Category Archives: Travel stories

iPhone 5 ♦ Panorama Photos ♦ Gold Coast, Australia.

Like many others around the world I upgraded to the iPhone 5 when it was released late last year. One of the new features that it provided was the ability to take panorama photos. On my recent holiday to Queensland I gave it a bit of a whirl to see what the photos would turn out like. Here are some iPhone 5 panorama shots that I took.

The day that we checked in to our 28th floor apartment was the perfect opportunity to test out the power of the panorama feature. I think you’d have to agree, it was an awesome view.

IMG_0855

A couple of days after the panorama photo was taken a superstorm (ex Cyclone Oswald) roared into town and hung around for a few days.

Although I tried, I couldn’t get out onto the balcony long enough to take a panorama of the storm due to the constant torrential rain and high wind.

Here is a quick shot I managed showing the huge seas and missing beach.

Then, on the morning after the storm finally left us, this was the wonderful view with the sun rising above a still rough, but much calmer ocean. I like how the panorama feature doesn’t distort the horizon.

At Seaworld we entered the Antarctica penguin exhibit. This panorama tries to show the amazing ice environment, but bands of pink have spoilt the shot. I’m not sure what caused the bands, perhaps it was the type of lighting.

This is the wonderful lagoon used for the dolphin show at Seaworld on the Gold Coast. A very natural looking environment has been created. The panorama feature gives you the ability to capture a wider area.

The pool area where we stayed was amazing. It was surrounded by palms and grassed areas. There was even real beach sand on the its shores. This panorama shows only half of the pool. There is another similar section beyond the bridge.

We decided to head down to the beach after dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. This panorama is looking back towards the high-rise buildings. The beach is bathed in huge spotlights, making it feel like daytime. Due to the heat and the soaked ground from the storm the air was filled with an amazing mist.

Down on the beach looking out to the ocean. Erosion from the storm was clear, as was the long wobbling lines of foam created during the storm by the wild ocean swell. Some of the roads along the beach were filled to curb level with the sand that had blown and washed up from the beach.

So, what’s my opinion of the iPhone Panorama pics? ……… great !!! It’s so easy to use and the photos give you a richer and more amazing memory.

A Year at Disney

My family and I are such a Disney fans and we love the times that we have been able to visit the parks (even though they are a world away from where we live in Australia).

I was thrilled to stumble across this excellent video on YouTube and thought it would be great to share, Well done to the creator.

MARINA BAY SANDS HOTEL ♦ Singapore ♦ Part 2

One of the things that we just had to do while in Singapore was to visit the amazing Marina Bay Sands Hotel.   We even went one step further and decided to stay there. This hotel has only opened in the past couple of years and is an amazing building.  It consists of three towers of 55 floors which have the most extraordinary SkyPark across the top of them.  My rough calculations equate the length of this SkyPark to be about the same as the height of the Eiffel Tower – so imagine the Eiffel Tower laying across three buildings.

Marina Bay - Postcard

The three towers could best be described as a deck of cards. Imagine two cards leaning against each other and there you have a tower – repeat this three times and you have the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.  The inside of these towers is like an empty void as you look up.  The doors to the rooms line the walkways that look down into the void from above.

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands - Our View
Marina Bay Sands – Our View

For an average family this is quite a pricey hotel but we found that’s normal in Singapore, so if you want to reduce the cost by booking cheaper rooms you can go for the lower floors (ie. Level 19 or lower).

Something great to note is that if you are staying there the hotel provides free bus transfers to/from the airport.

The hotel also has easy access to the SMRT underground transport and is linked to a Casino and huge shopping mall that has a wide range of shopping choices.

Marina Bay Sands - Our View
Marina Bay Sands – Our View

At night the towers become part of a spectacular show of colored lighting, lasers, music and movies projected on fountains and fans of water in the bay.  Our room was on the 43rd floor and on the bay side, so we had a great view of the people watching the free light show each night.

As mentioned in a previous post we also saw a flashmob in the hotel foyer one day which was a fun thing to experience.

