“Here we go, come with me, there’s a world out there that we should see…“. The lyrics of Rocketeer started playing in Cebu Pacific’s cabin, as we were getting off the plane at Singapore Changi’s Budget Terminal. How fitting the lyrics, I thought.
It’s my third time in this prosperous city-state, after two previous trips in 2002 and 2006, and there’s always something new about this little country everytime I go there.
On my first visit 9 years ago, the talk of the town was still the “under construction” Esplanade, and the Fountain of Wealth on the then new Suntec City. The most popular attractions were still the Singapore Zoo (and Night Safari), and the Jurong Bird Park. Sentosa was a destination, though still pretty much bare, with only the Underwater World, Dolphin Lagoon and Fort Siloso, plus few other attractions. Clarke Quay, though already noted as a “hang-out” place, was still pretty much a basic cluster of small buildings, and there were only two MRT (or subway) lines if I remember correctly.
Four years later, Clarke Quay gained the futuristic looking “U.F.O. umbrellas”, gained a lot of lights, and got its “reverse bungee”. The Esplanade was already open, and Sentosa lost its old monorail, although the Sentosa Express, the new monorail that now connects it to Singapore island, was already in the works. Singapore also gained the third, fully automated, MRT line that heads straight to HarbourFront, and Vivo City was already under construction.
This year, we found Sentosa kicked into high gear with the new Resorts World developments. The water front at the Marina area also changed a lot with the presence of the city state’s new icons – the Flyer, and the Marina Bay Sands, and yet another MRT line opened, plus it gained an F1 race track. It’s utterly amazing how much Singapore changed, in less than a decade.
One of the largest additions to Singapore’s growing list of tourist-catchers, of course, is the Universal Studios Singapore, within the Resorts World Sentosa complex. It boasts itself as the first of it’s kind theme park within South East Asia, and is said to be the only Universal in the region within 30 years from its completion. (I wonder which place will get a new Universal in 2040. The Philippines perhaps?)
Full-blown, world-class theme parks have been a fairly recent phenomenon in this corner of the world, and since such parks are still a rarity here, one can’t probably help but draw a comparison between the Universal, and that other big park a few latitudes up north.
Despite the geographical separation, the Universal Singapore and the Hong Kong Disney are practically neighbors, catering to people from roughly the same region. Disneys and Universals of course, feel completely different, even if they compete for the same market. Disneys have always been about “fairy tales”, and Universals have always been about “box office”. Being in a Disney, in most cases, feels like being told a bedtime story, while being in a Universal feels like being on gaming console.
Both Universal Singapore and the Hong Kong Disney are roughly of the same size, though I find the Universal’s arrangement a bit more likeable. All its attractions face the central lake, whereas everything in the Disney radiates away from the central castle. It also felt like the Universal mascots where a bit more “outgoing”, popping here and there every so often, whereas in Disney you had to seek them out. The Universal also has more wild rides, with outdoor thrills like the dueling roller coasters of Cylons and Humans, and to a lesser extent, the Canopy Flyer. I must admit though that I’m not a ride fan, and I have neither been to the Universal coasters, nor to Disney’s Space Mountain.
The Disney owns the theater scene though with their fantastic live musicals and parades, and it owns the night too with their trademark fireworks, which the Universal has no answer for.
Differences aside, all theme parks exist to sweep you away from planet Earth, and put you in some world where fantasy has life, and in this, Universal Singapore certainly does not disappoint. The moment you enter the gates, the world you knew gets pushed back in the subconscious, and for at least a day, you are in a world of happiness. And just like any theme park worth its ticket price (and theme parks are big wallet busters), it’s got enough in it to fill more than a day.
We went to Universal Singapore last March 2011. All photos taken with Olympus E420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5