic Bo ($10).
Drink service in the casino is pretty quick, although no alcohol is served. In total, I counted 169 tables in the casino, down from 227 earlier in the year. The reason for the reduction is that Sands had to move some of them over to the Pacifica, which opened on September 20th, 2012.
For some strange reason, the Pacifica casino looks nothing like its name might suggest. At the very least, I was expecting something tropical, a motif built around palm trees, waterfalls, and a lot of light, like how their shopping quarter is. At most, there would be sun streaming in through a huge sunlight dome, dancing shows conducted by hula girls shaking their thing, tribal drum music, and of course, cocktail waitresses working it in short skirts and leis serving Pina Coladas. It’d be just like being in Hawaii, but only better, since you can gamble too.
Unfortunately, the Pacifica casino is none of those things, and is fact, a lot worse. With wavy contoured ceilings, cheap plastic space age design, and a lot of blue, pink, and red lights, it looks just like some bad projection from the 1960’s about what the future might look like. More accurately, it’s probably just a failed rip off of the City of Dreams, but the effect fails at Pacifica because they don’t reinforce the cutting edge theme with enough secondary decorations. Of course none of that has anything to do with the Pacific, which makes me wonder why they called the casino that in the first place. In my opinion, it should be called the Pluto instead, because everything inside is just that way out there.
As for the actual gaming, it’s basically the same as at the Himalaya, except the limits are a little higher, they offer Casino War ($200), and there is no Craps.
Please note that the Himalayan offers Craps, and War is found at the Pacifica.
Baccarat – Minimum bet of $3000.
Commission Free Baccarat – Minimum bet of $500. Won Banker bets totaling 6 get paid 50%.
Blackjack – Ridiculous $500 minimums. Players may only split up to 3 times, instead of the usual 4.
Craps – 3-4-5 odds, minimum pass line bet is $300. The table is hidden away in the high limit section.
Roulette – Inside/Outside minimums of $50 and $200 at the Himalayan, while they’re $100 and $500 at the Pacifica.
Sands Stud Poker – Minimums of $200. Kudos to the Sands for now giving the proper 100-1 payout on the Royal flush.
Sic Bo – Big/Small low is $200.
Slot machines – Minimums from 2 cents to $10. There’s also electronic versions of Baccarat, Sic Bo and Roulette, all for $10. Live Gaming Baccarat finally is $50 to $300.
Three Card Poker – Minimums of $200.
War – Minimum bet of $200.
The Venetian dead chip program is identical in all five Sands casinos, including at Sands Cotai.
SANDS COTAI HOTELS
With 6000 rooms in total, Sands Cotai is the largest hotel in Cotai, and the sixth largest one in the world. It’s composed of four hotels: the Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Conrad and St. Regis.
The Sheraton holds the distinction of being the biggest Sheraton in the world, with 3824 rooms, while the Holiday Inn used to be the largest Holiday Inn on the planet, before being overtaken by one in Saudi Arabia in 2015.
The Holiday Inn stopped selling rooms in early 2020 as it transitions into the Londoner Macau, so it’s obviously no longer an option.
As you’d expect, the St. Regis is the luxury quarter, featuring 400 suites of discerning quality, all of which come with butler service, something I need to experience once in my life.
Current rates for all hotels are as follows, including all tax and service charges.
Conrad Hotel Quick Facts
International Call: 853 8113 6000
China: 4001 200 988
Hong Kong: 800 906 976
India: 000800 320 1536
Number of Rooms and Suites: 600
Sheraton Hotel Quick Facts
China: 4001 693 388
Hong Kong: 3051 2898
Macau: 6029 9088
Number of Rooms and Suites: 3896
St. Regis Macao Quick Facts
International Tel: 853 6262 5250
China Toll Free: 4001 208 891
Hong Kong Toll Free: 852 3051 2764
Fax: 853 2882 8890
Number of Suites: 400
Conrad Macao Hotel Room
I stayed at both the Conrad and Holiday Inn hotels soon after Sands Cotai opened in May 2012. I guess uneventful properties lead guests to have uneventful stays because I don’t have one good story to tell about my time there.
