Planning a trip to Singapore to see Universal Studios
Published: December 22, 2011 at 11:21 PM
Hey, if you've got the money and can afford it, why not? You're a theme park fan, aren't you? And Universal Singapore is one of the world's great theme parks.
Okay, so that's the real question, I suppose: Can you afford the trip to Singapore? Well, I don't know your financial situation, but I can lay out the costs (and benefits) for you, and let you make that decision.
If you live on the U.S. west coast, getting to Asia can be easier and more affordable than flying to Europe, so if you're looking to try an international theme park, the Universal and Disney theme parks in Asia might be better options for you than the European parks. (Conversely, if you live on the East Coast, I think Europe's probably an easier bet for you than Asia.)
Let's start with the time commitment. Flying from the United States, it's going to take you two days to fly to Singapore, since you'll be crossing the International Date Line. Good news is, though, you'll be getting that day back when you return to the U.S.
How's that? A Los Angeles-to-Singapore flight takes about 19 hours in the air, plus an hour and a half or so in Tokyo for refueling. Thanks to the jet stream, it's only about 17 hours (plus the Tokyo stop) coming back. Singapore's 16 hours ahead of LA during the winter (15 hours during Daylight Savings Time, which Singapore doesn't observe), so you're adding that to your travel time on the way there, and subtracting it on the way back. That puts you into Singapore about 37 hours after you leave LA, but back in LA only about three hours after you leave Singapore.
While in Singapore, Universal Studios is a one-day park for theme park insiders like you. ;^) But you can find many other attractions in this city-state to fill as many additional days as you'd care to spend there. Universal Studios Singapore is part of the Resorts World Sentosa development, which includes one of the world's most popular casinos, as well as high-end retail and dining. Outside Resorts World, Sentosa Island also includes beaches, golf courses and other tourist attractions, including observation towers, gondola cars and a zipline park.
Highlights elsewhere in Singapore include Chinatown (Need a suit? About 20 tailors will offer to make you one as you walk by), the Orchard Road shopping area, and the Singapore Zoo, especially its Night Safari - said to be the inspiration for the Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
The biggest tourist attraction in Singapore, though, is the food. If you have any doubt whether you should try something, don't worry - go for it! Singapore's cleaner than any city I've visited in the United States, and the food is spectacular. Go to one of the "hawker centers" (basically, giant food courts) in or near Chinatown and dig in. On the subject of cleanliness, though, I should note that you shouldn't even think about chewing gum or spitting on the ground or sidewalk while in Singapore. They're both illegal, and you do not want to break the law while in Singapore. Trust me.
The Merlion is the symbol of Singapore. This one is on Sentosa Island.
Otherwise, don't worry about fitting in. Singapore is Asia for Beginners. English is an official language and the all prices are in "dollars," though the Singapore dollar is worth about 77 US cents. You will not need and should not rent a car while in Singapore. Take a cab from the airport. The MRT train system and affordable taxis can get you anywhere you need to go beyond walking range once you're in the city. And depending upon where you choose to stay, you'll be able to walk to quite a bit. (If you stay in the city, take the MRT to the Vivo City shopping center, then transfer to the Resorts World Sentosa shuttle bus there, to go to Universal Studios Singapore. The bus will drop you at the casino entrance. Just take the escalator upstairs to the plaza level to get to Universal.)
I've found flights from Los Angeles to Singapore starting around $800-$1,000 round-trip, depending upon when you fly. Flying on Singapore Airlines, I've found round-trip economy class prices range from $1,100 to $1,800. (I use Orbitz to track airfares to Singapore.) ANA, which is a Star Alliance partner with Singapore Airlines and the U.S.'s United Airlines, tends to have the lowest rates to Singapore, in my experience watching these fares. But I think that Singapore Airlines is well worth its fares, for the high level of service, excellent food and in-cabin comfort they provide. Economy class on Singapore Airlines feels like first class on U.S. domestic flights - and gets you to Singapore and back for less than the cost of many of those domestic first-class tickets.
As for hotels, I find excellent rooms (clean, modern, with available WiFi and in-house restaurants) widely available for US$150-$250 a night, using Expedia. You can find rooms for less than that, but getting what you're used to in an American hotel room - including an English-speaking staff - at that price point isn't always assured. If you want to stay in Resorts World Sentosa, its hotel rooms typically run between US$220-$460 a night. But that puts you within walking distance of Universal, and all of the other attractions in Resorts World. (It's like the Disneyland Resort in California for walkability.) The Festive Hotel is the least expensive, with the Hard Rock in the middle and the Hotel Michael - which is the most luxurious and closest to the park - fetching the highest rates. The Resorts World Sentosa hotels are not on Expedia, so use the RWS website to check rates. (Use xe.com to figure out exchange rates between Singapore and U.S. dollars.)
Of course, Resorts World Sentosa also offers package deals, which vary by season. You can find the current deals on the Resorts World Sentosa website. Those can be great deals if you're planning to spend almost all your time on Sentosa Island.
And when you are pricing hotel rooms, meals and attraction tickets in Singapore, if you see "nett" after a price, that means the price includes taxes, tips and fees. If you see "++" after the price, that means you'll have to pay taxes and tip on top of the price, just like in America.
No matter where you stay, you should book your Universal tickets in advance, to assure admittance and avoid a wait at the gate. Note that your tickets will be for a specific day, and can't be changed. Universal Studios Singapore varies its admission price, charging S$74 (US$57.23) on busier days, and S$68 (US$52.60) on slower days. (Here's a day-by-day pricing chart.)
Universal Express passes also are available for S$30-50 (US$23.20-$38.67), but I don't think you'll need them. USS has nine major attractions, plus the kiddie rides and spinners - 10 if you ride both sides of Battlestar Galactica. Any frequent Theme Park Insider reader should be able to handle this park with minimal wait and without having to resort to Express passes. Just ride Transformers when it opens in the morning, then go with the flow from there. If you miss the park opening, wait to ride Transformers until later in the day, when the lines diminish somewhat. Or go single rider.
You won't need a visa to visit Singapore from the United States, but as with any trip outside the country, you will need a valid passport that won't expire for at least the next six months. Have that and a printout of your hotel reservation ready when you get to the customs line at the Singapore airport, and you should be good to go. Taxis are readily available at the airport, and don't freak out when you see the steering wheel on the "wrong" side of the car, and your driver heads for the left side of the road. English driving rules apply here, in this former U.K. colony.
One more thing to consider: Bundling a trip to Singapore with other destinations in Asia. I found I could save a couple hundred bucks on my airfare to Singapore if I laid over in Tokyo for a few days, so I added in a trip to Tokyo Disney. Singapore's positioned itself as a travel hub for Asia, so if you take the time to explore some creative options, you might be able to find one that allows you to merge two dream trips into one, and maybe even for a lower price. So use the "multiple cities" option when researching airfares, and see if a Singapore/Tokyo, or Singapore/Hong Kong trip works for you.
If you have any questions, please post them to the comments. And if you have experience traveling to (or living in) Singapore, I'm sure other readers would love to hear from you in the comments, too.