Singapore: A ‘Hotter’ Alternative to a Caribbean Cruise?

photo: HAL

When you have had your fill of Caribbean waters and are looking for more land-based action, switch itineraries and look southeast (Asia). One destination stands out as it prepares to become Asia’s newest cruise playground.

Singapore is no stranger to hordes of tourists pounding its pavements. It received more than 9 million visitors last year, 1.14 million of which came from cruise ships. With the recent completion of Marina Bay Cruise Center, cruise throughput is expected to rise to 1.5 million travelers by 2015.

It also doesn’t hurt that Singapore enjoys a tropical climate year-round (sitting less than 100 miles north of the equator) and boasts of denser attractions per square kilometer than the Caribbean. Singapore’s compact geography, compared to the more scattered islands of the Antilles, offers loads of entertainment to travelers with not much time to squander. An Eastern Caribbean cruise means more time on board than in ports, and the few hours of layover between ports are just enough to provide a fleeting introduction to a handful of island destinations. In contrast, the same amount of travel time in Singapore affords cruise travelers to scratch the surface deeper and sample a broader cross-section of Oriental culture.

Singapore has a plethora of visitor-oriented sights, but here are some of the Lion City’s top destinations that could be explored in less time than it takes to sail from one Caribbean cruise port to another.

  • The Flyer. At 541 feet, the Flyer is billed as the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world. Its builders however would like to call it Singapore’s prime observation platform where the public can get a good view of the city, particularly the harbor front, and the surrounding islands of Malaysia and Indonesia. There are 28 capsules from which to enjoy the sights, to wine and dine, and to party if you like. The Wheel completes one revolution in 30 minutes, so two hours should be enough to experience new heights. The Flyer is located in the Marina Bay area, a stone’s throw from the newly-opened Marina Bay Cruise Center.
  • The ION Orchard. The Orchard Road is world-renowned for its sparkling shops and posh boutiques that carry exclusive labels and international name brands. Take this a few notches higher, and you have a swanky shopping mall on Orchard Road’s southeast corner that caters to the discriminating taste of the upper crust. Singapore openly embraces the technologies and conveniences of the West, and ION Orchard stands in the middle of it all. The ride via taxi or ultra-efficient MRT (metro rail transit) from the Singapore Cruise Center (where smaller ships dock) is less than 20 minutes.
  • Jurong Bird Park. Considered as the largest landscaped avian park in Asia, Jurong Bird Park is home to a colorful ensemble of 5,000 birds belonging to 380 species. The 50-acre park is divided into various sections, themed according to the birds’ natural habitats. The park is less than 30 minutes away from the cruise terminal.
  • The Night Safari. Located in the Upper Seletar Reservoir and sharing the same space as the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari bills itself as the first-ever zoo in the world open after-hours (from 7.30 PM until midnight); hence, an ideal itinerary for cruise passengers staying in Singapore overnight. The 40-hectare secondary growth area is modeled after various geographical zones that range from the Himalayan foothills to the African savannah, and affords night trekkers the opportunity to see crepuscular creatures on the prowl. The Night Safari is 30 minutes away from the Singapore Cruise Center.
  • The Singapore Botanic Gardens. A 74-hectare oasis within the city limits, the Botanic Gardens contain a slice of pristine rainforest of the Upper Palm Valley. Apart from the distinction that it is one of the only two gardens (the other being the Tijuca Forest of Rio de Janeiro) that contains a tropical rainforest within city boundaries, the SBG boasts a staggering collection of 60,000 orchid plants from 400 .The SBG is 35 minutes away from the harbor front.
  • Hawker Centers. Singapore stands up to scrutiny as the melting pot of Asian culture: Hokkien, Cantonese, Indian, Thai, Malay, Tamil, Middle Eastern and Filipino cuisines are well-represented in the city’s various hawker centers, or open-air eating complexes that serve inexpensive food. These centers are found all over the city, but they are usually located in busy interchanges and transport hubs. The East Coast Park is famous for its crustacean delicacies; the Lau Pa Sat for the best ‘putu piring’ or rice cakes; the Zion Road Riverview for full-flavored ‘bak kut teh’ (meaty pork ribs and spices simmered for hours); and Adam Road for curries.
  • The Colonial District. Singapore has a colorful history with the British, and the latter’s presence can still be seen in Padang, an area north of the Singapore River and west of the Marina Center. Padang is dotted with 19th century churches and turn-of-the-century government edifices that stand amidst a forest of office towers and modern conveniences. The harbor front is less than 30 minutes away.

Singapore may be a well-worn path among land-based travelers, but the view is novel from aboard a ship. With the cruise industry planning to expand itineraries in China and Southeast Asia, Singapore may well become the seafarers’ next top destination.

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