Sin­ga­pore’s Sen­tosa Ad­ven­ture

The Sin­ga­porean is­land of Sen­tosa is a mag­i­cal spot for both time out and team­build­ing

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Ot­ley

Rid­ing a Segway is a dream­like sen­sa­tion. One mo­ment you are mo­tion­less, the next, as in a hal­lu­ci­na­tion, you can’t be sure if it is the land­scape or the ve­hi­cle that is mov­ing. There is no ac­cel­er­a­tor and no throt­tle or brake on the han­dle; you sim­ply lean for­ward to start and lean back to stop, as if sleep­walk­ing.

Since the in­struc­tion on how to ride the Segway takes less time than it does to put on the pro­tec­tive equip­ment, we are soon on our way. Smooth paths aid our glide down to Siloso beach and, once there, the Segway seems an ap­pro­pri­ate way to ex­pe­ri­ence the is­land of Sen­tosa, which is it­self a lit­tle un­real.

Im­prob­a­bly per­fect palm trees frame a scene of golden sand and a trop­i­cal ocean, yet with oil tankers moored on it. The peace might be bro­ken by chil­dren fly­ing over your head, yelling in glee as they slip down a zip wire from the cliff and out across the shal­low wa­ter to an is­land con­nected to the beach by a cause­way.

Among the thick trees and veg­e­ta­tion, you can see the tops of roller coast­ers, a silent mono­rail and the gi­ant sculp­ture of a lion, with the tiny fig­ures of tourists peer­ing from its mouth. Throw in a lit­tle resid­ual jet­lag, and Sen­tosa feels far re­moved from the busy main­land.

Singaporeans are proud of their is­land state, but un­til re­cently were mod­est when it came to cel­e­brat­ing Sen­tosa, a small (less than 2 square miles), hilly land­form con­nected by road to main­land Sin­ga­pore.

For most of its his­tory, it was called Pu­lau Blakang Mati, which meant “Is­land of Death from Be­hind. ”Not sur­pris­ingly, it was a pri­or­ity of the Sin­ga­pore Tourist Board to think of a new name and, since the 1970s, Sen­tosa (“Peace and Tran­quil­ity”) has been pre­ferred, though it took a while for Singaporeans to fall in love with it, some pre­fer­ring to think of the new name as stand­ing for “So Ex­pen­sive and Noth­ing to See Also.”

Sen­tosa cer­tainly isn’t a se­cret and, in re­cent years, has surged in pop­u­lar­ity. It was vis­ited by five mil­lion people in 2012, but busi­ness trav­el­ers of­ten miss out on a trip, not least be­cause there’s so much to do on the main­land. On pre­vi­ous vis­its to Sin­ga­pore, I’ve seen ev­ery­thing from the Botanic Gar­dens to the breath­tak­ing Gar­dens by the Bay, which opened only a cou­ple of years ago.

Then there’s the shop­ping – Or­chard Road could take a day in it­self – Lit­tle In­dia, Chi­na­town and boat trips along the Sin­ga­pore River, so one can see how trav­el­ers may lack the time to ex­plore.

You could visit Sen­tosa for a day, but a cou­ple of days or a long weekend would be best. The is­land is man­aged by the Sen­tosa De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, which runs some of the at­trac­tions and leases out other ar­eas to com­pa­nies. These in­clude Re­sorts World Sen­tosa, which opened in 2010 to house the city-state’s first casino, the fam­i­ly­ori­en­tated Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios theme park and the world-class Ma­rine Life Park.

Re­sorts World has six ho­tels to stay in – in­clud­ing the Hard Rock – while else­where on Sen­tosa the choices in­clude Amara, Capella, Moven­pick, Shangri-La and W.

In Des­per­a­dos, you gal­lop through the Wild West shoot­ing ev­ery­thing in sight

Pick Your Di­ver­sion

Ac­tiv­i­ties seem to be com­pul­sory on the is­land. It may be a beach des­ti­na­tion, but with com­pe­ti­tion in Asia so strong for re­lax­ing re­sorts with ocean views, Sen­tosa has wisely gone over­board on di­ver­sions. Depend­ing on whether you are there for a break or a work-re­lated in­cen­tive, you will find ev­ery­thing from a vir­tual ride in the 4D Ad­ven­ture­land (4dad­ven­ture­land.com.sg) to a round at one of two cham­pi­onship golf cour­ses.

The for­mer is a se­ries of fam­ily-friendly rides where the 3D ex­pe­ri­ence of wear­ing funny glasses is aug­mented by be­ing strapped into your seat and thrown around. It sounds rel­a­tively tame, but hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced the “Vir­tual 4D roller coaster Ex­treme Log Ride,” plung­ing through cav­erns, spin­ning around whirlpools and speed­ing along rick­ety min­ing tracks

like some­thing from Raiders of the Lost Ark, I think these are the fu­ture of such at­trac­tions – death-de­fy­ing thrills with­out fear of in­jury (though this be­ing Sin­ga­pore, there are plenty of health warn­ings if you have a pace­maker or a bad back).

