“In my experience,” said Guy, “many Asians’ idea of a vacation is to engage wholeheartedly, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., go, go, go, do something exciting.”
Tan said that Royal Caribbean is not discouraging North American passengers from cruising on ships sold primarily to Chinese, but wants to be sure they are aware of language and cultural differences.
The potential growth of Singapore-based cruises is based largely on accessibility by air and sea.
The only real drawback to this small island nation at the southern tip of Malaysia can’t be helped; from North America, it’s halfway around the world. My recent one-stop flights on Singapore Airlines were 24 hours, whether I headed west from San Francisco or east from New York.
Singapore, which began as a British trading post, is one of the world’s most modern cities and one of the largest commercial ports, feeding a free-trade zone that seems to have spawned more shopping malls than northern New Jersey.
Cruise passengers will love this city, a great location for getting over jetlag.
Nearly everyone you meet speaks English. You can drink water from the tap. Restaurants abound. You could choose to eat Western meals, though that would be a shame in a city with enough pan-Asian fare to satisfy any foodie; everywhere you look a restaurant is cooking something you may not have tried in the United States.
Getting around is easy, safe and relatively inexpensive. The marina for smaller ships, for instance, sits next to a massive shopping mall, is connected to the city subway, and is within walking distance of a large beach where you could spend the day. The tourism office is helpful ( www.yoursingapore.com).
I recommend at least two days to explore the city. “Don’t do a six-hour stay in Singapore, with a 5 a.m. airplane arrival,” said Guy. “Singapore is an extraordinary city.”
As you walk around Singapore, your neck will tire from looking up at new buildings and those under construction. The architecture is stunning, from two of the city’s newest hotels to the 250-acre Gardens by the Bay ( www.gardensbythebay.com.sg), a complex that includes a gigantic indoor Flower Dome of plants and exotic species. One new hotel, the Parkroyal on Pickering, was designed with 15,000 square yards of gardens. The other, the 2,500-room Marina Bay Sands, features three towers that support a long, concrete structure, shaped like a ship that is longer than the Eiffel tower laid on its side. This Skypark, on the 57th floor, includes an infinity swimming pool that is reason enough to book a room. If you’re not staying but want to catch the terrific views from the top, head for the restaurant or the bar, both expensive but a scene you won’t forget.
Singapore may be the most planned city in the world. Land, at a premium because there’s so little of it, is tightly designed with parks, commercial and residential buildings and roads all landscaped as if beauty were required.
It is. So are health standards, manners and cleanliness. Street food stalls are inspected and graded. Litter is not allowed.
All of which has led to an image of a city that has been described as Asia light.
For this North American, Singapore is more Asia easy, foreign but familiar, a comfortable transition into a region that can be progressively challenging as you journey inland.
David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com