You won’t find it on any globe or world map – it’s not a city or even a country town. But Sentosa does warrant an entire story all by itself because it is Singapore’s premiere family tourist attraction. And kitschy and over the top as it is, children absolutely love it. If you are on a holidays in Singapore with kids, this is not to be missed. Here is a round up of what’s there and why you should go at the most family-friendly of the Singapore attractions.
The Destination: Sentosa With Kids
If you are on a Singapore holiday, the one place you must see is Sentosa. In fact, if you parked yourself here and never saw any other Singapore attractions, it would make for a brilliant vacation the kids will be thanking you for. Look out for their many free school holiday activities too.
From the outset, you know it’s going to be family-friendly because you can get to the island not only by car, but also by monorail and cable car. That’s the perfect way to capture any kid’s attention.
There are just so many things to do on Sentosa that you could spend multiple days there or just pick one or two major attractions or activities and stick to those. The island is quite big to move around too, so look at a map before planning to walk from one place to another (in many instances it will be much easier to catch the free transport such as the beach trams or buses).
The Attractions on Sentosa With Kids
There are three public beaches at Sentosa – Palawan, Siloso and Tanjong. If you are used to the stunning beaches of places like Phuket or The Maldives, you might be a little disappointed. The sand in Sentosa is not powdery and the (distant) waters are full of container ships. But if you want somewhere with practically no surf when the kids can dig in the sand, play beach volleyball and get some sun, Sentosa’s offerings are a good break from the city sights.
Tanjong Beach Club is a favourite among expat families and locals for weekend breakfasts right on the sand, but it’s best avoided by families after lunch. In the afternoons and evenings it becomes a very trendy hipsters bar, not at all suitable for children.
If you’ve been to Universal in Los Angeles, the Singaporean offering is quite different. Instead of back lot tours, this is pure theme park. But it is magic just the same. The entire park is well maintained (nothing looks shabby or old) and is imaginative, cartoonish fun from the moment you enter. There are rides and shows for almost every age group from Sesame Street to Madagascar. (The TRANSFORMERS ride is especially memorable but only suitable for older children.)
Characters wander quite regularly around the park so even if your kids don’t want to go on too many rides, combined with the shows, there is plenty of entertainment. The park is small enough to be conquered in one (long) day or, if you don’t want to feel rushed, it can be worthwhile getting a multiple day pass. (Do note that even if you only buy a one-day pass, you are allowed to leave the park and return, so you don’t need to feel trapped.)
you as a parent are a theme park junkie, it’s only worth visiting with kids
over the age of 3 as many of the rides and attractions are not
infant-appropriate. Make sure you pay the extra for the Express ticket otherwise you can find yourself spending most of your day in queues.
(To read more about other theme parks in Asia, read the suitcases&strollers story here.)
Underwater World Singapore is the island’s older offering. It is a little tired but still a worthwhile visit for younger children precisely because it is small and easy to negotiate. It tends to be a less crowded which means tiny tots can get up close to the manta rays, turtles and other sea animals on display.
For school-aged children, S.E.A. Aquarium is more impressive. It is a much larger space and home to huge displays including the huge Open Ocean display and the Ocean Restaurant. Get there right on opening as it can get extremely crowded, especially during weekends, and it is very easy to lose your kids inside. Avoid it at all costs when it’s raining – it can get nightmarishly busy then. (Tip: if you see a long queue outside the attraction, don’t bother as the queue inside will be at least twice as long.)
The Water Play Attractions
Pack swimmers, towels and sunscreen for these and prepare for a long day – once you arrive, the kids are not going to want to leave.
Port of Lost Wonder is a fabulous place for pre-schoolers as it is completely self-contained. If you’ve been to the Singapore Zoo, Port of Lost Wonder is like the water park there, but pirate-themed. The kids can run, slide, splash and shoot water to their heart’s content and, since it’s all quite shallow, it requires minimal adult supervision.
Adventure Cove Waterpark is huge and has a little something for everyone, but really works best for older kids who can be let loose unsupervised. It is extremely impressive – there are several waterslides, live fish and ray feeding areas, a false reef where you can swim with live sea animals, a (manmade) beach and wave pool and a waterplay area similar to that at Port of Lost Wonder. Don’t miss the Adventure River – a watercourse where you can tube past the live rays and through an aquarium tunnel.
The beaches are too flat to surf in Singapore, but if you’re desperate for a wave, check out Wave House Sentosa. Their Flow Barrel “wave pool” is extreme fun for older kids who want to test out their surfer skills.
If your kids are adventurous, the island has several options to get the wind through their hair and their hearts racing.
While you may not be comfortable with you kids skydiving, the iFly is a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime way for them to experience the sensation without ever jumping out of a plane. This indoor wind tunnel is really great entertainment value. They take kids over 7 inside the tunnel but even if your children (or you) aren’t up for the actual experience, you can still watch the other divers for free. This is one of the best and most underrated things to do on Sentosa – even babies will be fascinated watching some of the brilliant aerial tricks.
MegaZip Adventure Park allows older to kids to get right up into the treetop canopy and whizz through the rainforest. The park also has a climbing course, trampoline and parachute to keep very active children occupied.
The Flying Trapeze really speaks for itself – an exciting way to sample circus life.
For a better option for little ones, you can share a car with your toddler on the Skyline Luge and go as fast or slow as your like. There is a little cable seat that takes you back to the top so you can have multiple tries.
If you are after a more sedate option to get up high, there is the Tiger Sky Tower, a revolving viewing platform that will give you a fantastic aspect back over Singapore and the rest of Sentosa. Don’t worry about which seat you get – since the ride moves, you will always get an opportunity for fantastic photos of all the views.
