A theme park gift under $10? Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
When planning to visit Universal Singapore at the end of November, I was cautious about raising my hopes too high. While we love Orlando and all its theme parks, we were severely disappointed when we had previously visited Disneyland Paris a few years ago. Thus, we approached this non-US park with trepidation – however we really should n’t have worried. Universal have done a fantastic job in creating a great Universal experience on the other side of the world. While different in many respects to its Florida counterpart, these were simply differences rather than disappointments.
While Orlando part tickets can be bought either in advance or at the gate, with tickets valid on any day, the ticket process in Singapore was slightly different. While currently only in soft opening, only a certain amount of tickets are available for each day, and must be bought online in advance. The online process was quick and easy with a calendar showing which dates tickets can be bought for, which days are sold out and how busy they expect to be on any given day. As impossible as it would be to implement, wouldn’t that be a great planning tool for Orlando!?
Universal Singapore is not located on Singapore mainland but a small holiday island just off the coast. While in Singapore, we couldn’t believe how little we saw or heard about Universal! I even started to worry if we were really in the right place at the right time. We chose to travel to the Resort World Sentosa, where the park is located, by Monorail although there were other options including cable car. Unlike the I4 journey into the Orlando parks there were no signs that Universal was just around the corner. We saw no advertising, signs, posters or directions to indicate Universal was near, in fact finding it was a bit of luck – the first sign that we were going in the right direction was seeing the Transformers rollercoaster in the distance!
Upon leaving the monorail and passing the new casinos and developments on Sentosa we turned the corner to quickly happen upon the entrance to Universal, an almost identical duplicate of the entrance to Orlando, minus the trek through the car parks and miles of moving walk way! I should also add here that the park didn’t open until 10.00 am so no need to arrive sharp to this one.
Upon entering the park, with the print at home tickets scanned at the turnstiles, I visited guest services. During soft opening, Universal are offering $10 Singapore with each ticket to be used against food and souvenirs in the park, which had to be redeemed at guest services, and as I booked tickets using Mastercard we got an extra $25 Singapore.
However when trying to collect them we encountered difficulties as the bank card was a Scottish card. The Singaporean clerk said there was nothing she could do and we would not be able to claim our vouchers. As they amounted to $65 for our group I asked if there was any way she could check with a supervisor, if there was any other way to fix the problem.
She left and returned with an older American gentleman who apologised and solved the problem, with the typical fantastic Universal service which you encounter in Orlando. While speaking to him, he explained that there was a large group of staff from the American parks in Singapore to deal with any issues in soft opening and demonstrate to the local staff “the Universal way.” During our day in the parks we often saw the American staff supporting the employees which I would say has gone a long way in the park reaching very high standards of customer service enjoyed in the US parks. However, obviously the friendliness and helpfulness of the Singaporeans is obviously central to this success.
The park is split into seven themed areas and after walking through the Hollywood styled entrance, we turned right upon entering into New York, with our first attraction Lights, Camera, Action. This attraction is a hybrid of Disaster and Twister in Orlando, with fantastic effects and I was very impressed by it although I don’t want to spoil too much of the attraction with too many details for visitors planning a trip soon! The other attraction in this area is Stage 28, although whether this is not yet open or we simply failed to find it I am unsure. With the year round climate of Singapore the heat, rainfall and humidity equivalent of Florida in July, I was pleasantly surprised to find much of this park undercover. Large clear plastic canopies, very high up, shield guests from some of the blazing sun.
Moving on to Sci-Fi city, the soon to be home to the Dragon Challenge style rollercoaster, was a slight disappointment. While we were fully aware that it is not open, it really was frustrating to walk underneath the impressive structure which dominates the area and not be allowed on! The only other ride in this area is the Accelerator – an unthemed duplicate of Stormforce Acceletron from the US.
