While typically in mid-December I would be busy singing Christmas carols, baking up a storm, and addressing holiday cards, this year we took a break from the usual routine and took advantage of my Hubby’s three weeks of military leave. I won’t lie, while it was a blast, 2012 has also been a pretty stressful year. Let’s see, we moved around the world. I quit my full time job and transitioning to a part-time position. Oh yeah, and we had that really long deployment broken up with a three week “visit” from the Hubby in the middle (and while it sounds like that may be better than one long deployment, in some ways the coming and going is actually more difficult). So when an opportunity to hop on a free military flight to Singapore presented itself a few weeks ago, we leapt at the chance!
The US Military has airplanes. A lot of airplanes. And those airplanes fly to some cool places–like Guam, Hawaii, Germany and Singapore, to name just a few. Some of the planes carry cargo, some carry military personnel, and some carry both. The really neat thing about these flights is that if the US military doesn’t need all the seats on any given plane, military members and their families can hop on board…get this…for FREE! This is called traveling “Space Available” or “Space A”. The downside is that unlike commercial flights, these flights don’t always have a fixed schedule, and they are often cancelled or rescheduled for all sorts of reasons. You are also ranked by importance (i.e. people flying home for an emergency fly first, then active duty military members, then veterans trying to hop a flight). They accept people onto the flight in the order of importance, so even if the flight is a go, you aren’t guaranteed a spot. The best part? You won’t know if you “made it” or not until you show up for a roll call a few hours before the day flight. I know this all sounds crazy to you non-military folk, but considering it’s FREE, it’s worth the uncertainty! Some of our friends buy refundable commercial tickets out of Narita Airport in Tokyo so that if the Space A flight doesn’t work, they can just head over to the commercial airport and hop on a flight. There are pretty regular flights to Singapore from Japan, so we were fairly confident that we would make at least one of them, thus we opted to take the risk and assume we were going to make it on the Space A flight. (We were delayed three days on the back end…but it was worth it!)
We had to be at the Yokota Airforce Terminal (about an 1.5 hours away from our Navy Base) to check in at 4:45am, so we spent the night at the Air Force Kanto Lodge the night before. A nice perk is that Yokota is a bigger base and has a Chili’s which was AWESOME. In the states, I don’t even really like Chili’s all that much, but when you’ve been deprived of American food and atmosphere for a year, a Chili’s is very comforting.
We were told that the flight to Paya Labar, Singapore is typically not full, but being that it was close to the holidays, our flight was completely full (although they still didn’t have to turn anyone way). This made for a tight flight, but once again, because it was FREE, we had no complaints!
The Yokota air terminal has a really nice kids playroom, so the boys had a chance to burn off a lot of energy before we boarded the plane. I was VERY appreciative, because the flight was almost nine hours long. Eek! Thank God for iPads! I don’t know how parents traveled before them! (For what it’s worth, our favorite baby/toddler apps are: Peekaboo Barn, Sound Touch, Toca Train, Seek & Find City, and lots of Blue’s Clues and Baby Einstein videos).
There are two different aircraft that fly regularly two Singapore. One is a cargo plane and the other is a cargo/cabin hybrid plane that is actually run by a military contract company. We were on the cargo/cabin flight and it was great! The plane looks just like a commercial plane on the inside, but there are only six or so rows of seats (the rest of the plane is blocked off and full of cargo). The flight attendants were extremely accommodating; we were served two excellent meals, and we had lots and lots of snacks.
Once we arrived in Paya Labar, Singapore (a Singapore military base that hosts American military aircraft), we were bussed from the plane to a terminal where we went through customs and then had the opportuntiy to use a phone in the terminal to call a cab. The only time we had to schlep our stuff (two bags, one backpack, one diaper back, two carseats, one stroller, and two babies) all by ourselves with no cart was when we walked from the terminal through the front gate to meet the taxi–it was maybe 100 yards. Not, too bad. They didn’t have any vans available, so it took two car cabs to fit all our stuff. Thankfully taxis are cheap-o, so we didn’t have to worry too much about cost. The taxis all take credit cards, so we didn’t even have to worry about changing money or stopping by an ATM either. When you have two tired toddlers, every little thing that is a wee bit easier makes our trip exponentially better!
We stayed on Sentosa Island (a recently built up island just outside the hub of the city). The island reminded us a lot of Orlando, Florida–a hub of resorts, family attractions, restaurants, theme parks, and water parks. And while part of me feels a little guilty for being so “mainstream”, this was PERFECT for our family right now. We stayed at the Shangri-La Sentosa resort, and I can’t say enough wonderful things about this hotel.
