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What a Staycation At Singapore's Most Iconic Hotel is Like

By Renée Batchelor

A sunset view at the infinity pool on the Marina Bay Sands' Skypark.
Photograph: Marina Bay Sands
A sunset view at the infinity pool on the Marina Bay Sands' Skypark.

Marina Bay Sands' Hotel is one of the most prominent landmarks in Singapore. With an iconic silhouette of three towers with a boat-like structure — the Sands SkyPark — that sits atop them, it has become synonymous with Singapore. A pop cultural reference, and shorthand for instant geographical identification, it has been featured in everything from movies to music videos to manga.

Designed by the Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, the hotel is such an ubiquitous part of the Singapore skyline that it is sometimes hard to imagine that it was not always a part of our city’s landscape, having been completed relatively recently in 2010. That it was built on 16 hectres of reclaimed land, at one of the fastest rates ever (of one hotel floor completed every four days) — is a testament to the ambitious and innovative spirit of the young, city-state. Singapore may not have its natural wonders nor many scenic areas to speak of, but it was able to compete on a global level with this staggeringly audacious project. The iconic Sands SkyPark that sits on top of the hotel, is longer than the Eiffel Tower, and has one of the world’s longest public cantilevers, offering stunning 360° views of the surrounding bay, the harbour and nearby attractions like the Gardens by the Bay.

Combining a hotel, shopping gallery, art museum and casino, Marina Bay Sands' Hotel, Shoppes and ArtScience Museum is one of only two of the island’s integrated resorts, that offer visitors entertainment, lodging, gambling and dining, under one roof. To experience staying in the hotel then is to understand the unique place that it holds in Singapore’s modern entertainment and architectural heritage and also in its food scene. Some may argue that the plethora of high-end restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs that the Sands Corporation brought into Singapore, as well as the scope and ambitiousness of their offerings and surroundings, elevated the standard of the dining scene here.

Photograph: teamLabThe exhibit of Universe of Water Particles Transcending Boundaries at the permanent exhibition Future World at the ArtScience Museum.
The exhibit of Universe of Water Particles Transcending Boundaries at the permanent exhibition Future World at the ArtScience Museum.

Exploring Art and the Architectural

Experiencing the hotel from afar and in person are two altogether different things. From a distance Marina Bay Sands takes on almost monolithic air. When actually inside the building, sitting inside its famous infinity pool atop the Sands SkyPark as I was, I found myself surrounded by an almost meditative calm, with the cityscape lying beneath me. Chilly winds means the experience is a lot less sunny than one might imagine on an overcast early morning in December, but it is indeed thrilling to experience the view and dizzying, top-of-the-world feeling. The pandemic has restricted the number of guests allowed on the Sands SkyPark and in this instance, it works to the advantage of those who are lucky enough to secure a pool slot.

For the rooms, a high-floor, bay-facing room is highly recommended, again for the picture postcard scenery by day and the glittering scene at night as the surrounding buildings are lit up. I went to bed with the city lights twinkling outside the expansive floor to ceiling windows, again giving a sense of scale that makes it a unique experience. Looking downwards, you’ll also be able to have a clearer, bird’s eye view of some of the other architecturally-significant buildings including the recent addition of Apple’s spherical, “floating” store. Seeing the various buildings as a whole will give even a casual observer an understanding of what Safdie and his team envisaged in terms of the integrated resort’s design, and structures that appear almost like glittering jewels.

To pique the interest of guests who want to know more about the hotel’s architecture and its sustainability initiatives, the hotel is offering its Sustainability and Art guided tours as part of a staycation package now available on Kook till the end of June. This tour offer a walkaround of the hotel, the nearby The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and the ArtScience Museum, before ending off in light refreshments back at the hotel. The tour is a 75-minute, small group session that explores the large-scale art installations in and around these three buildings including Antony Gormley’s “Drift” a stainless steel matrix that coves an entire wall surface of the hotel and moves with the wind, and Ned Kahn’s “Rain Oculus” which has a whirlpool effect that creates a dynamic water feature in the heart of the mall. Another striking piece, Anish Kapoor’s “Sky Mirror” sits outside next to the ArtScience Museum, seamlessly blending into a lotus-filled pond. Pieces like these are often mistaken as part of the architecture, but in fact have been curated to lend the three buildings a distinctive yet uniform feel.

