The most cost-effective way of getting to Macau from Hong Kong is by ferry. A variety of ferry operators offer service to Macau from Hong Kong International Airport, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Which ferry you choose also hinges on whether your destination is the Cotai Strip or Macau peninsula.
The three main choices are TurboJET, Cotai Water Jet, and First Ferry. The latter operates out of the China Ferry Terminal in Kowloon. We haven’t taken it yet since we lived on Hong Kong Island and continue to stay there on return trips.
If heading to the Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal on the Cotai Strip, take Cotai Water Jet as it’s much nicer than TurboJET. The very first time we booked first class tickets on TurboJET, once seated, I was convinced that there was a terrible mistake because… it wasn’t very nice. I hear I’m not alone.
Boarding Cotai Water Jet At Macau Ferry Terminal
We always depart from the Macau Ferry Terminal in the Shun Tak Building (it has red horizontal stripes–you can’t miss it) on Hong Kong Island, which is actually 5-10 minute walk from the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong via covered walkway. Buy ferry tickets online in advance as during peak times these ferries get crowded.
How early should you arrive prior to departure? A concierge will probably tell you 20-30 minutes or so is fine. It is, but if you’ve never been to the terminal and don’t speak a lick of Cantonese, consider arriving 45 minutes early.
Signs for TurboJET are pretty clearly marked but you might need help figuring out where to board Cotai Water Jet. And, someone trying to be helpful may point you in the wrong direction because he or she didn’t understand your English. Cotai Water Jet is blue as is its signage.
Tickets in hand, you’ll be led down what looks like a jetway and given the option to check bags. Checking luggage is addressed below. Keep walking and you’ll see a line labeled “standby” (ignore if you have tickets) as well as a regular line.
This is where seats are assigned and you’ll be handed a boarding pass on a lariat before being rushed into a chaotic waiting area. All will need to walk down a flight of stairs to board the ferry.
An easy mistake to make is choosing to browse the shops and fast food areas within the terminal, thinking you have tons of time. Doing this risks not getting choice seating or splitting up your group.
If you’re headed to Macau with kids, when it comes time to board the ferry, hold their hands and keep an eye on them as a stampede effect kicks in once boarding is announced. It’s cultural.
Checking Baggage On Cotai Water Jet
For the first time ever, I checked a bag on a Macau ferry because it was just too heavy and I had my daughter in tow. There is a surcharge–I think it was $50 HKD or so (I don’t remember).
Note that not checking heavy bags means that you’ll lug them down a flight of stairs (there’s no lift or ramp) to the ferry while seemingly a gazillion people are rushing to board at the same time. It would not be fun.
If you don’t check your bag, it will remain unattended in the general baggage area near the ferry boarding doors, likely not in eye-shot.
Upon arrival at Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal, get off Cotai Water Jet and walk the long walkway to customs. Clear customs and there is a small baggage area where you’ll pick up checked bags. It’s a little unnerving because it’s probably empty.
Most locals don’t check bags. You will be expected to tip the guy who delivers your bag, which is slightly annoying. Using Hong Kong dollars is fine if you don’t have patacas yet, though Hong Kong dollars are widely accepted all over Macau.
First Class On Cotai Water Jet
First Class on Cotai Water Jet is very pleasant, given that the cost of upgrade is less than US$7 each way. It’s upstairs with a much better view and less of a claustrophobic feel than downstairs in Cotai Class. The seats are slightly wider with decent leg room and a small tray to lay a computer or food on.
Shortly after departure, a staff member will come around to take a drink order. They do have beer on board but no wine. If it’s lunch time or later, the option of Chinese instant noodles is given. Oddly, they’ll ask you whether or not you’d like the noodles to-go or eat in. To-go means just stuff it in your bag for later.
On our return, we departed Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal quite early for the airport. And, much to the dismay of my daughter, a nice box of Chinese cookies (remember, they aren’t sweet) was given out in lieu of her beloved noodles.
There isn’t any on board entertainment nor are there plugs for electrical devices, but a Venetian hotel promo runs a loop on a TV in front of the seating area. The bathrooms, even in first class, are to be avoided though I’ve definitely seen worse.
The main benefit to first class is that you are first to disembark the ferry, providing a head start in the potentially long customs line. This alone is worth a $7 upgrade. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel Macau and they had a driver meet us on the other side of customs, which I would highly recommend.
Will I Get Motion Sickness?
The good news is that the ride lasts about an hour and it’s relatively smooth. However, I would take a Dramamine or similar if you are prone to motion sickness.
My daughter is, which is why I let her drink a Sprite, but she didn’t complain at all about not feeling well on Cotai Water Jet. And, it was an incredibly stormy day. Here are more tips for dealing with motion sickness in kids.
Returning to Hong Kong International Airport
Our next stop was Singapore which meant that we needed to journey from Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal to Hong Kong International Airport. There are several things to note here.
You must have your boarding passes printed in order to board the ferry. No mobile versions will be accepted–they don’t have the technology and I can’t even imagine the hassle of having them print a boarding pass (English is an issue here). This is because the ferry conveniently drops you inside the airport, where you can collect a departure tax refund (if applicable) and head straight to your gate.
At Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal, you will check in for your flight and check baggage all the way through to your destination. We arrived about an hour early to check in, proceed through security and clear customs.
We were given a sticker to wear indicating that we were en route to Hong Kong International Airport and handed the same boarding card lariats.
We weren’t assigned seats this time, perhaps because the first class cabin was virtually empty. Airline desks are located near where the ferry drops you off (without lines, because they only serve ferry passengers). We had to print boarding passes at the Cathay Pacific desk, but it was incredibly easy.
Sure, you can splurge and take the 20-minute helicopter ride to and from Macau or book a private room on various ferries. I’ll say it again, especially if heading to Macau with kids, take Cotai Water Jet (if you are going to Cotai Strip) and upgrade to first class.
Cotai Water Jet photo credit: Flickr/oldandsolo