Singapore is a hub for business, food, shipping and (of course) shopping. But did you know that Singapore with kids makes for a fantastic family vacation?
Singapore is 63 islands (with one “main” island) surrounded by the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca and the Straits of Johore. Its nearest neighbour is Malaysia with the Indonesian Islands are to the south, Thailand to the north and the Philippines to the northeast. It is a city, state and a country all in one. You’ll need to study the history of Singapore for to understand why it’s so multicultural and multiracial. There are 4 main languages spoken: Malay, Chinese, English and Tamil. It’s mainly known for it’s outstanding food and shopping. That’s why I used to go, but 5 days there with my 4-year-old was surprisingly not enough time. It’s extraordinarily kid-friendly.
Singapore Night Safari
This is the only place in the world designed to view animals at night. Even if your kids typically go to bed early, it’s worth keeping them awake long enough to take the 45-minute tram ride around the Night Safari. The tram ride is cleverly narrated, so you’ll be directed where to look for each animal. There are over 1000 animals at the Night Safari with a third of them on the endangered list. There is something just really neat about being at a zoo at night.
I don’t think that young kids will enjoy the Night Safari as much on foot. They’re likely to be tired and better off on the tram where they can see the animals up close without much effort. I would also recommend you go to the Night Safari, even if you don’t have kids. Adults should take the tram first and then explore on foot. After all, it’s open until midnight! All sorts of animals will be dining, sleeping and hanging out under dim lights. You’ll be surprised by how close you can get to them. And, you can’t do this anywhere else.
Tickets: Buy your tickets in advance so you can skip the lines. In fact, you have the option for a Park Hopper ticket that is good for the Night Safari, the Singapore Zoo and the Jurong Bird Park. There is a two-park option as well. You’ll enter all parks with the same ticket, which alone is worth it.
Don’t overdo it: The best advice I received from our concierge desk is not to attempt the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari on the same day. I really wanted to knock both of them out in one day, since they are right next to each other. The Singapore Zoo closes at 6pm and the Night Safari opens at 7:30pm. There are places to eat during the break, but it just would have been way too much for a 4-year-old.
My advice is to study the Singapore Zoo website before you go. You’ll have choices to make, if you think your kids can’t handle an all-day zoo trip. Be mindful that the heat and humidity is hard on them, and is going to add an extra layer to your visit. You can go first thing in the morning when the heat and humidity are at their lowest levels. The Zoo opens at 8:30am. If you do, book the breakfast with the animals. Here, you can have a breakfast buffet while a zoo keeper brings in all sorts of animals for you to see up close while you dine. We arrived a bit late into this but we were able to take a photo with a family of orangutans. It was pretty neat.
However, most of the animal feedings (those you can watch and those you can participate in) occur in the afternoon, as do the elephant rides and other shows. Or perhaps, split the zoo into 2 days if you have the luxury of time.
The most captivating thing about the Singapore Zoo is how close you can get to the animals and still feel oddly at ease. We noticed this especially in the Australian Outback section where my daughter came face to face with a kangaroo and an ostrich. The landscaping is beautiful too. On a weekday morning, it was not at all crowded and I found it a very relaxing experience.
The Zoo is a conservation center as well. I will warn you that the stuffed animals in the gift shop are quite expensive.
Jurong Bird Park
I’m gutted that my daughter was too tired to do 3 parks in 3 days so we missed the Jurong Bird Park. Everyone tells me that it’s amazing. Again, you are up close and personal with birds of all sizes.
Family-Friendly Singapore Hotels
The Four Seasons Hotel Singapore prides itself on being a family-friendly, full service luxury hotel. Conveniently located a few steps from Orchard Road, it’s my favorite place to stay in Singapore. We’ve stayed there without kids, but I have a new appreciation for it now that I’ve stayed there with my daughter. A full post about our stay is coming soon.
Shangri-la Singapore is another popular choice for traveling families. They have a fabulous buffet and swimming pool.
The Raffles Hotel (see their recipe for the original Singapore Sling) has a lush rooftop pool and suggests that it’s kid-friendly. Though they keep the residences closed to those who are not hotel guests, the main areas are still a bit crowded and touristy. I love this hotel, but would stay here without kids. To me, it has a similar feel to the Hotel Del Coronado.
Getting Around Singapore With Kids
I prefer to stay around Orchard Road as I love the shops there. This part of town is relatively stroller-friendly, however, lifts are hard to find in some of the malls. Some of the malls are underground and you can’t always just cross Orchard Road as it’s very busy. You’ll have to find an underpass depending on where you are. I would recommend going shopping without the kids. A reputable hotel will offer babysitting.
Taxis are also very inexpensive and easy to find. Kids are not required to sit in a car seat in a taxi. You’ll have to bring your own, get comfortable with no car seat, or use the hotel cars. To get to the Night Safari, zoo, Clarke Quay or other areas of Singapore, you’ll need to take a taxi.
If there’s an airport to kill time in, this is one of them. It’s clean and though undergoing some renovations, fairly new feeling. It’s also extremely kid-friendly. All terminals have a family zone where there are private breast feeding rooms, nice changing tables, TVs playing cartoon network, soft padded play area and a small play gym. The one in terminal 1 is next to a Burger King, Dunkin Donuts and Delifrance should you need some emergency snacks. There is also an incredible amount of gorgeous indoor foliage and information desks should you need to ask anything.
The speed at which you can arrive and depart an airport is also important when traveling with kids. There is nothing worse than lugging baggage and a fussy kid or two. This airport is unbelievably efficient. I have now flown into it more times than I can count, and each time I’ve breezed through customs and baggage claim on the way in to Singapore. Though they tell you to get to the airport 2 hours early when departing Singapore, I was checked in and through customs within 15 minutes of arrival. And that’s not because of my elite airline status, all of the “lines” were short or non existent. One thing to note is that your carry-on bags are screened at the gate, and not in a mass line before you get to the gates.
The other thing I’ve noticed (maybe it’s just with Cathay Pacific) is that if the plane is ready, regardless of boarding time, they allow you on. This avoids the drama of queues, trying to get your bags shoved in the overhead compartment while juggling a kids and so forth. It’s a very peaceful, easy process.
Singapore Weather and Miscellaneous
You can count on Singapore being hot and humid. It’s in the tropics so it’s like this all year round, which means it rains too. You definitely need an umbrella and do not forget a good bug spray. Do not forget to apply this bug spray constantly if you’re at the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Botanical Gardens or other lush areas. Singapore can also be hot and overcast at the same time. Apply sunscreen continuously as well and make sure the kids are drinking plenty of water.
Just Do It
Those adventurous enough to take overseas family vacations often consider Europe over Asia. I would highly recommend Asia and include Singapore as a stop. More on the Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, Sentosa Island and Hong Kong to come.