Altira (formerly known as the Crown Hotel) was Melco Crown's first venture into the Macau gaming market, having opened in May 2007. I remember reading at the time the then CEO of the Sands criticizing the whole project, deriding the Melco Crown brand, saying he wasn't concerned at all about the hotel or what the new casino was going to do. I wonder if he was saying the same thing a year later in 2008, when Altira became the busiest casino in the world in terms of betting volume, with rolling turnover exceeding $6 billion US a month. Now those heady days didn't last long, but they sure put Altira on the map, and the property continues to be a big player in the VIP scene today. That's all the casino is really, VIP floor after VIP floor, with not much in the way of mass gaming.
While the casino is busy catering to whales, the hotel is busy providing slick five-star service. At 160 meters, Altira is the tallest building on Taipa island.
Altira is located between the Regency and the Greek Mythology on the Northeastern part of Taipa island. To get there from Macau island, take the Taipa Bridge beside the Wynn and then hang a left. Altira will appear shortly, right at the intersection of Avenida Dr. Sun Yat Sen and Avenida de Kwong Tung.
How Altira suddenly became the busiest casino in the world came as a surprise to many. Initially the place was a bust, with gamers complaining about the bad feng shui emanating from the triangular shaped gaming floors. To them, there was no "visible flow path" and that was influencing their luck at the tables. The fountain outside the hotel was also constantly breaking down, and it seemed for awhile at the start that the Sands CEO was going to be completely correct. Altira was going to be a threat to no one, except maybe itself.
And then A-Max came along. The Hong Kong based junket conglomerate struck a deal with Altira to deliver whales in exchange for a higher average commission rate of 1.25%. Within months Altira's VIP market share jumped from 6% to 24% and rolling turnover pushed 8 billion $US a month. That forced other casinos to raise the rates they gave to junket operators and by 2009, the market had re-adjusted itself. Today Melco Crown currently owns 15% of Macau's VIP share, which is about right for the amount of tables they have city wide.
There's no doubt VIP gaming is the name of the game at Altira. Floors 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 17 and 37 all belong to the junkets with about 25 different companies in operation up there. Only the small first floor casino holding 20 tables caters to non whales. Minimums are pretty high, with most tables starting at $300, while only Baccarat and Blackjack are available. The casino had offered five games before just as recently as Novemeber, but Caribbean Stud, Roulette and Sic Bo all bore the brunt of Altira's decision to focus even more exclusively on the Baccarat market. That theme continues on the upper first floor, where a high limit area contains 10 Baccarat tables with lows of $500, $1000 and $2000.
Slots in the casino are all managed by Mocha Slots. Their slots hall on the right side of the room offers 99 ten cent to five dollar machines. Electronic versions of Roulette and Baccarat are also available for $5 and $30 respectively.
Visually speaking, the mass gaming casino uses a lot of wood panel and donut shaped chandeliers, as well as other abstract circular shaped designs. The Baccarat tables look particularly sharp, instead of being overloaded with huge numbers and a lot of words, their dark purple felt keeps the information short and sweet. Brown is the dominant color on the casino floor and the best looking part is probably the decoratively carved wall by the escalator. While I'm no expert, Altira's feng shui looks pretty good to me.
Altira's range of games is despicable.
Altira's commitment to VIP's is perhaps most evident in its lack of casino promotions and substandard player card. I'm actually surprised they have a current promotion.
Altira Lotto Luck — Baccarat players receive one lottery ticket for every $100 Tie or Pair bet made, regardless of whether they win the bet. A $200 bet will receive 2 tickets, a $300 bet will receive 3 tickets, and then it stops there. Any Tie or Pair bet in excess of $300 maxes out at 3 tickets.
Every night at 9 pm Altira will announce two lucky numbers, and players win if 4 or more numbers match.
Player Card — The free player card is good for two things: 10% off in Altira's restaurants and free noodles after 30 minutes of play. To upgrade to the Premium Card, players need to gamble $450,000 in one day, which also entitles them to a free room in the hotel, free ferry tickets, free cigarettes, and free F and B in the casino restaurant. That's a rough return of 1%, assuming the player stays on a Friday or Saturday.
The Premium player card has no rolling component to it. The only benefit to having it is that card holders are eligible for the free rooms, assuming they roll enough. My advice is to skip the card altogether and go to the junkets, if you're going to be betting that much.
Altira's dead chip program is similarly uninspiring:
|Altira Promotional Chip Program|
|Front money||Cash back rate||Complementary
One nice perk of the program is that for every $300,000 bet, gamers can get one free night in the hotel, for a maximum of three free nights a month.
Mocha Slot Club Promotions
Mocha slot clubs are very prevalent in Macau, so I think it's important to tell you a bit about their program.
