A Sentosa staycation

We didn’t plan for an overseas trip this year, instead we decided on a staycation at the last minute. I thought it would be a good idea to go to Sentosa when I could get a chance to hunt rare pokemons. My husband agreed, though for a different reason: Kidzania is at Sentosa. In case you’re wondering, it is a theme park where kids get to try out various jobs and having fun while at it (until they grow up and face the real world). We showed Buddy the promo video of the huge indoor park, and after seeing kids played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the movie theatre located onsite, he was totally hooked. (Yes, Buddy is back to TMNT.)

I looked around the accommodation options at Sentosa and found that Amara Sanctuary
Resort has a staycation package for Kidzania. On the map, the hotel looks to be the closest to the site. Best of all, the package comes with breakfast and the hotel has king-size bed option. So I booked for a one-night stay at S$435.

My husband spent time studying the layout at Kidzania as well as the different job stations, and he then announced that we should get to the hotel early to collect the entry tickets and enter Kidzanja when it opens at 10AM. It turns out that certain stations like the pilot training academy, are extremely popular and wait time at the line is usually an hour or longer. He wanted Buddy to go for that, and so we had to be there when the park opened to avoid the long wait.

Well, like Murphy’s law, things don’t always go as planned. In fact, it didn’t get off to a good start when we arrived at Sentosa. In the confirmation letter from Amara Sanctuary, it stated that we had to go to a manned gantry to show the hotel confirmation letter to get free entry. Being our first time driving through the Sentosa gantry, we were a little confused and we couldn’t stop to look for signage because there were cars behind us. So we approached the one right in front of our path, and, unfortunately, it turned out to be an automated entry and the $6 entry fee was deducted from the cash card. When we informed the reception staff, we were told we should go to gantry 1 or 2. Well then, why wasn’t it stated clearly in the letter?

We indicated our unhappiness with the ambiguous information to the hotel staff during check in, but we couldn’t wait for a resolution. We had to get into Kidzania once it opened, remember. And it was then, we found out, the theme park isn’t as close to the hotel as it looks on the map. The hotel is actually located at the back of Kidzania, and of course there is no  entry there. We were told to walk to the nearest Inbiah station to take the monorail to Beach station where Kidzania is.  It was a 5-minute walk, not far to be honest, but when we were rushing for time, it started to dawn on us that Amara Sanctuary doesn’t have such a good location. Worst, for parents with strollers or disabled on wheelchairs, it’s really a bloody hassle because of the elevated pavement going to the station.  It is another 5 minutes’ walk from the Beach station to Kidzania. So, needless to say, we didn’t reach Kidzania at 10.00AM.

Finally we’re here! Check out the life-size plane sticking out from the glass window!

Once inside, there was already a long line of people! Thank God we had got tickets in advance! However, the relief was short-lived. We were told to join the queue, to get the tags and a free bag for Buddy. Turned out most people had bought advance tickets anyway. Grrr……

We went straight to the pilot training academy and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first session was filled. Next one was at 11.30AM. So we decided to get Buddy his kidzania passport first. A kid receives a stamp on the passport when he participates at any job station.

When I stepped into the humongous 2-storey indoor playground, I was reminded of Caesar’s Palace at Las Vegas. It must be the picture of the sky on the ceiling.  Since Kidzania provides job-playing fun for kids, it’s a chance to make extra cash by getting companies to set up shops for product endorsement. And so we have the likes of MayBank, KFC and Mt Elizabeth Hospital, etc, hoping to make an impression on their future customers. Like the aforementioned plane, it was donated by Qatar Airlines in case you didn’t notice.

There is even an adventure training school for kids to climb walls. Too bad, Buddy is below the minimum height of 1.3m.

There was a recruitment at the clockwork tower for performers, and we tried to get buddy to go for it. But when he realized I couldn’t be next to him because parents are not allowed inside the station/shop, he cried and wanted to get out. That was when I got a little worried, wondering if he was going to be clingy and not participating in any activities at all. We looked around, and my husband asked him if he wanted to learn to make pizza at Pizza Hut, and he said yes. Ok, since he likes pizza, perhaps he would be willing to do it on his own?

Buddy and I joined the line for the pizza session while my husband continued to scope out Kidzania. On the first storey, he spotted the movie theatre! And guess what was screening?

I asked Buddy if he wanted to go for TMNT or pizza; no prize for guessing his preference. Thus, Buddy went for his first audition at the Nickelodeon acting academy!

When the director started assigning the roles (the kids are supposed to close their eyes and not know what they would get), my husband and I were holding our breath and keeping our fingers and toes crossed for Buddy. Two girls were given the turtle costumes, then an older boy. Will Buddy get the last one? Yes, he got to play Donatello! My husband and I cheered loudly. (I know we are acting like helicopter parents.) But when you have a little guy who needs a little boost of confidence, this is something to celebrate. I mean, he’s the smallest child in the group!