Aside from the amazing design of this hotel, one of the most fantabulous reasons to stay here is the SkyPark.

Marina Bay Sands - Observation Deck - Bay side
Marina Bay Sands – Observation Deck – Bay side

This looks like a huge aircraft wing that sits across the three towers.  In addition to the pool, garden areas and a selection of restaurants there is a fantastic observation deck at one end of the the SkyPark that offers spectacular views -  This deck costs $$ for visitors but if you are a hotel guest it’s free.

Marina Bay Sands - SkyPark Pool
Marina Bay Sands – SkyPark Pool

Besides the magnificent view, the most breathtaking part of the SkyPark would have to be the pool.  It is probably over 100 metres long and has an invisible edge that gives you the feeling of swimming in the sky.  The pool is lined with lounges and waiters and is only available for hotel guests.  We swam in it at night as it was quieter than the day but it also meant that when the nightly laser light show started, we were right in the middle of it.  Swimming up to the pool’s edge we could look down at the flashing cameras around the bay as the lasers were bursting from the palm trees around us up into the sky.  This would have to be the most amazing pool I have ever been in.  It truly was like swimming in the sky.

Overall we were pleased with the hotel, we did have a bit of a problem when checking in (they gave us a room with only 2 twin beds – not ideal for a family of 4 that had pre-booked more suitable bedding) but that was ironed out the following day.  Even if you don’t stay ay Marina Bay Sands it’s worth a visit.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel – Singapore – Part 1 – Flashmob

Marina Bay - PostcardThis is just a quick post that I wanted to share with you all.  I’ve seen flashmobs on tv (eg. Modern Family) and thought they were awesome …. but until our recent visit to Singapore I had never actually seen one  in real life.

We were walking through the foyer of our hotel (Marina Bay Sands) – see pic on right – when the music suddenly started and the whole atmosphere around us changed ….. it was on ……. this is what we saw.

It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen.  The flashmob were so amazing and it had an almost magical effect on the crowd that watched.  Before it, everyone was just going about their day, taking little notice of much around them (except for the fantastic hotel), but after the flashmob everyone seemed invigorated with a magical burst of enthusiasm and seemed more aware of everyone around them. I hope you like the video.

Have any of you seen a real live flashmob? Comments welcome….

Resorts World Sentosa – Singapore

During our recent visit to Singapore, Universal Studios and Sentosa were high on our list of things to do.  I have already described our Universal Studios experiences in other posts so this one will be about Sentosa.

Sentosa is a small resort island just off the coast of Singapore which is just next to the cruise ship hub of Singapore.  The island is linked to the mainland by a causeway, boardwalk, monorail and a cable car.  This makes it very easy to get to from wherever you are staying in Singapore – the SMRT joins into the huge ViVo shopping mall on the mainland which is where you can catch the monorail or walk across to Sentosa itself.

A large part of the island is known as Resorts World Sentosa which includes a huge range of attractions.  This area is quite new and is the result of a major redevelopment by Genting over recent years.  Along with Universal Studios there are a number of resort hotels/condos etc.  Sentosa also has a lot of other attractions ranging from sandy beaches, to golf courses, to family activities.

Resorts World Sentosa - Festive Hotel

We stayed at the Festive Hotel (the L shaped building in the photo) which is located next to the Hard Rock Hotel (the circular building on the left in photo) and near the entrance to Universal Studios. This is a family friendly hotel which we found was a rarity in Singapore when we were looking for a place to stay.  The room style we had was a Family Room which had something that we had never seen in a hotel before. Although the room wasn’t huge it was split into two zones. One for the parents with a king bed and the other for the kids with a cool bunk bed and flip out sofa. This was loved by our kids and the view out over the pools from our balcony was fantastic. Be sure to ask for a monorail pass if you stay there as it gives you free monorail transport for the length of your stay.