What disappointed me most was just how dead the place felt. In no way was it like the Galaxy a month after it debuted when it felt like the opening day party was still on. Sands Cotai, on the other hand, felt like it had been opened for 10 years.
In terms of my stay, everything was handled by the staff at both hotels in a very professional and business like manner.
The Conrad had the nicer and much more comfortable room, with the bathroom, in particular, being very large and luxurious.
Holiday Inn Hotel Room
The Holiday Inn room obviously paled in comparison, but it was more than good enough for me.
Of course, I’m like 1 of only 9 people in the world who actually enjoys staying at the San Va, so perhaps that’s not saying a whole lot.
I think all these rooms are currently getting gutted and enlarged, making the pictures pretty much pointless now.
SANDS COTAI RESTAURANTS
Dining at the Sands Cotai is a definite lowlight. There’s not restaurant that carries superior billing or has any kind of reputation around town. When compared to their counterparts on the Cotai Strip, Sands Cotai is a stiff on the dining scene.
Bene – I can’t stand franchise restaurants. You can eat at a Bene Italian in Sheratons all over the world for crying out loud, including at the ends of the Earth, remote Hohhot. You can do much better in Macau.
Appetizers: $52 to $158 Meat: $178 to $488
Oysters $238 Pasta: $138 to $248
Seafood Platter: $538 to $999 Fish: $238 to $398
Salad: $88 to $148 Pizza: $108 to $198
Soup: $68 to $128 Desserts: $48 to $118
In addition to the a la carte menu, Bene also has a set lunch promotion from Monday to Friday for $138 person. On Saturdays the lunch gets expanded and the price goes up to $228 and includes selections like Iberico pork, Australian wagyu, spring chicken and more.
On Sundays, brunch goes for $468 (adults) and $100 (children aged 6 to 12) from 12 pm to 3 pm.
There’s also a Bene Food and Wine Mercato special dinner the last Friday and Saturday of every month. A region of Italy is selected and a wine pairing is put together to explore the food, wine and cooking tradition of that region. Offering unlimited food, wine and drinks, it costs $488 for adults and $200 for children aged 6 to 12.
Bene is located in the shopping quarter on Level 1 and keeps hours daily from 11 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm. On weekends, lunch is on from 12 pm to 3 pm.
Dynasty 8 – Apparently they have a two star Michelin chef. I wouldn’t have guessed that after eating there.
Appetizers: $52 to $158 Seafood: $168 to $438
Bird’s Nest & Sharks Fin: $288 to $6888 Home Style Cooking: $108 to $188
Signature Dishes: $128 to $588 Meat: $138 to $488
Barbecue: $88 to $398 Vegetables: $98 to $168
Soup: $68 to $1288 Rice and Noodles: $98 to $168
Dim sum is the star of the show at lunch, with most selections $48 to $78. There’s also a 6 course dim sum set lunch for only $168 a person, which if nothing else, looks like a great deal.
Dynasty 8 is open daily from 11 am to 3 pm and from 6 pm to 11 pm at night. On weekends, they open for lunch an hour earlier.
Here’s a review of my dinner there: Dynasty 8.
Feast – The World of Flavours restaurant offers just that in their international buffet, available 3 times a day. Prices for adults and children are as follows:
Breakfast: $228 (adults) / $100 (children 6 to 12)
Seafood Dinner Buffet: $458/$200 (Friday and Saturday)
The seafood dinner buffet also has a free flow rose wine option for $198 a person, with time limited to 2 hours.
Hours daily are from 6:30 am to 11 pm.
Grand Orbit – Grand Orbit is one of Macau’s better buffets.
Prices aren’t too bad, with rates as follows: breakfast ($218 adult/$109 child), lunch ($248/$128), and dinner ($428/$218). On weekends, the prices go up slightly, with breakfast $228/$118,, lunch $278/$139 and dinner $478/$239.
For drinks, flee flow beer and pop is an additional $88 per person while free flow wine is $148.
Here’s a review of an evening dinner buffet I had there: Grand Orbit.
