Singaporean “bumboat” was once used to ferry goods from incoming freighters up the Singapore River. Today, planners can privatize the 50-pax vessels to travel along the river and its starting point in Marina Bay for dining, shopping and history tours. You can access almost everywhere you want to meet in Singapore via the fun bumboats within a short time. That’s because the convention center district, most of the major hotels and the downtown business district are all wrapped around Marina Bay. I’m not sure any metropolis this large can feel this small and closely connected, making it a breeze to get around.
As such, Singapore is an urban planning utopia with a militant focus on sustainability. Almost everywhere our group visited was within eyesite of water and/or vast green parks. As Singapore erects more buildings, it develops more reclaimed land for parks to maintain air quality and the ratio between the built and natural environments.
This all comes crisply into focus at the new Gardens by the Bay, separating Marina Bay from the South China Sea. The 250-acre park and “Supertree Grove” are straight out of science fiction. Twelve towering steel trees towering 80-160 feet high are covered with native ferns, vines, orchids and bromeliads. Eventually the plants will cover the steel. In the center of each, water containment and solar cells help make the park self-sustaining. There’s also a walkway connecting the Supertrees for a vertiginous “walk in the park.”
At the top of the tallest tree, IndoChine Restaurant seats 100 with glass walls and a wraparound balcony. It’s an awe-inspiring venue for group events, especially during the twice nightly laser shows over Marina Bay.
“We see ourselves as the New York Central Park of Singapore, or Hyde Park in London,” says Darren Oh, assistant director, over a cup of tea at IndoChine. “We aim to share a story with Singaporeans and visitors about how the design of a building can harness as much energy as possible and consume as little as possible.”
At the end of the park, the waterfront Flower Dome and Cloud Forest are two enormous glass greenhouse structures, again, like something out of Alien. The Cloud Forest has a long walkway winding around a mountain covered with exotic plants and flowers. The cold mist inside from the 100-foot waterfall makes it seem like you’re walking through a cloud. After an hour, your skin feels like you’ve spent a day in the spa.
Next door, the Flower Dome showcases flora from all of the world’s climate zones. In the center, Jubilee Hall is one of the city’s most popular corporate meeting spaces for 700 seated. For large groups outdoors, The Meadow hosts 15,000 pax next to the Supertree Grove.
MARINA BAY SANDS & SKYPARK
There’s an elevated walkway from Gardens by the Bay into the base of the 2,561-room Marina Bay Sands Singapore. Easily the most monumental and expensive hotel construction project this century, the Marina Bay Sands consists of three sloping towers connected at the top by SkyPark, the world’s largest cantilevered platform extending 200 feet past the end of the north tower. Groups up to 600 pax can meet here on the Observation Deck, undoubtedly the world’s best view for that many people.
Since opening in 2010, Marina Bay Sands has never dipped below 95% occupancy, according to Elzena Ibrahim, communications officer and our guide for the day.
“Marina Bay Sands Singapore is a MICE-led integrated resort; it’s really a complete destination,” she says.
Located at the edge of Marina Bay, the bottom floors of the hotel house one of Asia’s largest high-end shopping malls, a 165,000-sf casino and The Sands Expo & Convention Center. With a capacity for 45,000 delegates, the Center includes Southeast Asia’s largest ballroom seating 6,000 banquet-style, and 250 meeting rooms. On the Grand Terrace next to the fabulous floating Louis Vuitton store, planners can create events for 10,000 pax.
Of the 44 onsite restaurants, we tried classic Parisian fare at Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne and traditional Asian cuisine at Sky on 57 up at SkyPark. No matter where groups stay in Singapore, everyone will want to visit SkyPark. There is nothing like this anywhere on the planet, where you’re sipping champagne beside a 500-foot infinity pool dropping off into thin air 775 feet over the city.
MEET THE FULLERTONS
The Fullerton Hotel Singapore is one of the world’s great grand dame hotels, located on the opposite shore of the bay from Marina Bay Sands. It sits at the entryway into downtown, dwarfed by the surrounding glass skyscrapers, where it was originally built in 1928 as the city’s post office. A masterpiece of Palladian architecture with massive Dorian columns, the hotel offers 400 rooms and suites overlooking either the bay or the river. If I return, this is where I would want to stay.
