The words “family-friendly” and “Macau” didn’t used to belong in the same sentence. In fact, during our annual girls’ trip to Asia, my six year old and I nearly floored my husband (who has worked in Macau) over Skype by raving about the long list of things we’d been up to since checking into Four Seasons Hotel Macao, Cotai Strip®. I wish we had stayed longer.
There’s no getting around that visitors flock to Macau, located on the coast of China’s Guangdong province, with hopes of a big win. It’s the only place in China with legalized betting, and the casinos are busy raking in significantly more revenue than Las Vegas. In fact, the Cotai Strip is a major land reclamation project joining Macau’s two islands of Coloane (“Co”) and Taipa (“tai”) specifically designed for big-name casinos who would like a piece of the action.
Casinos aside, Macau is only place in the world to experience a seamless mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture. Its history as a Portuguese settlement and important trade port—only handed back to China in 1999—is responsible for creating cuisine that blends China, the Mediterranean, Africa and Southeast Asia together. Not to mention, the colorful Colonial architecture seen in certain spots almost makes you forget you’re in China.
*Eat like a local. There’s a long list of must-eat, flavorful dishes—from egg tarts to pork chop buns. Eat like a local: People in the know queue up at Macanese bakeries and tote armfuls of goodies home on ferries and planes. There’s plenty of Portuguese wine, too.
Have the concierge assist with booking tickets to The House of Dancing Water there. The Sands Cotai Central offers a Shrekfest Character Breakfast and a daily DreamWorks character parade, while the Venetian is steps away.
*The hotel: gorgeous, non-gaming. Though plenty of casinos are nearby, Four Seasons is an oasis from the bright lights and crowds.
*Pampering. With all of the comforts of home, kids’ menus and outdoor swimming pools, the hotel is very popular for weekend family getaways. The staff is fabulous—though we’re a little biased since we know some of them: one of the ladies in the housekeeping office also took care of us at our residence in Hong Kong back when my daughter was first born. She made sure the stuffed animals enjoyed turndown service during our stay, complete with mini pillows.
Guests can also explore Macau through the hotel’s hired cars. Ideal, because taxis can be a bit hard to come by outside of major areas and do not have seatbelts.
*Location. Just an hour by ferry from Hong Kong, Macau is an easy and inexpensive getaway. A few extra dollars is worth the ferry upgrade to first class since disembarking in front of the crowd equals a shorter queue at customs. Four Seasons can send a driver to collect you at the ferry terminal. Don’t make the mistake of making Macau just a day trip—you’ll have a better appreciation for the area by allowing enough time to eat and explore.
*Five swimming pools! Did you hear that, kids? FIVE. Some are perfect for swimming laps; some are wading pools for young kids; and there’s big one in the back surrounded by lush foliage. Bounce from one to the other since they’re all fairly close. (Poolside drinks in a shaded cabana make for a well-spent day.)
*Amenities just for them: The excitement of a pink pop-up tent, Barbie toothpaste, a care package with sunscreen and treats made it hard for my girl to sit still for even one posed photo after checking in. We hosted an impromptu play-date in our room because she was so eager to show her friend who lives in Macau the tent.
*Indoor play gyms. Bounce, slide, climb and play video games at Qube inside the Venetian. The facility is large, with state-of-the-art equipment, and gets rave reviews from guests and locals alike.
*The gondola. Our gondolier sang in both Mandarin and Italian, and cracked jokes during the entire ride, which my daughter declares as the highlight of our short time in Macau. The Venetian Macau has three canals, versus just one in Las Vegas.
*Black-sand beach. Hac Sa Beach on Coloane Island is one of the best on Macau. The sand is naturally black, though mixed with yellow sand as a preservation method. Picnic areas, beach bars, a children’s play area, water sports facilities and even badminton courts make this a popular attraction when the sun shines.
*Macanese food. A handful of dishes to look out for (conveniently found in the hotel): egg tarts, minchi (minced beef over rice), Macanese pork chop, caldo verde (Portuguese potato soup), serradura pudding (sawdust pudding), Piri Piri (chili) chicken. Regional snack food favorites are cheap and plentiful, including pork or beef jerky, almond cookies, pork chop buns and steamed milk pudding.
*The spa. The signature Oriental harmony treatment rejuvenates with crushed diamonds and ylang ylang oil. Massages blend Asian and European techniques.
*Shopping. Shoppes at Four Seasons is Macau’s largest luxury mall and blends into the shops inside the Venetian. Study a map from the concierge before stepping inside. There is a lot to choose from, including high-end Chinese designers such as Shiatzy Chen and Shanghai Tang.
