Singapore on a song

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01 September 2010
  • Singapore on songSingapore on songSingapore on songSingapore on song

The Lion City has undergone the mother of all makeovers with new hotel complexes, resorts, casinos, theme parks and celebrity chef restaurants jostling for the traveller’s attention...

Visitors returning to Singapore after several years may struggle to recognise the place. A transformation of its waterfront, years in the making, is nearing completion and the city state abounds with new attractions. At the heart of the Singapore makeover is the Marina Bay Sands – one of two new so-called integrated resorts, or IRs. They are underpinned by Singapore’s first casinos, but also bring together a host of hotel, shopping, entertainment and conference facilities in impressive new buildings.

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, Marina Bay Sands is likely to become one of Asia’s most recognisable and photogenic structures. Its hotel comprises three 55-storey towers topped by the SkyPark, a vast, sweeping, streamlined rooftop linking the three in a silver arc. An engineering feat as much as an artistic one, including a daring cantilever built with strand-jack construction methods more commonly applied to bridges, this roof section is 12,400sq m in size. That, the developers are fond of pointing out, is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall; big enough to park four-and-a-half A380 aircraft; and is proving the most talked-about section of the entire development.

The SkyPark is open to the public ($16 adult/$11 child) and affords wonderful views over Singapore’s business and historic districts as well as the hundreds of ships moored, awaiting berths, to the south of the island. But the real highlight of the roof, a 150m infinity pool overlooking the city, is open only to hotel guests.

The casino, which one would expect to be the centrepiece of anything backed by the Las Vegas Sands gaming group, is actually a fairly modest chunk of the site, but nevertheless brings to Singapore four floors of gaming machines, tables, high-roller facilities and a clutch of celebrity chef restaurants.

With the opening of the Sands and a new bridge, Singaporeans are able to walk the whole way around the circuit of the city’s waterfront promenade for the first time. Ducking around a few building sites along the way, the walk – hot, but flat – takes in some of the city’s most striking features: the Fullerton hotel, a grand and stocky building of columns and porticos in the classical style, completed in 1928; the Merlion, a water-gushing statue of Singapore’s mascot; the Esplanade, two spiky concert and theatre halls known locally as the Durians and designed as Singapore’s answer to the Sydney Opera House; the Singapore Flyer ($24 adult/$17 child) at 165m tall the world’s largest observation wheel until Beijing pinches the title in the next year or so; and the striking new footbridge to the casino development, a twirl of helix beams reminiscent of DNA.

It will get better, too. From the SkyPark, if you look towards the sea, you can see the development of a new botanical garden, the centrepiece of a green redevelopment of other areas of waterfront. At the mouth, where the river used to meet the sea, another recent attraction is in place: the barrage. It is part of an initiative to turn Singapore’s bay and inland waterways into fresh water, partly as a reservoir, partly for flood control and partly for recreation.

The other focus of Singapore’s rejuvenation is Sentosa Island, which lies to the city’s south and has long been used as a recreational hub  of beaches and attractions. The second integrated resort, called Resorts World, is being developed there and much of it is now open.

While it, too, is anchored by a casino, this resort has much more of a family feel than Sands and its signature attraction is Universal Studios ($53 adult/$38 child weekdays, $58/$42 weekends). Like its counterparts in California, Florida and Osaka, the park combines rides with movie themes and live shows such as a special effects spectacular based on the movie Waterworld.

It has its share of impressive white-knuckle rides, but what sets Universal Studios apart is the little things: the stubby waggling tail of a baby stegosaurus in the outstanding Jurassic Park rapids ride; the airport-themed posters and signboards while queuing for a Shrek roller-coaster (“Destinations: Duloc. Dragon’s Lair. Worcestershire”.) The queuing lanes for the Revenge Of The Mummy roller-coaster, set up as an Egyptian tomb, are a sight in themselves; while you wait for the Shrek 4D show inside a huge castle building every bit as grand as a Disney one, there is a clever multimedia show to pass the time. And if you’re wondering what the 4th dimension is, it involves being sneezed on by an onscreen donkey, among other things. Children tend to rate this as the highlight of the whole park.

Book your tickets online as it frequently sells out on weekends, and be aware that although new, Universal can get very busy: queues for key attractions can top an hour and the food hall can get jammed. You can pay an extra $24 ($55 on weekends) for a ticket that allows you to jump the queue; everyone will glare at you.

