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суббота, 19 октября 2013 г.

Family Vacations: Singapore (February 2013)



The subject of today’s blog post is the exotic and beautiful city-state, Singapore.
 

Singapore is usually used for a stop-over, a short stay during a long journey to Asia, and we visited on our way to Bali (which I reviewed
here)

Firstly, I should mention that the flight from Singapore to Bali is relatively short - about 2.5 hours. After a long flight from Europe it was convenient to stop over in Singapore and finally stretch out our legs and sleep in a nice hotel.
This vacation was child-free, just the two of us, but I promised my daughter that we were only going in order to explore all the possibilities for family fun next time.
I am still a little hesitant to take my now six year old daughter to such exotic destinations because of the difference in climate and the crossing of time zones... Is she old enough, what do you think?
I had always wanted to visit Singapore and my husband had told me a lot about this city and how much he liked it. So, let’s see what Singapore can offer a family on vacation.
A quick little insight into our family: we are deeply in love with the city where we live now - Vienna, Austria. We travel a lot and visit a lot of cities, and after each trip we are more convinced that Vienna is the best city for us. Soon I will write a separate review about my dear Vienna, so I won’t describe all of its beautiful features right now!
After my husband’s first visit to Singapore he said that Singapore could be his second choice for a place to call home (after Vienna, of course :)). The only real drawback is the climate in Singapore. It differs from ours here in Vienna in that it is always hot and humid. As the locals say, you don’t need to check the weather forecast as it is always over 29 or 30°C with occasional rain.
So why would we consider living in Singapore? Well, it is clean and safe, with almost no crime. Yes, a lot of people say it’s a ‘police state’, but at least it’s efficient! As long as you adhere to the established laws and regulations, i.e. don’t spit on the street, you’ll do well here. The death penalty is still in effect for drug offences: tough, but effective. What’s more, Singapore is very green, which is important to us. Here, you never feel like you are locked in a concrete jungle, as in other large cities... between the skyscrapers there are plenty of parks, large and small, which are important for families with kids.
I got distracted from telling you about the vacation! OK, so first, let’s look at my recommendations of where to stay. I couldn’t find any specialized kids’ hotels in Singapore, so I’ll be talking only about those hotels which I really like that are child friendly. Top of the list is Marina Bay Sands (5 stars).
This is a relatively new hotel but it became well-known and popular for its wonderful panoramic swimming pool (the infinity pool) on the hotel’s roof. From here you can take in a full panorama of the city! 


The Marina Bay Sands itself is a typical 5 star hotel, but that wonderful swimming pool is for hotel guests only, which makes it pretty special. Staying here will set you back around 300 Euros per night (for a standard double room, in non-peak season).
 We stayed at this hotel in the Chinese New Year and were lucky to see the New Year's fireworks and laser show, an unforgettable performance which I would highly recommend... it is spectacular. The laser show takes place every evening when it gets dark.

The hotel is not exactly in the center of the city but is not far from the center. Nearby there is a large shopping center, a casino (for adults :)), and the new botanical garden (‘
Gardens by the Bay’) which I'll write more about below.

I should warn you that Singapore is not a cheap city. However, they do have cheap taxis :).
Other hotels I’d recommend are based on their location. In Singapore, Sentosa island (which I talk more about below) is particularly interesting for families with children and so it makes sense to choose a hotel on the island if you go with family. We did not stay there, but if I went back to Singapore with my daughter I would check out the following hotels on Sentosa which have good reviews:
- Capella Singapore (5 stars) - This is a luxury hotel with excellent reviews on booking.com and Tripadvisor. It is a little pricy, at about 300-400 Euros for a double room, but is highly recommended, despite the expense.

-
Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa, Singapore (4.5 stars) - This is a family resort where there’s a kids' club for children aged 5-12 years. For a double room you are looking at paying around 200-250 Euros.

