We arrived into Singapore with just one thing on our minds. Universal Studios!
Though theme parks are not typically in the realms of budget travel (especially when you’re trying to spend less than NZD$50 each a day!), we couldn’t get the idea of Universal Studios out of our heads, so decided to roll with it and treat Singapore as a splurge. YOLO, right?
To backtrack a little, and provide some explanation, Singapore was not even part of our itinerary when we began roughly planning our route before leaving New Zealand. With the reputation of being expensive and sucking the money out of backpackers (spoiler alert: yup, it did!), we booked our flight from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur thinking we would simply dip down into Malacca before heading up into the northern half of Malaysia for 6 weeks, skipping Singapore altogether.
I don’t recall if it was Alan or I who first mentioned it, but I do remember us being rather delirious on one of our mega Indonesian bus journeys when the idea to visit Universal Studios in Singapore sprouted. As we are both actually children at heart, it was an idea that was very hard to get out of our heads, and it became one of our hot topics of conversation. Needless to say, we were quick to justify that if we came in $500 under budget for our month in Indonesia we would treat ourselves to a few days in Singapore, and a day or two at Universal Studios.
Of course, after making that decision there was no stopping us coming in well under budget in Indonesia (Indonesia is such a cheap country we barely had to try). We ultimately came in more than $600 (!) under budget and unable to think about much else than rollercoasters, we excitedly raced through Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in just seven nights before boarding our bus to Singapore.
Wow, it was one comfy and spacious bus. We were almost disappointed the journey was only five hours long!
The bus stopped in Malaysia’s southern-most city, Johor Bahru, where we switched onto a different, though similar, bus for the last leg of the journey - crossing the bridge into Singapore, checking through immigration and being dropped off at the final stop.
Our hotel was about 3km walk from where the bus dropped us off, so we loaded our packs onto our backs and trudged along the footpath. Despite it being dark (around 7pm), it was still hot and sticky - I was glad it wasn’t any further!
Tip: Make sure you know exactly where you’re being dropped off within Singapore, as there are many, many busses running from Malaysia into Singapore every day, dropping off at all different points over the city. We made sure to book a bus that would drop us closest to out hotel so that we could walk, instead of wasting money on a taxi ($$$). Before you leave, google map the walking directions from there to your hotel, and take a few screenshots. We were so glad we did this!
In our attempts to treat ourselves while we were in Singapore, though without going overboard and completely breaking the bank, we decided to forgo hostel beds (which range about NZD$20-$30 a night per person) and book a mid-range hotel in a less-touristy area. We booked Hotel Orchid 81 in Geylang, which is known to be Singapore’s red-light district - this didn’t bother us as we never felt unsafe (despite the building next to our hotel being named “Happy House”), and actually the area felt quite lively. Especially important to us, it was less than 10 minutes walk to the nearest MRT line, Kallang, connecting us to the entire city. Hotel Orchid 81 cost us NZD$72 per night (for two), which in our opinion was definitely worth the small amount more than booking two hostel beds.
This hotel was just what we needed after a couple of rather average guesthouses in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca, and we basked in the freedom of having our very own bathroom, hot water, returning to a freshly housekept room every day, and a fridge plus tea and coffee-making facilities. But best of all: our room had a WINDOW! For the first time in what felt like forever we were able to enjoy breakfast in bed (porridge, fruit and yoghurt!) and see the world outside. A couple of times it rained and we spent entire mornings in bed with endless cups of coffee, skyping home. It was a nice way to slow down for a few hours.
But I digress! We weren’t in Singapore to drink coffee and stay in bed - we were there for Universal Studios, right?
On our first day we were up early and took the MRT to HarbourFront, where we walked (if I’m truthful it was more like speed-walked, we were that excited!) across the boardwalk to Sentosa Island where Universal Studios is located.
