Asia 01/16 – Universal Studios Singapore
During my annual stay in Singapore for 2016, we began to use the geographical advantage to visit some extra parks. Most of the western hemisphere has a limited operating season – they all shut shop for the winter and it’s rare to be able to get a visit in for several months during the off-season. Out in Asia, most places operate full time, which is great for keeping the consistency up.
Before that though, it was time for my third consecutive visit to Singapore’s only theme park, particularly as there had been some exciting news!
Universal Studios Singapore
The Battlestar Galactica rides have had a troubled past. Marking a significant shift in Vekoma’s use of ride technology, these duelling launch lift coasters were plagued with issues, mostly to do with the trains. Originally opening in 2010, the attraction actually operated for less than half of its first five years, finally reopening in 2015 with a total train replacement. The new trains halved the capacity of the rides by reducing the number of people per row from 4 to 2, but this has now supposedly fixed any underlying structural issues.
I had seen them standing but not operating for 2 years first hand, teasing me, but now they were finally ready to receive.
I began with the red, Human side which has a sit down train. I had selected this to be my 100th rollercoaster, expecting it to be the better of the two with a focus on airtime or, more importantly, being less like a Vekoma SLC. The experience was a little underwhelming however.
The heavily themed queueline contains many pep talks from what I assume are the ‘good guy’ characters of the franchise, implying that the guests are going to be fighter pilots in a major battle against the Cylon. You board the new sleek looking train with comfy seats and, unfortunately, vest restraints then, after a quick check for synchronicity, a train from each layout pulls forward out of the station and they launch side by side.
It makes for an exhilarating lift, but the momentum is somewhat stunted before the crest of the hill meaning the first drop, though still surprisingly steep, doesn’t quite deliver as well as it could have. The remainder of the layout feels relatively insignificant for the size. There’s a lot of meandering about, particularly to suit the duelling aspect of the two rides and create some good head on moments with the other train, but this side definitely suffers as a result of this endeavour.
Luckily this isn’t true for the blue, Cylon side which has suspended trains. A contrasting queueline full of Cylon vibe and a strong sense of impending doom leads you to the station. The statement ‘this has all happened before, this will all happen again’ is declared as the ride despatches, which amuses me, then the launch hits.
Again there’s a sense of holding back at the top, but it’s likely justified on this side. There’s still a very unusual moment of airtime for a suspended coaster as it takes the first drop and from there it flies through a disorientating sequence of inversions and intense turns, much more akin to a B&M invert than their own SLCs and therefore a significant step up for Vekoma. I noticed the interactions less here, but that’s because there’s so much more going on with the actual ride and moments like the dive into a mist filled pit and loop make up for any potential losses in what the opposite side suffers from.
As well as the re-opening of their headline coasters, this year saw the debut of the park’s latest attraction, something I had watch them build with curiosity. That’s doubled their count since my last visit!
This heavily customised Zamperla Volare uses it’s signature spiral lift hill system but much more family friendly seated trains. The layout has been tailored towards a dark ride experience with lots of stop-start moments alongside well decorated scenes depicting a story around the goose and the golden eggs. The result is fun and quirky, if a little disjointed.
It was now time to reacquaint myself with all the other familiar favourites of the park.
This remains to me the best example in the world of combining the two best types of attractions – thrilling coasters and dark rides. It is the ride that’s solely responsible for getting me back into this hobby and other than buying the t-shirt, several souvenirs, a rare on-ride photo of myself on it utterly alone and experiencing it no less than 9 times on this visit, I simply can’t praise it enough.
Treasure Hunters is probably the most underwhelming ‘major’ attraction on park. A short tracked outdoor jaunt through some ancient Egyptian scenery that looks a bit low budget, particularly when considering what ride sits opposite, still manages to draw disproportionate crowds.
Back to another game changer, this time in the world of water rides, Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure. The Singapore version is the only one throughout the Universal parks to use river rapids style boats and these calmly take you through some majestic scenery before getting downright dangerous with fast flowing currents, intense spinning and much soaking. The indoor portion of the layout is terrifyingly atmospheric and well executed and contains some very special features, culminating in riding an elevator lift with a T-rex and viciously tipping down a drop that should be far too big and steep for this type of vehicle. Absolutely love it
In the same area is the only operating Setpoint rollercoaster in the world. The suspended cars have back to back seating and traverse a very simple figure of eight layout, high above the Jurassic Park land, offering a more observational experience as opposed to any thrill.
It’s often nice to have a sit down and enjoy the Waterworld show that runs a couple of times a day. It contains a lot of action, explosions and special effects and is overall a high quality production.
Back in Shrek land is the last coaster in the park, a common Vekoma Junior with a nice queue and station and little else.
The Shrek 4D Adventure is also located inside this huge castle. After a preshow with the man in the mirror, you take your seats in a large cinema and watch a new adventure written specifically for the attraction. The seats themselves perform some quite vigorous movements including that of a galloping horse and, source material aside, it’s a decent attraction.
Another example of greatly enhancing source material is Madagascar: A Crate Adventure. This boat based dark ride is an incredible example of the attention to detail that can and should go into attractions of this nature. Every single moment has a reference, a sign, something to catch your eye beyond the overarching storyline of the ride and it always impresses me. It’s also a striking visual on the skyline of the park, blending well with the location of the resort.
The special effects show Lights, Camera, Action! Begins with a foreword by Steven Spielberg inviting you to his sound stage and a brief montage of the effects in many of his major films. Once standing in the sound stage, which is based around a hurricane in New York and is hugely atmospheric, a sequence of events unfolds, getting more and more ridiculous and spectacular each time. Fire, explosions, flying boats. Couldn’t ask for more.
For such a small park in terms of space, the solid attractions keep coming. Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase is an endearing little dark ride with suspended vehicles that, as the name suggests, takes you on a journey with the characters through space to save the spaghetti.
The final and most significant dark ride is Transformers. The queue area is huge and split into many different sections that managed to keep you engaged in the storyline even before the ride begins with many different videos, themed safety announcements that interact with the characters and lots of physical details.
With the aid of 4D glasses, the ride vehicles manoeuvre around different screens and set pieces, pointing, tilting and spinning as they go. Often the car will stop in front of a screen for a period, with a consistent use of rushing imagery giving the illusion of further movement. While the fighting, flying and crashing into things happens there are violent jolts and judders to the riders and it can be rather intense at times. The story ends with victory (of course) and the cars pass directly under a huge defeated likeness of Megatron, lying in smashed tarmac and broken cables before returning to the station. A very polished attraction and highly enjoyable.
And that completes our lap of the park. It remains one of my favourites both for the standout rides and the sheer number of other easily re-rideable and entertaining attractions on offer. Even though there isn’t much space, I’ve never found it too busy or crowded and the operations are overall very efficient. Due to the climate, sudden rainstorms will stop the rides for often no more than 30 minutes before everything returns to normal, events that would sometimes completely shut down another park for the day. The size also helps to give the place a certain magical vibe, you’re always well immersed in your surroundings among each of the different areas and on top of this it manages to feel very relaxed.
That’s it from Singapore for now, let’s head further afield.