Inside the grand atrium lobby, The Fullerton Heritage Gallery hosts revolving exhibits such as “Yesterday Once More” during this trip. Dozens of postcards dating back to 1893 depicted stories of business travelers building a modern city, enthralled by the beauty of the Malay peninsula.
The famous barrel ceiling Billiard Room, once home of the prestigious Singapore Club, is now a meeting space. Renamed the Straits Room, it seats 120 for banquets. There’s also a 7,500-sf ballroom and eight breakouts.
The Post Bar is exactly how you imagine it when men like Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad visited to write their famous novels. (There’s a statue of Conrad at the port cochere.) The original wall motifs and high coffered ceiling remain, accentuated by new underlit honey onyx tables and standing artichoke cardboard lamps.
“The Fullerton Hotel is a perfect blend of the old wired with the new,” says Denice Lim, marketing communications manager. “That’s the essence of Singapore, mixing history and the contemporary. You get a truer sense of the destination at The Fullerton; you’re not just anywhere in the world.”
Behind the hotel, the historic Cavenagh Bridge can be closed for one-of-a-kind group events.
Across the street, The Fullerton Bay Hotel opened in 2010. The sleek 100-room glass hotel is the only property directly on the water in Marina Bay. You enter through Singapore’s original Customs House on Clifford Pier, which Lim calls the “Ellis Island of Singapore.” At the end of the pier, One on the Bund is a Shanghai-themed restaurant with perhaps the best waterfront seating in the city.
Design wunderkind Andre Fu mixed contemporary art with a British Concession ambience throughout the hotel, especially inside the 80-seat, brasserie-style Clifford restaurant. It has two private dining salons with modern chandeliers and old Venetian mirrors. And I liked The Landing Point restaurant so much due its waterside setting, breezy elegance and secret setting, I returned twice for breakfast.
When The Fullerton Bay first opened, there were three docks for yachts, but last year the hotel installed three 2-story “floating event pods.” Very cool. The top floor is open for events; the bottom floor is designed for presentations.
“We’re always surrounded by four walls so we came up with these,” says Lim. “People love them because everyone is always looking for unique spaces for their events.”
Our group loved the speakeasy-style, open-air Lantern restaurant and lounge located by the rooftop pool. Bulgari, Sotheby’s, Johnnie Walker and Louis Vuitton have all hosted events here. Capacity is 300 pax.
The 112-room Capella Singapore is about a 20-minute drive from downtown in Sentosa Island, crowning a mountaintop overlooking the sea. Originally a royal artillery officer’s mess in 1880, the property was redesigned as a hotel by the legendary Foster+Partners architecture group in 2009. The elegant 2-story colonial building is attached to a curvy new wing overlooking three pools carved into the thick forest.
The place screams poise, elegance and sophistication with a natural, free-flowing energy due to the woodsy setting. For a couples incentive, it doesn’t get much better than this.
“We want you to feel like you’re coming home to a governor’s mansion,” says Leanne Sim, marketing manager. “Everyone comments how tranquil it is here. You’re only 20 minutes from the city but you feel like you’re in Bali.” Capella does 40% corporate, with group rates starting at $700. Typical group size is 10 rooms and the U.S. is a top tier market.
Starting at 850 sf, the rooms are the largest in Singapore. They’re very modern and residential in tone with warm colors and large balconies. Throughout the hotel, you always feel like you’re in someone’s home, especially on the expansive terrace down by the pools.
Cassia is a modern Chinese restaurant serving a menu inspired by the ancient spice routes in western China. The signature wok-fried Australian M9 wagyu beef with lightly fried mushrooms and prawns in a Thai sauce was the highlight fine-dining event of this trip.
Meeting space includes the 8,400-sf Grand Ballroom and naturally lit 4,500-sf prefunction area facing the sea. It was the setting for the most expensive wedding in Singapore’s history and a recent Dow Jones conference buyout.
Pan Pacific Singapore
The entire north side of Marina Bay consists of the Suntec Singapore Convention Centre and a host of branded hotels. Adjacent to Suntec, the 790-room Pan Pacific Singapore completed a $63 million renovation last year. The most obvious change is the redesign of the huge lobby with a 70-foot bar and all kinds of curvy banquettes for group conversation. The lobby becomes quite a scene at night because the attached nightclub is among the busiest in town.
