Singapore for families

Looking for an action-packed family break, Singapore offers Karen Iley and her three- year-old daughter a total change of scene

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Families can’t go wrong in Singapore. What’s not to like? Asia’s pristine city state is a perfect combo of urban and natural jungle, with an abundance of top-notch attractions, superb food, cultural sights and cheesy shows to delight kids and adults in equal measure. I took my daughter, Rose, to visit friends and we had such a great time, we thought we’d share our travel diary with you:

Day 1 Chinatown & Night Safari

Touchdown! Arrive at Changi Airport early morning to the delicious scent of the tropics, a humid hug and the sight of glorious greenery, which sparks a spontaneous jungle jig. We’re still pretty sleepy, so excitement is put on the back burner and we force ourselves to have a nap at Aunty Niecey’s house before hitting Chinatown. We share a plate of Hainanese chicken rice, which Rose declares ‘Yummy scrummy’ – high praise indeed.

Time for a mooch! The multi-coloured stalls are full of what some people might call ‘tat’, but we revel in the dragon puppets, Chinese lanterns and lucky charms. Frankly, we go a bit mad and stock up on Cheong-sams (traditional Chinese dresses) for dressing up time, beach dresses for me, a pink parasol for Aunty and some lovely, juicy mangoes for all. After a cursory glance at the Sri Mariamman temple and a reviving lime juice, giddy anticipation of our first day’s high- light kicks in. ‘Plee-ase can we go to the jungle now?’ becomes Rose’s (slightly whining) lament.

I’ve foolishly built up the famous Night Safari (www.nightsafari.com) for weeks, so it’s no surprise our excited little explorer has ants in her pants. Until, that is, we venture into the loos where, thanks to an alarmingly realistic simulated jungle roar, her lily-livered tendencies are rapidly revealed. Not to worry, a bongo burger and a seat with a view of the ethnic dancing and fire eating puts us on more intrepid footing and we’re off on the tram to spot some of the 120 species, including tigers, lions, crocodiles and bats who’ve made their home in this vast nature park. We’re back in time for the Creatures of the Night show, a delightful half-hour performance featuring somersaulting hyenas and balancing binturongs (a bearish-looking fella). We try to get our tongues around ‘one-horned rhinocerous’ (not easy when you’re three, or in your thirties for that matter) before collapsing into bed exhausted.


Day 2 Botanic Gardens & Orchard Road

Awake to another, ‘Can we go to the jungle?’ plea from Rose (not surprising given she’s spent most of her life in the desert). She’s brought her Sasha Visits the Botanic Gardens storybook and has become scarily obsessed in a way only a three-year-old can. I wonder if she’s setting herself up for a disappointment of giant palm-like proportions, but the city’s famous tropical park (www.sbg.org.sg) is not just for flower freaks and botanic boffins. There’s lots to see, with walkways, lakes, sculptures and special exhibits aplenty.

Convinced she’s Jane of the Jungle, Rose dons her tiger mask (a Night Safari freebie) and roars from the bushes, frightening the walkers and tai chi-ers before nearly making herself sick playing dizzies and watching the tree branches spinning overhead. After a splash in the ginger gardens’ waterfall, we arrive rather damp for afternoon tea at the posh-looking Halia Restaurant (which, thankfully, welcomes even soggy people with open arms) and we merrily doodle away on the paper tablecloths before the arrival of our scrummy sandwiches and scones. Rejuvenated, we head to the National Orchid Garden, where the vivid colours spark a photographic frenzy. From rainforest to urban jungle, bustly Orchard Road beckons next. We plonk ourselves on a bench and people-watch while tucking into a bizarre (and very messy) green bread ice cream sandwich. Next stop, the bath.


Day 3 The zoo

Back on the animal hunt! Everyone has worked themselves into an excitable frenzy singing, ‘We’re all going to the zoo tomorrow’ (Aunty Niecey has been counting the days to our arrival just so she has an excuse to go). The residents at Singapore Zoo (www.zoo.com.sg) enjoy its ‘open’ concept and the big boys (ones with teeth) are kept safe from prodding nippers by clever ditches and dams. We’re delighted to get a close encounter with three stunning white tigers and Rose – a big Winnie the Pooh fan – is fascinated with the kangaroos and a tiny joey in his mummy’s pouch.

We giggle at the Hamadryas baboons (monkey bums are funny at any age) and Rose nearly bursts when we see the ‘efelants’. But it’s the gibbons and orangutans who steal the show – playing tag, swinging from their vast jungle playground and blowing raspberries. After lunch at the Ah Meng cafeteria, named after the iconic grandma orangutan who sadly passed away last year, we hop on the tram and head to Rainforest Kidzworld. Nippers can easily get ‘animal overload’ and this family area within the zoo is perfect for a change of scene and a cooldown. Rose has a whale of a time in the water play area, rides a pony, feeds the goats and eats her body weight in ice cream. In her view, this is easily the ‘bestest’ day of our trip.


Day 4 Singapore Flyer & Sentosa

Our last day! Time flies – and so do we as we take to the skies in the Singapore Flyer (www.singaporeflyer.com), the world’s largest observation wheel. As we wind our way up to 165m above the city, we get a fabulous view of its Lilliput population meandering around the Merlion, the Esplanade Theatre and Marina Bay golf course. From the waterfront location, it’s an easy hop across the river to Sentosa, Singapore’s island resort (www.sentosa.com.sg). Yes, it’s as cheesy as a slab of pongy Roquefort, helped by the recent addition of Universal Studios, but this is bearable, Singapore-style tacky and, anyway, kids love it. Scores of activities cover land, sea and air – think bike and Segway hire, 4D cinema, a luge and skyride, the Megazip adventure park, a treetop nature discovery trail, three beaches and simulated surfing.

Our advice? Don’t attempt to cram it all into one day. We choose to paddle and picnic on Palawan Beach, where we also get up close with some noisy mackaws before heading to Underwater World where we clock the dolphin show, stroke a starfish, feed the rays and marvel at the dugong, sharks and jellyfish. We’ve just enough time and energy left to catch the Songs of the Sea show, a mini-musical with lasers, fire rockets, water jets and fireworks. It’s a fitting end to our trip, but we’ve only scratched Singapore’s surface. As we reel off all the things we’ve seen, we realise just how much we’ve missed: the rest of Sentosa, Jurong Bird Park, the toy museum, Little India, the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom. Mmmm, perhaps Aunty Niecey will let us come back again. Give her a nudge, Rose. What’s that? She’s fast asleep? Wake up, Aunty Niecey!


Need to know

Getting there
Singapore Airlines has two daily flights from Dubai with ‘Super Deals’ starting from Dhs2,465 per adult, including taxes and charges. The airline will also put together personal family packages, including some great value- added deals. See www.singaporeair.com

When to go
Any time! The climate doesn’t change much, but expect sticky temperatures of around 30°C and take an umbrella because, one thing’s for sure, it will rain.

Getting around
Taxis are abundant (unless it’s raining), cheap and are by far the easiest way to get around. You can hail one in most areas, except Orchard Road, where you’ll have to ask a local for the nearest stand.

Where to stay
Singapore has a vast array of hotels, guesthouses and YMCA lodges to suit every budget, but to make the most of the city, we suggest you stay near Orchard Road or Clarke Quay, or head off to one of the resort hotels on Sentosa. Yoursingapore.com has a range of options.

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