Singapore, one of my favorite cities on earth. After my first visit to the Lion City in 2017, I knew I had to come back to take a cruise out of the island nation. If you ask me, there’s no better city on earth for a pre and post cruise stay than Singapore.
About a month ago, I returned from a 10 day visit to Singapore that included a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas with port stops Kuala Lumpur and Phuket, Thailand. Here is everything you need to know about visiting Singapore and a guide to help you have a trip that was as amazing as mine.
Is Singapore really as awesome as portrayed in the recent box office hit Crazy Rich Asians? Actually, it’s even better.
Singapore is one of the easiest Asian cities to visit. That’s because English is the most widely spoken and one of the four official languages in Singapore. With pretty much no language barrier, you’ll have no issues ordering food or getting around town.
It is the most diverse city I’ve ever visited, a true melting pot of cultures. From Chinatown to Little India to buildings dating back to the British Colonial period, every neighborhood is unique and has a charm all its own.
Singapore is also the cleanest and safest city I’ve ever visited. Of course, you should always use common sense when traveling but crime is almost non-existent in the city.
How to Get Around
The downtown area of Singapore is very walk-able but public transportation is a great way to get around. One thing I quickly learned on my trip was how inexpensive it was.
The MRT (Singapore’s subway system) is cheap, extremely clean, and an efficient way to get around the city. The EZ Link Tourist Pass allows unlimited rides for as little as $6.70 per day (around $5 USD). Whatever you do, don’t bring a durian on the MRT.
Taxis are also a great way to get around and the rates are usually affordable. From the Changi Airport to downtown Singapore, it will cost around $27 ($20 USD).
An even better option is Grab. Grab is the ride sharing service used in Singapore, extremely similar to Uber and Lyft. In the mornings, we were able to go across town for as little as $7 ($5 USD). During peak times, you can expect to pay a little more but it’s still decently priced. You will obviously need to have data services on your phone to use Grab.
If you aren’t sure about visiting Singapore, there are two words that should convince you to go: Hawker Centers. Hawkers Centers are Singapore’s gift to the world for those who love to eat. The prices also can’t be beat as most dishes cost only a few dollars.
Hawker Centres were created when Singapore wanted to make sure the city’s vibrant food truck scene could be handled in a clean environment. With clean running water, these food hubs all around the city were formed.
Hawker Centers of made up of individual stalls, each one serving one or two dishes that they have taken years to perfect. Most of them are family recipes that have been past down through the years. It’s the only place in the world where you can get a Michelin star meal for just a couple dollars.
The signature dish, chicken rice, is a must try in Singapore. A simple dish that is so flavorful, you’ll be dreaming about it when you’re back home. Which hawker stall that has the best chicken rice is up for debate. At the Maxwell Food Centre, you’ll find a long line at Tian Tian’s along with a photos and quote from Gordon Ramsay and the late Anthony Bourdain.
However, don’t let the long lines and celebrity photos fool you. Walk two stalls down to Ah Tai’s where the chicken rice is even better. (The former chef for Tian Tian’s opened Ah Tai’s)
From satay to dim sum to fresh seafood, Hawker Centers are nothing short of a food paradise. Which Hawkers Centers are the best to visit? Well, that all depends on who you ask. Where were my favorites:
Maxwell Food Centre: One of three incredible places to eat in Chinatown, Maxwell Food Centre became our favorite out of all the places we visited. Also in Chinatown is the massive Chinatown Complex Food Centre and a street lined with restaurants.
Lau Pa Sat Food Court: Each night, a road adjacent to Lau Pas Sat hawker center closes and turns into Satay Street. Around 10 hawkers serve up freshly grilled sticks of meat are nothing short of heavenly.
Newton Food Centre: This hawker center is a bit touristy and prices are higher than at other food courts. However, there is ample seating and it is also where they filmed the hawker scene in Crazy Rich Asians.
