Published on September 15, 2007
Outside might be raining, but inside the resort is always entertaining.
My first step inside the Venetian Macao-Resort Hotel almost floored me - I was stunned by the sheer scale of the newly opened casino complex.
Macau was a notorious magnet for gamblers long before Portugal gave it back to China in 1999, but it's since become the world's largest casino mecca. Nothing else compares to it, not even Vegas.
And at the new Venetian, "extravagant" is the word that keeps coming to mind, right from the moment you roll up in your taxi. It's still not quite complete - many more buildings are to be erected around the complex.
The Venetian is one cog in Cotai Strip, which will ultimately feature seven resort hotels run by a top international partnership that includes Fairmont Raffles, the Four Seasons, the Shangri-La, Starwood's St Regis and Sheraton, Traders and Hilton Hotels.
These developments are to be completed in the next 30 months or so and will collectively offer almost 20,000 guestrooms.
The Venetian, meanwhile, is already big enough to be classed as a city in its own right, with 3,000 rooms - all of them suites - and function rooms, a 15,000-seat arena and an indoor shopping arcade.
The main lobby feels like a cathedral, with arched columns, a huge gold-plated steel sculpture depicting the sun and the earth, and colourful frescoes on the soaring ceiling.
A few steps away is the casino, whose 550,000 square feet make it the biggest on the planet. There are 870 gaming tables and more than 3,400 slot machines. The writing on the dazzling array of slot machines is in Chinese with smaller English script, but their appeal is universal.
The quickest survey of what's available for you to invest your money in will take you at least half an hour - assuming you don't get lost.
Remembering your way around is indeed a challenge. Phoning a friend to summon him to your baccarat table will involve lengthy and careful directions.
My tip: Always start from the main hall and remember the signs that are hung from the ceiling, showing the directions to the South Wing, North Wing, Canal Shoppes and other distractions.
Gamblers seem to love intricate caverns like this, which explains why thousands queued up for the grand opening on August 28. Security was so tight that a news photographer who stepped out the rear door for an exterior shot wasn't allowed back in again. He had to walk all the way to the entrance, a long hike by any standard.
The hotel's mammoth dimensions could pose a problem for guests as well. They might need a map to find their room.
Once they have found it, though, all is bliss. Every room - rates start at HK$1,088 (Bt4,500) - is a suite, with the bedroom separate from the living area, and the bathroom, also spacious with separate tub and shower, lined with a marble floor and walls. Every suite also boasts a pair of TV sets, though all the shows are in Chinese.
You're not going to be watching television anyway.
You'll be browsing in the shopping arcade or, even more likely, admiring the quarter-mile-long Venice-style canal. There is water everywhere around the hotel, but the canal is entirely indoors, part of the vast Canal Shoppes mall zone, which is gradually filling up with famous brands.
Buy yourself a seat on a gondola for $120 and you can take in the interior - for $200 the tour ventures outside as well.
There are both male and female gondoliers, and they all sing Italian favourites pretty well. Requests are welcome. My gondolier, Mark Sean - an American who grew up in Venice - did an impressive job on "Santa Lucia".
Passengers sit comfortably in leather-upholstered seats and soak in the ambience as their gondolier poles the boat along and fills the air with a beautiful voice.
(Okay, it can be kind of embarrassing if your excursion catches the attention of passers-by and they start taking your picture from the bridges.)
If you've never visited Venice, this could be a good substitute. As one experienced observer noted, "The canal is good - it's like Venice - the only difference is that the water doesn't stink like it does in Venice."
In your gondola at the Venetian you can imagine yourself instead breathing in the fresh air as the sun prepares to set. There are streetlights glowing on the banks even when the partially cloudy sky above is blue.
Yes, there is a sky. Far overhead, the ceiling is painted blue, with clouds that look so real you can almost feel a breeze.
It sounds like a fun experience to share with children, but the Venetian may not be the best place for families. There are many areas from which kids are barred, including the pool area and, of course, the casino.
This is no family theme park, as Sheldon Adelson admits. He's the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp, which built the hotel.
Plus, smoking is allowed almost everywhere, and there's a lot of smoke in the casino. And with cigarette lighters constantly flicking, the place could get warm, so they keep the air-conditioning blasting.
So you'll need a jacket. And don't forget your sneakers. Everywhere is a long walk.