- Mövenpick Heritage Hotel Sentosa (4 stars) – This hotel is excellent value for money, with a good location close to Universal Studios and with double rooms for about 160-230 Euros per night.
- Resorts World Sentosa - Festive Hotel (5 star, although reviews suggest a little lower) – I would recommend this hotel because of its location as it is close to Universal Studios in Singapore (more on the studios later). The reviews mainly talk of the great location and average quality so it’s up to you to decide on your priorities. It is listed as a family-friendly hotel and a double room costs about 300 Euros per night.
 If you want to be closer to the city center then check out Swissotel The Stamford, which is conveniently located close to all the attractions and the waterfront. Below the hotel there is a large shopping center and the subway/metro station. 
And, just so you know, this shopping center had my favorite food court in Singapore! Delicious and very cheap, with a large choice of different cuisines and, for dessert, I’d highly recommend the Thai mango!

If you get a room on the upper floor you can enjoy beautiful views over Marina Bay. The price is about 160-230 Euros for a double room.
If you are a shopaholic (Hey, moms ;)), I would recommend the hotel where we stayed, the Regent Singapore by Four Seasons
This hotel is nice and comfortable with friendly staff and a good breakfast, and all for 150-130 Euros per night for a double room. The hotel is close to Orchard Road, the main shopping street in Singapore, and to the old botanical garden (Singapore Botanical Gardens) where there is an impressive array of orchids.
For fans of the French hotel chain ‘Club Med’ there is the island of Bintan, not far from Singapore and reachable by ferry, where you can find the Bintan Club Med. This hotel has good reviews on TripAdvisor and they offer a lot of entertainment for both children and adults. There is also a beach, a golf course, and a kids’ club here so it may make sense to spend a few days in Singapore for a city break and then go to Club Med to enjoy some time with the children at the seaside. 
A little piece of advice - if you plan to come to Singapore in late January to early February be sure to check exactly when celebrations are happening for the Chinese New Year, and try to avoid travelling then. The hotel rates rise significantly and it becomes harder to find anywhere not already fully booked. Many Chinese people travel to Singapore for family reunions at this time, gathering lots of distant family together to celebrate the New Year. Although it is interesting in its own way (there are processions with dragons, fireworks, and so on), you will struggle to get a table in a decent restaurant as everything is booked far in advance. What’s more, most of the shops are closed while everyone celebrates!
A Look at Activities for the Kids
On the top of my list, an absolute must for families in Singapore, is a visit to
the zoo! You can also visit the night safari, getting to either by taxi for convenience (they’re cheap, remember!).
We travel a lot and have seen many zoos around the world. We have a very good zoo here in Vienna, but I would say that the zoo in Singapore number one zoo we’ve seen!

You should spend at least half a day here, but it’s even better if you plan to visit for the whole day – you won’t regret it!
The animals at the Singapore zoo are not in small cages, so much so that you feel like you’re not really in a zoo and that the animals are in their natural environment. 
For example, watch out for the orangutans climbing the trees just above your head.
 

The zoo is big; it is divided into zones, such as Australia, wild Africa, and so on.
There is a pavilion with lemurs, butterflies, and flying foxes which produces the most extraordinary feeling - exotic butterflies are flying over your head, while lemurs walk around beneath them.
 You can also ride an elephant at the Singapore zoo, or take a ride on some of the other animals.
 For an additional fee you can visit the pandas. We loved the red pandas - they're so cute...
Children of all ages will be very excited to go to the Singapore zoo! It can, however, be an exhausting trip because of the heat, humidity, and the need to walk around a lot. We rested in the cafès and restaurants, eating lunch and getting snacks and drinks.
Near to the exit there are numerous shops, which you can’t resist :).
The Night Safari opens in the evening at 19.30 and is just opposite the zoo. We went on the night safari as well as visiting the zoo and it is pretty cool. You take a wagon and get to observe the animals at night.
Or you can take a walk in the forest at night, which is not scary or dangerous at all :). Be careful in the cage with the flying foxes though, as they love to mark you by peeing on visitors (sorry!). We got marked…:), so you’ve been warned!
If I had to choose between the zoo and night safari, I would clearly prefer the zoo!