Other Great Hawker Centres: Tiong Bahru Food Centre, Old Airport Road Food Centre, and Changi Village Hawker Centre.
No matter which one you pick, you can’t go wrong.
Skip the ridiculously overpriced food at your hotel and eat around the hawker centres all around Singapore.
Where to Stay
There are no shortage of places to stay in Singapore. From budget hostel options to the iconic Marina Bay Sands, there’s a place to stay for everyone.
Pre-cruise, we decided to stay at the Intercontinental Hotel on Middle Street located by the Bugis MRT stop. As an added bonus, there’s a small hawker stall across the street that serves up the most underrated chicken rice in the city.
We love this hotel because you not only get the Intercontinental experience, but it’s allows easy access to tons of restaurants, shops, and public transportation. You don’t even have to go outside to get on the MRT.
Post-cruise, we chose to stay at the Marina Bay Sands, the signature hotel of Singapore. The most expensive hotel ever built, Marina Bay Sands is best known for the infinity pool that lines the surfboard looking roof that’s on top of the three hotel towers.
If you aren’t staying at MBS, there’s an observation deck that you can pay to access that offers the best views in Singapore. On one side you have the gorgeous skyline of the city and on the other, the Supertrees and Gardens by the Bay.
I’ll get to more on Gardens by the Bay later on. While on the observation deck, you can look over and be jealous of everyone enjoying the most incredible swimming pool ever built. The only way to have access to the pool is by being a guest of the hotel.
Staying at MBS allows easy access to Gardens by the Bay (worth visiting during the day and after it gets dark), tons of high end shopping, and the MRT. You can also rent a Lamborghini or Ferrari for as little as 15 minutes to take around the block. While the hotel is pricey, it’s an experience that you can’t have anywhere else.
If you get a garden view, you can see the cruise ships while they are in port.
There are hotels pretty much all over the city. Other options for places to stay include Airbnb or the budget option of staying in a hostel. As long as you are near an MRT stop, you can’t go wrong with the location of your hotel.
Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, MSC Cruises, Cunard Line, and a few other cruise lines offer cruises out of Singapore. The new modern terminal is crazy efficient and one of my favorite cruise terminals I’ve ever sailed out of.
From Thailand to Malaysia to port stops in India, cruises out of Singapore offer exotic destinations that blow away the Caribbean.
For our stop in Kuala Lumpur, we visited the Batu Caves, Petronas Towers, and had lunch in a revolving restaurant 1,000 feet above the city.
In Phuket, Thailand, we visited an elephant sanctuary in the jungle. We were able to feed the elephants, took a mud bath with them, and then washed and cleaned them off. It was one of the most incredible experiences we’ve ever had on a cruise.
Depending on the time of year, you can also visit Vietnam, Japan, and Australia on various cruise itineraries. From three to 30 night cruises, there’s a wide variety to choose from when cruising out of Singapore.
Things to Do in Singapore
Hop On, Hop Off Sightseeing Bus: The hop on, hop off buses are a great way to not only see many of the sites in Singapore, but it can be a way for you to get your bearings around the city. This is a great option on day one so you can get an idea of what you want to go back and see.
Gardens by the Bay and Supertrees: This is one of my favorite places to visit in Singapore. There’s no entrance free to walk around the expansive gardens and Supertrees. I can honestly spend all day here. During the evenings, there are two light and sound shows that incorporate the Supertrees and are a must see one night of your trip.
There is an entrance fee to enter the two conservatories. One is the world’s largest green house and the other houses the tallest indoor waterfall in the world. The Cloud Forest is worth every penny of the entrance fee and unlike anything else you’ll ever see or experience.
There is a skyway that links a few of the Supertrees together that has a minimal cost. Tip: go at dusk, right before the first light show.
Marina Bay Sands Light and Fountain Show: Taking place a few times each night in front of the hotel, the light and fountain show in front of Marina Bay Sands makes the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas look like a garden hose.
