A look inside Singapore's first theme park07 September, 2010 by Chad
Last Friday, we headed over to Resorts World Sentosa to visit Universal Studios Singapore. Public reactions to the theme park had been mixed, so we decided to check it out ourselves. Impressions and photo tour within.
We woke up earlier than normal and headed toward the southern island of Sentosa. It had been a couple years since my last visited the island so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The weather was surprisingly fine this morning.
Since all of the positive feedback we heard about the place were from people who had never been to any parks abroad, we tried our best to keep an open mind. Even then it was difficult to not draw comparisons to overseas parks.
We boarded the monorail at Vivocity, the nice smooth ride (if only the LRT were that smooth) took us onto the island where we dropped off at the first stop, Waterfront Station. The place had a changed a great deal from the sand pit I remembered two years ago.
We received our tickets ahead of time so there was no need to queue here. There wasn’t a line at the ticketing machines anyways. We entered the park at 10.30 AM.
Because not all the planned rides are functional yet, Resorts World Sentosa is giving away vouchers to offset part of the ticket price. So the first building to head to is the Guest Services on the left of the entrance.
Here we each received a $5 dining and a $5 retail voucher. More on that later.
First mascot we saw was Po from Kung Fu Panda. It was really amusing but the staff in the park had to signal and demonstrate everything to the visitors. For example, during the shows they had to signal when to clap (otherwise people wouldn’t), show where people had to queue, or in this case, that you could hug the panda. Because well, Asian people weren’t spontaneous like that.
Most of the entrance area was sort of a Hollywood themed area called New York. I’m rather fond of the whole 60s American theme so it was cool. Three Caucasian women with killer legs were singing outside a Diner. When they were done a queue quickly formed around to take photos with them.
Looked like they were a newly added attraction as it wasn’t on the list of performances. One of the park attendants took our feedback.
We headed over to the adjacent Madagascar area since it was a while before the show in the New York area would start. Weather was getting appropriately hot by this time.
Respect to the guys that got out in their animal suits under the blazing heat to dance to the silly tune. Yan got felt up by someone, turned around in surprise only to come face to face with one of them. One of the job benefits of being a mascot is getting away with things like that.
I’ll be uploading all the videos of the day soon enough.
There was a ride here called the Madagascar Crate Adventure that wasn’t open yet (it’s scheduled for launch later this year). The park had an attendant stand watch outside the ride to inform people that it was closed.
Most of the park’s staff consisted of frowning local teenagers, so we were surprised at how friendly this particular kid was. Judging from his accent, he was likely Malaysian. When we passed by the area again 15 minutes later he was gone. He probably got promoted.
Barely 10 meters away from Madagascar was the start of the next zone, a Shrek themed area. By now we were starting to realize how small the park really was. But our attention was quickly turned away when we noticed a roller coaster ride.
Amazingly, there were absolutely no queues for the park’s rides today. People were lining up to take photos with the mascots, but for the whole day we could walk up to any ride and have our go immediately. Awesome.
I must admit, that I’m quite the coward when it comes to thrill rides. I know I could never survive a go at the Thunder Dolphin’s 262 foot, 75 degree drop like MJ or Wilson, having already had a near death experience with the 20 floor drop at the Tower of Terror. But when it came to this coaster, it was pretty mild (and thus enjoyable). It was probably the weakest coaster I had ever rode, at least until later in the day, so it should be kid friendly.
Next up we found the Shrek 4D ride. Heard from a friend that this was one of the park’s “must ride” rides. It was housed in this 3 floor castle, one of the park’s centerpieces.
Instead of a fairytale area that one would expect from a castle, the interior was stylized as a dungeon. This time we spent barely 5 minutes in line to wait for the previous show to end. All of the rides had humongous areas built for queuing (2 to 3 times the size of Disney areas) but no actual queues.
Next we were lead into dark chamber to watch an introduction movie. Here, one of the park attendants explained the safety rules and repeatedly proclaimed that flashy photography was not allowed, during which half a dozen flashes go off. I guess it’s hard to take anyone speaking Singlish seriously.
I’ve never enjoyed the cheap slapstick humor and spoofs of the Shrek films but the Shrek 4D Ride turned out to be nice. Lots of cheap simulated thrills as expected of a 4D ride but in good fun. For those that need to know, 4D rides are basically 3d movies (normally horror) where parts of the show are brought to life by the mobile seats, wind and occasionally scent. Kids will love it and fans of the Shrek franchise might enjoy this more.