There is also an interesting bird park you can visit but we didn’t have enough time to see everything while we were here. This might be good for the kids though as you can have fun feeding the parrots.
Next on the agenda to keep the kids entertained is a trip to the island of Sentosa.
Sentosa can be reached by taxi or public transport, or you can take the funicular cable car (
Jewel Cable Car Ride). You might prefer the cable car because it gives you fantastic views of Singapore.
The island is also accessible via the monorail (Sentosa Express).
I wrote above about hotels on Sentosa, which are generally more expensive than those in Singapore but which give you the advantage of proximity to great children's entertainment and the beach. While the beach isn’t amazing, it’s still enjoyable to visit.
An absolute must-see on Sentosa (for kids) is Universal Studios Singapore.  
The roller coasters and rides, the shows and entertainment… the kids will love it! Apparently, the park is smaller than the ones in Los Angeles and Florida, but as much fun.
The park is divided into zones:
- Hollywood: Where you can see a variety of performances, musicals, and meet famous characters on the Walk of Fame. In the evening you can watch the wonderful firework display by the lake.
- New York: See how the famous Hollywood blockbusters are made with, for example, a scene with a devastating hurricane (Lights, Camera, Action! ™ Hosted by Steven Spielberg). And, for a little extra money, your children can meet and have a breakfast with the characters from the famous kids’ TV show ‘Sesame Street’.
- Sci-fi City: This area of Universal Studios Singapore is home to the most famous of their current attractions (as well as one of the most highly recommended)… TRANSFORMERS The Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle). And, for those that like to spin fast and, perhaps, feel a little nauseated, check out Accelerator.
- Ancient Egypt: Featuring horror stories complete with Egyptian mummies, and the roller coaster Revenge of the Mummy™. You can also take part in a treasure hunt in this zone (Treasure Hunters™).

-
Lost World: This zone is a lot of fun as you and the kids can take a water ride with dinosaurs (Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure), go on the Canopy Flyer ™, and scramble up a cliff-face (Amber Rock Climb ™).

- Far Far Away: This area is dedicated to the much-beloved character Shrek. You can watch a 4D film, Shrek 4-D Adventure, and a show featuring Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy (Donkey LIVE).
- Madagascar: Pretty obvious what you’ll find in this zone! Fans of the eponymous movie can take a ride on the merry carousel (King Julien's Beach Party-Go-Round) as well as the river attraction Madagascar: A Crate Adventure.
Be warned, some attractions and rides have age and height restrictions and may be unsuitable for younger kids so check before getting anyone’s hopes up!
There are also a large number of cafès and restaurants where you can eat and relax a bit.
You and your kids might also want to see one of the world's largest aquariums, Marine Life Park. Here, you can watch a dolphin show, and feed the fish and stingrays. A little warning, however - it can be pretty crowded, but the good reviews outweigh the bad so check it out.
 There is also a water park here: Adventure Cove Waterpark
 
In September 2013 they opened a new attraction,
Dolphin Island ™, where you can swim and interact with the dolphins.
 You can go to the water park with small kids, and there is also a kids’ club with an entertainment program for children, the Port of Lost Wonder, as well as a swimming pool with waterslides.
 What else can I recommend in Sentosa? Something we certainly don’t have in Vienna… the iFly Singapore. Children must be seven or older to go on this, and it’s likely to attract adventurous teens and pre-teens only. This is basically a big wind tunnel where you can try skydiving. It is a simulation, using huge amounts of upwards wind, with the ‘skydivers’ given basic training in advance, a jumpsuit, and an opportunity to fly around in the wind tunnel. I'm afraid to do an actual skydive with a parachute but I’d happily try this ride... It's not cheap but, according to those who’ve experienced it, it’s well worth it.
In the evening near Siloso beach in Santosa there is a laser show / fireworks / fountain show  Songs of the Sea (admission is extra). The reviews range from enthusiastic and admiring ("The best show in the world!") to those of disappointment. I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself and then leave a comment to let us know your thoughts!
 
Those who wish to run away to the circus can satisfy their whim by visiting the Flying Trapeze on Siloso beach. Adults and children alike will enjoy this, but the experience is rather short.
And, of course, at Sentosa you can just lie on the beach. There are actually several beaches: Palawan Beach; Siloso Beach; and Tanjong Beach. It is not the Maldives, by which I mean that the sea is not so clear but, as the reviews show, it is still a nice beach.