Chinatown: Chinatown has it all. There’s tons of restaurants, two awesome hawker centres, and a great place to pick up cheap souvenirs. It’s a nice change of pace from all of the high end shopping around the city.
Singapore Night Safari: The Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo was a highlight of our visit. However, don’t make the same mistake we did and make sure you purchase your tickets ahead of time online. This will save you from having to wait for your assigned time. Also, put your phone/camera down and just enjoy it. It’s dark, your photos aren’t going to come out that great anyway.
A trip to the zoo during the day is also an excellent choice.
Universal Studios: While not quite as large and impressive as the park in Orlando, Florida, it’s a fun way to spend half a day in Singapore. The price to get in is also much more reasonable than the Florida park.
Sentosa Island: Sentosa Island is the touristy district of Singapore. The island has everything from Universal Studios, an Aquarium, a water park, and the best beaches in Singapore.
River Cruise: Take a ride on a bumboat along the Singapore River seeing some of the city’s popular riverside highlights.
Botanical Gardens: A tropical garden in the middle of the city, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gardens were founded in 1859 and is one of Asia’s top park attractions. The National Orchid Garden located within the main gardens houses over 1,000 species of orchids. It’s a must see when visiting Singapore.
Orchard Road Shopping: While you can’t walk 15 feet in Singapore without walking into a shopping mall, Orchard Road is the epicenter of shopping in the city.
Singapore Flyer: Once the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel (currently #2 behind the Flyer in Las Vegas), the Singapore Flyer has 28 air conditioned capsules that offer 360 degrees views of Singapore.
How to Get to Singapore
Singapore is located halfway around the world and one degree north of the equator. Singapore is either 12 or 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, depending on Daylight Savings. Singapore is home the world’s #1 rated airport, Changi Airport.
Changi Airport is the type of airport that you wouldn’t mind being stuck in all day. Crazy talk you say? The airport has a butterfly garden, free movie theater, and a ridiculous greenhouse. There’s also a swimming pool you can enjoy while you wait for your flight. The airport is the polar opposite of Lagaurdia.
The world’s longest flight, Singapore Airlines Flight 21, flies from Newark nonstop to Singapore. For most flights to Singapore, you will need make a connection in Asia. I usually fly Delta Airlines and since they have a small hub at NRT (Toyko), I can fly Delta all the way to Singapore.
You can fly to Singapore via any of the major airlines (Delta, United, American) from pretty much every city in the US. Combined with their partners, you can have a seamless travel experience that will make your trip a breeze.
A visit to Singapore is well worth my one hour flight to Detroit, the 13 hour flight to Toyko, and the 7 hour flight to Singapore…even in economy.
Things to Know About Singapore
Let me start off by saying that it’s hot. Seriously, it’s hot and it’s humid. Located just one degree north of the equator, it’s the perfect place to visit if you hate cold weather.
Laws. There’s a few laws that you should know about before you visit. Chewing gum is illegal and comes with a $1,000 fine. Littering can earn you a fine of up to $300 for your first offense. Because of this, the streets are basically spotless.
Jaywalking and not flushing the toilet also come with fines. Vandalism is a serious offense in Singapore with the punishment being three to eight strokes of caning. Also, drug trafficking is punishable by death.
But it’s pretty simple. Obey the laws of the country you are visiting and you won’t have any problems.
Odds and Ends for Visiting Singapore
If you are flying into Singapore for a cruise, you’ll want to arrive several days before your cruise. We recommend at least three or four. This will not only help you get adjusted to the time difference, but give you a chance to experience what Singapore has to offer. You’ll do yourself a disservice if you fly in right before your cruise.
Currency is the Singapore Dollar. Currently (March 2019), the exchange rate is $1 USD equals around $1.30 Singapore Dollars. Give or take a few pennies. If you can’t get some local currency before your trip, use the ATMs at the airport. They will give you the best exchange rates. The currency booths around the city offer some of the worst rates and fees that you will find.