Photograph: Marina Bay SandsA selection of work by the photographer Nguan (2007-2020) seen in the new exhibition "Margins: drawing pictures of home"
A selection of work by the photographer Nguan (2007-2020) seen in the new exhibition "Margins: drawing pictures of home"

The tour also offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the sustainability initiatives that allow Marina Bay Sands to reduce its water wastage as well as its reliance on electricity and even lighting, using natural light to lend both the Shoppes and the hotel, its airy, open feel thanks to the generous sunshine streaming in. The tour also demonstrated, for instance, how the hotel grows its own vegetables in a hydroponic garden situated behind one of its restaurants, and the resulting harvest is actually used in the dishes prepared for guests.

Another great feature of the walking tour is that it encourages guests to move. The sprawling land area of the hotel and mall means that walking is part and parcel of a stay here. A hotel representative told me she could equally clock 10,000 steps in a day here and it’s easy to see how. Whether its window shopping along the seemingly endless lengths of the shopping arcade, or touring the ArtScience Museum, there is plenty to see as you amble along. The permanent exhibition “Future World” continues to delight visitors, especially young children, with its innovative and interactive displays, while newer shows like “Margins: drawing pictures of home” have a certain quiet, contemplative appeal, away from the bustle of the busy hotel and mall. Walking around the bay area is also another good way to explore sights — like the Merlion — up close and on foot, while getting out into the sunshine. Other nearby attractions include the Orient Express exhibition at Gardens by the Bay. 

Photograph: Marina Bay SandsThe 2.5m tall bell inside Koma and the dramatic footbridge over a pond are some of the striking design features that lend an air of occasion to any meal here.
The 2.5m tall bell inside Koma and the dramatic footbridge over a pond are some of the striking design features that lend an air of occasion to any meal here.

Dining Out

One of the best tests of a successful staycation is whether there are sufficient dining options without the need to venture further. After all, part of the charm of escaping is ensuring that you are well-fed and not stuck with repetitive or limited in-house offerings. This is where the hotel — joined via an underground tunnel with the neighbouring Shoppes excels. A host of dining options are available in both buildings. Highlights for me included Koma, a modern Japanese restaurant and sushi bar that has a theatrical setting that includes a 2.5m high Japanese bell and in indoor pond and footbridge, as well as a clever recreation of the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto at its entrance. Photo ops aside, the food, a delicious blend of Japanese and Western fusion, and the creatively presented desserts — think a chocolate dessert that looks like a bonsai plant — make for a memorable experience.

In a similar vein, a dinner at Lavo, one of the three restaurants that are situated in the Sands SkyPark offers spectacular views at sunset, but also comforting, almost home-style Italian cooking like its signature giant meatball, made from fresh-ground imperial wagyu and a huge slice of chocolate and peanut butter cake that is impossible to finish. There is a certain scale and grandeur that comes with these dining experiences that elevate it beyond a meal and turns it into a special occasion. That said, there are plenty of options for authentic and varied cuisines, from premium steak at Wolfgang Puck’s Michelin-starred CUT, to modern English food and inventive cocktails at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, to maple syrup-accompanied fried chicken and waffles at Yardbird — ensuring you’ll never be starved of choices. Children are also not left out as restaurants like Black Tap, with its signature monster milkshakes and well-crafter burgers are a calorie-rich but delightful experience for them.

While staycations may not be the first choices of those who love the sense of wonder and discovery that travelling abroad brings, checking in as a tourist into one of Singapore’s most unique hotels proves that there is still plenty to be seen, experienced, and eaten — even if you don’t want to leave the confines of its air-conditioned comfort.