We’ve never been sure whether to love or hate our island resort. Toby Skinner has tried a lot of its shiny attractions – here's the findings
The big attractions
Universal Studios Sentosa, unlike our hazy childhood memories of Universal Studios Hollywood, is more about the rides than the magic of Hollywood. The rides are good – from the leg-dangling Battlestar Galactica to the 4D Transformers ride and the Jurassic Park water ride, with its animatronic dinosaurs – but the problem is that you’ll likely have to queue for more than an hour. We like the cute kid-friendly areas, Madagascar and Far Far Away (based on Shrek); the Marilyn Monroe and Beetlejuice impersonators; the retro Mel’s Drive-in and the 1920s Paris street. But there’s not quite enough to see and do without standing in queues.
Underwater World is starting to show its age a little but still has some good attractions, particularly the hypnotic, neon-bright jellyfish and a tank filled with giant reptilian fish whose species have been around for 250 million years. The 83m travelator is best at feeding times, when 2m sharks crowd around a diver handing out fish. It’s up to you whether you see the dolphin show – ethical concerns aside, the show feels like a bit of an anachronism, and the presenter’s English was barely audible on our visit.
The fun adventure activities
There are just about too many of these on Sentosa to mention, but here’s a shortlist:
The MegaZip isn’t as scary as it promises to be, though it’s pleasant whizzing through the trees and over the water. The ParaJump ($19), also at the MegaZip Adventure Park, is scarier, like a mini bungee jump with a few seconds of freefall flight before you get caught gently by your rope.
The Gogreen Segway Eco Adventure ($88 for guided trip. Daily 10am-8.30pm) is overly tame, despite Jackie Chan’s endorsement – these things were designed for the elderly, so you feel especially goofy in your helmets and kneepads for the 30-minute tour, partly on the sand and partly on the tarmac from the Beach Station up towards Tanjong Beach, following the guide at all times.
Wave House is perhaps the most challenging activity for beginners, with the cheaper prices for the easier wave (like a ramp with water shooting up) and the more expensive tags for the trickier barrel – we were getting the hang of the barrel at the end, and it’s a great feeling.
Our favourite fun activity, though, is the Luge and Skyride – though the tagline ‘once is never enough’ is apt, because the 650m or 688m length of the two runs feels too short. But it’s still fun, and you get a good few turns racing at top speed; we’d recommend two or even three runs.
A lot of the food is overpriced and mediocre, so it pays to pick well. Outside the entrance to Universal Studios, we like the kitschy Malaysian Food Street – done up like, well, a Malaysian food street – where the Huen Kee Claypot Chicken Rice ($6-$7) is a highlight. Trapizza (Daily 11.30am-9.30pm) on Siloso Beach is a decent option for a wood-fired pizza (around $23) looking out over the beach.
There are loads of expensive restaurants on Sentosa, so – if you’re going to part with your cash – you might as well go for the top end with the Joël Robuchon Restaurant at Hotel Michael or the more casual L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon next door, both created by a man with a combined 26 Michelin stars. While the highlight at the former is a wallet-busting 16-course dégustation menu ($485++), you can get mains from $41 at the latter.
When it comes to the booze, there are plenty of options. Azzura on Siloso Beach feels like an own goal. A bar with a mini pool, jacuzzi and comfy seats – yet bad service, overpriced drinks and ear-splitting lounge music bring it down.
The more laidback Bikini Bar, closer to the station, is the simpler, better Siloso option, with regular beer deals (it’s still expensive – think three Asahis for $25).
Best of all is the chic Tanjong Beach Club, though its obvious attractions – the pool, the gorgeous beach, quality regular events – are again marred a little by lacklustre service and pricey drinks (beers $13-$15, cocktails $17-$20).
Yes, some aspects of Sentosa are nightmarish, from the crowds to the lurid branding. If you’re going to do the big stuff like Universal Studios, try to go on a weekday. Yet if you sneak off to a corner of Tanjong Beach for a picnic, stroll along Siloso as the sun goes down or take a late-night luge, Sentosa can be fun. And, hey, it’s a beach island a few MRT stops away – it would be churlish to complain too much.