Cotai Strip History

(Last updated: January 3, 2024)

One of the first decisions people need to make before visiting a place is deciding where to stay.  For those journeying to Macau, the choice often boils down to the older, more historic Peninsula or the city’s new wild child, the bombastic casino driven Cotai Strip. 

Like all decisions of this nature it’s largely dependent on personal taste and what you want out of your trip.  Most of this website already details what to do and see on the Peninsula, while this article focuses entirely on attractions, activities and hotels in Cotai. 

Hopefully by the end, you’ll know if you staying there is right for you, whether dropping by makes more sense, or if you’ll want to avoid the area altogether!

Cotai Strip Macau

I’ll begin by talking about the history, before moving on to what the Strip does best before finishing up with a quick overview of the individual hotels.  

History

The story of the Cotai Strip began in 2004, when the Macau government completed the arduous task of uniting two islands (Taipa and Coloane) into one connected land mass.  The reclaimed area was originally earmarked for industrial purposes, but those plans were quickly shelved after the gambling industry exploded in the mid 2000’s.  With space on the historic Peninsula running out for new casino projects, the government designated Cotai as the future home of Macau gaming moving forward.

Cotai Strip Macau from the Eiffel Tower

Two years later in 2006, Cotai welcomed its first hotel and casino, the Grand Waldo.  An inauspicious start to say the least, the Grand Waldo was a commercial failure, a vast complex characterized by excessive amounts of unused space.  An entertainment centre without any entertainment, it was like a theatre without a show, and most of the huge hotel remained empty before closing down in 2012. 

Galaxy subsequently bought the property and brought it back in 2014, rebranding it the Broadway Macau.  Much more successful in its new incarnation, Broadway is notable for its 3000 seat theatre, interesting food street and Roadhouse Bar, one of the only venues in town where you can still hear live music.

The next property to debut was the one everyone was waiting for, and it not only met the enormous expectations, it crushed them.  Opening to massive fanfare in August 2007, the Venetian Macao put the Cotai Strip on the map, and is still generally considered the most successful casino/hotel in Macau.  A rousing rendition of Italy, complete with canals, gondolas and singing gondoliers, it’s also home to the largest casino in Asia and 3000 suites.

Venetian Macao shopping
Grand Canal Shoppes, Venetian Macao

Packed with visitors everyday, the majority of whom are walk in guests, the Venetian Macao is a tourist destination in itself and has been since the day it opened.

The Four Seasons came next in 2008, but it didn’t move the meter very much.  A lavish, low key property with fantastic rooms, pools, gym and spa, it’s a luxury quarter that wants to be left alone and basically is.  For travellers, maybe the only reason to visit would be to see the Shoppes at Four Seasons, the largest grossing mall per square meter in the world.  Impeccably appointed and decorated in very high style, many of the sections inside the mall are definitely camera worthy.

Four Seasons Macau lobby
Hotel Lobby, Four Seasons Macao

The next game breaker arrived one year later when the City of Dreams opened in June 2009.  Melco Crown’s signature property set up shop right across the road from the Venetian and was the polar opposite of its arch rival.  On the one hand, you have the old money, the Papacy, the Establishment, the institution that thinks in centuries.  Pompous, rich, bloated, and completely full of itself, the Venetian broods over the Cotai Strip like a miser over his stack of money, confident to the point of condescension. 

Then on the other side, there’s the City of Dreams, the new kid on the block, the punk, the upstart, Mr Rock N Roll, party central with its racy pool parties, bitching nightclub and risque mermaids.  Flaunting moxie, energy, passion, and youth, or all the things that make us young forever, the City of Dreams is where I’d go if I only had 6 months to live… because I wouldn’t last 6 months anyway.

Soho City of Dreams Macau
Soho, City of Dreams Macau

Sadly, the decline has been swift and strong for the City of Dreams the past 5 years, so much so that I now consider the entire property a complete afterthought.  After losing the Hard Rock hotel, the Hard Rock pool, the mermaids, the Tasting Room, the live music at Soho, and the House of Dancing Water, there’s basically no reason for anyone to ever live, gamble, or visit there.  With all due respect to the dead, morgues have more life and purpose now.

All stayed quiet in Cotai for two years, before the Strip underwent another seismic shift when the Palace of Asia, Galaxy, debuted in June 2011.  The property expanded twice in 2015 and 2024, adding two new towers and a convention centre, thereby completing what I consider to be the best mega resort in Cotai.  The crown jewel of the hotel is the stunning 75,000 meter Grand Resort Deck, an attraction reserved for live in guests, making it pretty imperative you stay in one of the 7 hotels they have there.  With some truly great restaurants, interesting bars and even a full fledged cinema, Galaxy is not only on the same level as the Venetian and City of Dreams, but surpassed them years ago.

Galaxy Macau tower
Hotel Okura, Galaxy Macau

By 2024 their hotel count should reach an astronomical 10, which has to be a global record.  They shouldn’t have called it a galaxy, but a universe!