And…. we have the turtles on stage!

The end, when everyone took a bow.

The acting academy also provided costume parade for kids. They really look adorable dressed up in Peranakan attires while swaying to the upbeat Malay songs.

Buddy’s next “job” was being a soccer player. This is one of the popular stations and the kids had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, his team lost to the other side.

We could only manage 3 stations despite staying almost the whole day. The problem is that the long wait time for each session. Buddy’s last  role was learning to make ice cream at the Paddle Pop shop.

Looking at Buddy in his job plays, it dawned on us that he is still a very small boy.  Since the minimum participating age for kids at Kidzania is 4 years old, naturally he is one of the youngest kids around.  But he performed very well in all the roles, waiting patiently on his own in the line with older kids, listening closely to instructions, and most importantly, having fun. So it turned out my initial fear was unfounded after all.

And finally, for his reward, Buddy got an ice cream.

Buddy also learnt to open a bank account and deposit money earned into it.

It was a hard time getting Buddy to leave Kidzania, and we had to promise him a return. For the next trip, we are determined to get a session for the pilot training and the firestation where kids  get to ride on a fire truck and put out fire! (Not real of course.)

The tickets for Kidzania are not cheap: S$60 for a kid and S$30 for each adult. Which is why it’s best to stay for the whole day, especially since once you leave the premise, you cannot return without getting another ticket. This also means you have to get your meals onsite, and food options are not great since mostly fast food and snacks are available, not exactly healthy stuff. Considering this is an occasional sinful eat, we can live with that, unless you want to BYO.

Because of the long hours spent at Kidzania, it’s actually a good idea to have a staycation at Sentosa when you can spend time exploring other attractions for kids as well. Like we stumbled upon Port of Lost Wonders, a water playground, the next morning. My husband spotted a running track and wanted to go for a run. We had to wait for him somewhere and decided to check out PoLW which is next to it. I had initially thought it was some playground with water canon, and didn’t expect it to be a full-fledge water play. In order for both Buddy and I to enter, we had to get swim wear at the shop.

Buddy had so much fun that he didn’t want to get out of the water for lunch when papa returned. In fact, he wanted to learn swimming, something he didn’t want to do when we had previously broached the subject. Too bad I couldn’t take any pictures as I had to be in the water with him. So, do bring your kids to PoLW which I’m very sure they will enjoy. Besides, the tickets are not expensive: I only paid S$10 for both Buddy and myself.

When it comes to accommodation, I cannot recommend Amara Sanctuary. Sure, we were upgraded to a bigger premier room when we checked in, and it is indeed pretty spacious as you can see from the picture below.

However, there is one phrase that rings true all the time: there is no such thing as a free lunch. One of the first things I noticed was that the water flow wasn’t good in the wash basin, but I could deal with that. However, soon after,  my husband noticed a background noise that sounded like a pump. It didn’t seem like coming from the aircon vent but somewhere above the ceiling. He called the front desk about it but no response seemed to be forthcoming and so I went out to investigate.

I suspected there was some engine located on the roof, and our room, situated on the 4th/highest level and right smack in the middle of the corridor, was below it. I told the hotel manager that we needed a change of room to level one which was not affected by the noise. She said all rooms were occupied at that level and she would look at other rooms for me. But first thing, she wanted to check out for herself the situation. When I saw her again, she was with a technician who admitted that there was a pump on the roof and that he had switched it off and activated another pump instead. The noise went away as expected and we thought everything should be fine and continued with our stay.

That night, after we returned from dinner, the water flow in the bathroom sink was basically still, and the aircon didn’t seem to be working well. Next thing we knew, the pump sound came on. (Some guest must have complained about the poor flow and aircon and so the hotel had no choice but to switch on the pump.) This time, we insisted on a change of room. We were given a deluxe room (which is smaller) on the 3rd level, but at least we didn’t have to suffer sleepless night.

The other thing which we realized during our stay is the many PRC tourists at the hotel. No offense, but when there is a proliferations of them the service standard tends to deteriorate. It is very apparent in the breakfast buffet spread, which consists of mostly carb and hardly any meat. It was one of the worst breakfasts I’ve ever had, and reminded me of the one at Disneyland Resort Hotel in Hong Kong where the abovementioned tourists made up more than 50% of the clientele. Unfortunately, there is no way we could have known this before scoping out the hotel first. So we decided to check out Le Meridien  Hotel’s guests at the lobby, and there is a good mix of international clientele. The place also seems rather genteel and plus the good location, it’ll be our choice for our next staycation at Sentosa.

However, one thing I have to give to Amara Sanctuary is that the hotel staff did acknowledge that it was their fault that clear instructions were not provided in the letter for entry into Sentosa. The fee couldn’t be reimbursed to us but we were offered a late check-out the next day, which we accepted. This had allowed us to discover PoLW. So, all in all, I must say it was still quite a fun experience, especially for Buddy. And having a staycation is great for a short break.


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