Singapore is the perfect Asia 101 for your kids, writes Alexia Santamaria
If you're braving the big long haul to England or Europe this year with your offspring, it's always great to break journey somewhere to make it less of a schlep. If your kids have never been somewhere with a different culture, Singapore is the perfect "Asia 101" stop. Different and vibrant enough to be exciting, but incredibly easy to navigate as a foreigner. Travelling with our boys, we found Singapore incredibly well set up for 24-, 48-, or 72-hour visitors and would highly recommend it to others.
While sightseeing and doing fun stuff is very important (more about that later) there are some practicalities that are useful to know before heading to Singapore.
Public transport is super easy, especially the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). At certain stations you can buy a Singapore Tourist Pass that allows unlimited travel for one, two or three days and this includes buses too. Prices start at S$10 for one day which is currently around NZ$12. Taxis and Ubers are not extortionate either, if you need to haul your troops somewhere in a hurry.
We found it really easy to get connected (always helpful to have access to Google Maps when you're exploring). There are a lot of free Wi-Fi spots but I just bought a local SIM card from a 7-11 and it was very simple to get up and running.
Good food is absolutely everywhere in Singapore - eating is a national hobby. A good place to start, if your kids are a bit culture shocked is one of the big malls like Vivocity or ION; the food courts are fabulous, reasonably priced, air-conditioned and have a great mix of western and authentic local flavours.
Hawker centres are great once everyone is used to the heat and different smells. At night, Boon Tat is a fabulous street food experience (especially for satay) and our boys loved sitting at tables in the balmy night air in the middle of the road watching the open-air kitchen theatrics.
The fun stuff
There are so many things the kids will love doing on a Singapore stopover. Here were some of our family's favourites:
Our two boys love Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland and I think they were expecting something similar when we visited S.E.A Aquarium on Sentosa Island. Imagine their shocked little faces when we arrived at the Open Ocean tank (36m wide and 8.3m tall) one of 50 habitats in this enormous space. The whole aquarium holds more than 42.8 million litres of fresh and salt water – enough to fill more than 17 Olympic-size swimming pools.
What can we say? Who doesn't love an excuse to be a gigantic kid for a day? There are seven worlds at Universal's Singapore branch: Far far away (Shrektastic), Madagascar (with all the kids' favourite booty-shaking beasts), Hollywood, Ancient Egypt (home of Revenge of the Mummy), New York, The Lost World (Jurassic Park and Water World) and Sci Fi City (home of the famous Transformers ride and the Battlestar Galactica roller coasters). There's something for everyone - from big scaredy pants to adrenaline junkies.
Art Science Museum
We loved this very hands-on museum, as much as our kids did. The rotating exhibitions were impressive, but the Future Worlds permanent space was where we spent most of our time. The boys slid down digital slides that exploded in bursts of colour at their touch; coloured in pictures that when scanned into machines, transformed into moving elements of a giant digital mural (cars on roads, fish in the ocean); created digital towns and chased virtual wildlife around with virtual reality screens. A fascinating, fun creative, wondrous experience.
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay is almost impossible to describe, because it's a pretty unique concept. It's a 101ha nature park that's a crazy collision of technology, art and flora - on a grand scale. The incredible Cloud Forest Dome houses the world's largest indoor waterfall and at 7.45pm everyone heads to the Avatar-esque 'Supertrees' for the light show. These 12 structures, anywhere from 25-50m in height, are enormous tree-shaped towers covered in plant life; which come alive with light and music. Weird, wonderful and impressive in a way only Singapore can do.
These were just the attractions we visited in our brief stay but there's so much more - including the Night Safari, KidZania, the Singapore Flyer, Wild Wild Wet Singapore and Legoland (technically Malaysia but only just over an hour's drive) plus a load of shopping and so much more eating. It's definitely a stopover to please the whole family.
Singapore Airlines flies 19 times a week from Auckland.
We loved the Novotel Clarke Quay for its proximity to the riverside fun, great pool and very comprehensive buffet breakfasts.