Everytime I arrive in Macau I hop on the free shuttle bus from the Border Gate to the Sofitel, as my 100-year old hostel is right around there, on the nearby Street of Happiness. And everytime I go there I'm amazed at how out of place the hotel looks. I don't know how it got to be in the neighborhood it's in, because if Macau has a skid row, then the area in and around the Sofitel is where it is. Out of the crumbling buildings, abandoned lots and dreary grey structures rises one of the city's best looking luxury hotels. Seriously, the property has got to be the only development the area's seen in the last 30 years.
The Sofitel is a fairly new hotel, having opened on February 1st, 2008. SJM has a 51% stake in the venture while Macau Success Ltd. owns the other 49%.
Ponte 16 is the only casino on Macau island not situated somewhere close to Avenue D'Amizade. It takes up residence instead on the northern part of the island, at the intersection of two very important streets, Rua do Visconde Paco de Arcos and Avenue D'Almeida Ribiero. But because Macau is so small you're never that far away from anywhere. Twenty minutes by foot down Avenue D'Almeida Ribiero is all it takes to get to the Grand Lisboa and all the hot Amizade action. Of course if you wanted to check out all of the interesting history and culture in between, the same walk would take more than three hours.
Ponte 16 is a medium-sized casino for Macau with 90 mass gaming tables in all, spread between the ground and first floors. The ground floor is by far the larger of the two floors and holds most of the casino's tables and around half its slots. Minimums are not high at all with a number of games $100, including Blackjack and Caribbean Stud, which are only $50. Slots are mostly low as well with the vast majority under 20¢ while high machines top out at $1. Electronic versions of baccarat, sic bo and roulette can be found on the ground floor, while video poker is available on the second floor. Be forewarned though, it's only one lonely $5 Game King machine.
Although nothing in the above description sounds particularly distinctive, the decoration inside Ponte 16 definitely is. The use of so many traditional Chinese motifs transforms the casino into one very gracious and refined gaming quarter. Long vertical dragon lights descend from the ceiling on the ground floor while the walls are lined with tall thin vases and classic wood accessories called "ping feng". A ping feng is an old furniture piece that used to be put behind doors in houses to keep evil spirits away. It kind of looks like a dressing screen that women changed clothes behind in old movies. The stunning chandelier that is the centerpiece of the ground floor is adorned with carvings of more vases along with peacocks, an important Chinese animal that signifies affluence and wealth. The fifteen or so large paintings on the wall may not be historically Chinese at all, but still brighten the place up a lot nonetheless, as they feature classically styled portraits of sultry women.
In other words, the casino is every bit as smart and sophisticated as the Sofitel, which is no small feat.
The second and third floors at Ponte 16 are all VIP. Private junket Grand Palace operates out of the second floor Bordeaux Room, and consists of six $1,000 tables and two $10,000 tables. They offer 1% cash back but players must roll over $10,000 per month to qualify. The other nine tables in the Bordeaux Room belong to Ponte 16, with minimums that range from $500 to $10,000. The particulars of their dead chip program will be explained below.
The independant Kim Fung company has the run of the third floor, and the hallway outside their club is about as gaudy as gaudy can get. The Wizard might dig it because it looks the yellow brick road, except the yellow is everywhere: on the floor, on the walls, and on the ceiling. I'm usually into excess but they really take it too far. Kim Fung returns a casino high 1.2% but players need to roll $100,000 per month to be eligible for the cash back. That's why their tables are more expensive, with six at $3,000 and five more at $10,000.
I don't know who picked the carpet out inside the club because it's in serious conflict with all the things that look so good in there.
For its size Ponte 16 has an excellent selection of games.
I had no intention of gambling when I went to Macau for three days in early April. I didn't even bring any Hong Kong dollars with me, just to be sure I could avoid the temptation. I had a lot of work to do and I couldn't waste time losing money at the tables. There was Sofitel to get to, followed by Rio and then Lan Kwai Fong, and then maybe a little Oceanus if time permitted.
