Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Tue May 05 2015

Dispatch: Vegas in Joburg

Destination & Tourism | David Cogswell | May 05, 2015

Dispatch: Vegas in Joburg

Photo courtesy of the Emperor's Palace

It’s a euphoric feeling to touch down on the continent of Africa, nowhere moreso than at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. There is something about Africa, something indescribable, but palpable in the air itself, that rich atmosphere that is the medium in which everything grows big and strong and vigorous.

I am staying one night in Johannesburg before heading to Botswana on South African Airways’ flights to Maun, a still fairly new route that was established through SAA’s partner airline Airlink in 2012 after years of negotiating an open skies agreement between South Africa and Botswana.

During my night in Johannesburg, I am staying at the Peermont D’oreale Grande hotel, the top of the line of four hotels in the Emperor’s Palace hotel, casino, shopping and entertainment complex.

O.R. Tambo is the hub of SAA and the connecting point for destinations throughout southern Africa, so people fly into Johannesburg en route to many destinations beyond. If you are connecting in Joburg and need to stay overnight to catch your connecting flight, the D’oreale is a possibility worth considering. 

Johannesburg is a huge metropolitan center with an endless variety of options in the way of culture and entertainment. But when overnighting after a long transcontinental flight before traveling on, you may not have the time and energy to travel into Johannesburg and explore the city. Staying at the D’oreale is a nice alternative to staying in a basic airport hotel or getting accommodation in the city.

The D’oreale has the advantage of being an airport hotel – it’s only a 10-minute drive from the airport. But it offers more than a standard airport hotel. The Emperor’s Palace is a destination in itself.

Getting here was easy. I walked out of the front door of the airport, across the arrivals pickup lane and over to a bus terminal about 100 yards from the front door of the airport. At the terminal I picked up the free shuttle of Emperor’s Palace. The shuttle arrived about 10 minutes after I got there. In another 10 minutes I was at the Emperor’s Palace.

Emperor’s Palace is like Las Vegas in South Africa. The five star D’oreale is similar to the Bellagio hotel in Vegas, palatial and opulent to the ultimate degree, with colorful carpets, chandeliers, palace-like architecture, reproductions of classic paintings on the walls and murals on the ceilings. But like the Bellagio, it does not cross the line into the kind of gaudiness that characterizes much of Las Vegas’ architecture and design.

Like Las Vegas, the Emperor’s Palace attracts people from across South Africa as well as from foreign countries. Many of the customers of the casino and the mall are guests of one of the four hotels. But many more come just for the entertainment. The clientele of the Emperor’s Palace is highly diverse, reflecting the range of diversity in South Africa.

The D’oreale’s in-house restaurant is under renovation at the moment so it fulfills its bed-and-breakfast obligations in the Queen of the Nile restaurant in the mall. The Queen of the Nile is reminiscent of Las Vegas’ Luxor Hotel, with giant statues that emulate Egyptian monuments at its gate.

At the back of the hotel is a large expanse of grass, a cloistered courtyard with a large swimming pool at the center with a fountain about 20 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter, splashing water constantly and joyfully into the pool.

My room is comfortable and luxurious. The interior design incorporates many fine details that transmit a message of friendliness and care.

But ultimately, as in any tourism experience, it is the people who make all the difference, and all whom I encountered from the moment I arrived were friendly and accommodating and went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and cared for. That’s the ultimate value proposition of the hospitality industry and I am thankful whenever I arrive at a hotel, weary after a long flight, to find that promise delivered. 

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