Something else that sets Sentosa apart is the accommodation. Marina Bay is dominated by one huge hotel, Marina Bay Sands, with 2561 rooms and suites, from the ordinary, functional business traveller room with tiny balconies barely wide enough to stand on, to the extraordinary 629sq m chairman’s suite (gym, pool table, media ? room, baby grand piano). Resorts World in Sentosa, in contrast, already has four hotels open with two more to come. Common folk can only peer into the lobby of the Crockfords Tower, an all-suite hotel that is by invitation only for celebrities, royalty and casino high-rollers. They must instead choose between the business-focused Hotel Michael, the funky and gym-to-the-fore Hard Rock Hotel Singapore (which has the best pools) and the Festive Hotel. The last of these is family-themed with a number of good ideas: separate loft beds for kids, accessed by agreeably vertiginous ladders; a free book-reading service; and separate check-in area for children.

Add all of this to the Formula 1 road race, which zips around the business and colonial districts of the city and starts just metres from the Singapore Flyer, and it’s clear the effort Singapore has made to attract tourism with its revamp. It deserves to succeed, but still, there are a couple of issues that give pause for thought. For one thing, Singapore does seem to have developed a habit of opening things before they are entirely ready. Both resorts are phased openings and will not be absolutely complete until next year. By then, a new theatre (hosting a Lion King show), two offshore Crystal Pavilion islands (Louis Vuitton has taken one in its entirety and the other will host nightclubs) and a fabulous, lotus flower-shaped museum will have opened in Marina Bay Sands; and in Sentosa, two more hotels, a maritime museum and an oceanarium will complete the picture.

That’s not really a problem, but in the supposedly completed areas there was still much to do at the time of writing. Visitors to the SkyPark should be warned that the restaurant is still being built, as is the rooftop restaurant of the hotel. Universal Studios is still in what it calls a soft-opening phase while it streamlines its processes; visitors receive merchandise and food vouchers as compensation for this, but in the meantime two of the key rides in the complex – the Madagascar-themed log flume ride and the signature attraction, a weaving, interlocking roller-coaster called Battlestar Galactica – are still closed.

It’s also worth noting that the casinos have not been without local controversy. Concerned about the impact on the local population, Singapore lobbies an $80 levy per day on any of its citizens using the casino: an active attempt to discourage them from doing so. Apart from raising questions about the business model of trying to block your immediate audience, there is a vexing moral issue of why it is OK to encourage foreigners to gamble while trying to bar your own people for fear they will be damaged by the experience. Nevertheless, that’s unlikely to trouble visitors, who will have much to occupy them even if they skip the casinos. Singapore has spent big to coax former visitors back and, particularly for those considering breaking an Australia to Europe trip for a few days, it is well worth seeing what’s on the menu of diversions.

Charge of the iron chefs

With the new resorts comes an influx of new restaurants helmed by some big international names. Resorts World Sentosa’s roster includes Joël Robuchon, the world’s most Michelin star-decorated chef, who is opening three French haute cuisine restaurants in Singapore; four-star Kunio Tokuoka, whose new Kunio restaurant is said to be Singapore’s most expensive; Scott Webster, who has launched a version of his London restaurant Osia; and Susur Lee, with Chinois by Susur Lee.

Marina Bay Sands weighs in with more than 50 dining choices from cafes to the heavyweights. At the top end are restaurants from New York’s Mario Batali and Daniel Boulud, Barcelona’s Santi Santamaria, Paris’ Guy Savoy, Sydney’s Tetsuya Wakuda and Singapore’s Justin Quek.

With so many choices on offer it’s tough to focus on one, but Waku Ghin – Tetsuya’s first outside Australia – indicates how high these eateries are reaching. It offers a 10-course degustation menu and, despite its more than 743sq m area, seats only 25 people.
At Sands, Santamaria, Savoy and Tetsuya’s restaurants were open; Quek’s was said to be within weeks of opening; and Puck, Batali and Boulud should open by the end of the year. Most of the Sentosa restaurants were open.