*Gambling. Even if betting on red isn’t your thing, it’s what Macau is famous for. The Venetian next door to the hotel has the largest casino floor in the world. Step inside to say you’ve been there and note the differences—gambling is serious business here, sans the free-flowing drinks and casual party attitude (which actually makes wandering the non-casino areas of these hotels a lot more family-friendly).
The secluded little grotto behind the back pool’s waterfall.
*In-room dining offers the must-eat dishes in Macau, and I tried almost all of them. This dinner of champions was my favorite: caldo verde soup with a giant serradura pudding (whatever you do, order this) paired with Portuguese vinho verde wine. And, there’s a 20-minute menu, which came in handy during our in-room playdate when the kids were hungry for Chinese noodles.
*Belcanção: I’ve never seen my daughter so overwhelmed—in a good way—by a breakfast buffet. Chinese noodles? Pancakes with multiple toppings? Japanese food? I went for the egg tarts (yes, for breakfast). Belcanção is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, featuring international cuisine with an Asian emphasis.
*Zi Yat Heen: Go for dim sum, Cantonese favorites and fresh seafood in a relaxed, yet elegant restaurant. Kids are more than welcome, though reservations are encouraged.
*Lord Stow’s: Andrew Stow is credited with creating the egg tart craze that continues to thrive all over Macau and Hong Kong, luckily, there’s a Lord Stow’s outlet inside the Venetian near one of the canals. Go early and prepare to wait a bit. These egg tarts have a flaky crust, two eggs each and are worth every fat gram. My daughter can also vouch for the croissant sandwich.
*Tai Lai Loi Kei: Give your kids a digital device while waiting in line here for one of the best places to sample Macanese pork bun. There’s now an outlet in the Venetian, and it’s worth the wait. Almost any cuisine imaginable is in the Venetian: from Fatburger to Indian food.
*Restaurante Fernando: Located on Coloane Island, this famous yet rustic restaurant has been serving up Portuguese cuisine for 15-plus years on Hac Sa Beach. The value is excellent, but reservations aren’t accepted (not usually not a problem since it’s away from the main buzz). Order the sangría and roast suckling pig. Fernando himself will happily recommend a Portuguese wine, if that’s more your speed.
1. The Venetian
Hit the famous Lord Stowe bakery for an egg tart snack before riding the gondola and shopping. Qube, the massive indoor play area, is also near one of the gondola canals. Entertainers randomly cruise the corridors, too.
A whopping $250 million USD went into creating The House of Dancing Water, at City of Dreams, and its intimate, one-of-a-kind theater, where the stage converts from a deep pool (holding 3.7 million gallons of water) into a waterless floor within seconds. Adults will love the acrobats, water hydraulics, motorcycle stunts and costumes as much as the kids do. We highly recommend it.
2. Historic Centre of Macao
Built in 1602, the intricately carved façade known as the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral is Macau’s most famous landmark. Get dropped off at Senado Square.
3. Peruse the food vendors
All the famous bakeries are here. Browse the cheap trinket shops while catching a glimpse of Macau’s Portuguese heritage. Koi Kei (outlets all over Macau) is famous for peanut candies and Phoenix Rolls, which look like crepes wrapped in seaweed with pork inside. Load up on almond cookies at Choi Heong Yuen and marvel at the bounty of thick jerky everywhere.
4. Macau Tower
Mom or dad may want to consider daring the highest bungee jump in the world, but kids of any age—as long as they fit inside the harness—can Skywalk around the edge of the 1,109-ft (338-m) tall Macau Tower. Really. Round out the adventure by taking photos on the outdoor observation deck; buffet with a view at the revolving restaurant and shopping.
5. Old Taipa Village
Escape the casinos and journey to one of the only traditional villages remaining in Macau. The Taipa Houses-Museum are restored colonial homes showing how Portuguese families lived in the early 1900s. It’s quieter over here with pedestrian-only alleys and hole-in-the-wall shops and eateries. There’s the cheery yellow, green and blue colonial architecture and Our Lady of Carmel church. When people complain about missing culture in Macau, it’s probably because they’ve skipped coming here!
Read more about Macau in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read our “Concierge Recommendations” for Macau in Four Seasons Magazine.
Katie Dillon is a freelance lifestyle and luxury travel writer who loves mother-daughter trips, Pinterest, her husband's sense of humor, a nice glass of wine and one very needy pitbull mix. Living at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong spoiled her for life so she does her best to regularly check in to FS properties around the globe. When not on the road, Katie's family is at home in seaside La Jolla, CA. Her work can also be seen on USA TODAY Travel, Taste by Four Seasons, Four Seasons Magazine and her personal site, La Jolla Mom.
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