Akin to a gorgeous flower, Singapore is fresh, green, colorful and exceptionally warm in its welcome for visitors. Returning to the city for the first time in two decades this week, I happily soaked up that aura -- with fond memories of other past visits.
This time, though, the skyscrapers were more prolific, the city vibe more energetic and the traffic a bit more intense than I recalled (although still quite well-managed with technology and a limit on car registrations).
Thankfully, though, the people of this island nation were as friendly as ever -- from the doorman at the Four Seasons Singapore to the driver on the Hop-On, Hop-Off BigBus Singapore to the porter who took my bags at the city's cruise terminal.
For the next five weeks, I'll be traveling through Asia and blogging in an "Exploring Asia" series of posts every few days. Here's our travel schedule so readers know what to expect.
- Two nights pre-cruise at the Four Seasons Singapore;
- Cruising through Southeast Asia on Seabourn as Seabourn Ovation sails from Singapore to Hong Kong, with calls in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam;
- A luxury boutique hotel stay at The Kerry Hotel, Hong Kong, and exploration of Hong Kong for four days;
- A two-night, pre-cruise stay at the InterContinental Bali Resort in Indonesia;
- A week-long, culinary-themed cruise on Silversea Cruises' Silver Muse from Bali with time ashore in Sabah, Malaysia (on Borneo) and Romblon Island in the Philippines.
- A brief post-cruise day visit to Manila, the Philippines
Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com every few days for my personal experiences and opinions, focused on hospitality, heritage, culture, culinary diversions, sightseeing and fun activities for both pre- and post-cruise stays and port call visits.
Arriving in Singapore
Let's just say that from the U.S. East Coast to Asia, it's a long, long way.
I arrived at Changi Airport Singapore following a six-hour Emirates flight from Dubai, preceded by a five-and-a-half-hour layover at Dubai's airport. That followed a 14-plus-hour flight from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport to Dubai.
Not good at sleeping on airplanes, I was ready to nestle into a nice, soft bed -- and that was prior to the aircraft door even opening. But getting off the plane, I immediately remembered exactly why Changi is considered one of the best airports in the world by frequent travelers.
Simply put, everything seems to work well. Service from airport workers and the airline was very good, as I asked for assistance and received good answers. Brightly lighted shops sparkled and beckoned with both fun souvenirs and designer goods.
Most notably, the terminal looked so clean that, as my late mom was known for saying: "One could almost eat off the floor."
My two checked bags were promptly delivered on the bag belt by Emirates. In addition, my wheelchair "pusher" (required in long-distance airport jaunts due to a knee injury) was on time, friendly and very helpful.
My transfer car service, arranged by Seabourn, also was on time and waiting for me. It took less than an hour to transit the terminal, clear immigration and customs and begin my "Asian Extravaganza."
Floral Beauty, Sparkling Skyline
En route from the airport to downtown Singapore, I loved seeing the flowering bushes in the highway median; their bright flowers resembled a wide pink ribbon separating the highway lanes.
The drive was relatively quick and soon the new Singapore -- the skyline and vibrant energy showcased in the movie "Crazy Rich Asians"-- emerged. I loved the creative architectural shapes of the skyscrapers.
Shopaholics beware. Our drive to the hotel was also tempting as we passed block after block of malls with shops, eateries and designer boutiques reflecting such names as Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Tiffany.
If you can't find what you want in this shoppers' heaven, you likely will never find it. The boutiques beckoned, but thankfully, I was too tired to be tempted.
Four Seasons Singapore
Soon we motored up the foliage-lined driveway of the Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, the pre-cruise hotel partner of Seabourn. Right from the start, the hotel's luxury service shined -- professional, efficient, yet also friendly and welcoming.
Check-in was a breeze, and the front desk people truly seemed to like their jobs. They greeted guests warmly (not just me, but others that also were checking in).
After happily changing money for me, the front desk staffer came from behind the desk. She escorted me personally to the elevator and showed how to work the security button by passing my key card over it. She didn't simply tell me how to do it. She showed me -- a nice luxury service touch.
I took the elevator to the 11th floor. As the doors opened, I was also impressed that my bellman was there to meet me in the corridor with my luggage in tow. He escorted me to my corner room, #1119 (see slide show for many photos), and explained the room features.
So, less than an hour and 45 minutes from the time the Emirates flight landed at Changi Airport Singapore, I was comfortably settled in my spacious accommodations.
After snapping a few photos, I headed to bed -- having been up for two days with overnight flights and little sleep. Of course, then I was wide awake at 1 a.m., but that had its own rewards -- the eerie and gorgeous nighttime views that are also displayed in the slide show above.
Best tip? Don't fly from the U.S. into Singapore and go right to the ship. Beyond the potential for missing the embarkation if airport/airplane troubles develop en route, it's really a "must" to have at least a one-night, pre-cruise stay to recuperate from the flying, lack of sleep and time zone changes.
My two-night pre-cruise stay allowed me a day to rest and adjust to the time zone changes, and also have a day and a half of sightseeing before boarding the ship.
Several other Seabourn guests were doing the same, and we all said even another night to explore Singapore would have been advantageous.
Stay tuned for a look at my brief time in Singapore. We'll be posting every few days throughout my journey.