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Reel Them In - June 2016

With theme park attractions, Studio City elevates the resort experience in Macau

by Keith Miller

Macau may be nicknamed “The Las Vegas of Asia,” but the small peninsula’s tourist revenue is now actually several times that of Las Vegas as it has become a land of stunning and extravagant leisure properties. So if a new resort is built there, it best be as dazzling and alluring as anything that has come before it. That’s the challenge Studio City took on when the 1,600-room resort opened Oct. 27, 2015, setting a new and overpowering standard for resorts in Asia along the way.

Like other large resorts in Macau, Studio City does have a premier casino with more than 200 tables. But, the $3.2 billion integrated resort actually focuses more on non-gaming entertainment than on its casino. A visit to its homepage finds nary a mention of the casino or anything gambling-related. In contrast, a plethora of information highlights its Hollywood studio-themed entertainment, dining, and retail experiences.

“Macau is undergoing a transition toward a more mass market-focused business model,” says J.D. Clayton, property president of Studio City. “Being at the forefront of innovation and diversification, Studio City is one of our pioneer projects. We are proud to say we have fully conceptualized our goal of reimagining entertainment for Asia and bringing a piece of Hollywood to Macau.”

In acknowledgment of its Hollywood-themed, studio-concept design, the resort’s opening night featured stars like Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, and Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as a performance by Mariah Carey. Studio City’s operator, Melco Crown Entertainment (MCE)—a developer, owner, and operator of casino gaming and entertainment resort facilities in Asia—says the resort was designed to be “the most diversified entertainment offering in Macau.”

Studio City is ideally positioned, located on Cotai in close proximity to the Lotus Bridge, an immigration point between mainland China and Macau, and also to a future station of the Macau Light Rapid Transport. From the moment Studio City comes into view in Macau, its attraction-centric emphasis is evident.

Inspired by a backstory of two asteroids ripping through the hotel’s main façade, “Golden Reel,” the world’s first figure-eight Ferris wheel, is positioned between its two art-deco-inspired towers. The ride is Asia’s highest Ferris wheel at 425 feet.

“It definitely provides a jaw-dropping and ‘wow’ journey,” says Clayton, “which helps to anchor Studio City’s position as Asia’s new entertainment capital.”

Gary Goddard, founder and CEO of The Goddard Group, which designed Studio City, says the “Golden Reel” serves as a beacon that draws guests to the resort, whether they end up staying there overnight or not. “It was important for Studio City to have a distinctive symbol such as the ‘Golden Reel’ so the site would stand out in a city of many options for a long time,” he says. “[It is] something so powerful it demands you visit, whether you ride or not—something you just have to see while in Macau.

“My philosophy was to create a resort that would be so compelling, we not only would fill the rooms in the hotel for the owner, but we would make a large percentage of all the hotel rooms in Macau ours by creating something so iconic and so magnetic it would draw people from other hotels,” he adds.

Strong Intellectual Properties
Beyond the stunning visual appeal of a ride like “Golden Reel,” MCE wanted attractions that have great popular appeal both within and outside Asia to draw a wide breadth of guests. A prime example is “Batman Dark Flight,” which is the first flight-simulation ride based on Batman intellectual property (IP).

The adventure in the immersive 4-D-theater motion ride begins with guests experiencing a tour of Wayne Industries and seeing a presentation on its newest flying vehicle. But the tour is suddenly interrupted, and visitors are treated to a dynamic flying experience from Batman’s auxiliary bat cave through Gotham City, following Batman as he chases notable villains in a digitally animated story.

“The historically strong box-office draw of the Batman film franchise in China is a strong reflection of the character’s popularity among Macau’s primary feeder market,” says Clayton. “The franchise also has a promising future prospect, with sequels and spinoffs already in production or planned by Warner Bros. and DC Comics, assuring our intellectual properties will stay fresh and current among our target customers.”

In keeping with this strategy of featuring attractions based on strong IP is the Warner Bros. Fun Zone. The 43,000-square-foot indoor play center is filled with rides and interactive amusement areas based on popular characters from the entertainment franchises of Warner Bros., DC Comics, Hanna-Barbera Productions, and Looney Tunes.

IP-based attractions include the “DC Comics Super Hero Action Area,” the “Tom & Jerry Picnic Playground,” and the “DC Comics Super Hero Raceway.” The headlining attraction is “The Warner Bros. Hypercade 3D,” where guests are transported into an interactive dark ride to confront and shoot villains to help save the universe.

The characters were chosen because they resonate with visitors from Asia—and China, specifically. “Tom and Jerry are by far the most recognized of the Hanna-Barbera stable of animated characters in China,” says Clayton. “However, the entire lineup of Hanna-Barbera costume characters within the Warner Bros. Fun Zone has been loved by our young and old guests alike.”

A Showman’s Home
Studio City’s attractions aren’t limited to rides and play zones; they include live performance sites, as well. One of the most prominent is “The House of Magic,” a multi-theater venue designed, overseen, and hosted by world-famous illusionist Franz Harary. It features live performances from three to five magicians in two 150-seat parlor magic theaters. Guest magicians from around the world rotate through every quarter to keep the shows fresh. Then, guests are escorted into the 300-seat main theater for the finale to the 90-minute experience—Harary’s own “Mega Magic” resident show.