Resorts World Sentosa - Lake of Dreams fountains
Resorts World Sentosa - Lake of Dreams fountains

With two kids who are less open to trying unfamiliar foods (ie. anything not western style) it was a bit difficult to find food that suited the fussy kids.  But if you look hard enough around there are some places in the vicinity of the hotels that were suitable. (eg. Hard Rock Cafe, Palio, KFC).

In our time there we were only able to sample some of Sentosa’s attractions and we have plenty more to explore the next time we go back for a visit.  There is so much to do on the island so be prepared to wear yourself out.

We chose to buy a special ticket that gave us a lot of attractions for a discount price, rather than paying for them individually – it’s a great way to save a bit of your holiday budget.

Skyline Luge Sentosa
Starting line

One of the attractions that we did was Skyline Luge Sentosa. At this attraction we caught a chairlift up the side of the island to the start of the luge track.  Now this is no ice luge, it’s actually small carts that are quite easy enough to learn to use.

The track winds like a race track from the top of the island down through the trees to the beach at the bottom – the cart is control by shifting your weight so it has the knack of knowing when to stop if needed. It was a great family activity that was way out of the ordinary – we would recommend it for families.

Skyline Luge Sentosa
Skyline Luge Sentosa - The track

View from Tiger Sky TowerThe Tiger Sky Tower was also a great experience.  It is best described as a very tall needle with a rotating viewing room.

You board at ground level and the whole room slowly rises up the needle to the very top (all the while it slowly rotates) and gives you a magnificent view of the island and surrounds across to the mainland – this is a ‘must do’.  It really gives you a perspective of where everything in the resort fits into your surroundings.

Nearby there were a couple large snakes that you could have draped over your shoulders for a photo – I chose not to do that one.

Resorts World Sentosa - Hotels & Universal Studios
Resorts World Sentosa - Hotels & Universal Studios
Resorts World Sentosa - Merlion at night
Resorts World Sentosa - Merlion at night from our room

The Merlion is a huge statue of Singapore’s mythical symbol – half lion half mermaid.  It has a central lift that takes you up to higher viewing levels.  There are great photo opportunities from the top and inside its mouth – great views as well. It also looks great at night when its is bathed with coloured lighting.

Another attraction that I wanted to do, but didn’t get the chance was iFly.  This is indoor skydiving where you get dressed up in a weird flying suit and hover above a giant fan – giving the feeling that you are skydiving.  It’s on my list for next visit. There are plenty of other attractions that we didn’t even get to look at so you can be sure that there is plenty to keep you occupied.

As we rode the Singapore Cable Car from Sentosa across to Mt Faber on the mainland and back we could see some construction was continuing on the island below.  They are building some great looking new condos etc and an excellent looking water park.

There are heaps of other things that I haven’t even mentioned. If you go to Singapore make sure that you set aside some time for Sentosa.

Universal Studios Singapore – Part 6 – Hollywood & New York

As you enter Universal Studios Singapore you are transported into the Hollywood zone.  This area is the equivalent of Main Street at Disneyland.

Universal Studios Singapore - Hollywood
Universal Studios Singapore - Hollywood

Hollywood is essentially a street of souvenir shops and restaurants and is where we do our last minute souvenir shopping on the way out of the park, rather than buying early and carrying it all day. An attraction in this zone is Monster Rock which is a stage show in which you are entertained by rock-n-roll monsters. The show is quite enjoyable and at one stage the performers come out into the audience – they high fived my daughter which she thought was exciting.  When hunger or thirst called we chose to eat at Mels’ Drive-in which is your classic 1950s style drive-in diner complete with retro booths and cars parked at the door.

The next zone is New York with aims to replicate the streets of, you guessed it, New York.

Universal Studios Singapore - New York
Universal Studios Singapore - New York
Universal Studios Singapore - New York
Universal Studios Singapore - New York

The detail in the buildings is great and there are many New Yorkish touches great for photos.  The main attraction here is Lights, Camera, Action in which Steven Spielberg hosts a show that lets you in on some of the secrets of movie effects as a hurricane hits New York city.

