How the Garden City became a new cruise hot spot
In January, Singapore played host to Seabourn Encore as the ship – one of the most luxurious ever built for the cruise market – was christened in the island city state.
At the lavish event, Singapore’s minister of trade and industry, S Iswaran spoke of the “significant and growing role” that Carnival Corporation, of which Seabourn is a part, plays in the region’s cruise business. “Vast itinerary possibilities, excellent airlift and a favourable climate are all conducive to cruise flourishing here,” he said.
And flourishing it is. The christening of Seabourn Encore sent out a very clear message: when it comes to cruise, Singapore is open for business. The country increasingly acts as an embarkation and disembarkation port for itineraries across Asia – its proximity to Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia making it the perfect start or end to a short holiday. It’s one of the reasons Royal Caribbean has significantly increased its presence in the region since a new cruise terminal was opened in 2012: now, Mariner of the Seas offers three, four and five-night itineraries that call at the likes of Phuket, Thailand, or Penang, Malaysia, while Ovation of the Seas is homeporting there for a short season this year. For the 2017-2018 season, Royal Caribbean has scheduled a total of 72 round-trip itineraries – its largest ever.
The Lion City, a regular call on world cruises, is also perfectly placed for longer cruises, be it a 12-night trip to Hong Kong via Malaysia on Silversea’s Silver Cloud or an 18-night voyage around the Middle East to Abu Dhabi on Oceania Cruises’ Insignia. Princess Cruises’ Emerald Princess also sails an epic, 31-night Southampton to Singapore cruise that takes in Rome and Dubai on the way.
There’s a reason why it’s become such a popular port of call, and that’s not just down to its geographic position. Singapore is a fascinating place: it is one of just three city states in the world (Monaco and Vatican City being the other two), but feels unique.
In 1967 the government introduced the vision of making Singapore a ‘garden city’, and has since set aside 10 per cent of its land for parks and nature reserves – notably the iconic Supertree Grove. Described by Sir David Attenborough as “perhaps the most spectacular example of city greening”, these 18 man-made structures are between 25-50m tall and support vertical gardens connected by an aerial walkway.
Given the push for green space, you may even mistake the Singapore Botanic Gardens, found at the fringe of the city’s main shopping belt, as a new addition. In fact, they have been there since 1859 and are one of only three gardens (and the only tropical garden) to be honoured as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
But what makes these green spaces so remarkable is how they contrast with modern, urban buildings and colonial structures. The city is a melting pot of cultures, architectural styles and languages – now with a distinctly modern feel. The Marina Bay Sands, which has only been open since 2010, is already one of the world’s most recognisable hotel buildings. The three-tower complex of more than 2,500 rooms boasts an impressive SkyPark – and, in it, an observation deck with 360-degree views. You’ll also find what is billed
as the world’s largest infinity pool.
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, architectural styles and languages – now with a distinctly modern feel
This modern, forward-thinking city is also becoming known for its art scene, with the Museum of Contemporary Arts (Moca) – housed in a former colonial building, an army barracks that dates back to the 1860s – showcasing the very best in contemporary art from the region.
As one of the most affluent countries in the world it has become known for its fine (see: extraordinarily expensive) dining, but Singapore is a place where sizzling, aromatic street food is superb and plentiful. The city’s history as a major trading port is told as much through its cuisine as its diverse neighbourhoods: you can identify Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and even English and Portuguese influences in its dishes.
No trip to the city, however, would be complete without a trip to Raffles, where the Singapore Sling (gin, pineapple juice, grenadine, lime and Dom Benedictine) was invented by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. The Long Bar is closed until 2018, but the cocktail has found a temporary home at the hotel’s Bar & Billiard Room. Or try the Four Seasons’ Manhattan bar, an ode to 19th-century New York City, which is its equal.