Despite arriving just as Universal Studios opened for the day, the queue was ginormous and we sweltered as we slowly weaved our way to the front. As we reached the ticket counter to purchase a two-day pass, we were kindly informed that a season pass (valid for six whole months!) was actually cheaper than buying a two day pass (only SGD$98 vs $118). Within minutes we were proud holders of season passes and swiped our way into the park for the first of many days of fun!
I’ll let the pictures take it from here…
We stayed in Singapore 5 nights/4 days and ended up visiting Universal Studios three times, during which we bounded around like crazy kids with endless excitement. After spending our first full day there, we had already done just about all of the rides at least once, but we went back a couple more times to do our favourite rides many more times and see the shows (Waterworld! Puss in Boots!).
It also just happened, coincidentally, to be the beginning of the fourth annual Halloween Horror Nights while we were there, so we may have dropped an extra $50 on that. Halloween Horror Nights is an after hours event that runs on select nights through the month of October, and is essentially a number of creepy haunted house setups, well-makeupped actors, and spooky/scary/frightening shows & scenarios that are made to make you scream. Alan may deny it, but we definitely both got plenty of frights that night!
A few tips for Universal Studios Singapore:
- Evenings are best for shorter queues. The park is open until 7pm, but most families leave around 5pm when their kids start to get tired and hungry. After our first day there we would have spent multiple hours queueing. On our second day we decided to go at about 4pm in the afternoon, after spending the rest of the day doing some sightseeing in Singapore. We probably did just about the same amount of rides in both sessions! In the evening we did our favourite ride, The Mummy Returns, about three times in a row without any queue, followed by the Jurassic Park ride twice in a row. There was no queue at all so we were able to stay on our raft and go around for a second time, just the two of us!
- Don’t take much stuff (hence all my photos being taken on an iPhone rather than my DSLR!). On the Mummy Returns ride you aren’t allowed to carry anything loose (no handbags, sunglasses, etc) as its a roller coaster in the pitch black so if something drops or falls out of a pocket there’s no getting it back! There are lockers nearby which are free for a certain length of time (45 mins I think?) but after that they become extortionately expensive.
- You can drink tap water in Singapore, and there are tons of water fountains located around the park and in the queueing areas, so you don’t need to worry about lugging around a water bottle with you.
Despite going back to Universal Studios three times in the course of four days (it was the reason for our trip there, after all) and managing a couple of luxurious morning lie-ins, we did get out and explore a few other areas of Singapore.
I loved wandering Singapore’s Botanic Gardens - in fact I liked them even more so than Kuala Lumpur’s. This may have been because there were friendly turtles - and lots of them!!
You can’t visit Singapore without at least one picture of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands…perhaps one day this will be our idea of a luxury hotel, but for now I’m perfectly happy so long as I've got air-con and a window!
In Singapore we certainly managed to eat a lot! Between greasy (but delicious!) burgers, fries and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at Universal Studios, we enjoyed plenty of mouth-watering Chinese food.
Though we didn’t go as far as trying the fresh frog porridge that was advertised everywhere we looked in Geylang (I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the poor wee froggies in tanks outside some of the restaurants, unknowingly waiting to be hand-picked for lunch…), we did find some other delicacies that we aren’t lucky enough to have in New Zealand...ohmygosh this chocolate blew my mind!
Looking back, I’m so glad we decided to splurge a little on these few days in Singapore. Admittedly, Universal Studios Singapore isn’t the most exciting theme park - many of the rides seem more targeted towards children - but we still had such a fantastic time and spent the majority of our time there with beaming smiles on our faces.
On our final morning we were up early and on the very first MRT of the day to Changi Airport, where we decided to make one final splurge on a flight to Kota Bahru (which would get us there in little over two hours instead of two days of train travel!). From there we were headed directly to the Perhentian Islands, known by many to be paradise. But I’m not so sure…stay tuned to hear my thoughts on these tropical islands!
Are you a fellow theme park lover? What's your favourite theme park that you've visited?