Points are amassed through machine play on a one to one basis, for every dollar bet one point is earned. I don't know how much use there is in amassing these points, because the prize list is very disappointing. Basically for $50 food, sweets, ice cream or drug store coupons, gamers must amass around 30,000 points. For $100 gas, shopping, and supermarket vouchers, more than 100,000 points are required.
In addition to the points program, here are their current promotions:
New Member Rewards — Members get a Mocha Lucky Rabbit key chain for free. Members can also earn triple points for a maximum of 186 within the first 24 hours of gaming.
Mocha New Star Lucky Draw — Within each qualifying period (usually 30 days), the 200 members with the most accumulated slot points during the said period will enter into a draw with prizes that include: $4,000 mobile phone, ASUS netbook, one Canon Digital Camera, and Mocha Credits (from 500 to 1000).
Mocha Rolling Ball Lucky Draw — Smaller promotion where Mocha points can be used to redeem lucky draw tickets. Top prizes include $500 HKD, $100 HKD and 500 Mocha points.
Mocha Travel the World — I guess this promotion is related to flight tickets, but it's not specified whether its one way or round trip. If an astronomical amount of slot points are accumulated in one day, members are flying on Mocha's ticket, to destinations all over the world. Countries include:
|Mocha Travel the World Program|
Part of what makes doing these reviews interesting is unearthing hidden gems. Anyone who knows anything about Macau has heard of the Venetian, City of Dreams, Wynn, MGM etc, but what about some of the lesser lights? Is it possible they might be just as good? I definitely think Altira qualifies as one of these unknown stars. Market insiders would tend to side with me, as Altira has recently won a slew of awards, including the best five-star hotel at the Asia Pacific Hotel awards, the best 5 star hotel and spa in the 2011 and 2012 Forbes travel guides, and 2010 China Golden Pavilion's choice as the best business hotel in Macau.
The only black mark against Altira is that it has 216 rooms only. With so much junket presence in the casino, that means you almost never have a chance to stay there on weekends.
Check in is on floor 38, while guest quarters are located on floors 18 to 36.
Rates Sunday to Thursday then, in HKD, are as follows:
|Altira Room Rates|
|Waterfront View King||$2171|
|Waterfront View Twin||$2369|
If you can score a weekend room, the cheapest one will run around $4025, all tax included.
I think Forbes called the Altira pool one of the ten best pools in the world. I don't know about that, because I wouldn't even put it in Macau's top 10, but it's still pretty good. My main issue with it is its size, but at least you'll have great views of Macau when you're doing your laps.
Pool Bar is located deckside and serves freshly squeezed juice for $25 or $30, while specialty juice and smoothies are $35. A fruit platter finally goes for $15 or $25.
Located on the 16th floor, the pool opens the same time as the fitness centre, from 7 am to 10.00 pm daily.
Altira's four signature restaurants definitely cater to the VIP crowd — it's all fine dining with prices to match. Having two Japanese joints seems a bit much, maybe a Northeastern Chinese restaurant would have been a better idea. A fifth restaurant, Monsoon, is 24/7 fast food, the kind of place you go to at 4 in the morning after a long hard 14 hours of Baccarat playing.
Ying — Ying serves Cantonese dishes like beef, chicken, and lamb for $100 to $200, while seafood specialites stay under $200. Rice, noodles, and vegetable dishes all touch $100, while delicacies like shark's fin, bird's nest and abalone can all be had for under $1100. A lot of dim sum goes for $30.
Ying is located on the 11th floor and keeps lunch hours from 11 am to 4 pm, and dinner hours from 6 pm to 10:30 pm daily.
Kira — Kira is Japanese dining with an all you can eat menu that goes for $458, or $558 if you want free beverages, alcoholic and non alcoholic alike. There's also quite a good selection of set meals, which run $380, $680, $880, and $1580. For a la carte, rice and noodle dishes are $100 to $200 while everything else stays in the $78 to $400 range.
Kira can be found on the 10th floor and only opens for dinner, from 6 pm to 2 am.
Tenmasa — I go to a lot of Japanese restaurants doing this work and half the time I don't even know the food I'm writing about. The good people at Tenmasa helped me out with a few terms though and I'd like to share what I learned. While sushi is raw fish with rice (hey I knew that!), sashimi is only raw fish. Tempura meanwhile is deep fried seafood and vegetables, along with light butter. It's not very crispy but you can feel the tenderness of the seafood and vegetables when you taste it. Onto the prices then: sushi and sashami are $30 - $90, while rice and noodles are $100 to $300. Salads go for $68 to $168, while a lot of good looking beef dishes are between $480 and $580. Set lunches, meanwhile go from $180 to $900 and set dinners $500 to $2010.