This zone also has a couple of great and tasty restaurants in which you can replenish your energy.

One of the great things about this park is that they have cleverly catered for the weather (which is humid and rainy – it only rained one day during our whole stay though).  The streets of Hollywood, New York and Sci-Fi City are all covered with a very high roof (see Hollywood photo) which keeps out the hot sun and the rain.  This clever design also reduces the temperature by about 5 degrees. It’s a very smart design.

Universal Studios Singapore – Part 5 – Sci-Fi City

The Sci-Fi City zone at Universal Studios Singapore has the least amount of theming in the whole park (in my humble opinion).  This area is futuristic in its design and has two main attractions “Battlestar Galactica” and “Transformers“.

Battlestar Galactica - CYLON & HUMAN

The first of these attractions is the awesome “Battlestar Galactica” ride.  This is a dual rollercoaster where both tracks are intertwined and run simultaneously. This is a similar concept to the ‘Dragon Challenge” at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Orlando (formerly called Duelling Dragons when we visited there years ago). Both coasters offer different rides while they twist and turn into each other so you experience the other coaster riders whizzing past you as you ride. One coaster is called “Cylon” – this one is a suspended coaster where you are underneath the track with legs dangling – hold onto your shoes. The other coaster is called “Human” and it is a seated coaster where you are on top of the track. They are both fantastic but my favourite was the Cylon.  On one part you head down and into a pit of mist in the ground before roaring back up into a loop and back down into the misty pit.  There are plenty of extreme twists and turns for the adventurous rider.  I rode these with my son 9 times in total (6 Cylon, 3 Human). You have to try it if you get the chance.

Sci-Fi City - Battlestar Galactica - CYLON & HUMAN

I have found the following video of this ride on You Tube for those who may be interested (It’s not my video though.  It’s from Sentosa Theme Park Blog on You Tube – follow the links for more of their blog  http://www.youtube.com/user/Bigbearsg http://sentosathemepark.blogspot.com.au/).

The other main attraction in this zone is “Transformers the Ride” and I have to say it is a fantastic ride that we went on many times during our visit.  It’s always a bonus if on the day that you visit a park there are no lines, and we were fortunate enough for this to be the case on both days.

Sci-Fi City - Transformers The Ride
Sci-Fi City - Transformers The Ride

It is similar to the Spiderman Ride at Universal Island’s of Adventure in Orlando – another favourite of mine.  Transformers is a 3D ride where your vehicle transports you through an amazing world – moving from one 3D scene to another, complete with bumps, smoke, sound effects etc.  On one of my Transformer rides  I was sitting next to a group of young Japanese tourists – they were screaming and yelling so much I was in fits of laughter – it made a fantastic ride even more fun.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the weather was hot and humid.  The “Starbot Cafe” in this zone will always be in my memory as an extremely cool and refreshing place to chill down between rides.

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Universal Studios Singapore – Part 4 – Ancient Egypt

If ever there was part of Universal Studios Singapore that I was looking forward to seeing it was the ‘Ancient Egypt’ zone.  From what I had seen on the web it was going to be like walking into my own book and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Universal Studios Singapore - Ancient Egypt
Universal Studios Singapore - Ancient Egypt

This zone has some amazing huge statues and awesome buildings which dwarf those who walk past them. I’ve never been to real Egypt (it’s on my ‘must do’ list) but what has been built here looks so authentic and the attention to detail is marvellous.

Ancient Egypt - Revenge of the Mummy ride
Ancient Egypt - Revenge of the Mummy ride

The main ride within this zone is ‘Revenge of the Mummy‘.  I have been on the one at Universal Studios Hollywood and absolutely loved it.  You enter the huge building between the two giant statues of Anubis and proceed through a maze of narrow passage ways that are decorated with hieroglyphics, artwork and artifacts.  The story of the mummy is introduced to you as you move through the darkened passages full of anticipation.  Once you reach the ride you are seated and buckled into the ride vehicles with other eager riders.