Hours are from 6:30 to midnight daily.
Koufu – Koufu is the Sands Cotai food court, located on the 3rd floor. Composed of about 20 different fast food restaurants, most dishes are in the $55 to $85 range.
North – They also have a branch at the Venetian with the same menu and prices.
Chef’s Selections: $180 to $450
Soup: $45 to $68
Cold Dishes: $48 to $88
Hot Dishes: $52 to $290
Dumplings: $56 to $62
North keeps hours daily from 11 am to 11 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays they close at 1 am.
Xin – Xin does a seafood and hotpot buffet, which means you’re going to spend a lot and still be hungry. Buffet prices are $248 for lunch, and $398 for dinner Monday to Friday. On Sunday, an all you can eat dim sum brunch is $188 while a Friday and Saturday night Seafood buffet is $438. For children 4 to 12, prices are slashed in half while toddlers 3 and under eat for free. They also do a la carte, with prices as follows:
Barbecue: $68-$138 Noodles and rice: $58-$88
Dim Sum Set: $198/$288/$358 Vegetables: $48-$88
Other Dim Sum: $38-$68 Clay Pot and Rice: $58-$198
Open daily from 11:30 am to 3 pm and from 6 pm to 11 pm.
The Holiday Inn, surprisingly, has better pools than the ones at the Conrad. The Conrad pools are small in comparison and the deck is nothing to write home about. The pools’ position between two hotels makes the area seem a little confined, and there aren’t any views of the Cotai Strip.
With only a few plants and trees present beside the cabanas, it’s a little like relaxing in a concrete jungle.
HOLIDAY INN POOL
Who’d have thought the Holiday Inn would have better pools than the Conrad?
With almost the same layout and design as the ones at the Sheraton, the Holiday Inn pools get the nod due to their bitching views of the Venetian, particularly at night.
The pools at the Sheraton will do just fine. No complaints here.
They also have a poolside cafe named Sala that offers a Portuguese barbecue buffet on Friday and Saturday for $488 a person. Selections include suckling pig, rib eye beef steak, clams and sausages.
ST REGIS POOLS
As expected, the St. Regis has the largest and best pools.
In terms of the fitness centres, all four hotels offer large, modern, and comprehensive gyms.
Anyone who’s read this site at all knows I’m a big fan of free spa facilities. Any hotel that bills itself as 5 stars needs to give guests free access to a sauna, steam room and jacuzzi, or else…. Sands Cotai has heeded the call and provide all of those things, no matter if you’re hanging out at the Holiday Inn or pimping it up at the St. Regis.
If you want spa treatments, there are three different spas to choose from.
Bodhi Spa is located in the Conrad. Weekday rates are as follows:
Facials: $1260 to $1450 Ritual Elements: $1900 to $3600
Massage: $990 to $2100 Waxing: $260 to $520
Wraps and Scrubs: $310 to $1440 Hands and Feet: $300 to $800
(Weekend rates are fairly similar with most treatments less than $100 more).
The Sheraton offers the same sorts of treatments in their Shine spa.
Speciality Therapies: $950 to $1650 Shine Packages: $1600 to $3600
Massage: $950 to $1650 Skin Care: $1200 to $1300
Body Wraps: $1110 Hands and Feet: $600 and $800
(Like the Bodhi spa, weekend rates are a touch higher.)
Iridium Spa is located in the the St. Regis. It breaks the bank, as you’d expect, but reviews of it are highly positive.
Iridium Journeys: $2200 to $3060 Body Care: $1100 to $1150
Signature Massage: $1280 to $1580 Skin Care: $1580 to $2200
Traditional Massage: $1280 to $1600 Hands and Feet: $480 to $850
SANDS COTAI ENTERTAINMENT
Once upon a time, Sands Cotai used to be the best resort in Macau for children, thanks to their successful collaboration with Dreamworks Entertainment. There were lively parades in the shopping promenade, Shrekfest breakfasts where kids could do meet and greets, along with Kung Fu Panda Academies and other fun games and activities. Sadly that’s all gone now and there’s not much left, other than Planet J and Qube 2.