Other Animal Attractions
All over Sentosa you will see peacocks strutting their stuff and monkeys cheekily nipping down to steal food. Beware of the mammals – although they are cute, they also are fearless and will have no qualms about swiping items directly from your kids.
If your children love butterflies, the Butterfly Park is an easy walk around that demonstrates the entire life cycle of these beautiful insects. It is an older attraction, so does look a bit tired, but it’s still educational and interesting.
Apart from the two aquariums, there are some other indoor attractions if it’s raining or you are finding the heat all too much.
Alternatively try one of the movie experiences at Sentosa 4D Adventureland. Their interactive shootout game is particularly fun for pre-schoolers while the Extreme Log Ride is more suitable for older kids who don’t scare easily. (If your kids are prone to motion sickness, this may not be for you.)
Songs of the Sea is a nightly pyrotechnic water show which is worthwhile for families (as an adult without kids you might find this rather tedious). There are live performers who interact with the children and music – if you are looking for a way to round off a full day at Sentosa, this is not a bad option.
Alternatively at 9.30pm daily the Resorts World casino presents a light, fire and water show.While it is free, it does lack some of the interactive performance aspect of Songs of the Sea so is not quite so relevant for small children.
Food on Sentosa With Kids
All attractions on Sentosa are close to reasonably priced, family-friendly food options but – as with everything in Singapore – it can get very hot so pack some drinks and sun protection with you.
For an interesting low budget option, check out Malaysia Food Street. They serve Malaysian hawker favourites and has been designed with a nostalgic old world feel – but with all the convenience of being indoors and air-conditioned. (This is a particularly good option if you want to have an Asian lunch outside of Universal Studios, before heading back to do more rides.)
Alternatively, if you are look for a more sophisticated but still chillaxed vibe far from Sentosa’s other attractions, try one of the restaurants at Quayside Isle, Sentosa Cove. This chic seaside village has gorgeous waterside dining options where you can enjoy a good latte or chardonnay overlooking the expensive yachts while the kids cycle or scoot on the boardwalk. Particularly family-friendly are the Belgian beer bar Brussels Sprouts, café Kith and Picotin Express (for great pizzas).
Family Friendly Accommodation on Sentosa With Kids
Staying on Sentosa will really feel like a world away from Singapore. And, depending where you are, it can be a sizeable commute to get back to the city centre. While Sentosa is very close to a major shopping centre (VivoCity is just over the bridge), unless you are going to be spending a lot of time on Sentosa, you probably don’t need to be sleeping there. (For ideas on where to stay in Singapore, read the suitcases&strollers story here.)
If you do want to stay on Sentosa, here are some options.
For a true beach resort feel, you cannot go past Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa. Located right on the end of the beach (which practically makes it private), it’s hard to get more family-friendly than this. For a start, their kids club is free for all guests and includes a (pay-as-you-go) merry-go-round, three-storey indoor treehouse slide and kid-sized toilets and sinks in the communal bathroom. The outdoor water play area is sensational – as well as the pool there are waterslides and a dedicated kids splash zone.
Move indoors and the small touches continue to impress. The buffet restaurant has a special children’s area that has a low bench with plastic tableware and all the children-specific foods so that kids can help themselves. All rooms have IKEA step stools for toilet-training toddlers. If you are flying out on a late night flight, there are also change rooms with showers so you can use all the facilities right until the moment you leave. (The resort also makes a great option for Singaporean residents who want a true escape staycation as it really feels nothing like being in the rest of Singapore.)
The Festive Hotel offers those small family-friendly touches such as mini bathrobes, dedicated children’s waterplay area and access to the Hard Rock Hotel’s pool. The Deluxe Family King Room has a fun loft bed for older children.
Parents of teens and tweens often favour the Hard Rock Hotel on Sentosa (not to be confused with the restaurant near Orchard Road). This 1980s flashback continues to have a rock ’n’ roll theme throughout the hotel and its rooms and has an excellent swimming pool.
If you are after something flashier and more expensive, W Singapore is surprisingly family-friendly. Sometimes they have live performers roaming around the breakfast service – but the rest of the service can be hit and miss. Some families cannot praise it enough, others do sometimes complain about a lack of initiative and care.
Or for an extremely cool marine experience, book into one of the Ocean Suites that has a view underwater into a large aquarium tank. [To find out more about the Ocean Suites, see the suitcases&strollers story Underwater Hotels.]
The Practicalities of Sentosa With Kids
Sentosa is divided into to major parts – Resorts World Singapore (also known as RWS, home to Universal Studios, S.E.A. Aquarium and Adventure Cove Waterpark) and the rest of the island. Everything in RWS is self-contained and quite separate to the other parts of Sentosa – the easiest way to commute between the two is by the Sentosa Express. There is a token entrance fee on to the island (you can avoid this if you drive into RWS versus the other part of Sentosa).
Do note that a light shower can very quickly turn into a thunderstorm in the tropics. Since many of Sentosa’s activities are outdoors, this may mean an attraction will shut for a couple of hours until the storm passes (especially the water attractions due to the risk of lightening). But just as storms come quickly, they usually pass quickly too, so don’t head home immediately – wait and see what the rain gods are doing first.
If you are planning to drive to Sentosa carparking is quite expensive at RWS. If you want to go to the RWS attractions but save money on carparking, park either at one of the other public carparks on Sentosa outside RWS or otherwise at VivoCity and then catch the Sentosa Express over.
For other logistical information about Sentosa, head to their very comprehensive website.
For more information on Singapore in general, read the suitcases&strollers story here.
suitcases&strollers is giving away a FREE family holiday on Sentosa. To WIN! 2 adult and 2 children’s Sentosa Day Play Passes plus one night’s accommodation including breakfast in a Deluxe Sea View Room at Shangri-la’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa, click here for competition details.