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A walk in the theme park |

Travel and Tourism

A walk in the theme park

- Maria Jorica B. Pamintuan -

MANILA, Philippines - If there’s anything in the world that can make anyone feel like a kid again, it’s an amusement park. Rides dotted with blinking lights draw in crowds like beacons, while the shrill screaming that pierces the air makes butterflies flutter and hearts beat faster. It’s impossible to ignore the smells wafting from snack bars, or resist the call of an ice-cold frozen drink while racing from one attraction to the next. For kids — well, anyone really — amusement parks are candy shops on steroids.

Unfortunately, while Filipinos love them, there aren’t that many theme parks in the country. On the bright side, many of our Southeast Asian neighbors have parks of their own, which have become staple vacation destinations.

The newest of these is Universal Studios Singapore (USS) located inside Resorts World Sentosa. Like its siblings in the United States and Japan, USS features rides and characters from famous movie franchises such as Shrek, The Mummy, and Transformers. The park is not very big (it is on the tiny island of Sentosa, after all), but it’s filled with a decent number of attractions.

Characters from Madagascar ride a float around the park and wave to visitors.

The sensory assault upon entering the park makes it all too tempting to race around like a sugar-fueled five-year-old guided by nothing but childish wonder. While that’s all well and good, it’s not very efficient. Since a trip to USS is often just part of a vacation, people usually reserve only a day to go around the park. It’s a short time, but there are ways to make the most of it.

First off, the Universal Express pass is a godsend. The lines at USS can get very, very long — for the most popular rides, the waiting time can be as long as 30 minutes. For an additional cost of up to 48 Singaporean dollars, you get to jump the line, so to speak. There’s almost no waiting time at any of the attractions, but there is a catch: you can only use the privilege once per ride. But then, if you only have a day and plan to try everything, there won’t be much time for second takes anyway.

Second, holding off the shopping till the end of the day saves you the hassle of lugging around plastic bags full of souvenirs. This could prove difficult, however, because the first area (there are seven) once entering the gates is Hollywood, a street lined on both sides by stores and restaurants. There is also a money changer in one of the stalls, just in case you run out of the local currency. The merchandise may beckon, but ignore them for now (if you can).

A cast member welcomes visitors at the ticket entrance

Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Betty Boop and a host of other characters hang out at the Hollywood zone at different times of the day for photo opportunities. While there are park employees who will take pictures that can be bought at one of the stores, you can also ask them to capture the moment with your personal cameras too, free of charge.

The Hollywood strip ends at a T-junction, with either direction leading to a different area. Go left first, toward Madagascar. Why left and not right? USS is arranged in a logical sequence, with the rides getting progressively more thrilling; going right would take you to the fastest and scariest of the attractions. Starting easy builds up the excitement (and your courage).

In the Madagascar area, there are two rides: a carousel and Madagascar: A Crate Adventure, which involves sitting in a boat that goes through a tunnel. These are very kid-friendly, easygoing attractions. Unless you have little children with you, the carousel may be a bit too juvenile to bother with, but the crate adventure is worth trying, no matter how old you are, especially if you’re a fan of the Madagascar movie.

As in all the other areas, there are character photo op stations, shops and restaurants in Madagascar. Shop if you want here, but know that some of the wares for sale can also be found at the giant store in Hollywood.

Continue walking straight through Madagascar to reach the next zone, Far Far Away. It is a Shrek-based land, and is one of the most interesting parts of USS. There are four attractions in this area, a 4-D show, a Donkey interactive theater show, a mini Ferris wheel, and a roller coaster.

Do the roller coaster then the 4-D show and skip the other two if you want (again, they may be a bit too kiddie). The real appeal of Far Far Away is the setting — there are so many places for good photos, and if you’re lucky, Puss in Boots might be passing through or Shrek and Fiona might be hanging out at their tree stump house.

After the Shrek section is the largest area of USS, The Lost World, which includes not only Jurassic Park-themed rides, but also the Waterworld show. Before riding anything, check out the schedules for the show — you shouldn’t miss it! Hollywood magic at its best.

As for the other rides, try Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure and Canopy Flyer (in this order, trust me). Expect to get really, really wet on the rapids ride. There are lockers (some free, some for hire) for your stuff, so don’t worry if you have some gadgets with you. A word of caution: be conscious of the time because the lockers will open when your time is up.

Two statues guard the entrance of the Revenge of the Mummy park ride

Once you’ve done the Flyer, I suggest eating a snack at The Lost World or going up the rock-climbing wall while waiting for your clothes to dry. The next zone is Ancient Egypt and the must-try ride there can be a bit chilly, so best not be damp.

Revenge of the Mummy is a fast-paced indoor thrill ride that’s not for the faint-hearted. For very young kids and scaredy-cats, however, Ancient Egypt offers really nice backdrops for photos. There is also an outdoor ride that might be more your pace (but really, you should try Revenge of the Mummy, scary as it may be).

The second to the last area is Sci-Fi City, home of the three best rides in the park: Battlestar Galactica: Cylon, Battlestar Galactica: Human, and the yet-to-be-opened Transformers 3-D ride.

The current stars of the park are the Battlestar Galactica rides, the tallest twin roller coasters in the world. The coasters travel on different tracks, sometimes side by side — the experience is supposed to mimic a battle between aliens and humans. Human is tamer, so I suggest riding it first. Cylon is infinitely more terrifying because your feet dangle in the air, unlike its red counterpart which has a floor.

However, in December 2011, Human and Cylon will be given a run for their money by the Transformers 3-D ride, which, Universal Parks and Resorts chairman and chief executive officer Tom Williams said will be the best ride in any theme park in the world.

For now, the Sci-Fi City experience ends with the Battlestar twins. 

Screams fill the air as the Cylon and Human Battlestar Galactica roller coasters travel side by side.

Enter New York, the last zone in the park, where you can go behind the scenes of movie production with two attractions: Lights! Camera! Action! and Stage28. Like Waterworld, these aren’t to be missed if you’re interested in Hollywood special effects.

After visiting the six ride-filled areas of USS, it’s time to do what you’ve putting off (or should have been, at least) since the moment you entered the park’s gates: shop. It’s back to Hollywood, where it literally and figuratively all began.

So, finishing and fully appreciating a theme park in a day is not impossible. You’ve tried the best of the best and that’s what counts.

Next time (you’re not going to skip the much-hyped Transformers ride, are you?), you know which attractions to ride, making time to explore the parts of Resorts World Sentosa outside Universal Studios Singapore — the shops surrounding the park or the Crane Dance by the waterfront.

The hotels in the resort are an option if you decide to stay longer on the island. There are three to choose from: Hotel Michael (artsy), Festive Hotel (family-oriented), and the Hard Rock Hotel.

Sentosa may be far from home, but for the love of amusement parks, it’s well-worth the trip.

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