Thirty years of rampant development have transformed Sentosa into the most developed of Singapore’s southern islands (with the possible exception of one or two that are home to petrochemical installations), so it’s ironic that its name means “tranquil” in Malay. Sentosa has come a long way since colonial times, when it had the charming name Pulau Blakang Mati, or the “Island of Death Behind”, and was home to a British military base. Contrived but enjoyable in parts, the Sentosa of today is promoted for its rides, passable beaches, hotels and massive new casino resort on the northern shore. Besides the mandatory casino and much-hyped Universal Studios theme park, Resorts World Sentosa has half a dozen hotels, a maritime museum and a Marine Life Park.
The ersatz character of Resorts World becomes rather entertaining at the Universal Studios theme park, where fairy-tale castles and American cityscapes rear bizarrely into view in the sultry heat. The park is divided into seven themed zones, encompassing everything from ancient Egypt – the least convincing of the lot – to DreamWorks’ animated hit Madagascar. Standard tickets offer unlimited rides, but there’s much more to do than get flung around on cutting-edge roller coasters or, in the case of the Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure, on a circular yellow raft: museum-type exhibits unwrap the world of film production, and you can watch musical spectaculars in a recreation of Hollywood’s Pantages theatre.