On the 38th floor, the new Pacific Club executive lounge is one of the most expansive I’ve ever seen with a brilliant daily breakfast spread. The 360º views frame the entire city, and with a dedicated kitchen, the Club is often booked for private lunch and evening events.
On the mezz level, Edge is a “global theater” of cuisines from China, Malay, India, Thailand and Japan. For breakfast and lunch, it really gets groups talking because everyone wants to know what everyone else is eating.
“The renovation was based on significant research concerning the changing needs of our groups,” says GM Scott Swank. “We are now much more of a destination experience with an incredible energy, great food and exceptional service throughout the hotel.” Total meeting space is 32,000 sf.
The new Jiu Zhuang restaurant hidden inside a traditional Chinese house and gardens was inspired by the seductive era of 1920s Shanghai. The private dining room seats 18 and the 30-pax bar is filled with antiques from China. It’s dark, moody and totally exotic with colorful paper lamps overhead and Chinese lithographs on the wall. Ask owner Jenny Tan for her lobster meat dim sum, complemented by a cocktail menu ranging from a bowl of Tsingtao to a ’94 Chateau Lafite.
The buzzy Tiong Bahru neighborhood is the Brooklyn of Singapore, filled with hipster bookstores, design boutiques and one of our favorite restaurants this trip, Open Door Policy. The sliver of a restaurant is squeezed into an alley between two buildings, serving amazing “modern bistro fare with a rustic twist.” Order the pancakes with blackberry chocolate sauce and the roasted field mushrooms on a toasted brioche with truffle puree. This is where locals bring guests.
Less than 15 minutes from the Suntec convention hotels, Chinatown is a heady cataclysm of mid-20th century “shophouses” originally designed for families to live upstairs and operate shops below. Today they’re stridently protected by the government. Inside of each, there are so many interesting restaurants and shops that I needed another week here.
Go for breakfast at the New Majestic Hotel owned by local boy Loh Lik Peng, who’s arguably the world’s most innovative hotelier right now. He builds high-concept design hotels in distressed neighborhoods to rejuvenate the local economy. Inside the lobby, “The Space Program” is part art installation, urban think tank, design museum and boutique. It’s a great place to shop for local guidebooks and gifts.
For inspiration, some of the world’s top chefs come to Chinatown to explore the local street food in the famous “hawker stalls,” such as Maxwell Hawker Stand. Chicken and rice with spicy chili sauce is a national dish so someone should get that. I recommend the guy at Hong Xiang Hainanese Chicken Rice (#52), as long as you respect local custom and take photos after you buy your food.
From there head up Ann Siang Road (aka Club Street) day or night for an eclectic melange of French bistros, English pubs, Arab tea shops and an ultra-luxury men’s haircare boutique. Keep walking to the Lai Chun Yuen Opera House built in 1887, which is now a hotel promoting Chinese opera history. In the interest of sustainability, its Bar 25 restaurant “may” charge you extra if you don’t finish your meal.
PARK ROYAL ON PICKERING
The 367-room PARKROYAL on Pickering opened this year in the Central Business District. It is one of Asia’s greenest hotels with 165,000 sf of “sky gardens” cascading from the hotel’s exterior.
The ground floor with double-height ceilings is enclosed in glass and greenery from the lobby through to LIME restaurant. A market-style scene pervades the restaurant with dishes prepared in open kitchen stations. Items range from John Dory fish n’ chips to chicken/prawn nasi goreng. Four meeting rooms and two ballrooms—the largest hosting 600 pax—are located on the 2nd floor. The 2-story height with floor-to-ceiling windows provides stunning views of the adjacent park and a wonderful energy throughout.
“Our meeting spaces are filled with light,” says Lee Kin Seng, director of marketing. “Our urban resort design sets us apart from other business hotels, evoking a balance of business and pleasure.”
At the outdoor infinity pool, everyone raves about the “birdcage” cabanas, especially the one hanging over the edge of the building. In the guest rooms, the walls are natural wood complemented with wood desks and extra large windows. The emphasis is on calming neutral tones, simple layout and a strong connection to the outdoors. You’ll sleep well here.
“Again, our guest rooms are comfortable and relaxing with as much natural light as possible,” says Seng. “Most of all, it’s just very peaceful here even though we are so centrally located, which is the ultimate luxury for a business traveler.”