Grand Emperor is a fairly new hotel having opened in 2006 with actor Jackie Chan holding a minority share in the venture.
Its casino, Emperor Palace, is run by SJM, one of 15 they control on Macau island.
Located a block west of the Grand Lisboa, Emperor Palace may have the best location of any Macau casino. It stands alone on a street that already has great shopping, and one which is still under development, with two or three new buildings on the way. Depending on what those buildings become, an already excellent location may even get a little better.
Judging from the outside of the Grand Emperor Hotel, I was expecting the size of the Emperor Palace casino to be in line with what you'd find in other mid sized Macau hotels such as L'Arc or the Grand Lapa. That's to say, around 40 tables in total with a limited number of slots. I was by no means expecting the monster I found. As early as the third floor, I thought I'd seen it all, only the escalators weren't stopping; there were more of them and they were still going up, taking gamers to a fourth floor, a fifth floor, and finally a sixth floor. Make no mistake about it, the Emperor Palace Casino is a serious gaming entity.
All told the casino has 80 tables and well over 300 slot machines. 95% of the slot machines in the casino are on the first floor. Minimums are cheap, ranging from .05 to $1. They also have electronic versions of Sic Bo, Roulette and Baccarat with minimums of $10 and $20. A high limit slot section on the fifth floor meanwhile is anything but, being made up of six ridiculously low limit 20 cent slot machines.
Table games start from the second floor and proceed all the way to the sixth floor. Minimums are low at the Emperor Palace, with $100 tables the norm, especially on the lower two floors. I noticed Baccarat and Sic Bo are as low as $50 while Roulette comes in at $20. Pai Gow is a bit of an exception to the rule, however, as the cheapest table is $200. As is the case in most casinos, the table minimums climb the higher the floor. By the time you reach the fifth and sixth floors, for example, the Baccarat tables are all in the thousands, with exact numbers of $1000, $2000, $3000 and $5000.
The dining options inside the Emperor Palace casino are plentiful, especially on the lower floors. Indeed some parts of Levels Two and Three have more space allocated to eating than to gaming, making those areas feel more like a restaurant than a casino. Everything from dessert to noodles to buffet to set meals of abalone and shark's fin can be had among the six floors with most dishes under $50 (gourmet meals excepted).
The Emperor Palace casino starts to look very nice on the fifth and sixth floors, kind of like a ski lodge in the Bavarian Alps. Forget that the hotel is modeled on a British motif, and Britain isn't a skiing nation, but that's not really the point. The rooms are open and spacious, awash in light color, warmly lit by gold chandeliers. Large paintings of old England hang on the walls, showing scenes of the noble class engaged in court, or engaged in play. Chairs at the tables are big and boxed, looking more like small couches, their dark color a slick contrast to the white room. More of these large chairs line the walls and in their sheer number give the room a comfortable cosy feel. All that's missing really is a fireplace.
For having six floors, they should probably have at least 3 or 4 more games.
I wasn't planning to gamble the day I was at the Grand Emperor, but I was drawn in by a group of five ladies who were doing something you don't see enough of in Macau; people at a table having honest to goodness fun.
I mean these five ladies were enjoying it, getting loud and for some reason calling out, "bao, bao, bao!" or bust every time one of them slowly started to flip a card. I don't think bust is the right word, since nobody can bust in Baccarat, but it was probably said more out of superstition than reason — and these girls were winning. The chant would get louder the longer they said it, ending abruptly when the card was bad, but rising even higher when the card was good.
After watching them for a few hands, I threw some money down on whatever they were betting, just to get in on the action. When the chant started I joined in too calling out "bao, bao, bao" right along with them. With these ladies, I was right in my element, like a fish meeting water, as the Chinese say. If you can't have some fun when you're at the table, they why sit down? If you can't celebrate big wins, then what can you celebrate? Big losses? If you can't get into your gambling, then why gamble at all?
Sadly, all of my fun came with a price. My inclusion at the table blew up their mojo big time and we didn't win too often the half hour I played. We didn't even do the chant all the way through, choosing to give it up shortly after it stopped working. After 30 minutes I walked away down a little over $3000, quite a sum to part with just to have played with some 40 year old women from Wuhan who were into it and making noise. At least I made some new friends though.
