03 January 2014

Hong Kong and Macau for New Year's

It had been about three years since my last visit (I looked for a prior blog posting and found it for 2010).  I wanted to go back to experience New Year's Eve celebrations there for the first time.  Everything about getting there and getting into town is the same as before,, so I won't repeat myself.  But I did notice a couple of things on this journey.  The flight I took going over left at 1:40 pm and arrived around 7:30pm.  That is a significantly later arrival time than the flight schedule from before, even taking into account the slightly later departure time.  I think they must fly the plane slower to save fuel, or the winds are stronger in December so that the flight times have no choice but to be longer.

Also, with the Airport Express MTR ticket, the three days of free access to the MTR trains practically amounts to four days of access.  The pass is good for 72 hours from first use on the MTR subway until midnight of the expiration day (end of the 72-hour period).  So, if the first use of the pass is noon on a Saturday, the pass will be good until midnight on Tuesday.

One of the things I did before leaving the airport was sign up for e-Channel immigration access.  this would allow me to use the automated gates to enter and leave Hong Kong.  To qualify, you just need to have a valid passport and be a member of a frequent flyer program that is part of the program.  Or, you have to be a frequent visitor to Hong Kong.  The sign-up place is a small booth just after the immigration clearance booths.  They took my picture and fingerprints and entered my information into the system, and then I was done.

For this stay, I went back to the Conrad.  While I did not get any of my requested suite upgrades, they did automatically upgrade me to a Harbor View room, which would be perfect for the New year's Eve fireworks viewing.  The room was big enough as it was:

Welcome amenity refilled daily
On Saturday, I took it easy and adjusted to the time change.  I walked around a little, shopped around a bit and visited some areas I had not seen before (old Kowloon).  I learned that the MTR pass does not provide any free rides on the buses (it doesn't say that it does, but I didn't really understand that).  The buses are run by 6 different companies.  But they all will accept the card (called an Octopus stored value card) if you put money in it.

On Sunday, I went on a day trip to Macau.  I decided just to head straight for the Cotai Strip and The Venetian Macau Resort.  I bought a ticket for the 8:30am departure.  I was able to exit Hong Kong expeditiously though the e-channel gates (it worked!) and was able to board the 8:00 am departure instead.  There was plenty of room in the first class cabin.

Upon arrival, I noticed there were e-channel gates for Macau immigration.  However, it is a completely separate system from Hong Kong immigration, so I could not use those gates.  However, as first class was first off of the boat, I did not have a long wait time to clear Macau immigration.  It's interesting that now both Macau and Hong Kong no longer stamp passports upon entry and exit.  Instead, they issue a computer printed slip of paper as your authorization to entry.

I exited the terminal building and boarded the The Venetian Shuttle, which leaves right from the front of the building for the 10-minute ride.  Cameras are not allowed inside the casino, so no photos.  But it is done in the exact same style as the Venetian Las Vegas, only much, much bigger.  It's a huge casino  and a huge shopping area.  One thing that is different from Vegas is that most of the patrons play the table games, leaving the slot machines fairly uncrowded.  There are also defined smoking and non-smoking areas.

Around 1pm, I decided to head back.  I found the shuttle pick-up area and was back at the ferry terminal in time to catch the 1:30pm departure (my ticket was for the 2pm).  At the Hong Kong Terminal, I used the e-channel to clear immigration and was headed back to my hotel in time to arrive at the Executive Lounge at the Conrad for afternoon tea service.

On Monday, I took a trip out to Hong Kong Disneyland.  It had grown some since my last visit about 5 years ago.  They added three lands that do not exist at other parks (Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point and Toyland).  They also had completed It's a Small World, which was under construction when I last visited.  Even with the new attractions, I did all of the major rides in about 4 hours.  It helped to be there right at the opening and to head to the new rides right away (later waits were about 30 minutes).  They also had FastPasses available for some rides, and the park did become more crowded towards the early part of the afternoon (probably because school was still out).

This park is still the only Disney Park with its own subway line that is part of the main subway system.

That same evening, I had a reservation at a molecular cuisine place called View 62.  It was located on the 62nd floor of a building in Central Hong Kong in the Wan Chai area.  It is Hong Kong's only revolving restaurant, taking about two hours to complete one revolution.  The food was good and the views were great.  For the full write-up, click here.

Video of building light show:

On Tuesday, I headed back out to Lantau Island on the subway to ride the Ngong Ping aerial tram.  The smart thing to do is to go out so that you line up first thing for tickets right before they open at 10am (or you can pre-purchase online and then utilize the shorter line).  Either way, if you wait to ride later in the day, the line to purchase tickets gets to be very very long (and not worth the wait, which is why I didn't do it on my last visit).  I paid the extra fee for a glass-bottom tram car, called the Crystal Cabin.  The line for these trams cars is a little shorter than the standard ones.  And on the way back, I had one all to myself.

I did not take the walk to the Big Buddha.   I had done that several years ago when the only way to get there was an hour-long bus ride.  The one-way tram ride takes 25 minutes.  It is somewhat touristy at the top end of the ride, so I did not stay long.

That evening was New Year's Eve.  Instead of joining the throngs of people on the Kowloon side to watch the fireworks over Victoria Harbour, I decided to stay in my room and watch from above.  While I did not have a full view of the Hong Kong Convention Center (the center of the show), I had a clear view of the water in front of the Center.  The festivities did not photograph well from my room, but they were quite the sight for 10 minutes or so.
The next day, I had a leisurely morning meal and then headed out to the airport early. I cleared through security (no priority lines) and the e-channel gates quickly I wanted time to shop and to enjoy the United First Class lounge.  Even though I was not traveling in First Class on the way back, Global Services members are granted access privileges.

The flight home departed just a little late but because of good winds, we arrived 40 minutes early.  We were so early that immigration at SFO was not yet open, so we had to sit on the plane for 15 minutes before they would bring the jetway to the plane and let us disembark.  It was the morning of New Year's Day still, so I had it to live through again after having spent the morning in Hong Kong (albeit 14 hours earlier).

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