When walking into Ancient Egypt, this was the point that the fantastic theming really struck me. The park far surpasses, in my opinion, the theming of any other Universal parks. It is Universal thrills with a Disney setting! The impressive size, structure and attention to detail really makes you believe you are passing through Egypt, Hollywood New York etc, which I have only really believed to such an extend in Magic Kingdom previously. Attractions in this area include the Mummy Returns, an almost duplicate of Florida, but while I could be mistaken, I think the ride goes backwards for slightly less time than its American counterpart. The ride queuing area is the same as Orlando, but the outside of the building is themed like a pyramid, with huge pharaoh sculptures really dominating the area. Along with the Mummy is a Treasure Hunters ride. Dare I say that it is almost like a Jungle Cruise type ride for children, although in jeeps rather than boats. You travel through a desert set, watching out for the animatronic big cats, vultures, crocodiles and hippos(!!) as you travel along. Although, sadly without any priceless skipper commentary.
Speaking of queuing areas, I must mention that while the areas are well themed to entertain the guests, this was not something we had much of a chance to experience. The wait time board on entry at 10.30 had all wait times at under 5 minutes and this pretty much stayed true all day until we entered The lost world are at around 5pm. The wait at this time for the Rapids adventure was 35 minutes and the Canopy Flyer 45minutes.
While we hadn’t been on too many rides or waited in long queues, taking time to explore the scenery and take lots of photos had taken us up to lunch time. While Singaporean cuisine, which is plentiful in the park, is fantastic, we decided to take the chance to visit the counter service Loui’s Pizza Parlor as well done pizza is hard to come across in Singapore! Using $20 of our vouchers, we bought a family deal costing $32, thus only have $12 to split between four of us for our lunch. For this we ate one of the largest pizzas I have come across, garlic bread, two desserts and two large souvenir cups with soft drinks. The food was tasty, served quickly and the restaurant calm with no rush for tables. Also interesting was the fact that snack and drink prices were exactly the same price in the park as outside, a big change from $3.50 cokes in Florida.
As we were back near the park entrance we decided to visit the Hollywood theatre for one of the three daily showings of Universal monster rock and roll. I would say this is an indoor and high tech version of Monster Rock from Florida. While we loved the show and all the famous monsters and classic rock songs, I have never seen a show so poorly received in a theme park. While Singaporeans are stereotypically famous for remaining reserved and calm, with even only polite applause at a Rod Steward concert last year, there was a very luke warm reaction to this show. The crew members struggled to get the audience to even clap, with no one willing to go on stage get to their feet or join in with the songs. While obviously everyone has different tastes and not everyone would enjoy this type of show, I felt that it was a good quality production that possibly culturally just did not fit in.
After this show we moved left around the park, entering Madagascar, another superbly themed area. The main attraction of this area A Crate Adventure is not yet open but instead we went on the carousel ride King Juliens Beach Party go round, in which you choose to ride your favourite character from Madagascar, while moving to the musical hit of the film! Next up, the area of Far Far Away, the Shrek themed area. The entrance to this area is through the castle from the film. The scale and size of this structure is not dissimilar to the MK or Hogwarts castles and I can’t believe they have hidden it away at the back of the park rather than make it a showpiece! The attractions in this area are a duplicate of Shrek 4D (although with non moving first five rows!), a small Barnstormer style ride themed to the dragon from Shrek, and a Donkey Live show in the same style as Turtle Talk with Crush, although not quite as humorous!
The last area we visited was The Lost World, where we missed out some of the smaller rides due to the late time of day and the fact that the area was very busy, with crowds which had split left and right at the start of the day converging at the middle point! We rode Rapids Adventure, through which the actual motion is much more exciting due to the circular raft style boat and the vertical lift system before the drop was amazing! However the dinosaurs and storyline are not quite at Florida level, with a smaller drop. That said I would be hard pushed to choose a favourite between the two. Last up we watched Waterworld, a live action show, a mix between Indiana Jones and Sinbad, set on water, which I think was based in Florida in the 1990s.
Overall, the park is a fantastic day out, with an atmosphere rivalling that of Florida. The theming is out of this world, matching the standard that Universal has applied to Harry Potter in Florida. The service is superb and friendly, definitely helped by the support that the parent parks are obviously providing. Good food and good shops add to the experience and I can imagine it will only get better as they start to open the big name thrill rides. I wish this park the best of luck and hope lots of TPI fans will get a chance to visit once it is in full swing. Apologies for any mistakes, spelling errors, the lateness of the report and anything else which may upset or annoy but ENJOY!
Walt Disney World
Tokyo Disney Resort