On an­other ride, “Des­per­a­dos,” you are on your own horse, gal­lop­ing through a Wild West town shoot­ing just about ev­ery­thing in sight in a com­pe­ti­tion with your col­leagues to see who is the best shot. It’s the sort of ac­tiv­ity that you think is silly for the first few sec­onds, then spend the rest of the time vig­or­ously try­ing to be the best at.

All of this is at Im­biah Look­out, a good van­tage point for the is­land as a whole. Get­ting around Sen­tosa on free buses is easy, so you can have a var­ied itin­er­ary or sim­ply go with the flow, jump­ing on and see­ing where it takes you next.

One rec­om­men­da­tion that per­haps won’t suit ev­ery­one, but is great fun, is the Laser Tag Ad­ven­ture “Com­bat Skir­mish.” Not only do you get to shoot people you work with (or even your own fam­ily mem­bers if this is a leisure trip) but you do so in Sen­tosa’s only re­stored de­fen­sive bat­ter­ies from the Sec­ond World War, a war­ren of con­crete pas­sage­ways and aban­doned rooms at Fort Siloso on the north­west­ern side of the is­land. The am­mu­ni­tion bunkers, bar­racks, tun­nels and gun em­place­ments of the fort are also open to vis­i­tors who sim­ply want to stroll around and look at the collection of ar­tillery guns dat­ing as far back as the 17th century.

Seek­ing a brief es­cape from the theme park at­mos­phere, and also to get some food that didn’t come in gi­ant con­tain­ers, we went down to the ma­rina, home to the W ho­tel and a row of restaurants man­aged by Quay­side Isle (quaysideisle.com). A va­ri­ety of cuisines can be found here, in­clud­ing Ital­ian (Da Spago), In­dian (Earl of Hindh), Chi­nese (Blue Lo­tus), French (Saint Pierre) and Ja­panese (Ezoca). The Quay­side Fish Bar and Bistro (qs­fish­bar.com) had a great choice of fresh fish and shucked oys­ters.

From there it was straight back to the ac­tion. First, for the Segway tour (seg­way­sen­tosa.com), which was the high­light of our whole trip. The ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing on a Segway is noth­ing like what you’d imag­ine it to be af­ter see­ing some­one else on one. Even the toned and tanned life­guards who were us­ing off-road ver­sions to pa­trol Siloso beach looked a lit­tle goofy. (You ex­pect the emer­gency ser­vices to sprint to the scene of the ac­ci­dent, not non­cha­lantly glide there with a bi­cy­cle hel­met on their head and shin pads on.) Nev­er­the­less, they are among the best fun you and some friends or col­leagues can have.

Af­ter only a cou­ple of min­utes’ tu­ition we were hap­pily speed­ing our way from the Segway cen­ter, but just ten sec­onds later one of our num­ber had lost con­trol and dis­ap­peared into one of the tall man­i­cured hedges. Thank­fully no one was hurt, and the mem­ory had us laugh­ing for the re­main­der of the day – though that was af­ter a spell in the Wave House (wave­hous­esen­tosa.com), home to the ten­foot Flow Bar­rel, Sin­ga­pore’s first ar­ti­fi­cial bar­rel­ing wave.

One hour of first try­ing to body­board and then surf in this was enough to leave me bat­tered and bruised but happy for the evening. Then, it was a short walk to the restaurants on Siloso Beach, in­clud­ing Coastes (coastes.com), which had a wooden ve­randa over­look­ing the sea where we sipped sun­downer cock­tails.

Fi­nally, there was the op­tion of con­tin­u­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties or en­joy­ing some en­ter­tain­ment – in our case, the “Songs of the Sea ”show at the west end of Siloso Beach. The story con­cerns Li, a young man whose singing voice con­jures up stun­ning light ef­fects that are pro­jected on to gi­ant sprays of wa­ter – a lot bet­ter than it sounds, though thank­fully less than half an hour in du­ra­tion. From there it was off to the bars of Sen­tosa, in­clud­ing the Bikini Bar, where all the wait­resses… well, you get the idea.

Sen­tosa caters to both fam­i­lies and cor­po­rate gath­er­ings re­mark­ably well, in terms of both its at­trac­tions and the ho­tels on the is­land. We stayed at the Shangri-La Rasa Sen­tosa, where in­cen­tive groups were hav­ing a whale of a time. Walk­ing past the meet­ing rooms one morn­ing, a large num­ber of em­ploy­ees of an or­ga­ni­za­tion that shall re­main name­less, all wear­ing spe­cial polo shirts for their trip, were whoop­ing it up in some team play ex­er­cise, and later were very ac­tive in the pool af­ter the day’s ac­tiv­i­ties had ended.

At around 1:00 AM, suf­fer­ing from jet­lag, I went out on to the bal­cony of our room and looked across the re­sort to the restau­rant, where they were all throw­ing shapes on the packed dance floor. Ex­pe­ri­ences like these are prob­a­bly price­less.

Visit sen­tosa.com. BT

Main pic­ture: Des­per­a­dos at 4D Ad­ven­ture­land From far left: Mega Zip; Wave House; ca­ble car; the Mer­lion at Im­biah Look­out

Above: Segway tour

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