We had initially wanted to have a vacation in Hong Kong, where we could take Buddy to Disney World and Ocean Park. But after a spate of air crashes, including the ill-fated MH17 and others within a few weeks, the incidents spooked my husband and I. Logically, the risk of dying in an air disaster is really low; in fact we have a higher chance of dying from a car accident. But the news impact is greater for a plane crash and so we decided to avoid air travel for the time being, and go for a staycation instead.
We opted for Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) since it has family friendly attractions. RWS offers a two-night accommodation with multi-attraction package that includes 2 adult day passes to Universal Studio, SEA Aquarium and the Adventure Cove Waterpark. (Children below 4 years old enter free.) We had been to the Aquarium last year, but Buddy was napping most of the time then and so we thought we could go for a second visit and hopefully Buddy would be awake this time.
The package starts from S$628, and requires prepayment. You have to be sure of the dates for the staycation, otherwise you won’t get a refund if you cancel or make any changes. There is a choice of one of four hotels. We wanted one which is suitable for family, so Hard Rock Hotel and Equarius Hotel were not in our consideration. That left Hotel Michael and Festive Hotel, with the latter touted as a family hotel. My husband suggested we checked reviews on TripAdvisor first, and it turns out both hotels have mixed feedback though HM is slightly better. There were complaints about the room quality, small size and no free WiFi available. But Hotel Michael has an edge because of its convenient location, being nearest to the attractions. We didn’t think we needed the extra space available at Festive Hotel, after all we only have Buddy with us and he is a toddler. So a deluxe room at Hotel Michael it was and I requested for a baby cot for Buddy. The package requires the guest to indicate which date they would be going for the attractions (for the day passes). We decided on the Aquarium for the first day, Universal Studio for second day and the Adventure Water Cove Park for the third.
On the confirmation letter, it is stated that the letter has to be shown at the Sentosa gantry for complimentary entry for the hotel stay. So we were a little surprised, after we entered Sentosa, that there was the entry and into RWS and we didn’t have to go through the Sentosa gantry. We thought there had been a change to make the visit a breeze, and marvelled at the convenience. But it turned out to be a mistake and there was a reason for going via the Sentosa gantry (though this is not stated at all in the confirmation letter). We went into the car park, where there are prominent signs pointing to the casino, and were looking out for the direction going to HM, instead we only saw signages for Hard Rock Hotel and Hotel Equarius. We were stumped but decided to park where HRH is. When we asked the staff there for the direction to HM, we were told it would be quite a walk. We went back to the car and called customer service to find out how we could get there instead. We were told there would be a U-turn at the car park exit but there was none. The situation was starting to sour the staycation even before it began.
It was only when we checked with two staff, on their way to lunch, that we found out there was no way of going to HM from where we were, unless we exit and pay the rate of S$7 (for less than 30 mins)! The staff instead suggested we stay put at the HRH car park and take either the shuttle bus or the buggy to HM. It looked like this was the best option then. We went to HRH concierge and asked for the shuttle bus, which was coming in 12 minutes’ time. We had just plonk ourselves on the couch when the concierge staff came over and told us he had spoken to his supervisor, and they would arrange for us to travel to HM via the buggy. “That was a quick turnaround of service!”, my husband exclaimed. Sure enough, a buggy was waiting for us at the entrance and we were driven to HM. The HRH staff sure had redeemed the earlier unpleasant experience.
I had requested for early check-in at HM, and was told the room was being cleaned then and to return to the front desk at 2pm when it might be ready. It was almost 1pm and so we decided to have lunch first. For convenience, we went to the Italian restaurant there, Palio. (I will review the food experience in a separate post.) Sure enough, the room was ready as spoken. The front desk also gave me two complimentary parking coupons and two entry passes for Sentosa for the two-night stay. My husband used the coupons to shift the car, and I can tell you the coupons come in very handy because parking costs an arm and a leg.