Providing a superlative venue for touring live performances is the Studio City Event Center (SCEC), a 5,000-seat, multipurpose arena. The resort says the space is the centerpiece of its live entertainment offerings. Complete with a dedicated control room and satellite-broadcasting infrastructure, the center features a first-class premium-seating level with 16 private VIP suites and 242 luxury club seats. Managed by Spectra, part of Comcast Spectacor, the SCEC featured a performance by Mariah Carey, multiple shows by Madonna on her first visit to Macau, and the popular Taiwanese pop group S.H.E. in just the first five months it was open.

The SCEC hosts concerts, sporting events, theatrical productions, and other events including the 18th Huading Awards, considered the “Oscars of Asia,” which featured about 100 movie stars, artists, directors, and celebrities from around the world.

One Studio City attraction is quite unusual simply because it’s not something expected to be found in a resort hotel. Called Studio 8, it’s an 8,600-square-foot television recording and broadcast production facility. It’s the only TV studio in Macau to provide open access “plug-in-and-play” facilities.

“The studio has been designed for programs that can include studio audiences of up to 250 people,” says Clayton. “It’s a contribution to Macau; its state-of-the-art infrastructure can attract foreign productions, helping to boost the developing local film industry. In time, the venue can become a tourist attraction.”

Its Own Attraction
It’s not an overstatement to say the design of the resort is an attraction itself. “As proven through the years with the Sydney Opera House, the Burj Al Arab, the Guggenheim Bilbao, and so many others, the right architectural structure can put a city on the map in a manner that literally has people beating a path to your door,” says Goddard.

With only about 10 percent of Macau’s visitors coming from outside of China in 2015, those involved hope Studio City will raise Macau’s international appeal and profile. Goddard believes Studio City’s “audacious” design will do just that.

He says the sheer scale of the design of Studio City was massive and unique, from creating the concept for the “Golden Reel,” with the giant art-deco towers that flank the right and left sides of the main facade, to selecting the correct level of refection in the silver windows. Tremendous effort was put into details, like working with lighting designers to ensure statues and other architectural features were properly lit and done so on an enormous scale.

“We designed Studio City to be Macau’s ‘better mousetrap,’” Goddard says, “and to employ the design principles I learned at Disney Imagineering many years ago—tapping into design that tells a story and resonates with visitors in a very particular way.”

Also, just as theme parks around the world have focused on significantly improving the quality of their food offerings in recent years, Studio City has followed suit. The resort features more than 30 food-and-beverage outlets, offering authentic traditional Cantonese, Shanghainese, northern Chinese, Southeast Asian, Japanese, Italian, international, and local Macau delicacies.

Gourmet dining includes signature restaurants like Pearl Dragon, headed by Chef Tam Kwok Fung of two-Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant Jade Dragon at City of Dreams in Macau. “Pearl Dragon offers a truly exquisite Cantonese culinary experience and a menu showcasing refined provincial Chinese flavors, innovative culinary creations, and the finest delicacies to tempt guests’ palates,” says Clayton. He adds that multiple Michelin-star chef Alain Ducasse and Hawaiian celebrity chef Alan Wong are both set to open their own signature restaurants at Studio City in the near future.

Studio City’s extraordinary architectural design and its high-profile attractions allowed it to be the setting for a Hollywood short-film collaboration between MCE and RatPac Entertainment. Called “The Audition,” the 15-minute film was produced by director/producer Brett Ratner, with MCE Co-Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho and Co-Chairman James Packer serving as executive producers. Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, and Leonardo DiCaprio also participated in the production.

If Studio City enjoys considerable commercial success, it’s likely we will see additional extravagant and attraction-centric resorts appear in Asia. Says Goddard: “Within less than a year in operation, Studio City has already become an immediate icon with a truly unique design that promises to remain a strong destination for visitors to Macau from around the world for a very long time to come.” 

The ‘Figure-8’ Ferris Wheel

Studio City’s signature attraction is the “Golden Reel,” a first-of-its-kind Ferris wheel that features:

•  An entry lobby with an Industrial Revolution-themed -loading platform 23 floors above the ground floor

•  17 steampunk-themed cabins accommodating up to 10 guests each

•  A “Fortune Rides High” journey around a figure-8 track

•  Design by the Goddard Group and engineering by -Liechtenstein-based Intamin Rides

“The ‘Golden Reel’ stands out as the resort’s single largest and most challenging design element because of the requirement for ride and structural engineers, together with the facility architects and the show team, to get it all right. The result is quite stunning and was well worth the effort for many reasons, not the least of which was its instant iconic status within a city of big statements,” says CEO Gary Goddard of The Goddard Group, the design company behind Studio City.

Attractions Extend to Dining and Shopping

Though Studio City features several rides and interactive experiences, its portfolio also includes dining and shopping experiences that double as attractions. Located by Franz Harary’s “The House of Magic” is Macau’s first and only magic-themed restaurant, called Shanghai Magic. It combines Shanghainese cuisine and up-close magic. Inside the Warner Bros. Fun Zone is the Warner Bros. Clubhouse Diner, where guests can enjoy dishes and snacks under a painted blue sky, with the scenery beneath them visible through portal windows.

The Boulevard at Studio City is the resort’s 376,000-square-foot retail entertainment environment, and its two themed retail streets are connected by Times Square Macau, designed to be reminiscent of Times Square in New York City. It features an array of futuristic technologies that showcase a variety of entertainment content from real and imaginary entertainers and musicians, including holographic projections.