Unfortunately for me, fate intervened. I ran into some horrificly bad luck at my first stop of the day, the Sofitel. The problem was there wasn't enough room to take a good picture of the hotel exterior, so I had to climb the wall of an abandoned lot across the street from the hotel. Up there I had a much better view of the whole building and was able to get much better shots. Unfortunately, on the way down disaster struck. The old wall started to crumble and give way under the weight of my support, taking everything that had been on top of it down to the ground hard, me included. I was able to control my fall pretty well but I had no time to save my camera. It fell the whole eight feet without impingement, and pretty much snapped in two when it hit the ground, the lens part flown clean from the main body. And this wasn't just any camera, it was the Nikon D90, the greatest camera I've ever owned and which I just paid a thousand dollars for. After I found the lens part couldn't be put back into the camera and it was useless, I sort of lost all desire to work.
I remember wandering back to my hotel in a daze thinking of what to do next. Scenarios raced through my head. Was there a warranty? Maybe all I needed was a new lens. But even if it just needed a new lens, the Nikon D90 is a precision instrument, would all the functions still work as they did before? What if the whole thing was broken? Should I go back to Guangzhou and bring it in? What about my review work then? What to do? That's when the answer came to me. It was pretty simple really. Take $10,000 to Ponte 16, make two $5000 bets, win them both, and then use the winnings to buy the exact same camera that day. That way I could continue with my work as I'd planned, using a new camera I could trust. As for the old one, I could give it to a friend of mine who loves photography but doesn't have a camera so nice. In my head, the whole thing fit together so well.
On the way to the bank I thought of what game to play. Sure the Wiz will tell you the lowest house edge in Macau belongs to blackjack and draps (assuming you take the odds), but neither felt right to me. I had been on a real bad blackjack run and Ponte 16 doesn't have craps. Nope this was Macau, and if I was going to go down, I was going to go down playing the house game. So baccarat it was.
When I got to the casino I looked for an empty $500 table with a male dealer, as women had been taking me to the cleaners lately, and dropped my first bet down — $5,000 HKD on the Banker, of course. Before play began I could feel my heart beating a lot faster and I was alive with tension, but it was a good tension. It's why some gamers objective is to feel that tension, and I was feeling it 150%. The first two cards, sure enough, were a pair of faces. 0 points. Christ I thought, this isn't good. The dealer had a 4 and then pulled a face, to keep his score at 4. He dealt my final card and I quickly thought about the outcomes: I'd win with 5 cards and lose with 7, while one card would push, so I knew I had a chance. As I slowly turned it over I could see it wasn't a face, and I was filled with hope. The more I turned it over the more diamond symbols I saw. I thought it was a 7 or 8, but it was only a 5. Whatever, that was good enough. I had nipped the dealer by 1, winning 5-4. One down, one to go, I was halfway home.
I dropped down my second bet, and this time the dealer had two faces. The problem was, so did I (again). The dealer pulled his third card and it was an ace. I felt an instant surge of relief and some of that tension started to subside. It was looking good for me. I began turning my third card over and saw quickly that it wasn't a face. I thought the win was clear and it was! The third card was an 8 of clubs. 8 to 1! My crazy stupid plan had worked!
I collected my money, thanked the dealer and then left the casino shouting like a madman. I hadn't felt so happy since Steve Young hit Terrell Owens with three seconds left to win that 1998 playoff game versus Green Bay. And even thinking about it now, I still get some satisfaction out of it. Karma busted my camera and then an hour later gave me a new one. I wish everything in my life could work out so well.
Ponte 16 casino offers both a player card and a cash back program.
The normal deal here as with most casinos. Players accumulate points on their cards through gaming, which can be redeemed for prizes or food in the restaurants, with 1 point equalling 1 pataca. As for the goods available for redemption, a display case on the ground floor of the casino shows artwork (1,600 - 2,400 points), MJ gloves (1,600 points), and bottles of booze, cups, and glasses (which all had no point info listed.)
Free rooms and transportation comps can be had at the following rates:
|Ponte 16 Player Card Gifts|
|Superior Room (one night)||800|
|Luxury Room (one night)||2,300|
|Ferry ticket (one way)||200|
|Helicopter ticket (one way)||2,000|
As usual in Macau, rate of point accumulation information for the tables and slots was unavailable.
Birthday Month Promotion — Ponte 16's staple promotion involves the number of points accumulated in your birthday month. Say the month is January. The top 50 point accumulators in the month of January who were born in January can choose one of the following prizes: a bottle of MJ wine, $100 Sa Sa shopping coupon, $100 cake shop coupon, $100 gas coupon, $100 Royal Supermarket coupon.