The ride exit into a Shrek themed souvenir shop with a miniature Ferris wheel. Miniature would be an understatement though considering that it fit inside the 1-floor shop. Outside, we found ourselves at the boundary to the next area.
I remember being pretty fascinated by dinosaurs when I was a kid. So I might be biased when proclaiming the statues at this fountain the most impressive in the park. Based on observation, the kids took a better liking to the lighted fountain at the entrance of the park as there were none playing here. Still you’ve got to admire the details on the sculpture.
The rest of the Lost World was pretty much a Singapore themed zone, what with all the trees and all.
It was getting a little dark and cloudy so I feared for the worst. There wasn’t many places to take shelter in the park and others had reported leaks at some of them. Thankfully, the sky cleared out without any rain.
Strangely, no one in the park seems to like popcorn.
We decided to come back later and went over to the Egyptian themed area instead.
There was really only one ride over here, the Revenge of the Mummy dark ride.
As before, there was no waiting time. Yan and I put our stuff away at the adjacent lockers. Thumbs up to the management for providing free lockers for the first half hour.
Yan had sat the same ride over in Los Angeles so he kind of knew what to expect. I didn’t. Probably would had chickened out if there was actually a queue as I came to regret my decision the moment I sat on the ride.
The park uses only leg-type safety barriers (as opposed to the overhead kind) for all of its coasters that aren’t too reassuring. Alternatively, you could also take it that none of the rides are scary enough to warranty overhead barriers.
While milder than expected, The Revenge of the Mummy coaster was probably the most thrilling ride of the day. It’s pitch black inside, so for better or for worse you can’t really see where you’re going. The main thrill comes from a surprise backward fall which combined with the waist barrier, knocked me breathless for most of the ride.
In terms of mortal fear, I would compare it roughly to that of Journey to the Center of the Earth. There’s no elaborate buildup and the ride’s pretty straight forward but it does seem to run longer.
We emerged and carried on to where the twin coasters were located but unfortunately, the rides’ licenses had been revoked till further notice.
The futuristic area connects back to the New York zone at a Wharf themed area, which is also the back of the Diner. More classic American themed buildings here which would make a great spot for cosplay, if they allowed crazy dressed people into the park. I don’t see why they wouldn’t though.
Most establishments ban people from bringing camera equipment but we saw dozens of uncles with tripods (most of which were permanently fixed to point and shoots, in the day…). One guy even brought his own reflector and stand.
So after a full round of the park and having rode most of the key rides, we checked the time only to find that it was only 11.30 AM (yes, only an hour). Exhausted from the humid Singapore weather, we decided to take a break on a bench in the New York area.
A Marilyn Monroe impersonator walked by and set up camp in front one of the mock buildings. Before long a queue formed, consisting primarily of a couple dozen middle aged men eager to take their photo with the chubby Monroe. One guy saw the mascot from way across the street and hurried over with his permanently unfolded point and shoot tripod combo.
After a quick break, we entered the main attraction in the New York area, entitled Lights, Camera, Action. There was a 15 minute wait for the ride, not because there was a queue but because each run of the show lasted approximately 15 minutes. It’s funny how none of the excitement for women in costumes carried over to the rides.
The waiting area for this attraction is a warehouse sort of area, complete with ventilation pipes and cheap plastic fans, totally underwhelming. But the waiting area hides what was one of the park’s more elaborate shows.
Lights, Camera, Action was basically a special effects showcase. Visitors were lead into a large room where a mock film set had been built. Here, we were presented with a sequence of effects to simulate a hurricane scene, complete with sound, weather effects and flames. It was a little cheesy but an enjoyable experience. I guess some of the novelty is loss on me, having been in a real hurricane myself.
Each run of the show likely costs quite a bit and since there were hardly an audience other than us, the park was probably making a loss here.
Lots of fake structures but there weren’t too many other actual buildings you could enter in the New York area and the remaining ones were just eateries Yan was attracted to the smell of pizza coming from one of them.
We returned to the theater at the entrance for Monster Rock, a supposed musical staring the classic cinema monsters. The performance was poor. There was something incredibly juvenile watching the performers sing covers of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” or the Wonder Girl’s “Nobody” with tacky edited lyrics to match the monster theme.