Source Qantas The Australian Way September 2010

Chris Wright

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  • Comments
    Showing 26 of 26 comments
  • I am from Singapore and have to say that Singapore rocks!!!!
  • Singapore is the cleanest most friendly city I have visited in all Asia. Hotel and client service is second to none.
  • Why doesn't Qantas and SIA offer a special stay-over at Singapore? Most people tell me they stop at Singapore airport and not stayed at Singapore, they seem to go to Hongkong???? It's a pity!
  • Make sure you go to Lau Pa Sat for satays. Use the MRT to get around - it is very efficient and very clean. Singapore is definitely one of my favourite destinations - back there for the 7th time this year.
    Reply to DebbieB
    • MY WIFWE AND I ARE GOING TO SINGAPORE IN JULY. CAN YOU PLEASE LET US KNOW WHERE AND HOW TO GET TO THIS EATING PLACE. ALSO WOULD LIKE TO HEAR OF ANY OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR TRIP. REGARDS, GEOFF.
    • Hi Geoff - Here is the website for the Lau Pa Sat Market: www.laupasat.biz We have lots of other tips for things to see and do in Singapore on our site - http://travelinsider.qantas.com.au/singapore_city_guide.htm
    • I agree with Debbie. Lau Pa Sat is great. Also try the Katong area (Joo Chat Rd) for great restaurants without tourist prices. Kevin
  • I HAVE BEEN TO SINGAPORE SEVERAL TIMES AS I FIND IT IS THE SAFEST CITY FOR A WOMAN HOLIDAYING ON HER OWN. WILL RETURN TO VISIT THE NEW CASINO AND RESORT.
  • Worth booking set lunch ($SG48) at Ku De Ta on Level 57, Marina Sands Hotel. That way you get to visit the SkyDeck and eat! The Art Science Museum is a bit pricey at $SG30, but worth a visit too.
  • We will try it if you say its good Debbie. Where exactly is it and approximately what are the prices like? Michael from South Australia
  • Wonderful city! One of my favourite places to visit. Stay near a MRT, they get you everywhere and are well priced. Kids loved the zoo and birdpark.
  • Visited Marina Bay Sands and going back next week to stay for a week, Singapore is also our stopover point on the way to Europe and just a great place to stay.
  • I've made a few trips to Singapore over the past couple of years, these are a few of my favourite things...The Night Safari is something special, a completely unique zoo experience. All you can eat yum cha at Peach Blossums in the Marina Mandarin is indulgent and delicious and the curry experience at Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India is supurb. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown is beautiful and worth spending some quiet time at.
  • A most lovely city.If heading to Britain or Europe you must stopover there.Must do attractions are Universal Studios Singapore,Sentosa,The Zoo/Night Safari and Botanical Gardens to name but a few.Also on my to do list this time around is the Singapore Flyer.
  • Night markets in Singapore are unbelievable! Check out Orchard Road.
  • Night markets in Singapore are unbelievable! Check out Orchard Road.
  • Night markets in Singapore are unbelievable! Check out Orchard Road.
  • I love Singapore. I've been there a number of times and I just want to keep going back.
  • Just been on a 2 night stopover on way home from India. Safe for a 60+ female on her own. Cheap (even acc'n). Taxis fantastic. Food amazing. Shopping neverending. Sightseeing brilliant. Marina Bay Resort overwhelming. Go to the top to get your bearings - 54 storeys up. Don't need to pay. I went to The Lion King musical there. Best show Iv'e been to and I have been to many. Definitely going back for several days.
  • Singapore is the best destination for a holiday, I've been travelling there for 35 years and it is still my favourite city. MM
  • i have travelled to singapore for the past 24 years ,its my second home . i have seen the lion city been changed from all directions,i can recomed a visit which will enlight you in everyway,its got the best transport system (mrt),great hotels ,terrific food hawker centres and most off all the people are so friendley,dont wast anytime come on up and experince asia at its best.
  • What has happened to the car park makan stalls. I could not find it the last few times I passed through. It was a wonderful and colourful place to visit.
  • If your staying in the CBD try a place called Chijmes, it's an old church complex on the corner of Bras Basah Rd and Victoria St which now houses various eateries, we happened across it by accident on the way to the Bugis markets, it's just a nice place to stop and relax where you can get anything from pizza, tapas or something more upmarket, enjoy !
  • For some great food head to Geylang!
  • If you are looking for great affordable accomodation, you must try Quincy just off Orchard, great service, great food, close to everything, and well priced, I have stayed there 5 times, and keep going back.
  • Wonderful city. For great seafood, especially chilli crab try Millben off Ang Mo Kio Street 22. Out of the way but truly worth it.
  • Singapore is my favourite destination as a solo female traveller. It is clean, safe, vibrant, so beautiful and the people so friendly. Stayed so many times and in many different hotels, never a disappointment. Still so much to see and do yet. I will be back to check out the new Marina Bay Sands.
  • I will be in Singapore for just before Christmas 2013 and over New Years Eve. I would love to know the best place to be on New Years eve!
  • I thought I saw marina Bay Sands on the list of hotels to book via Qantas but today i checked and it's no longer there. Please bring it back as I'd like to earn/redeem my QF points with this hotel

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