Singapore Is A Kid's Shangri-La - My Family Travels

It's easy to find family fun around Sentosa Island, a man-made recreational area off the coast of Singapore that provides a countryside escape from the big city.

Note: For 2010, the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort (+ 65 6275-0100)  is closed for a complete makeover of its guestrooms and facilities including the swimming pool, gym, spa, children’s club, food and beverage outlets and function rooms. The hotel’s renovation is expected to be complete by early 2011 and will re-open then. Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort will be the only resort in Singapore with a beachfront location on Sentosa Island overlooking the South China Sea. K.M.


For most kids, the image of an idyllic vacation “Shangri-la” is more likely to be a tropical beach than James Hilton’s vision of a distant, snow-covered valley. That’s why the friendly and welcoming Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort (+65 6275-0100), perched along the sandy coast of Singapore’s Sentosa Island, is so aptly named for families with children.

Unlike the luxury Shangri-La group’s flagship hotel in Singapore’s financial district, Rasa Sentosa is set in the heart of the citystate’s recreation zone. We found its sea breezes a relief from Singapore’s hot and humid climate; its relaxing ambiance an antidote to the nearby urban bustle and its convenient location a great plus. Style-wise, the resort’s blend of casual rattan and elegant silk will suit most tastes. At our July visit, we met uppercrust families from Hong Kong just “beaching it” for a few days, and families from London taking in Singapore’s sights, boutiques, sophisticated shows and nightlife over a two-week school break. Singapore’s business elite often choose the resort for short breaks with family.

Fun For All Ages

Kids will love playing in the Rasa Sentosa’s large pool and enclosed lagoon, and there’s a games arcade and supervised kids club (with some drop-in activities) if they ever get out of the water. Parents should allow time for a treatment at the new Healthclub & Spa, with three suites for his ‘n hers treatments (how about the five-hour Caviar Indulgence for couples?), seven high-style wellness rooms, as well as a relaxing Thai pavilion with garden and waterfall.

Adults will also enjoy the resort’s spacious and comfortable guestrooms stocked with coffeemakers for early risers, minifridges, Internet access and island or seaview balconies. Other top-notch facilities include a professional staff and small business center, open-air dining with a view, the romantic Sharkey’s seafood restaurant, Aspara Spa and work-out gym, and nearby tennis and golf facilities. The grounds are attractive and we saw many parents of toddlers take advantage of the pretty gardens as a safe area to run barefoot.

Since the Rasa Sentosa is set opposite one of Asia’s largest and busiest ports, the presence of tankers and cruise ships made us reluctant to swim in the water. However, the resort’s attractive Silosa Beach actually fronts a manmade lagoon sheltered from the open South China Sea. There, we enjoyed taking out floating pedalos (water trikes) and riding a banana boat towed by the resort’s motorboat.

The Rasa Sentosa’s freeform pool is another lure, with its efficient beverage staff, towel boys and dancing palms. Our son, at 10, particularly enjoyed the toddler’s water slide and wading pool when he wasn’t involved in a “big kids” game of volleyball at the main pool.

Around Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island is accessible by taxi, ferry or footbridge, and the cablecar from Mount Faber is an especially fun but slow ride. You can get around Sentosa on the resort’s free bus or the city monorail system. Day visitors usually rent bikes (ask at the Ferry Terminal) and play on the beaches, but if you’re staying at the Shangri-La your family can do more.

Here are some good choices to get everyone out of the mid-day heat.

Kids will enjoy the soldiers’ lifestyle displays at Fort Silosa, a British colonial outpost dating from the 1880’s, and the multi-media history exhibits at the Images of Singapore museum. The high-style Underwater World (+65 6275-0030), which is like San Francisco’s aquarium, transports humans through a tunnel beneath 2,500 tropical fish. Those licensed to scuba with sharks can opt for a more interactive experience and, at night, kids get a flashlight to watch the oceanarium’s nocturnal inhabitants. The Central Beach area has a dolphin lagoon, trained monkey shows and a playground. When you’ve crossed the footbridge to a little islet, you’re at Asia’s southernmost point, a perfect photo op.

Sentosa is filled with many attractions (Volcanoland, Butterfly Park, Insect Kingdom, Cinemania, mini-golf, among others), so check a current brochure for specials or consider the “Sentosa Splendour” daypass if your kids are old enough to fit in five attractions in one day. Don’t forget to visit the large musical fountain which has several free afternoon and evening performances of lasers and waterjets; it’s very entertaining.

Around Singapore

The Rasa Sentosa resort is ideally situated for sightseers because they can board the free hotel shuttle which brings shoppers to the “mainland.” Shoppers should check with the concierge on which mall is best for which products, as most specialize in a certain type of merchandise (ie: designer clothes, cheap electronics, watches, etc.) which, by the way, are no longer as cheap as they used to be. Stores displaying the Singapore Gold Circle guarantee you’ll have the assistance of the Singapore Tourism Board if you’re dissatisfied with a purchase.

Sightseers should start at our favorite mainland family attraction, the Singapore Zoo (+65 6262-3411), which has an early morning “Wild Breakfast” where families can dine and be photographed with an orangutan, watch monkeys at play, and study other animals. This is great way to beat the midday heat. We also heard a new Night Safari evening program was another fun option. We love the Jurong BirdPark, whose enormous walk-in aviaries are a wonderful venue to watch these tropical beauties.

With a population made up of Chinese, Indian and Malay backgrounds, Singapore has preserved remnants of each region’s architecture, religion and culture. Allow time to visit the many neighborhoods in this sparkling clean citystate: Little India boasts fortune-tellers, craftsmen at work, sari shops and spice stalls; Chinatown has colorful lantern shops and markets; shophouses and warehouses have been restored for viewing along the Singapore riverfront; and Kampong Glam is a tiny enclave of Muslims. All are too “Disney-fied” for Old Asia hands, but everyone, children especially, will enjoy a visit and the ethnically appropriate snack.

Details, Details

Reservations can be made through a travel agent or with the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort (+ 65 6275-0100). In 2007, a room accommodating 2 adults and 1 child costs US$475: this includes free buffet meals for children, complimentary breakfast and buffet dinner, and free use of water-sports facilities (non-motorised).

The island also has a youth hostel, government-run holiday village, campgrounds and other hotels; contact the Sentosa Development Corporation (+65 800-SENTOSA) or the Singapore Tourism Board or the Visit Singapore site for more information.

Expect change through 2008 as the resort renovates its restaurants, public spaces, and lagoon beachfront in anticipation of the crowds drawn by the Universal Studios theme park opening on Sentosa in 2010.

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