The Macau DreamWorks experience: Crossing familiar with familial
Mirava M. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Whereas Mother Nature routinely gives the Philippines the cold (rainy) shoulder this time of year, a mere two-hour flight away, the exact opposite occurs: in Macau, things are just heating up. Summer arrived there this July, but the region has been on fire for years thanks to its growing reputation as a tourist’s divine abode. The place already boasts at least 33 casinos and a maze of strip malls that circumscribe skyscraper hotels. But rather than slow down, Macau’s decided to go turbo (in more ways than one; you’ll see in a bit). Sands China Ltd., in particular, has set out to reinvent family entertainment, and I was among those invited to see what it had in store for the world.

Last Friday morning (July 12), the media group I was part of arrived in Macau at noon. We were quickly ushered into a shuttle, which sped toward Sands China Ltd.’s Cotai Strip Resorts. Little did we know those brief minutes that we spent under the stinging heat of the outdoors would be our only exposure to sunlight throughout our entire stay there.

Sands Cotai Central is one of the newest structures of the region, having opened its doors just a year ago. Apart from being a hybrid combining malls, hotels and casinos, there are even shades of a theme park in the mix. Escalators are situated among manmade rock quarries, complete with tall-standing trees whose leaves engage you on each subsequent floor. Yet alongside all that antiquarianism are jaw-dropping fusions of classical and modern. Arches and columns are a favorite feature of the Macau strip, it seems. Even the high ceilings are ornately decorated with chandeliers or portraits. No wall is left bare without a painting; in fact, the place is so massive that we often relied on said paintings as markers to keep us from getting lost. There were some things we just couldn’t put a label on, however: like a waterfall that spelled out directions and company logos.

In the center of it all, of course, is a casino, shielded from children by high walls. Right across it is an indoor garden called Paradise, which served as our daily meet-up point and provided hilariously romantic or apocalyptic connotations whenever we agreed to “Go see each other in Paradise.” But I did spend a lot of time there, appreciating the wide-open space, admiring the flowers and enjoying the air conditioning and free WiFi (the things gardens are capable of nowadays!). In addition, the park was recently redecorated to include banners hanging from the ceiling, each one depicting a DreamWorks character. For any visitor, that is where the DreamWorks Experience begins.

We were granted full exposure to the DreamWorks Experience, which is an actual service that Sands China has incorporated into its resort after partnering with the popular animation studio. With the adult market firmly entrenched in in the gambling biz while teens are free to skulk in the mall, Sands China has wisely shifted focus to the children this time around.

After a fulfilling lunch at Rice Empire (the first among the slew of amazing Asian cuisine-centered restaurants we would encounter), we got to witness in action what has been termed the “first phase” of the Sands-DreamWorks partnership. At Paradise, DreamWorks characters popped out every now and then to pose for photo ops. Surprisingly, most of the people lining up were adults. Unsurprisingly, I was one of those adults. After snagging a picture with Toothless (from one of my favorite animated films How To Train Your Dragon), I headed to the mall with the group to witness the afternoon parade of DreamWorks characters such as Puss in Boots (Shrek) and Alex (Madagascar) who bounded alongside performers (who were undoubtedly Filipino). They danced single-file down the hallways and were greeted with excited cheers from onlookers.

Though the mall festivities came to an end by late afternoon, we got to have a taste of what lies in store for families who avail of the package: they get to go home to a family suite consisting of adjoining rooms, at the Sheraton Hotel (which, like Conrad and Holiday Inn, is situated right on top of the mall). The main feature is the kids’ rooms, 33 of them DreamWorks-themed and decorated in the style of a specific DreamWorks movie. The bunk beds, closets, walls and even bathroom accessories are brightly colored, and familiar anthropomorphic characters smirk at your kids from every tabletop and cup. Each room comes furnished with a Nintendo Wii, and themed activities are also available at the pool area, which even has (yes, themed) cabanas for birthday parties.

Thoroughly convinced by Sands China’s testament that any kid in Macau can now be kept busy for days on end, we decided to go back to doing something more adult — like crawling into bed and falling asleep. Microscopic attention to detail was not just a DreamWorks thing, I realized in my Holiday Inn room. Even my pillows were meticulously labeled “soft” and “firm.” (I picked “soft.”)