Hot Summer Lucky Draw — A daily draw and a grand prize draw make up Ponte 16's second promotion. New members on the first day they gamble can redeem one lucky draw ticket for every two points earned, or two tickets for every four points earned, or three tickets for every six points earned and on and on. Older members on the other hand need to deduct three points per draw ticket. The prizes in the daily draw are all pretty small, with examples being $100 in promotional chips, a $100 MJ Cash Voucher, a Ponte 16 umbrella and 3 tickets for the Grand Draw. Grand draw prizes on the other hand are much better with an IPad 2, an IPhone, and $3,000 in promotional chips all up for grabs.
Buy ins of $5,000 are eligible to receive 1% cash back and 0.1% complimentary allowance. Alternatively, players can choose immediate settlement of 0.9% cash back. The sweetest part of this deal is that VIP players with rolling activity of over $5,000 are eligible to buy rooms in the Sofitel at largely discounted rates. $800 is all it takes for a weekday room, while $1,000 gets it done on a weekend. The latter deal is absolutely phenomenal, considering Friday and Saturday rooms cost $2,327.
Finally, players with buy ins of $40,000 (Sunday to Thursday) and $60,000 (Friday to Saturday) are eligible for free rooms outright, if they want them. They can take that or the cash back instead, it's completely up to them.
I always like going to Sofitel because it's such a pleasure to be in. Many hotels put a lot of effort into their lobby and then call it a day, but Sofitel goes the extra mile. They make a commitment toward splendor and high station that shines through no matter what floor you're on, and is especially evident in the Mansion, the property's private luxury quarter, located on the east side of the building. All told, the Sofitel has 408 rooms, with guest lodgings found on floors 8 to 18.
Except for the Superior Room City View, which is often sold out on Friday and Saturday, every other type of room is usually available on the weekend.
Prices including all taxes are as follows:
|Sofitel Room Rates|
|Superior Room City View||$1297 - $1634||$2,327|
|Luxury Room River View||$1573 - $1871||$2,564|
|Superior Room Club Sofitel||$2090 - $2226||$2,919|
|Luxury Room Club Sofitel||$2244 - $2582||$3,275|
|Prestige Suite Club Sofitel||$2937 - $3648||$4,122|
|Mansion at Sofitel 1 Bedroom||4,013||$5,197|
The Mansion at Sofitel also rooms with two or three Bedrooms. While not listed online, expect those rates to be around $5,000 and $7,500 midweek and about a grand or two more on the weekend.
Visually speaking, the Sofitel pool gets high marks with its lovely outside setup and nice big deck. The views overlooking the sea and Zhuhai are wonderful as well. The pool is unheated though, so in colder months it's not going to be much use to anyone. It never closes though, even in winter.
The pool is on the 6th floor and is open daily from 6 am to 10 pm.
With only three restaurants in the whole hotel, the Sofitel is a little light in the dining department. For their size, they should probably have four at least, with one or two being high end affairs.
Mistral — Mistral's main show is its large international buffet. Adult prices are as follows:
|Sofitel Buffet Prices|
|Lunch||Monday to Saturday||$168|
|Lunch||Monday to Saturday||$168|
|Lunch||Monday to Saturday||$168|
|Dinner||Monday to Thursday||$268|
|Dinner||Friday and Saturday||$398|
Rates for children are all around half price.
Mistral also has an a-la-carte menu, with main meat dishes like steak, ribs and lamb $175 to $258. Sandwiches run $98 to $158, while Italian and French staples are $175 to $228. For Asian lovers, rice and noodle dishes are $118 to $148.
Mistral is located on the 6th floor and is open daily from 7 AM to 10 PM.
Hangzhou Xin Kai Yuan — Hangzhou Xin Kai Yuan looks real upscale, but the prices don't match. This Chinese joint has a lot of southern dishes for $58 to $118 and Cantonese favorites for $88 to $168. Shark's fin, abalone and bird nest will have you reaching for your wallet (as they always do) with prices $188 to $1,280. Other things on the menu include vegetables ($58 to $78) and seafood ($88 to $138). Hangzhou Xin Kai Yuan can be found on the 18th floor with hours from 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM in the afternoon and again from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm at night.
The restaurant is currently closed for renovations but should be good to go again by September.
