China, having injected multi-billions into Australian minerals mining, seems hell bent on luring Aussies to help redress the balance of trade by way of leisure travel to the mainland.
If your taste runs to big, and China’s undoubtedly big, you can stay at the world’s biggest Sheraton and Macau’s biggest hotel, opening on September 20 with a massive 3,863 guest rooms. By contrast, introductory tariffs are small: discounted deluxe rooms start around HK$1350 (AUD167) and club rooms, including breakfast, from AUD209. Remember to check for local tax add-ons.
About 60km or an hour by ferry south-west of Hong Kong, Macau combines a charming traditional former Portuguese heritage with its Chinese roots. The “Las Vegas of Asia” is aiming to broaden its appeal from a gambling mecca and shopping and conference centre to become a destination for couples and families. The new Sheraton “Macao” Macau hopes to attract patrons with first class amenities including superb beds, spacious bathrooms, big TVs with cable and Wifi, spas, gym, kids’ club, three restaurants (Asian, Italian, international), and three outdoor swimming pools. Guests can relax on daybeds in private cabanas amid lush foliage. Why go? Gambling, clubbing, stupendous stage shows beyond the imagination, entertainment and uber-shopping experiences remain the big attractions. Forget the coin-operated rides our own kids enjoy: pause in Macau’s massive shopping malls and you’re likely to find a replica Venetian canal created mid-promenade, replete with a real-size gondola for you to ride in, and a gondolier performing a robust rendition of O Sole Mio. Dubai, eat your heart out! But if you’re into sensory overload and visually arresting architecture, throbbing energy and bustling activity, there’s nothing like Macau as an introduction to the pulsating presence of modern China. English is, of course, widely spoken and autumn (October to December) the best time to visit. See Macau clips on YouTube for just a hint of the astounding atmosphere.
An hour to the north by air is Shanghai, China’s biggest city and said to be the world’s biggest city by population. At any rate, as home on some estimates to 23 million people, it’s bigger than the whole of Australia, bigger than Beijing, is China’s commercial and financial centre, has a fascinating history and is an overwhelming centre of limitless delights with its blend of modern and traditional, western and oriental, cultures, food and sights. Shanghai need not be intimidating to get around. There are countless single and multi-day organised tours on offer, the perfect way to see the most in a limited time. Roughly half way between Macau/Hong Kong and Beijing, Shanghai’s ideally placed for visitors to take a high-speed train to reach the Chinese capital and the Great Wall. Although flying time between the two centres is short (similar to Sydney-Brisbane, Sydney-Melbourne), adding in the cities’ infernal traffic tangles makes the 300kph rail trip, at under five hours, appealing. More like a plane, the high-speed service avoids delays due to congestion or fog/smog, offers three classes of travel, costs less than half the price of an airfare, and the view out the windows is definitely more interesting.
A GOOD DEAL for the cruise of a lifetime is to be had if you’re quick. Boutique SeaDream II departs the port of Rome October 13 on a dazzling week-long itinerary taking in Corsica, Elba (for Tuscany), Viareggio (for Florence), Portovenere in the Cinque Terre of the Italian Riviera, Portofino, Monte Carlo and Nice. I’ve visited these ports and highly recommend the vessel with only 100 guests in around 50 superb staterooms and 1:1 crew. For US$3426pp twin share [about $3280 each] you get (truly) 5-star dining, drinks from the open bars, wines with lunch/dinner, nightly cocktails, power and sail water sports, bikes for shore excursions, gratuities, port charges and taxes. The original brochure price was US$9327pp.
This story was published in issue 82 Port Macquarie