An early look at Resorts World Sentosa
I ride my Dahon folding bicycle across the new causeway linking the mainland to Sentosa island, for a preview of the hotels at Resorts World Sentosa before the resort opens to the public on January 20 (check out the gallery of first-look photos above).
Most Singaporeans call it the Sentosa Casino but, as we are constantly reminded by the Singapore Government, we should call it the Integrated Resort. After all, the casino is just one part of the IR, along with a mix of hotels and a theme park.
"$2 please," says the gentleman at the admission booth.
Yes, I need to pay $2 to ride my bicycle into Sentosa. It may well be just a visitor charge, and not a fee for my vehicle. At least I am not in a car or cab, who have had their surcharges and entrance fees increased in conjunction with the opening of the IR. To encourage carpooling, we are told.
Such a strange way to encourage people to come to your troublesome-to-get-to island though. But Resorts World Sentosa is, to their credit, absorbing the admission fees for visitors to the resort's hotels and restaurants.
(Almost all) the Hotels
As I reach the Hard Rock Hotel, security is directing traffic and for a brief moment, I spot a confused look on their faces as they decide where to direct the only cyclist there.
"I am here for the media preview, Hard Rock Hotel," I say.
"No problem," the security officer helpfully says, "You go this way."
Then he puts a friendly hand on my shoulder and whispers, "Before you go in, sir, you may want to zip up."
I look down and realize I had been riding on the island a little too free and easy. Top marks to the security staff for their alertness and discretion.
Equarius Hotel and the Spa Villas were not open yet.
I like the Hard Rock Hotel for its fake beach pool, complete with sandy dunes. A perfect place to hang out if you are not a real beach kind of person. You know, the kind who freaks out when your feet touches some unknown squishy stuff on the real ocean floor.
Hotel Michael is named after Michael Graves, the famous architect who designed much of the IR. If you like his art, I suppose it would be cool to stay here. The woody look of the rooms did not quite work for me.
Crockfords Tower is an exclusive invite-only hotel for the IR's high rollers. Which meant I was not invited because that's not the way I roll. We did see the swanky exterior though. I am told it is named after a famous private gaming club in England, the world's oldest. Taxi drivers are going to need some intense training to get its name right, I think. It would be too easy to say something, er, non-exclusive.
Then again, patrons of the Crockfords are unlikely to be taking cabs there.
I really like Festive Hotel. Perhaps because I have three kids. The Deluxe Family King room I went to could fit a family of two adults and two to three kids. The highlight being a loft bed for the kids to fight over. A big family usually has to book a suite or two adjoining rooms to fit the lot in. This works so much better.
I am not too fond of the name though. Was "Festive" the best they could do? A little vague and non-commital, don't you think?
The Universal Studios theme park is not open yet but I will file a report once I get to check it out. I did get to see a little glimpse of the yet-to-open Casino though.
The Shy Casino
To get to the Casino, I have to take an escalator down, pass through a long hall I call "The Hall of Justice", and just when you think you've reached the place, you still have to clear "casino customs."
At the entrance to the Casino are separate entry points for Foreign Visitors and Citizens/PRs. There are machines that looked like MRT turnstiles except without the bits that block you. It looks like you have to tap some kind of access card to go in. Then I remembered, locals need to pay S$100 per day to get in (or S$2,000 a year). I suppose that was what the machines were for.
Just for fun, I try my ez-link transit card on the turnstiles. The machine ignores me.
I have been to many casinos in other countries (purely for research, I assure you). Almost all of them are designed to ensure you come in and gamble right away. Slot machines are up front and the entrances with their blinky lights are designed to suck you in immediately.
Not this Singapore one. It was almost as if the Casino was a thing to be ashamed of, and had to be built away from casual passers-by. Shy and tucked away below ground, through a long hall, and then the 'Customs Point,' this Casino was a place you had to consciously go to.
F&B and the Mother of All Ballrooms
I also have the chance to look at their convention ballroom, a huge column-free hall that could be divided into nine smaller ones. It is the largest column-free ballroom in Asia. You could have a really huge wedding in this ballroom. Or a Go-kart event, though that might mess up the carpet. This is clearly designed for some serious, hardcore meetings, conventions or exhibitions, or MICE events. I certainly felt like a mouse standing in the ballroom.
I have a buffet lunch at the Hard Rock Hotel's Starz Restaurant. Wagyu beef burgers! Crayfish! Ice cream! Yum. I am told there is oyster on some days too. The wagyu beef burgers were a little dry though. And the dishes needed to be labeled more clearly. I found myself asking what this was and what that was.
Perhaps the staff manning the buffet line could speak in English a little more too. My Mandarin is serviceable but polite as the staff were, a non-Chinese-speaking overseas visitor might have problems asking about the food at the buffet.
I quite enjoyed my little visit to Sentosa Resorts World. There is enough going on here to make the trip worthwhile. And it will probably help make Sentosa a more attractive destination, instead of what my friend calls "Singapore's last resort island."