The journey begins and you head through some wonderful mysterious areas that include treasures, baddies and fire. From there it’s backwards into the mist before you are catapulted forwards and it’s then that the real thrill begins.  This is an indoor rollercoaster in the dark. Flashes of evil light and fog punctuate the darkness as you fight to contain your excitement. There are plenty of twists and turns that catch you by surprise.

I rode this one on my own.  My son had memories of the Hollywood ride (which had a lot of backwards riding in it) so he chose to give it a miss.  I did have a couple of hiccups though. My first attempt I was seated in the front seat ready to go, but there was a technical problem so they closed the ride and we missed out.  On my second attempt I had a great ride – woo hoo!  On my third attempt the ride stopped just before we were to be hurled backwards into the mist for the coaster portion – after sitting patiently for 5 minutes listening to ‘we’ll be back on track soon’ announcements, the lights came on and we were ‘rescued’ by crew and escorted out a back entrance. My fourth attempt was another successful ride – woo hoo again!

Don’t let these hiccups stop you from taking the ride if you get the chance. If I had more time I would have been back on board again and again and again.  This has to be one of my favourite rides ever – it’s right up there with Indiana Jones at Disneyland Park California.

Ancient Egypt - Treasure Hunters
Ancient Egypt - Treasure Hunters

Another part of this zone had a ride called ‘Treasure Hunters‘ that was suitable for smaller kids, and we rode on this one a few times as well. In this ride you are in small old style jalopies that take you around an Egyptian landscape complete with cobras, leopards, scarabs and artifacts. My youngest loved this ride as she got to ‘steer’ the car.

Ancient Egypt              Ancient Egypt - Captured

I obviously loved this zone as I was in my element – I was in my book. It had great temples, huge statues, Anubis, tunnels and mazes, mysterious passageways and relics – all of which are in Quest One. The Golden Scarab.

Fast forward a few years and they may even have The Quest Series in the their souvenir shop (in my dreams).

Oh … and on meeting Anubis (below) – it was just like catching up with an old friend.

Ancient Egypt - Anubis & Me
Ancient Egypt - Anubis & Me

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Universal Studios Singapore – Part 3 – The Lost World

The next zone that we enjoyed on our visit was The Lost World.  This had a great jungly theme and had some great things to do and see.  There are two main attractions in The Lost World zone - ‘WaterworldandJurassic Park Rapids Adventure.

Discovery Food Court - Dinosaurs

‘Waterworld’ is a spectacular show based on the movie which includes water, stunts, explosions and drama.  We didn’t watch the show this time as we had already seen it at Universal Studios Hollywood.  For those who haven’t seen it make sure that you make the time, there is a great climax at the end. Forgot to take a picture, sorry.

Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure
Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure

The Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure’ ride is great – but be warned you will get wet.  It’s a bit different to the ones that we have been on at Universal Studios in Florida and Hollywood – both of which are boat rides.  This one in Singapore is more of a tube ride.  Nine brave people are belted into seats that are set onto a round tube – similar to the ‘Grizzly River Run‘ ride at Disney’s California Adventure.  At first, the tube calmly meanders down a windy river … but as with these rides there is more drama.  You find yourselves bouncing over rapids after a ‘flood’ has occurred and you are soon soaked by bubbling splashes of water.

The drying pods after the Jurassic Park River Adventure - $5 to dry yourself
The drying pods after the Jurassic Park River Adventure - $5 to dry yourself

Along the way you encounter many dinosaurs, some of which are friendly and some which are not so friendly. Once you have passed the upturned tube of previous riders you find yourself inside a long dark winding tunnel – unsure of what will happen next.  Soon you are at a dead-end and the doors close behind you before your whole tube is lifted up out of the water towards a giant hungry dinosaur head above you. But just in time the doors open and you spill out and down a waterfall.  By this time you are very wet from all the splashes and the water spitting creatures. A great ride.

