Singapore’s tourism center of gravity has shifted firmly in the direction of Marina Bay. Where the Merlion used to be the main tourist attraction in the area, the perpetually upchucking feline has now found itself overshadowed by a number of new neighbors. The biggest new kid on the block: the Marina Bay Sands.
The Sands grew out of a US$5.7 billion investment by the Sands of Las Vegas and its Singaporean partners, one that transformed 37 acres of reclaimed land into a dazzling entertainment complex that combines a luxury hotel, convention and exhibition facilities, theaters, an upscale shopping mall, a number of restaurants by celebrity chefs, and a distinctive museum that resembles a lotus flower.
- For other activities you can do within a few minutes’ walk of your hotel room, read this: Top 10 Things to Do in Marina Bay, Singapore.
What’s in it for you, the Singapore visitor? Let’s just say it’s a worthwhile place to visit if you’ve got any interest in Singapore’s shiny and high-tech new face, but it’s practically Disneyland for the well-heeled visitor with some cash to burn.
Getting to the Marina Bay Sands
If you're anything like the guide writing this review, you'll get your first glance of the Marina Bay Sands from below. The Bayfront MRT Station connects to the Shoppes at the Marina Bay Sands, so you can ride straight from the airport to the Sands itself. Well, "straight" is slightly misleading; your guide counted four train transfers between climbing aboard at the Changi Airport Station and disembarking at Bayfront.
- Read about the MRT here: Riding Singapore's MRT and Buses with the EZ-Link Card.
I admit, this is not the best approach if you want to fully appreciate architect Moshe Safdie's vision for the Sands, so if I had a chance at a do-over, I'd ride the Marina Bay Sands shuttle bus from Changi Airport and approach it from topside.
From above ground, the Sands makes an immediate impression when you first see it - three 55-storey towers, each beginning at an angled base and curving sinuously up until the walls stand perpendicular to the ground at the 23rd level. All three towers are crowned with a single platform that extends a few meters beyond Tower 3, its curved bottom reminding one somewhat of a ship balanced precariously on top of a trio of pillars.
At their collective base, the buildings are connected by a single atrium 23 storeys tall and about 850 feet long. Taxis and private cars disgorge passengers at the Tower 1 end of the complex; disembarking passengers, should they walk through the atrium to the other end, will encounter specially-commissioned artwork; two exits to the Shoppes at Marina Bay and the MRT; a number of high-end dining outlets; two hotel check-in counters (for Tower 1 and Tower 3); and the tourist elevator up to the SkyPark on the far end of the Tower 3 exit.
Your guide checked into the Deluxe Room, the most basic room class in the Marina Bay Sands' catalog of 2,561 rooms and suites. For a hotel room a mere 420 square feet in size, the Sands puts plenty of luxury in the limited space: a King-size bed with feather pillows; an executive work desk; and a 42-inch flat-screen television. Browns, creams and whites predominate, and the warm yellow light creates an overall impression of warmth that brightens up the compact space considerably.
On the far side of the room, a sizeable floor-to-ceiling glass window takes up the entire wall, and opens into a tiny balcony. My room, being on the second floor of Tower 3, had no view to speak of (palm trees blocked the sight of the streets below) but I could hear the outside traffic really well. I would advise you to check into one of the Deluxe Rooms on the 19th floor instead, or one of the better rooms that take you far, far above the streets.
The balcony does let in enough light to create the impression of larger size in the room. And if you do decide to stay in your room, forsaking the SkyPark and all the other attractions you're entitled to visit as a paying guest, you can just chill out with the fast WiFi or get cable TV on tap from the widescreen in the room.
Deluxe Rooms' bathrooms come with a walk-in shower (no bathtub) and the Marina Bay Sands' proprietary "Paiza" branded toiletries. The shower is a bit tricky; the slick round chrome handle that controls water temperature gets very slippery when wet, and I could hardly get the water to the temperature I wanted without being scalded or chilled in the interim.
The room's executive work desk, once cleared of the assorted folders and informational brochures left behind by the hotel, is a comfortable place to work from. The free WiFi is fast, but requires a password for access (the front desk provides the password upon check-in). Power and data plugs are hidden away in a panel to the side; there's room for two Singapore-style plugs, one universal plug, and one outlet for an Ethernet cable.
- Read more about Voltage in Asia.