The next morning, we indulged ourselves in a one-of-a-kind “Shrekfast,” another notable feature included in the package. One of the ballrooms was converted into a sprawling dining hall where hundreds of guests took advantage of the diverse buffet menu. The character mascots were back, practically greeting people table-to-table. Everyone enjoyed the variety of American and Chinese breakfast foods, many dishes infused with — you guessed it — DreamWorks characters. Shrek-shaped pancakes and stylized Panda buns were among trays that needed constant refills. After our dreamy breakfast, we crossed the “Bridge of Stars,” a new connecting walkway that led us to the world-famous Venetian Macao-Resort Hotel.

If the Sistine Chapel were a resort, it would look like the Venetian. If Las Vegas and Venice ever had a baby, it would be the Venetian. If I could be stuck in a mall for three days, I’d choose the Venetian. And the last bit came true, as the rest of our itinerary meant we would live, eat and breathe Venetian because of the sheer amount of activities that were being held there.

The place is a labyrinth of bridges, canals, corridors and conference rooms, so that you never stop feeling like you’re in a Pac-Man stage. We spent hours simply trying to find our way around mostly our fault, though, because every little detail drew our attention, from famous Portuguese egg tarts at bakeries to a harp player who strummed the Theme from The Godfather from a balcony. To the Venetian’s credit, it really is impossible to take 10 steps without being distracted by something shiny and new. Now, I’m not a gambler; nor would I even consider myself a shopper. Hence, I’m simply a “walker,” so walk I did. For two hours, I got lost, found the casino, got lost in the casino, found my way back to the shopping area, and promptly got lost again.

We wandered into the actual hotel at some point, never breaking out of our trance at the otherworldliness of the resort, where golf is played on the seventh floor, the sky is literally always blue, and jewelry shops have the latest closing hours of all. We even paid the Qube a visit, which is an activity center specifically for kids. There was no time to ride a gondola through the canals, although while passing by, we got to witness a Pinay gondola operator hit a high note as she steered a group of tourists through the underbridge. It drew applause from the gathering crowd. She waved at us, and then rowed away.

After gorging on Indian cuisine at Golden Peacock, we turned a corner and situated ourselves right behind the barriers of Turbo’s regional red carpet premiere. The latest DreamWorks flick was released worldwide on July 17, but we got a special 3D preview. The event drew some of Asia’s favorite celebrities, who paraded in front of the theater before the screening. It was the perfect opportunity to play paparazzo, even if all I managed to do was join the throng of professional photographers and snag a few pictures with my lowly point-and-shoot.

Even the Harlem Globetrotters came to the party. I got a good close-up (pretty sure I only reached their elbows). Later that night, after a visit to the “Dinosaurs LIVE!” exhibit, we finished the last chapter of our Macau trip with their show. Slapstick at its finest, the Harlem Globetrotters were. And their antics served as a great conversation item as we began our trek back toward Cotai Sands. Most of the stores were just beginning to close, their huge “SALE!” signs going dim. But the Venetian sky, of course, was still a bright blue.

The flight home was rather early the next day so we checked out first thing in the morning, taking one last look at Paradise before the shuttle took us back to the airport. We left, still strangers to the unforgiving Macau sun. All those cranes and construction sites in the distance indicate that Macau is still evolving. Which is good, we collectively mused. Knowing there was even more to come meant we had the perfect reason to return someday. Next time, with family.

* * *

The DreamWorks Experience Package at Cotai Strip Resorts is available until the Sept. 30. Rates for a one-night package start at HK$1,498 and include accommodations, Shrekfast, one-way ferry tickets from Macau to Hong Kong and themed poolside character activities and souvenirs. For more information, visit www.sandscotaicentral.com/hotel-amenities/dreamworks/.

AMERICAN AND CHINESE COTAI STRIP RESORTS DREAMWORKS EVEN MACAU ONE SANDS SANDS CHINA SANDS CHINA LTD
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