Player card — The Emperor Palace casino has four different player cards available: a red card, a gold slot card, a black VIP card, and a platinum VIP card. None of this information was easy to get and I'm not happy to say that this is the third time I've had to write this section, but I think I finally have the information right. Of the four cards, you only need to understand these two:
Red card — The red card is the beginner card, given free of charge to anyone who wants it. What's interesting about the red card is that it comes with a cash back component. For buy-ins of over $10,000, players get 0.7% cash back. They can also choose to leave the money in the card and use it to buy things in the hotel. If they do that, then $70 on the card buys $100 worth of hotel goods, whether it be food, rooms, or service in the Royal Thai Spa. In the latter scenario, the return jumps from 0.7% to a decent 1.0%.
Points can also be accumulated through slot and table play which can be redeemed for prizes. Nobody could say what the rate of accumulation is at the tables and they could only speculate for the slots. One person said it might be one point earned for every five dollars bet while someone else said for every dollar bet one point was earned.
There were no brochures or pamphlets listing what products are available for redemption, but I was told the list includes: food coupons, phone cards, cigarettes, ferry tickets, rings, jewellery, and watches.
Red card holders, finally, receive 5 percent off in Grand Emperor restaurants.
Black VIP card — Players graduate from the red card to the black VIP card when 888,000 points are earned. Here the comps get serious. As long as the player has rolling activity within a three month period, and the rolling numbers are large enough, then he or she is entitled to free rooms in the hotel and free food in the casino restaurants. I stood in line beside a guy who had no problem securing a room for two nights.
It's hard to say just how good of a deal this is though. First of all, it requires 888,000 points, so who knows how much money first goes into that just to reach that number. Secondly, it still requires a significant amount of rolling activity within a three month period for the card to remain active and the player eligible for comps, with the desk guy speculating an amount in excess of $500000.
Grand Emperor is trying to pass itself off as European royalty but all I saw there were British themes. Two Buckingham Palace type guards stand by the main doors wearing bearskin hats and holding fake machine guns, while the lobby paintings are of English monarchs. The bourgeious excess really takes off though with the gaudy gold carriage that's permanently parked out front and in the Golden Pathway walkway in the lobby that's made up of 78 bars of pure gold. Even for China, that amount of window dressing is pretty obscene.
The Grand Emperor's rates fall on the high side of midrange, with mid week prices only a little cheaper than nearby mega properties like the Grand Lisboa and Wynn. All told, the hotel has 291 rooms, and 29 suites, with guest quarters located on the 11th to 24th floors. The following rates include all tax and service charges:
|Room||Sun - Thur||Fri||Sat|
|Superior Room $1553 $2082 $2426||1553||2082||2426|
|Double Room $1783 $2312 $2657||1783||2312||2657|
|Executive Suite $2680 $3220 $3220||2680||3220||3220|
|Royal Suite $3220 $3680 $3680||3220||3680||3680|
|Queen Suite $8050 $8050 $8050||8050||8050||8050|
|Emperor Suite $44620 $44620 $44620||44620||44620||44620|
I think the Emperor Suite comes with full guard protection. When I walked by the room to get to they gym there were three security men stationed outside. Staff wouldn't tell me who was staying there though.
For guests staying in suites, they get full use of the Windsor Lounge located on the 21st floor. There they can help themselves to complimentary water and tea (wow!), as well as enjoy a nice skyline view of Macau. There's also free Wi Fi from 10 am to 7 pm.
Surprisingly, the Grand Emperor doesn't have a pool. For the rates they charge though, they should think about adding one. It's not a budget hotel after all.
The Grand Emperor has a trio of restaurants specializing in three different types of cuisine- Chinese, Japanese and Western. Prices in all three restaurants are very affordable.
Grand Emperor Court — On the 9th floor, Grand Emperor Court does Guangdong style meals. There's plenty of seafood on the menu, with most dishes going for $300 to $400. Other classic meat and vegetables plates are $68 to $98.
The Royal Kitchen — Royal Kitchen is across the hallway from Grand Emperor Court on the 9th floor. It mixes Asian and Western selection together in three buffets daily, with prices of $145 (breakfast), $108 (lunch) and $188 (dinner).
Majestic Robatayaki — Grand Emperor's Japansese restaurant is located in the lobby. Very reasonably priced, almost everything on the menu is under $100. Its buffet is a very affordable $108 for lunch and $158 for dinner.