168 Restaurant — Located on the ground floor of the casino, 168 restaurant deals in Chinese fast food. Noodles and vegetables are the cheapest thing on the menu, costing $24 to $42 while meat and rice go for $36 to $72. Seafood finally is $50 to $80. Expect a lot of small servings when you do order. 168 Restaurant stays open 24/7.
Spa and fitness fans are out of luck at the Sofitel, as there is no spa and the gym is very disappointing. All they have are five or six cardio machines, some free weights and not much in the way of heavy duty workout equipment. For a luxury hotel, that's unacceptable.
Luckily, the men and women's changing rooms do have saunas and steam rooms, so all is not lost on that front. Still though, the absence of any spa whatsoever, be it legit or not, is a pretty glaring omission for a Macau hotel.
The gym is located on the 6th floor, located next to the pool. Hours are from 6 AM to 10 PM daily.
First of all, congratulations to the Sofitel for putting dancing shows on in the casino, because not enough Macau casinos do that. The problem is, and I don't want to be mean here, it's kind of C-level stuff. The women are old and shall we say, a little chunky, like thick-thighed Bavarian cow girls. Who knows though, maybe they're there on the strength of their dancing skill, and they can really cut some tile, but I'm the wrong guy to ask about that. My thing is to judge dancing performances using two criteria only: what the women look like and how little they're wearing. That's what makes the Crazy Paris Show at the Grand Lisboa so damn fine. I have to admit the new Galaxy property down on Cotai strip also has some hot shakers too.
Anyway, Sofitel performances run daily Tuesday to Sunday with show times 1 PM, 3 PM, 5 PM, and 8 PM. From Friday to Sunday, they add another show at 10 PM, with each performance around 25 minutes.
Sofitel's two main bars are both excellent in their own ways.
Rendezvous — Great setup inside Rendezvous, with a nice mix of strong and soft color, big windows, and piano house art. Wine is the name of the game with labels from all over the world, including New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and of course France and Italy. Most bottles aren't expensive, staying under $500, while a few others go well into the $1,000's. Single glasses, on the other hand, run $54 to $198. Beer is a cheap $38 to $40, cocktails $48 to $58 and hard stuff $48 to $128.
Rendezvous is located in the lobby and keeps hours daily from 11 AM to 1 AM.
MJ Cafe — I was expecting anything like this in Macau, but Sofitel has got a permanent Michael Jackson exhibition with lots of the singer's personal effects on display. Among which is the first white glove he ever wore on network TV, a piece that cost them $350,000 US at a New York auction. Other items include his signature red jacket, silver boots, and autographed records. The second floor also has a small gift shop with lots of MJ paraphernalia on sale.
Oh yes, the place is also a cafe with coffee, tea and juice $25 to $38. Four different alcoholic coffees run patrons $45 while cake, cinnamon buns, and pie are $22 or $28. From 6 PM to 9 PM there's a buy one get one free special.
Hours at the MJ Cafe are from 11 am to 11 PM daily.
St Tropez Bar — Located on the ground floor of the casino, St Tropez is notable for its city low $16 beers. Snacks are available in the way of sandwiches ($9), porridge ($16), noodles ($18), barbecue meat ($24) and rice ($28 to $38). If you want to sit down at the bar when the dancing show is on, then be sure to order something. It should be noted that the Vin Bar that's included in the hotel map doesn't exist.
Tucked away by the elevators on the lobby floor is Sofitel's lone shop.
Abiste — Abiste sells watches, jewellery and a lot of smaller accessories. Not very expensive, a lot of the goods stay under $1000, although most of it is very showy. Abiste hours are from 10 AM to 7 PM.
For a long time I just assumed that Sofitel had to be one of the best hotels in the city, considering how nice it looks. But after I did this review, I realized that many aspects of the property just don't measure up. Substandard shopping, dining, and gym/spa facilities greatly diminish the overall value of the hotel, leaving it somewhere between decent and good. Remember, for the rates they charge, their closest competitors aren't hotels like the Wynn or MGM, bur rather Lan Kwai Fong, Landmark, and Starworld. And when judged against them, Sofitel still does pretty well.
The casino is above average for the most part but needs a little more work in the area of player card and promotions. Its greatest attribute is its excellent assortment of games coupled with a lot of low tables, a combination that surely appeals to most recreational players. I'm sure they'll also enjoy all of the ping feng, peacocks, and big paintings too, because the synergy between them is simply spectacular.