Another ride that we enjoyed was Canopy Flyer, but I have to say that my young daughter backed out at the last-minute. On this ride you sit (legs dangling) underneath a rail to get a bird’s eye view over the tops of the forest trees.  I have to admit it was faster than I expected (I was expecting a leisurely flight) and the end of the ride has some twists and turns that I didn’t expect.  This is a short ride, but a fun ride.This zone also has a small kiddie ride ‘Dino-Soarin’ which we didn’t check out.  The ‘Discovery Food Court’ is a cool place to escape the heat and has two life-size dinosaurs out the front – great for some memorable photos and the kids can run under the water fountains to cool off.

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Universal Studios Singapore – Part 2 – Far Far Away

Universal Studios Singapore is the first park to have a zone themed on the highly successful Shrek movies – I’m a big fan of these too. Far Far Away is next to Madagascar and the first thing that you see is Shrek’s outhouse on a hill next to its entrance. Once you head through the gate you can’t miss the wonderful castle that has been recreated.

Far Far Away Castle

This castle houses the main attraction in Far Far Away which is the Shrek 4D Adventure.  Some of you may have seen this at other parks – I’ve seen this one at Universal Studios Hollywood and at Movieworld in Australia.  It’s a fun 4D adventure that begins in the dungeon where the ghost of the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad has captured the Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio.  From there you are ushered into the movie theatre, complete with 3D glasses, to watch another exciting Shrek tale.  The seats jolt you at all the right times and you are bombarded with bursts of fine water spray and vibrations to give you the excellent 4D effect.

Enchanted Airways Rollercoaster & Far Far Away Castle

Another favourite of my kids was the ‘Enchanted Airways‘ rollercoaster where you ride on the back of Donkey’s flame – the dragon.  This is a kids size rollercoaster which has some great twists and turns that provide a great thrill for young and old.  Once again the lines at this one were only 5 minutes on the days that we went to the park.  I think we rode this one about half a dozen times.

Enchanted Airways coaster
Enchanted Airways coaster

Far Far Away

Another attraction was ‘Donkey Live’ – but we didn’t get to see this one and there was also a small ferris wheel ‘Magic Potion Spin‘ inside the Magic Potion shop (our kids were too big for this one – it’s suited to younger kids).

As with any Universal Studios zone the attention to detail in the buildings was so well done it was like you really had landed in Far Far Away.

Far Far Away
Far Far Away

Universal Studios Singapore – Part 1 – Madagascar

We’ve just returned from a holiday to Singapore and I thought it was a great subject to fuel some blogs.

Madagascar - The awesome ship
Madagascar - The awesome ship

First cab off the rank is Madagascar.  This Universal Studios Singapore zone is based on the highly popular Madagascar movies (I’m a huge fan of these types of animated movies).The first thing that you notice when you enter Madagascar is the huge impressive ship that forms much of the zone and dwarfs the surrounding buildings.  Those familiar with the movie will know that our zoo friends find themselves on a ship which ends with them marooned on the island of Madagascar.

Madagascar: A Crate Adventure
Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

The main ride in this zone is ‘Madagascar: A Crate Adventure’.  As a rider you find yourself in a small boat with a dozen or so fellow travellers.  Your boat glides into the side of the huge ship and you are transported into the movie.  It’s a great ride that takes you through various scenes with excellent effects, soundtrack and detail.  All along the way the stars of the movie keep you posted on what’s happening.  It reminds me of ‘It’s a Small World’ but without the constant chorus that those who have been there would know all to well.

My family loved the ride and so did I – It brings the movie to life.

Although the weather was quite hot and humid we were fortunate that there weren’t any long lines at these attractions (5 minutes each time we rode) and the air-conditioned rides gave us much-needed refuge from the heat.  We seem to have fluked a couple of non-peak days.

The Madagascar zone also has a great carousel ‘King Julien’s Beach Party-Go-Round‘ (my daughter loved this but the crate ride was her favourite) which sees you hitch a ride on the backs of all your favorite characters from the movies.  The zone also includes the usual fantastically themed souvenir and food venues.