Ascending to the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark
Not all elevators in Tower 3 ascend to the SkyPark level. If you’re checked into a room below the 31st floor, you may need to descend to either the ground level or the elevator lobby on the 31st level, switch to the elevator that services the upper half of the tower, and ascend all the way (ears popping as you go) to the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark on the 57th level.
The SkyPark stands on a platform that extends across all three towers. The SkyPark serves as a common entertainment and nightlife space for hotel guests and outside visitors, its three acres of space housing a restaurant, nightclub, a viewing deck, and an infinity-edge swimming pool for hotel guests’ use.
The view of the Singapore skyline afforded by the SkyPark more than made up for the lack of any view in my room on the 2nd level. From the viewing deck, Singapore's Marina Bay district resembles a luminous multicolored Milky Way. Far below us, a lightshow was throwing beams of light into the sky from the Sands and the ArtScience Museum.
Guests are allowed full access to all the parts of the SkyPark; walk-in visitors can only visit the viewing deck. With my all-access pass (my keycard) I could walk all around to enjoy 360-degree views of Singapore at night.
There are three key angles worth seeing from the SkyPark. The western side of the Observation Deck looks over Marina Bay itself, including the Merlion and the Esplanade. The eastern side of the Deck covers views of the Formula One pitstop and the Singapore Flyer. On the other end of the SkyPark crowning Tower 1, you can see the Gardens at Marina Bay (currently under construction) and the sea beyond it.
The Marina Bay Sands’ Infinity Edge Pool
After taking in the nighttime view, I decided that it was as good a time as any to try the SkyPark’s famous infinity-edged pool. The pool extends over 160 yards from end to end on the west-facing side of the SkyPark, overlooking the Marina Bay basin and the skyscrapers of Singapore’s business district. Dozens of lounge chairs line the side of the pool, and a number of foam loungers lie in the water itself; some immediately under a water fountain, where swimmers can lie and get splashed.
One cannot swim from one end to the other; the pool is actually divided into three sections, with two shallow dividers separating them. On the southern end of the pool stands the kiddie pool, a slightly elevated splashing pool with glass walls to prevent the little ones from jumping out.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s quite clear that the pool is more fun in the daylight than at night. Your guide could stand no longer than ten minutes splashing at the infinity edge, getting my fill of the Marina Bay view while getting really cold in the night air.
Another complication of swimming at night: you end up sharing the elevator (presumably dressed in nothing more than your swimwear and a bathrobe for modesty’s sake) with guests heading to the hip nightclub Ku De Ta, and are thus dressed up to the nines.
I visited the pool the next day, just as the sun was hitting its stride near noon, and the yelps of delight coming from the kids and other guests splashing in the sunshine left me with no small amount of regret.
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
With over 800,000 square feet of retail and dining space, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands is perhaps the largest space in Southeast Asia devoted mainly to premium and luxury brands. The Shoppes are connected to the Sands hotel through two underpasses running under the busy highway separating the Shoppes building from the hotel and SkyPark.
The three-level Shoppes boasts of a tenant list that looks like a page taken out of Paris Hilton’s daily schedule. Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels, Yves Saint Laurent, De Beers, Emporio Armani, Hermès, L'Occitane, and Louis Vuitton, among over a hundred other tenants, vie for the big bucks that Singapore’s moneyed class and her more well-heeled tourists can spend along its halls.
The design is airy and expansive – in daytime, natural sunlight enters through a long glass skylight that extends down the length of the Shoppes, bathing the mall with a warm glow. The levels are ingeniously designed so there’s plenty of ceiling space above every visitor walking down the halls, from the top level on down.
On one end of the Shoppes’ building, the Rain Oculus empties rainwater through a funnel in a glass bowl into a canal that extends through the retail belt. Guests can hire a sampan to cruise down the canal.
- For more on the Rain Oculus and other public art in Marina Bay Sands, check out this image gallery: Walking Down Marina Bay Sands’ Art Path in Singapore.
On the other end of the building, a foodcourt serves pricey versions of Singapore hawker center food around an atrium that serves as an exhibit space, and by March 2012, as an ice skating rink (the first in Singapore).
- For more on cheap food in Singapore, read this article: Four Hawker Centers You Dare Not Miss.
Shoppers can detour from the Shoppes directly into the Marina Bay Sands Casino or the Theaters. To get to the ArtScience Museum, guests need to exit onto the promenade lining the Marina Bay basin.
More about the ArtScience Museum and other Marina Bay Sands attractions in the next page.