The Tripadvisor reviews are right that the room is not very big (and the website doesn’t even put down the size). In fact the room is simply furnished, and when I saw the bed, I was a little surprised as it looked like a queen-size to me though I had asked for a king bed. The staff assured me it was the latter when I checked with them, but it seems slightly smaller than what we have at home. My husband tried testing the bed, and grimaced that the mattress is soft. He won’t be able to sleep on soft mattress! It gives him backache. I checked with the staff for a hard mattress, but was told all mattresses are the same. Strangely when my husband checked the other side of the bed, it was fine for him. I didn’t find the bed too soft for me then, but that evening, I had trouble sleeping. It could either be the mattress or the soft pillows. I had to lie on two pillows to sleep.
Inside the room, there are basic amenities like mineral water (2 bottles), water pot, coffee and tea sachets, and toiletries (only shampoo and body wash provided). There was no hand soup in the bathroom, and I had to ask the housekeeping staff for it when she came with the cot. There is no mini-bar either (not that we use it), the mini fridge is empty. Our luggage was also not brought to the room, and I had to ask for them. As for the cable TV, there is CNN and Chinese programs, but no movie channels like HBO or Fox Movies. It looks to us like the hotel is geared towards the Chinese-speaking crowd. It is also true that there is no free WiFi available in the hotel. I have to agree with the Tripadvisor reviews that it is ridiculous for a resort hotel like HM that guests have to pay for WiFi usage. On the last day, my husband checked if there was in-room express check-out, and there was none. He remarked, “this place is really run like a China- man shop!” My husband is not a “jiak kentang” (westernized) person, but he feels that there doesn’t seem to be a proper system in place in the hotel management (likely someone from the Genting Group who owns the resort), unlike the Aquarium (by extension the water park), which is run by an Australian, is better managed. A little consolation for my husband is that the hotel has a gym on the third floor, and the equipments look as if they have never been used since the place opened.
Anyway, we didn’t go to the Aquarium straight after checking into the room, we decided to let Buddy take his afternoon nap first, and also for my husband to have a nap as well. Unfortunately, Buddy didn’t want to sleep and was playing on the bed, which also causes my husband to stay awake. We decided we might as well go to the Aquarium.
I don’t know why, but this second trip wasn’t as exciting as the first. Even the big tank doesn’t seem so impressive. In fact I found out from Wikipedia yesterday that the SEA Aquarium is no longer the largest in the world. (Expectedly, the Chinese is now holding the title.) Buddy wasn’t fascinated by the sea creatures as well. The only interesting experience for him was the touch pool when he had the chance to touch a starfish. So we didn’t spend a long time in the Aquarium.
We thought we would have more fun at Universal Studio; my husband and I had a good time at the Orlando theme park. We still remember the scary ride at The Mommy zone when I kept my eyes shut the entire time. Admittedly both of us were chicken and didn’t try the roller coasters then. Hell, I was even a little scared of the Princess Unicorn train ride which was above ground. However for this park at RWS, we couldn’t even try half the rides because Buddy isn’t tall enough. We decided to go for whatever is suitable for him.
Madagascar zone was the first that we went for, since it is located near to the entrance. There was a boat ride which we thought Buddy would enjoy. When we went into the cabin, the staff told us Buddy couldn’t be on my husband’s lap and had to sit on the bench because of the safety restrain that has to be lowered in front of the sitting passengers. But Buddy refused to do so, and struggled and wailed when we tried to make him. We had to take him out when the staff told us to calm him down first. We asked him if he wanted to go on the boat ride, he nodded his head. But when we asked him to sit on the bench, he shook his head. So no boat ride for us.
We then went over to the Madagascar carousel. Buddy was excited to see the animal rides, especially the zebra, but he didn’t want to ride on his own. Luckily there is a carriage for parents with infants, and I had to take it with Buddy, him sitting on my lap of course.
We also caught the photo sessions with the characters.
We watched the 3D show at Shrek: Far Far Away zone. Buddy didn’t want to put on the 3D glasses, and I don’t think he enjoyed the show. He didn’t like the sudden jerking movement of the chair nor the loud sounds, and wailed in response. Following that, we went for one more show before lunch, and that was an action-packed performance at Waterworld. My husband loved this, and was thrilled by the dare devil stunts. I was bored midway through it though, and he tried telling me to forget about the cheesy storyline and focus on the stunts. I don’t think Buddy understood what was going on either.