Planet J – Marketed as the world’s first live action role play theme park, Planet J gets mixed reviews. The setting is certainly impressive, but the tasks and activities children are given to do leave a lot to be desired. They have recently added some VR games though, which is definitely a step in the right direction.
Tickets cost $220 and include 1 hour usage of the magic scroll (iPad), which you need to play the games. If you’d like to continue renting it beyond that, every hour thereafter costs $120.
A better idea might be just to buy the Day Pass, which costs $460 and allows unlimited usage of the Magic Scroll as well as access to all of the VR Games. If you’re going to be in town for a few more days, a 2 day pass runs $680 and a 3 day pass $900.
Hours are from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 8:30 pm on Saturdays and 9:30 am to 8:00 pm on Sundays.
Qube 2 – Staff told me in 2017 that Qube 2 will be closing down and be gone for good. It’s still going strong though in the present day, although it’s probably the least exciting of all the Qube outlets in Macau. I’d definitely hit the one in the Venetian or Parisian first.
Current prices for 1 Adult and 1 Child are as follows: $130 on weekends, and $110 on weekdays. Each additional hour costs $60 while extra adults are just $30.
SANDS COTAI BARS
The St. Regis Bar could be one of the trendiest nightspots in town, but it’s in the wrong city to flourish. Put it in Manhattan and you’d have a winner, but this is Macau people.
St Regis Bar – The St. Regis Bar used to have a lot more specials on the go, but they’re down to just Infusion Hour now. Running $258, it consists of free flow drinks from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm daily, while some tasteful nibbles are served at 7:30 pm.
Here’s a small sampling from their food and drink menu.
Food: $68 to $298
Sandwiches: $98 to $198
Dim sum: $58 to $128
Hard stuff: $68 to $108
There’s also live music Wednesday to Sunday from 9 pm to midnight.
Afternoon Tea, finally, is held from 2:00 pm to 5:30 pm daily, and costs $358 per set.
The other bars at Sands Cotai are all small lobby lounges.
Conrad Lounge and Holiday Inn Lounge
Set lunch with 2 courses: $138
Set lunch with 3 courses: $168
Afternoon tea: $228
Bar snacks: $68 to $138
Burgers, Sandwiches, Caesar Salad: $68 to $328
Cocktails: $65 to $75
Beer: $50 to $65
Hard stuff: most $60 to $80
Wine: $55 to $165
Palms is Sheraton’s lobby lounge and is the nicest of the three.
Western style: $138
Hong Kong style: $98
Lunch and Dinner
Soup and Noodles: $90 to $118
Curry, Rice, BBQ: $118 to $138
Coffee: $38 to $68
Signature Tea: $78
Premium Chinese Tea: $110 to $120
Fresh Juice: $68
Wine: $78 to $190 (glass)
Craft Beer: $78 to $108
Hard Stuff: $48 to $248
Whisky: $48 to $238
Afternoon Tea: $228 for 2
SANDS COTAI SHOPPING
Shopping is one of Sands Cotai larger drawing cards, with around 75 shops in all. Utilizing waterfalls, trees, and natural light, the mall is trying to produce a rainforest effect, but after seeing the Venetian’s successful imitation of Italy on their 3rd floor, the effort at Sands Cotai just doesn’t register.
THE LAST WORD
6000 rooms. That’s mind boggling isn’t it? The Venetian only has 3000 for those wondering. What’s more mind boggling is that Macau’s largest hotel by a country mile doesn’t offer much for their guests to see or do. They must be counting on their neighbours on the Cotai Strip to provide the attractions, but that’s a pretty poor substitute for doing it yourself. Without any big time entertainment, nightlife or restaurants, I don’t see much of a future for Sands Cotai. It needs to add something ASAP that gives it an identity.
Along the same vein, there’s nothing notable about the two casinos either. In terms of limits and games, both of them just repeat what’s offered at the Sands and Venetian. If you were to detonate the Pacifica and Himalayan tomorrow, I don’t think many people would notice and life would go on. I think that’s a better than fair description of Sands Cotai too as a whole. It does nothing and is nothing.