From the humble, quaint little island resort to the current world-class entertainment destination, Sentosa Island has underwent great changes since the start of its operations. In this article, I will reminisce about the Sentosa island a decade ago.
The first time I stepped foot onto Sentosa Island was in 2002, and I can clearly remember the island back then. We arrived early in the morning at the World Trade Center Tower 2, currently named the Harborfront Center. Here’s a picture of how it looked like back in those days:
The glass atrium that you see in the picture above is the location of the current Vivocity Shopping mall. The Cable Car station was (and still is) located at the grey building on the right side of the photo. I cannot really recall the ride itself, apart from remembering that the floor of the cabin was transparent, and we saw great views of the sea underneath. We soon reached the Sentosa station perched on Imbiah hill. Note that the Sky Tower wasn’t constructed back then.
Imbiah Hill was kind of like the center of activity on Sentosa Island back then. The Cable Car arrival terminal is there, the monorail station was there, the Merlion is there, and from there you could branch off and explore the various areas of the park. Sentosa was really much smaller back then, and most of the island was covered in green forests. Once we exited from the Cable Car station, we were greeted by this Dragon sculpture/ fountain, holding in its paws the old Sentosa logo. The Dragon motif was really significant in Sentosa those days, and I will point out to you the other places where the dragon motif pops out again later. Sadly, this dragon is now demolished to make way for the Sky Tower.
We were on a ticket package that included admission to all major attractions on the island. Our first stop was the Wax Museum, or officially known as Images of Singapore. Images of Singapore is still in operation today, though it has underwent a great renovation, and has completely different exhibitions from back then. There were (apparently – I don’t remember) 4 themed zones back then. They were Festivals of Singapore, Surrender Chamber, Pioneers of Singapore and a multimedia show. The exhibition content are actually still the same as they have currently, but they have relocated/ shifted many of the figurines from their original places. I only have vague memories of the exhibition inside, but here’s a photo I found on the internet:
One of the most memorable exhibition from Images of Singapore was the Surrender Chamber. They had the actual mockup of the scene of the Surrender of the Japanese to the British after a two year long occupation of Singapore. This was indeed a joyous moment for Singaporeans, and even till now, I can still remember this exhibition. This exhibition is now on display at Fort Siloso in its full original glory.
Following our visit to the Images of Singapore wax museum, we proceeded to the Merlion. The Merlion is one of the few remaining attractions from a decade ago, and the experience remains pretty much unchanged from then. One of the great difference is that the Monorail tracks actually went past the Merlion, but the tracks have since been demolished.
In the photo above you can see the Monorial tracks, as well as the old Merlion attraction marquee that has since been replaced. The Merlion was very much the headliner attraction on Sentosa back then, and every visit to Sentosa had to include a trip to the Merlion. The Merlion experience started at the base of the beast. There was a multimedia interactive show space at the base of the Merlion that was themed to pirates and shipwrecks. I do not have a clear recollection of the exhibits in that show area – somebody please fill me in on this one – and the exhibits have been replaced in 2006 by newer displays. The rest of the experience was pretty much identical to the experience today, where you ascend the interior of the beast in an elevator. You could visit the mouth and the head of the beast, much like today, and you got to see spectacular views of Singapore, the city, port of Singapore, straits of Malacca, and even parts of Indonesia.
The view from the top was very different from the one you can see today – more on that later.
Our next stop was the Fountain Gardens. The Fountain Gardens was located at the present location of Resorts World Sentosa, and was the main axis of Sentosa Island. On one end was the musical fountain, and on the other was the ferry terminal. The Fountain Gardens were a set of exquisitely designed gardens that was based on the Gardens of Versailles. The Garden was split into four quadrants, and there were really nice fountains along the main axis. The dragon motif was found here again, in a fountain at one end of the garden. The entire layout of the area was spectacular, as you can see the Merlion off in the distance, with lush greenery in the foreground. It is sad that this vista is now gone, and replaced by the sheltered canopies of Resorts World Sentosa, which completely blocks the Merlion.
One of the mysteries of life – why is the Merlion facing the left?
Walking down the Fountain Gardens, we reached the Ferry Terminal. The Ferry Terminal was one of the landmarks on Sentosa island. Back then, whenever anyone mentioned Sentosa, the image of the Ferry Terminal with the Merlion in the background would pop up in people’s minds. You will have to know that Sentosa wasn’t connected to the mainland until early 1990s, and before that, all visitors to Sentosa Island would arrive by ferry to the Ferry Terminal.
The Ferry Terminal was a well designed building, and there was always a gentle see breeze blowing through the building. The Sentosa monorail actually passed through the second floor of the building. We went onto the Sentosa monorail, pictured below(the monorail, not us).
The Monorail was the main mode of transportation on the island back then, and it went on a unidirectional loop around the island. The trains were not air-conditioned, and it got really hot and stuffy inside those carriages during the mid-afternoon. The engine was located at the front of the train, and the passengers sitted right behind the engine could smell the diesel and feel the vibrations of the engine. However, once the monorail started to move, it was much better, as we could open the windows and enjoy the gentle natural breeze from the outside. This mode of transportation harkens back the the old days of Sentosa, where the pace was much more leisurely, and where you got much closer to nature. The arrival of the new, sleek, air-conditioned Sentosa Express also took away some of the old charm of the island.
Our night was capped off with the Musical Fountain show in front of the Merlion. The Musical Fountain was a signature attraction on Sentosa. It was very groundbreaking for that time, and employed advanced technologies. The Fountain amphitheater was located at where the Lake of Dreams pond currently is.
The Musical Fountain amphitheater was built to look like a neo-classical fantasy garden on steroids. They had archways, fake stonework, real stoneworks, fish ponds, lily ponds, fountain ponds, waterfalls, water jets, etc. The lighting was spectacular at night, and the Merlion looms above all the audience.
Back then, the show was split into two segments, the Going Around the World, and the Spirit of Sentosa. Going Around the World resembled the Fountains of Bellagio, in the sense that there were synchronized fountains dancing to music. Laser projections of famous landmarks around the world was projected on the water jets. Spirit of Sentosa, on the other hand, was a multimedia theatrical show with a fully developed storyline. It was about three magical sisters wanting to steal a pearl from a dragon, and the Merlion defeating them in the end. This show was where the dragon motif popped up again. The Merlion also played a prominent role in the show; at the climax, lasers shot out from Merlion’s eyes to defeat the magical sisters. It was really a sight to behold.
That marks the end of my first visit to Sentosa island. Looking back, I must say that Sentosa island back then reflected the sensibilities of the 90s, a time that is vastly different from the 21st century. Sentosa was much more laid back, much more nature orientated. People went to Sentosa as a family to experience the simple pleasures of an island resort. Fast forward 10 years, are living in a much mroe fast paced society, and Sentosa has evolved to fit our current society. Will the Sentosa of 10 years ago still appeal to the audience of today? Probably not. While we reminisce and indulge in our nostalgia, we must also live in the present, and look forward to the future. How will Sentosa be in a decade’s time?
This is my post in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Sentosa island. If any one of you have similar memories of the Sentosa of the past, please share it with us, comment on this post, email me etc! For those who have memories of Sentosa of the past, I hope this article has helped you spark off your nostalgia, and for those who have no recollections of the Sentosa of the past, I hope this article will help you gain a deeper sense of appreciation for the island resort.