We went for a quick lunch at the sesame Street restaurant before returning to the hotel for naps. There was a street performance by the Muppets while we were there, but Buddy isn’t into Sesame Street (and neither am I). When we returned to Universal Studio in the late afternoon for round 2, thank God it wasn’t as hot then. The park closes at 7pm, so we went straight to the Jeep ride at the Ancient Egypt zone that we saw earlier in the day. We told Buddy, while on the way, to get him excited so that there won’t be a repeat of the failed boat ride. Alas, again he has to be on the seat, and when we tried to do so, again he resisted and we had to give up. Even when we tried to put him in front of the driving wheel, he refused. No jeep ride for us either.
Instead, we went for the show “Light, Camera, Action” “hosted” by Steven Spielberg. When we were at Orlando, we saw the simulation of a tornado. This time, it was a hurricane inside a boathouse in NYC. We were a little worried that Buddy would be frightened by the loud noise again, so my husband was prepared to cover his eyes and me, his ears. But Buddy was brave this time, he wanted to watch what was going on. I must say it was fascinating and exciting, even for me, especially the entry of the ship at the end. There was a toddler girl who cried, but Buddy didn’t, though he said, “scared, scared,” after the show.
It was a good thing that we were at the Aquarium and Universal Studio on weekdays when there was no huge crowds, and the fact that last week was not a school holiday also helps. We didn’t have to queue for long at the shows and hardly queued for the rides. But it was really hot when we were at the theme park, and so it’s best to bring along sun block, hat, and perhaps an umbrella in case it rains. It is also fine to bring along the stroller or pram since there are designated parking areas for them at the park. We didn’t know about this and so Buddy didn’t have the stroller during the first half of our visit, and we didn’t want to rent one for S$15. It was rather exhausting for my husband to carry him under the hot sun, and me carrying the diaper bag and other stuff. With the stroller during the second half of the visit, it was much better. It was too bad though that we only managed to watch 3 shows and taken two rides (at the same carousel). Yes, we returned to the carousel for a second ride after we couldn’t take the jeep.
The Adventure Cove Water Park, which we went on the third day, turned out to be the highlight and climax of the staycation, which was unexpected. (We thought Universal Studio would be great fun.) Instead Buddy loves the water park.
Initially when we tried to put on the life jacket on Buddy, he resisted and struggled, but we persisted. My husband wanted to take him down the Adventure River on a tube but he didn’t want to go into the water. So we took him to the Big Bucket Treehouse, and he had such a blast! My husband took him up to the treehouse to ride down on the slides and they had loads of fun. Strangely, Buddy also loves to go under the water showers, though he doesn’t like it when we shower him during bath time. I went to check out other suitable water play areas for Buddy and found the Seahorse Hideaway for toddlers. When my husband and Buddy saw the place, it was “blah, so boring, compared to the treehouse!’ It was just some water fountains in a shadow pool. We then turned back to the Adventure River, when this time, Buddy happily went into the water with my husband.
We didn’t spend a lot of time at the water park since we had to check out before 2.00PM (I made a late check out request). But my husband told me the fun and thrill was condensed within that 1.5 hours.
If you ask me if I would go for another staycation at RWS, my initial reaction would be no since I am not impressed with the hotel. But I realized that there is advantage of staying at Hotel Michael because of the convenience of having a room to bathe and rest. We definitely want to return to the Adventure Cove Water Park since Buddy had so much fun there, and it would be nice to check out the other pools though not all are appropriate for him. So we will want to spend more time at the water park, and we will also want to go to the theme park again to persuade Buddy to go for some of the rides. But I will not go for the multi-attraction package since we want to skip the Aquarium. Instead the accommodation with S$300 credit is a better option, where we can use for entry into the attractions or F&B. So, unfortunately, we have to bow to the power of monopoly here.