The Theme Park Insider's tour of Universal Studios Singapore
Published: February 26, 2010 at 6:25 AM
Greetings from Singapore, where I just completed a "sneak peek" tour of the soon-to-open Universal Studios Singapore.
At just 49 acres (20 hectacres), Universal Studios Singapore will be the smallest of Universal's theme parks (less than half the size of either of the Universal Orlando theme parks), but it is loaded. Though the park is not open yet, I was invited to take a 45-minute walk around the park while I was in Singapore for a few days.
(For those who might be asking, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at a World Association of Newspapers conference on journalism here in Singapore, since media criticism is one of my other gigs.)
Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos inside the theme park, as painting crews were still set up throughout. Not that it ultimately mattered much, as it poured rain for about 30 minutes of my visit, and I wouldn't have been able to get any decent shots anyway. However, the representative who guided me around the park has promised some additional hand-out photos, which I will post when I get them in a couple of days.
Universal Studios Singapore is part of the new Resorts World Sentosa development on Sentosa Island, south of the main Singapore Island. Despite its island location, Universal Studios Singapore might be the most easily accessible theme park I've ever visited. I took Singapore's MRT subway to the Harbourfront station, from where I took a short S$2 (a little more than US$1.50) bus ride to Resorts World Sentosa.
Don't want to ride the bus? You could also reach the island via monorail or gondola, and soon you'll be able to walk across on the now-under-construction boardwalk. Oh yeah, you could drive over, too, but with parking for just 3,500 vehicles in its parking garage, I'd stick with the public transport options.
That might sound like a lot of parking spaces, but the Universal Studios theme park shares those spaces with the Resorts World Sentosa's new, wildly popular casino, as well as its FestiveWalk shopping and dining area (think CityWalk, for those of you familiar with the U.S. Universal theme parks.)
Once inside the park, I started with a walk down its Hollywood main street, which looks a bit like the Hollywood section of Universal Studios Florida, except covered with a huge, translucent canopy, to keep tropical rainstorms at bay. (We hid underneath during today's downpour.)
At the end of the Holllywood "zone" lies the park's lagoon, from which you can see each of the other park zones surrounding it. I noticed what looked to me like pyro equipment mounted in the lagoon, but my guide didn't know of plans for a night-time fireworks show. The signs at the front of the park announced operating hours of 9 am - 6 pm, which would be too early a close for fireworks.
She did say, however, that the park would be open in the evenings, for diners and shoppers, who could enter without charge, though the attractions would no longer be operating for the day. That's a first I've heard of in the industry, and I'm interested to see if that helps build visitor loyalty to the park.
From Hollywood, we worked our way counter-clockise around the park, through New York, to Sci-Fi City, then to Ancient Egypt (you can see the impressive Revenge of the Mummy facade directly opposite Hollywood). To the left of Mummy stands The Lost World, then continuing counter-clockwise, we saw Far, Far Away, which is dominated by the castle from Shrek 2. Finally, we ended in Madgascar, which stands just to the left of Hollywood.
Image courtesy Universal Studios Singapore
I didn't get to see much in the New York zone, which featured detailed city street scene facades, just like the Orlando park. But I stopped to watch for several minutes as test trains cycled on the Battlestar Galactica twin coaster.
Photo courtesy Universal Studios Singapore
This Vekoma coaster features two, intertwined tracks. On the Blue "Cylon" coaster, you're riding on an Inverted train, but on the Red "Human" track, you're on a sideless sit-down train. Water dummies occupied the seat on the red train as I watched it run (in the rain!) through several continuous cycles. This coaster looks ready to run.
The sign up front had posted a 5-minute wait time, prompting me to say only somewhat facetiously to the waiting greeter, "Hey, I'll take that!" No go, of course.
I noticed greeters in front of almost all the attractions, and heard ride attendant practicing spiels as vehicles cycled all over the park. I also noticed Universal Express entrances on most attractions. That queue-skipping service will be offered as a paid option to park visitors, I was told.
What drew my eye first after walking through Hollywood was the massive, richly detailed facade for Revenge of the Mummy. Now this is what a mummy's tomb is supposed to look like. No faux New York museum set, as in Orlando, or a couple of statues outside a studio sound stage, as in Hollywood.
Two massive Anubis stand guard in front of the tomb building, with others kneeling along the pathway that approaches.
Photo courtesy Universal Studios Singapore
The entire land, like the other zones in Universal Studios Singapore, is richly detailed. There's no pretense of being a movie studio in this park, freeing Universal Creative's designers from having to dilute thematic environments by exposing them as mere movie or TV sets.
Other notable sites: I saw two side-by-side flumes in the "Hydroelectric Plant" drop at the climax of Singapore's Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure, unlike the two Jurassic Park rides in the United States, which features single flumes throughout. The two flumes merged at the end of the drop in Singapore, making me wonder how that will work within the ride. (The flumes were dry, by the way, making Jurassic Park the only outdoor attraction I saw that was not cycling in test operation.)
Also, the theater hosting the WaterWorld stunt show offers color-coded bench seating. Sit on the upper brown benches, and you'll stay dry. Sit on the middle green benches, and you might get wet. Sit on the blue benches up front, however, and expect to be soaked.
As we walked into Far, Far Away, I ended up explaining some of the visual gags to my guide, who, like many folks not from Southern California, hadn't gotten all the references. Such as the "Welcome to Far, Far Away" sign, which is a take-off of the famous Beverly Hills welcome sign. Or the "Friar's" restaurant, which features the same signage type as Bob's Big Boy. The USS restaurant even has a Friar statue out front, posed in the same stance and with the same expression as the Big Boy statues.
We walked through a richly detailed Shrek merchandise shop in Far, Far Away, which includes a "Magic Potion Spin" ferris-wheel-like ride at one end. All the shelves were stocked and merchandise staff were on hand, training. I saw folks working some of the restaurants, too.
We finished the tour with a quick walk through Madagascar, which offers two new rides for fans of the Dreamworks animated films. King Julien's Beach-Party-Go-Round is a carousel that will offer fans the chance to ride many of the characters from the movies, including Alex and Marty. But the highlight will be Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, a boat ride that takes place within, ironically, a giant boat - the cargo ship from the first film, which towers over the park.
Based what I saw today, with painting touch-ups, testing and training, if this were a U.S. theme park, I'd say that the park would be good to go for a fully operational soft opening next week. But this is Singapore, a nation that I've now seen to well deserve its reputation for strict perfectionism. My guide said that park management will not open until it's convinced that everyone is completely ready to go. So I have no idea when the park will open.
But when it does, I'd love to see it again.
I'll post a bit more about my Singapore trip, including those additional photos and my advice to potential visitors, on Monday. Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend! (Due to my travel back to LA, the Vote of the Week will appear Saturday, instead of today. Or maybe Sunday, depending on how the whole jet lag thing goes...)
Update: Yep, there's gonna be a fireworks show. Here's a rehearsal:
Update 2: Universal Studios Singapore will open to the public on March 18, 2010.