The good times had to end eventually and all of the fantastic momentum that the Strip had built up since the Venetian opened came crashing to a halt when Sands Cotai arrived in 2012.  A colossal bust since Day One, the only thing it added to the Strip were a whole lot of hotel rooms, with almost 6000 of them to be exact, headlined by the world’s largest Sheraton Hotel (3863 rooms).  For a few years it was the most kid friendly resort in town, thanks to their fun collaboration with Dreamworks Entertainment, a productive partnership that sadly ended in 2017. 

Londoner Macau exterior at night
Londoner Macao

In an attempt to turn the around the property’s fledgling fortunes, Sands China re-branded it the Londoner Macao, officially re-opening it for a second time on February 8, 2021.  A massive step-up on the Venetian, they packed it with so much selfie stick indulgence that it’s overrun daily by mainland visitors, some of whom even pay professional photographers to snap their pics outside, then photo shop them later on, for some pretty obscene fees.  Credit Sands China for tapping into that market, as it’s immediately vaulted the Londoner Macao to the top of the Cotai Strip food chain.  With various replications of Big Ben, the Crystal Palace, the Queens Diamond Jubilee carriage and Buckingham Palace, it’s a fun hotel to swing by and take a look at, as great British rock pumps through the sound system 24/7.  An awesome save by Sands China, it’s just a shame they didn’t come up with this idea 10 years ago when they needed it most.  

After Sands Cotai, there were no new additions to the Strip for 3 years.  This is when the casino operators caught their breath in anticipation of the second wave of properties that debuted between 2015 and 2017: Studio City (11/2015), Wynn Palace (08/2016) and the Parisian (09/2016). 

Studio City came first and immediately branded itself the entertainment capital of Asia, bringing us the House of Magic, 4D Batman Ride and Golden Reel, not to mention the most happening nightclub in town – Showhouse.  Fast forward to the present day and all of those things but the lame Golden Reel are gone, replaced by a state of the art water park, VR gaming zone and Macau’s most souped up and elaborate children’s play zone.

Studio City Macau
Studio City Macau

For families with kids, it’s undoubtedly the most attractive property on the Strip, while adults are left out in the cold.  Beyond its memorable building design, showing the world what a hotel would look like if a meteor crashed through it, there’s just not much to see or do there.

Cut from the same cloth as its sister hotel the Venetian, the Parisian is another smashing success, this time bringing all of the snob and swagger of the City of Light to Macau.  With a mock Eiffel Tower stealing the show outside and a whole lot of bread, garlic, mimes, jugglers, living statues and opera singers inside, the Parisian has already become a tourist attraction in itself, the same way the Venetian did a decade earlier. 

Parisian Macao
Parisian Macao

Sure you can call it tacky and kitsch, but it’s even won me over, and I’m one tough sell when it comes to copying landmarks and building them halfway across the world.  Basically, if you’re in Macau you’ve got to visit the Eiffel Tower and Parisian, especially when it’s lit up at night.

As for Wynn Palace, the best description I’ve heard anyone ever give comes from yours truly: a panoply of pointless.  Large and somewhat luxurious rooms are all the hotel has to offer, but I don’t even think they’re that nice.  Unlike the Parisian which gives walk in guests reasons to visit, Wynn Palace doesn’t do anything to bring people in. 

Wynn Palace lobby
Flower Creation, Wynn Palace

The most disappointing property to debut on the Strip since Sands Cotai in 2012, here’s hoping that Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the Palace produces something of merit.  As it is now, Steve Wynn’s fairy tale foible is a flop, one that I did not see coming.

The second to last resort to open was MGM Cotai, which commenced operations in February 2018.  A personal favourite of mine, the jewellery box marvel is awash in art and artifacts, so much so that free guided tours are available upon request, the only hotel in Cotai to do so. 

MGM Cotai Spectacle
Spectacle, MGM Cotai

With its prized collection of carpets and crystal, Dancing Lights and lacquerware, MGM Cotai should be commended for being the most beautiful property on the Strip, one that art lovers simply must check out, in particular both lobbies which are simply gorgeous. 

The final hotel to open in Cotai was Grand Lisboa Palace, which debuted in September 2021.  Besides the huge Lagerfeld rooms which easily rank top 3 on the Strip when you take cost into account (only $1500 to $2000 on weekdays), the rest mostly underwhelms. 

Karl Lagerfeld lobby at Grand Lisboa Palace
Karl Lagerfeld lobby, Grand Lisboa Palace

SJM had a good 5 to 6 years on their competitors to give the Strip something truly groundbreaking and innovative, but it’s nothing but the same old, same old for them (and us).  It’s a sad truth that their best hotel by far remains the original Lisboa, which everyone visiting Macau needs to stay in at least once.

With no more land left in Cotai but the empty undeveloped plots directly across Studio City, which no one wants to build on, the story of the Cotai Strip may be coming to an end for the next decade or so.  The only plans I am aware of involve expanding the properties that are already up, with various phases of Wynn Palace, MGM Cotai, Galaxy, Studio City and Grand Lisboa Palace all in the works.  As of January 2024, that brings our count up to 11 hotels now, and it should stay that way for a good long while. 

With this little historical overview out of the way, let’s turn to the main reasons you’ll want to visit Cotai.

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