It was a big to do for me to be able to bring you this gym info as the staff first refused to let me see it, saying I wasn't a paying guest. At every other hotel, the response is, "Sure sir, right this way", but for some reason the Grand Emperor decided to be difficult. The girl at the desk even said I would have to make an appointment with the sales department to arrange a viewing, like the place was a house or something. When I asked specifically why I couldn't see it, she said it was because members were busy using it and "doing something." Now I've lived in China long enough to know what "doing something" or "I have something to do" means. It's the say-it-anytime Chinese catchphrase used to avoid explaining something to someone or when they just want to flat out lie. "I have to go now, I have something to do", is my personal favorite, when both of us know it's nothing.
Not buying what she said at all, and not wanting to come back another time, I decided to be a little difficult myself. After about five minutes my persistence paid off when she phoned her Assistant Manager again and he personally came up to take me there. As I was waiting, the girl was very polite, asking if I wanted tea or a drink, or if I wanted to sit in a more comfortable chair. I must admit, she was very nice, just not a very good liar. When I finally got to the gym, I wasn't the least bit surprised to see nobody in it.
The Emperor Palace gym is pretty well equipped with cardio machines and three or four heavy duty weight machines that work every part of the body. There's also a large assortment of free weights. For Macau hotels, it's one of the better ones I've seen. The only problem is that it's a little cramped with machines lined up tightly in a small rectangular room. If it were double its size then I think guests would have the proper space to comfortably lift and move around.
To get to the gym, use your room key to access the 24th Floor, then follow the signs.
The Emperor Palace has two spas, but neither of them are free. Combine that with the absence of a pool, and you have a hotel that comes up mighty short in the facilities department.
The Royal Thai Spa — Legitimate place offering full range of massage and beauty treatments. Located at the 20th floor, the lobby section is quite nice.
The Excellent Sauna — Has the best looking posters I've seen yet featuring girls I'm sure don't work there. No real need to elaborate on what they're selling. Located on the 10th floor.
The Emperor Palace doesn't have a proper bar, but there are two places to drink. Respectively they are:
Lobby Lounge — Food and drink are both available in the seven table Lobby Lounge. Sandwiches go for $50 to $55 while slices of cake are $15 to $25. Beers are a bit pricy at $40 but cocktails and other premium shots don't exceed $50. Also sells cigars for $180 to $280.
Club Deluxe — Club Deluxe is another karoake joint with no bar or dance floor but plenty of working women. For the purpose of this review I waited in one of the KTV rooms for the Mama San, or in this case, the "Public Relations Manageress" to give me an idea of how the club works. I was expecting her to be some tough as nails no nonsense broad who's been around but that wasn't the case at all. Instead she was a very well mannered young 30 or 35 year old from the Phillipines who was impossibly polite throughout our conversation. Basically the process works like this: for $2250 you get two free drinks and an hour in the KTV room to sing and meet the different girls. After every ten minutes or so a new one will come in until you find the one you like. Once you've decided then it's off to consummate the deal in one of the Grand Emperor rooms. Mama San said that time couldn't exceed two hours though.
You know, between Excellent Sauna and Club Deluxe, I really don't think Jackie Chan has any idea of the debauchery that's going on in his hotel.
Not much happening in this department as per the case in Macau. All they have is a live band playing jazz and classical music in the Lobby Lounge between 4:30 and 6:30 pm.
Three stores selling watch and jewellery can be found in the Grand Emperor lobby. Cartier and Rolex are smaller shops while Emperor Jewellery is about twice their size. The principal owners of the hotel are a subsidiary of the Emperor Group, a huge Hong Kong business empire that began in 1942 selling watches and jewellery. I guess that's why Emperor Jewellery is the largest shop in the property and also why the hotel was named Grand Emperor in the first place.
I can't condone the Grand Emperor's phony attempts to impress and be something it's not. It sells itself as a first class luxury lodging but its grandiose attempts at splendour just fail miserably. If you want a lobby fit for a King, try walking into either Lisboa hotel. If you want to be wowed with some jaw dropping ambience, kick it inside the MGM's Grande Praca, not out on the street beside a gold carriage. After you peel away all the frivolus decoration, the Grand Emperor is nothing more than an overpriced hotel short on spa and swimming facilities, with limited dining and shopping. Its basically the President or Fortuna built ten years later charging double the price. Don't be fooled.
The casino on the other hand is more than decent. It has a ton of slots and five different games which isn't bad for a medium sized hotel. The comp program potentially returning 1% is pretty good too considering you don't need a large buy in to qualify for it. The Emperor Palace casino is easily the best part of the hotel.