But it was difficult to blame the performers for the dull show, especially with the unenthusiastic audience. For them to actually smile when faced with the staring crowd was quite an achievement. The MC, Dr Jekyll actually had to continuously urge the silent audience to clap so I felt a little bad for not enjoying the show more.
The only time the crowd showed some interest was when Dracula sang a verse from Teresa Tang’s “The Moon Represents My Heart”.
We had a while to kill before the next show so we decided to look around the shops for ways to spend our vouchers. In addition to themed souvenir shops in each area, there were also a couple of general stores up front.
We searched in vain for something worth buying for about half an hour. With our $5 vouchers, we could get away with pins or magnets but would still have to pay a dollar. Didn’t really warrant the dollar. So after confirming that our vouchers were valid there, we ending up spending all our vouchers on candy at the adjacent store instead.
It was nearly time for the Waterworld show at The Lost World. Waterworld was a live action stunt show based on the film of the same name. It’s a star attraction at all the Universal Studios parks worldwide. Everyone was heading there. Everyone consisted of 400 or 500 people at the most.
Prior to the show, the actors did a great job riling up the otherwise uncooperative viewers. The crowd was literally conditioned into cheering as those who failed to cheer were splashed with water from the set. It was great fun. If nothing else, it proved that Asians respond well to punishment.
Waterworld was definitely the main highlight of the park. During the 20 minute performance, viewers were treated to choreographed feats of strength, stunts and pyrotechnics. Yan was especially amazed by how fast the burly actress could climb up the rope.
With that done, we returned to the Jurassic Park to sit one of the rides we missed earlier, a hanging coaster called the Canopy Flyer. This was probably the most popular ride in the park. We waited for a brisk 20 minutes for our go, mainly because they halted to ride to add another carriage and had to do some testing.
At first we were expecting more of a thrill ride because I saw the track tilted 90 degrees. But at closer inspection, realized that that was just the way the track was built. Like most of the other rides in the park, the Canopy Flyer ride was mainly aimed toward children.
With the exception of one sharp turn, it was a smooth ride all the way. I was seated at the interior backward facing seat and the only fear came from one moment where my leg narrowly avoided a construction barrier in the park by a foot. I’m not that tall even. People with long legs might want to pay heed.
After finishing up with the rides, we returned to the New York area to visit Louie’s NY Pizza Parlor and put our vouchers to use. Along the way we stopped by a group of break dancers performing.
Louie’s was a canteen type establishment. There were 4 different pizzas to choose from. Single slices cost about $7.50 while an entire pizza cost about around $32. Even though he was lead to the shop by the scrumptious smell of pizza, Yan was put off by the price and decided to ordered their lasagna for $9.80 instead. I was offered a slice of cake and a small drink with my pepperoni pizza for $10.20.
Was given a generous slice of the thin crust pizza. Late lunch, so I was pretty hungry and taste wise it was decent so when combined with the vouchers we were given, it was worth it. Those in a group might want to order the full pizza though. I choose the mint chocolate cake from a choice of 3 types. Tasted like Tim Tams.
Yan immediately regretted his decision to go with the lasagna though. The sauce was fine but the pasta itself was pretty tasteless.
Nothing else of interested until the evening. The park’s final show was at 9.30 PM, so with many hours to spare, we headed outside to explore the rest of Resorts World Sentosa. Most people did the same and the park was even more deserted than before.
We returned back to the park an hour before the show because surely the place was bound to look better lighted up at night.
Sure enough, the New York area was lit up in all its splendor. Evening in the park was dominated by the usual horde of Canon DSLRs Speedlite flashes.
Apart from the New York zone and the canteen at Madagascar, all the other areas in the park were sealed off in the evenings so you really couldn’t sit any rides after 7 PM. You could enter the park for just $5 at this time to eat or just to watch the finale.
The finale takes place at the pond in the center of the park. It was a sequence of fireworks that were shot really up close. The explosions were so bright that we had to avert our eyes during the larger launches. I was expecting more of a performance since the pictures in the brochure looked promising, but fireworks it was. Short lived, but pretty impressive.
Universal Studios Singapore lacked any of the splendor of the parks overseas. But it still comes as an upgrade for Singapore whose closest experience to a theme park in the past was the demented Haw Par Villa.
I could definitely see the park being more fulfilling in the future, when the remaining Madagascar, Transformers and Battlestar Galactica roller coasters are functional. But for now, Universal Studios Singapore still serves as a great spot for parents to leave their kids while they pursue adult thrills at the casino in Resorts World Sentosa.