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A Sentosa Moment

by Eric Madeen

Just minutes away from Singapore's business hub by bus, ferry or, most interestingly, air (via cable car), Sentosa is a tropical gem of an island resort with a wonderland of attractions for all ages. In fact, the moment the glass cable car swung out over the harbor and ascended to a peak of 91 meters, I knew I was in for a fun-packed day.

There's obviously a lot to see and do at Sentosa. From exciting virtual rides to watery slides, golf (two 18-hole courses), pristine beaches (bring a swimsuit), nature trails, historical encounters and underwater ones, too. If you're only going for a day and in a group, you should probably figure your priorities first, since you won't be able to do everything. But whatever you do, be sure to visit Underwater World.

Fish on Stage

This oceanarium boasts 2,500 fish from 350 species, a Touch Pool, Turtle Pool, Tidal Pool, and a moving "travellator" carrying you through an 83-meter acrylic tunnel. I marveled as rays the size of futons flapped by overhead or, glued to the glass before my face, hoovered sardines from the hand of a diving keeper. I chimed in to a chorus of oohs and ahhs when a hammerhead shark swished by, apparently muttering to himself to judge by the way his mouth moved, then shot up to break the surface, his head bearded with bubbles. Feeding time was a riveting frenzy of fish of many shapes and colors swirling in cyclonic fury around a diver who kept spinning himself, his hands blooming with fish. Mixed in with the undersea drama was an education in the form of fun facts posted around: "Did you know? That the largest of all rays can grow more than 4.3 meters long and weigh more than 350 kilograms? That a shark can smell blood from injured prey nearly 500 meters away? That a shark will never run out of teeth?"

Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom is another must-see among the pay attractions. Get there early (it opens at 9:00 a.m.) before the heat pacifies the colorful fluttering of thousands of live butterflies in the outdoor conservatory. The Insect Kingdom Museum exhibits rare and stunning insects from around the world. I cringed when the curator placed, on my head, a live scorpion and, that master of disguise, a giant banana stick insect. I was enlightened by his entomological monologue: "Since we came after them, we need insects more than they need us... I want to be a cockroach in my next life 'cause nuclear radiation cannot harm them... When I wake up in the morning and don't hear any cicadas and crickets, I know it will rain and to bring an umbrella, even if it's sunny." Speaking of rain...

Rainbow City

There's a saying about Alaska weather that could just as well apply to that of Singapore: If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes. When I entered the Images of Singapore attraction to take in its three sections — Pioneers of Singapore, Surrender Chambers (no punches pulled there), and Festivals of Singapore — dark, ragged clouds were scuttling over. Thunder growled. When I emerged from this historical hangover, haunted by dim lighting, too many men turning out to be wax figures (gotcha!), and the squawk of scratchy oral recordings and assorted war sounds, I was dazzled by massive rainbows arching down across the harbor into the city-state center, its skyscrapers basking in the day's last light. A Sentosa moment. And one which primed me for the climax of the Musical Fountain.

Facing it, looking up, I counted seven waterfalls tumbling down from high on a hill where the Merlion Statue reigned. Three times each evening a high-tech ballet of light, laser, color, and music depict, among other things, the legend of the Merlion, which has something to do with a lion-headed sea beast saving ancient Singapore from a dreadful storm. For the first show, the crowd started gathering at about 7:00. At 7:10 there was a tourist at my elbow, a Taiwanese girl practicing her English and lamenting the fact that Taipei doesn't have anything as spectacular as Sentosa. At 7:15 the water jets started their hiss, spray, and sensuous dance. At 7:30 the waterscreen was in full mist, capturing the dazzling images of elephants, frogs, gongs, magicians, enchantresses, etc. The music went from country to country, setting the stage for the Merlion's rise and roar when his eyes glowed brilliantly in a dramatic closure to a thrilling day. By the way, this one's free.


This article first appeared in Wingspan, the inflight magazine of All Nippon Airways.