They gave us an extra large room that had a little alcove perfectly shaped for the two pack ‘n plays they provided. This allowed us to put the boys down for bed at 7 and still have the lights and tv on in the main part of our room (thus avoiding a nightly “cocktail hour” on the floor of our bathroom). The hotel also has a free kids club for grade-school age children, a toddler playroom, babysitting services, a great pool with a splash pad/water slide area just for kids, and an incredible buffet breakfast which is typically included with your room.
Many, many guests bring their children, so the hotel was very equipped to handle us! High chairs/cribs/diapers/wipes/water toys/etc. were plentiful. Each room also had a mini fridge which had enough room for sippy cups, juice,milk, etc.
Unfortunately, we all got sick the first 48 hours we were in Singapore. The hotel staff was great. They quickly cleaned our room when Miles and Ollie spewed projectile vomit everywhere, sent up extra water, and even sent us chocolates and fresh fruit when we were feeling better. Incredible.
The hotel had a bunch of restaurants on property (as well as 24 hour rooms service), so if we never wanted to leave the resort, we wouldn’t have needed to! Our favorite restaurant was a little brick oven pizza place on the beach (next to one of those amateur trapeze experience things, which looked really cool). We went there several times for dinner…yummy yummy!
We stuck mostly to Sentosa Island, just because it was easy to get around (there is a free shuttle bus that goes around the island), had a ton of attractions for us, and kept us close to our hotel for nap/dinner/bed time. December marks the start of monsoon season, so there was a pretty intense thunderstorm every afternoon from about noon to two or three, but usually it was nice enough in the evening for us to go back out for dinner. Thus, we tried to structure our days so we had breakfast around 8:00, were ready to go out by 9:00 and at the attraction of the day by 10:00 (when most things open on Sentosa Island). That way we were back to the hotel by 12 or 12:30 for nap time/rain. In the cloudy/rainy afternoons, we stuck to the pool or tried to find indoor activities to do.
Here are a few of our favorite activities:
1. Skyline Luge. The Hubby and I drove a downhill toboggan go-cart thing while the boys rode in between our legs (they were JUST tall enough to ride! Phew!). We were the first people of the day to go down the hill and there was a monitor lizard on our track! When we got to the bottom, we took a ski lift back to the top and did it all over again (yes, this was a wee bit terrifying with one year olds, but they did fine!).
2. Adventure Cove Waterpark. This waterpark JUST opened and was AWESOME! the best part? A massive lazy river weaving around the whole park. The river goes through caves, fish tunnels, by beaches, and through a massive stingray aquarium! It was so, so cool. The lazy river serves as a conduit to all the other attractions in the park–wave pool, snorkel tank, water slides, etc. The boys were too small to go on any of the big water slides, but there was a massive pirate ship water play area that had two decent-sized slides that the Hubby and I could go down with them, and they really enjoyed that.
3. Cable Car. There is a 15 minute cable car going from Sentosa to the city. It was a really neat ride and ended at “The Jewel Box”, a really neat little restaurant/giftshop area that I would have loved to have dined in with the Hubby had we not had two toddlers tagging along (luckily…they’re pretty cute). The ride was fun though and from the Jewel Box we caught a cab to explore Chinatown and the Maxwell hawkers market (one of several awesome street-food courts) in Singapore.
4. Marine Life Park. This was definitely geared for kiddos a bit older than one, but our boys did enjoy seeing lots of fish. Just in case we hadn’t realized we were in an aquarium, Miles and Ollie pointed to all the fish and made the fish face about 500 times over the course of an hour and a half. The coolest part of the aquarium is a MASSIVE tank full of all sorts of amazing creatures (my favorites were the manta rays).
5. The Southernmost Point of Asia. This was just a little tower lookout point on a tiny isle near our hotel, but there is a neat little rope bridge over to it and my guys enjoyed crossing the rope bridge, and burned some energy running up and down all the stairs of the lookout area. There was also a nice playground, some beaches, and a bunch of restaurants nearby. It made for a fun morning!
6. The Hubby and I did get the chance to have a night out, and we went to dinner at the Hawker market (seriously…the street food is that good there!), and then we went to Chijmes, a former convent which has been transformed into a shopping/bar/restaurant area. Chijmes is SO COOL, so if you are ever in Singapore, be sure to check it out!
To be honest, the boys enjoyed the public transportation almost as much as any of the attractions we saw…they recently learned the song “Wheels on the Bus” so every time we saw a bus (which was a lot), they would make the “wheels” motion. It was so cute. They especially loved sitting in their own seats on shuttles/buses/planes/etc. So funny! I love this pic on the right of Miles planning out our next adventure.
There were so many other things that we would have loved to do, but we just didn’t get to them (despite 10 days!), or our guys were too small. There was a small aquarium, a small pirate-themed water park, a butterfly/insect exploration park, an indoor skydiving center, a Universal Studios park, a world-class zoo, and a (supposedly) amazing night safari park. Oh yea, and shopping out the yin yang! I guess that just means we need to go back!