Tenmasu is on the 11th floor and keeps lunch hours from 12 pm to 2:30 pm and dinner hours from 6 pm to 10:30 pm.
Aurora — Altira's only Western restaurant specializes in Italian cuisine. Set lunch meals are $168, $218, and $258, while set dinner is $788 ($1088 with wine) or $988 ($1388 with wine.) As for a la carte, appetizers are $100-$200, soup $128 /$158 and seafood $418/$558 with many other selections dependent on market rates. Other main Italian staples are mostly between $200 and $350.
Aurora is on the 10th floor and opens three times during the day: 7 am to 11 am for breakfast, 12 pm to 2.30 pm (Monday - Saturday) for lunch, and 6 pm - 10.30 pm for dinner. On Sundays, brunch goes from 11.30 am to 3.30 pm.
Monsoon Cafe — Macau and Hong Kong style favourites available at Monsoon, with sandwiches ($32), noodles ($46-$78), and rice ($56-$98). Chicken, barbecue and other meat dishes are $68 to $168, while dim sum is $28 to $46. Congee, finally, stays in the mid $40's.
Monsoon is on the third floor, accessible only through the escalators, and never closes.
Altira's fitness centre and spa are both top of the line.
Located on the 16th floor, the gym is simply superb. I don't really need to say a lot about it. Go there. Use it. Be fit and have fun.
I like that all of the cardio machines face out towards Macau island, so when you're dying on the last few minutes of your run you can draw strength from the Macau skyline, from the row of mega casinos that starts at the Sands and ends at the Grand Lisboa. When you can barely breathe and your legs feel like logs, think of the man who built it all, Stanley Ho. Stanley freaking Ho is 90 years old, had four wives and built an Empire, and he did it all through sweat, sacrifice, and hard work (while knowing the right people didn't hurt either). Maybe with a little luck you could do the same. And if not, living until 90 isn't bad either, but you got to be in the right shape first, so push it!!
Gym hours daily are from 7 am to 10 pm.
Altira delivers on the spa front as well, as both the men's and women's change rooms on the 16th floor have saunas and steam rooms. If you want a nicer environment, the award winning 6000 square meter Altira spa is right next door, but you'll have to pay for a treatment to get in. The spa menu is very extensive, highlighted by signature massage treatments that go for $1288 to $3580. Male services range from $280 for a premium shave to $1280 for a 90 minute deep tissue message. Women meanwhile can enjoy all manner of massage ($880-$1280), facial therapy ($1180), body wraps ($980-$1280), and hand and foot care ($100 to $680).
Altira Spa opens daily from 10 am to midnight. Their Hair and Beauty Salon opens at the same time but closes four hours earlier at 8 pm.
38 Lounge's three piece band performs a wide range of covers, with a set list that includes pop, jazz, and classic rock hits. Named New Sensation, I kept expecting them to play the INXS song of the same name, but they never did. Anyway you can check their act nightly from 9 pm, save for Tuesday nights, when they're off.
38 Lounge gets my vote for best rooftop bar in Macau, and they know full well from the rates they charge that people will pay just to be there. Prices are well above average, with beers $60, hard stuff $85 to $95, cocktails $100 and glasses of wine $75 to $140. Full bottles of wine are $370 to $2000 while glasses of cognac go for $100 to $500. While it may be a little expensive, you can't complain with the selection as 38 Lounge offer 38 wines, 38 cognacs, 38 whiskies, and 38 single malts. There's also a food menu with sandwiches and starters for $98 to $168, and hot snacks and Chinese fare for $98 to $188.
Located on the 38th floor, beside the front desk, 38 Lounge opens from 5 pm to 2 am Sunday to Thursday, and from 5 pm to 3 am on Friday, Saturday and the eve of Public Holidays.
Last time I was at Altira, I overheard a 50-something-year-old woman in the elevator boasting to her friend that she still had $80,000 to spend. Nice life! If she had designs on shopping though, she probably would have had to go elsewhere because Altira only has one store in the casino lobby. Predictably so, it's yet another anonyomous watch and jewellery shop with most goods $1,000 to $10,000. A couple of showpiece watches though run well over $200,000.
With excellent facilties, great restaurants, beautiful rooms, and one brilliant rooftop lounge, the five stars all shine brightly at Altira. It's easily Taipa island's best hotel — if you can get a room that is. Always sold out on the weekend, it's only an option Sunday to Friday.
The casino is best avoided, unless you happen to be a high stakes Baccarat player. Some of the private clubs in operation there return well enough to patronage them, giving over 1.2%.
Altira Macau Reservations