How many days should you plan to stay in Sentosa? At least one but more if you can… Some people even say that five days here is too short a time :).
Back to Singapore... For lovers of flora and fauna I would highly recommend a visit to the Singapore Botanical Gardens.
At the botanical gardens you will find a whole park full of orchids, definitely worth a visit for the incredible variety of beautiful orchids here! There is also a garden created especially for children: Jacob Ballas Children's Garden with a special program for children up to 12 years. Here the children can play and get some basic education in botany, all at the same time! Children are taught about different plants, which they can touch and smell, and also about the role of these plants in our lives. It’s a great way of getting children close to nature and, in my opinion, well worth a visit to the botanical gardens…

- The other botanical garden (‘Gardens by the Bay’) is a newer addition to Singapore’s attractions and one I would also highly recommend visiting. It is bright, colorful, and so beautiful it takes your breath away. There are lots of different plants and exotic flowers, orchids, a large number of cacti, and all inside a huge pavilion called the Flower Dome.
 We would also recommend going to another pavilion which houses a tropical rainforest with a waterfall (Cloud Forest). Dress in warm layers here as it is quite humid and actually pretty fresh! I got cold… Here, you can climb up a sort of scaffolding and view the waterfalls from the top.

When the weather in Singapore is good you may simply want to enjoy walking in the Bay East Garden. This is a beautiful green space with gorgeous views but, unfortunately, when we were there it was rainy and we did not have time to fully enjoy the beauty of the outside park. In the evening it is also beautiful, with Supertree Grove, an area of special trees that are stunningly illuminated when it is dark.

There is a large
Ferris wheel that your kids may or may not find fun to ride. The views are beautiful from the top...
It is also worth mentioning the airport in Singapore as this is probably one of the best (and most meticulously organized) in the world! We were astonished by Kinetic Rain – an unusual installation in Terminal 1 of the airport. 
Kinetic Rain consists of hundreds of drops made of light aluminum covered with copper. The drops hang from the ceiling by thin steel threads and every fifteen minutes the drops automatically perform a kind of a dance. They might take the shape of an airplane, or other objects, all run by the computer. This is a fascinating installation where you can be absorbed for hours, meditating over the magic dance of the drops. It should go without saying that the kids love it.

Actually, I could devote a whole separate review to the airport! There is a ‘family zone’ in the transit area complete with a swimming pool (!), and a lot of gardens with palm trees and artificial ponds, a butterfly park, playground, game stations, a mini-cinema, etc. And, of course, there are many places to eat and relax. My friend and his son decided to spend the day here on their way to Bali, not even leaving the transit area, and they were very happy.
A little practical advice when visiting Singapore: despite the hot weather make sure to pack some warm things for you and your kid(s), preferably something long-sleeved as you might need this when in a taxi, shopping mall, hotel, or other indoor space as everywhere is air-conditioned! Everyone seems to believe that colder is better and so the air-conditioning is very high and I was freezing everywhere, having to go outside to warm up :). With little kids this can be a problem if you haven’t packed warmer clothes!
Another handy tip is to take a waterproof poncho or a raincoat with you in Singapore as it will be needed to stop you getting soaked by the regular rainfall.
Those who love seafood should be sure to try the famous Singapore dish chili crab – we liked the dish we had at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant. It is not very spicy, despite its name, and is delicious! Don’t forget to wear a bib, though, otherwise you’ll have to get your clothes dry-cleaned to get the stains out.
The food in Singapore is generally very good, with lots of choice and many tasty dishes. However, be especially careful with regards to the kids as much of the food can be spicy and hot. We (adults) loved the food there... You can also find European food in Singapore if you’re feeling homesick. There are a lot of cafès and restaurants as well as food courts in shopping malls, and everything is very tasty and cheap.
In general, I liked Singapore and will go there again. Next time I’ll take my daughter, but I think I’ll wait until she turns ten or so in order for the trip to be more fun and less tiring for her. Or maybe I’ll take the plunge and take her earlier :)? I wouldn’t stay for a full week in Singapore, though; three or four days would be enough.

In conclusion, don’t expect a good beach holiday in Singapore, save that for Malaysia. However, Singapore is a great place for a stopover on your way to Bali or another Asian country.

Bon voyage!
Looking forward to your feedback upon your return!

1 комментарий:

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