Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Universal Studios Singapore Christmas Wishlist

It's the holiday season again, and in keeping with the spirit of the holidays, I'm going to present to you my Christmas wish list for Universal Studios Singapore.

The previous time I've written a similar list was in 2009, before the park opened, and you can find the article here. Well, I seemed that I got all my wishes from 2009. I wished for no crowds(5 minutes for the Mummy, seriously?) - checked, a Halloween event(HHN was awesome!) - checked, nightly fireworks spectacular(Lake Hollywood Spectacular) - checked, constant updates(Sesame Street ride in 2013)  - checked, cheap annual passes($188, $288) - checked.

Let's see if my wish list for 2012 will be fulfilled too...

Disclaimer - the items below are in no specific order.

1. Interactive Character Meet and Greet
I'm always looking forward to ways USS can "plus" the experience. The current character meet and greets are random, and slightly unsatisfactory. There is no specific place to meet a character, and they kind of just "pop-out" for a short duration. When the characters do show up, they are also pretty inanimate and does not interact much with the guest. The meet and greet experiences in the park are actually more like photo taking sessions with the characters.

Therefore, I hope that we will have a more structured and more interactive way of meeting the park's characters. Imaging having a 20 minute Kungfu training session with Po, with Po and Shifu personally teaching the kids. Or a fairy tale telling session with Fiona in the Shrek castle, where kids can talk to Princess Fiona and act out stories under her directions. These are much more wholesome and more captivating experiences, rather than a mere photo taking session.

For those of you who still can't visualize the experience, it kind of like Donkey Live with a real life meet and greet actor.

2. Streetmosphere Characters
This is an idea blatantly lifted from Disney. In Disney parks, they have walkabout cast members that act as citizens of the land that you are in. So imagine that you're in Hollywood area. You might walk into a cast member that pretends to be a fireman from the LA fire department, or a prospective actor looking to make it big in Hollywood. They are not film character per se, but just normal "citizens" of the place. These are improvisational actors that will augment your park experience and convince you to suspend you disbelief.

3. Better Food
I really hate to say this, but the food in USS isn't all that palatable. Looking at the park map, you might be led to believe that USS offers a wide range of food items that are both nutritious and delicious. However, the reality is slightly different. The food in USS is grossly overpriced and sub-standard. The burgers and fries in Mel's Drive In are dry and bland, while the serving size of the beef ball noodles in Casa del Wild in Madagascar is pathetically small. Even the China Bistro in Hollywood area is unsatisfactory. Therefore, I really hope that USS will roll out better food choices, and not leave me feeling ripped off. Paying $12 for a subpar burger and fries set is definitely not the way to go.

The variety of dinning establishments in USS provides a great opportunity for the park to experiment with different exotic cuisines, and to provide delicious items to satisfy the palates of every guest.

4. More rides
There can never be enough rides. The success of a park depends on keeping itself relevant and exciting by building new rides, shows, and attractions. There are a few ride systems and ride genres that USS should really have.

The trend in the amusement park industry is to go for interactive rides with variable experiences that makes it re-rideable. However, USS lacks such rides. These can be a simple shoot 'em up ride, or a complex decide-your-own-ending ride. An example of such rides in Universal Parks around the world are Men In Black Alien Attack, a interactive shoot 'em up ride through the streets of New York, where guests blast lasers at aliens to score points. The accumulated points will then determine the ending of the ride, with the high scorers getting a "good job" from Will Smith, and the low scorers getting their minds erased.

Another ride that USS should have is a Kuka arm simulation ride. The mold was broken when the Harry Potter ride opened in Universal Studios Florida's Islands of Adventure park. This ride used the Kuka arm system, which is basically a mechanical arm with the ride bench mounted on it. This arm has 6 degrees of motion, and allows guests to experience sensations of flight. See image below.

Finally, another excellent ride that I wish we had is a simulation ride. The Simpsons ride in Universal Hollywood and Orlando, the Back to the Future ride in Universal Japan, the Soaring ride in Disneyland and Disney World are all examples of the amazing simulation ride. It is basically a simple system where the riders are in a motion simulation base, which is placed in front of a large IMAX 3D or IMAX dome screen. This creates the illusion of movement, and is perfect for creating sensations of flight, or of speed. Coupled with in theater effects, such as wind, scents, water etc, this is definitely set to blow people away.

5. Interactive Queue or Increase Capacity
Canopy Flyers and Treasure Hunters are two of the most pain-in-the-rear rides in this park. They are relatively simple, and short rides, each lasting 30 seconds to a minute. However, the queues for these two rides are monstrously long, lasting anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes. Seriously, 90 minutes for a 30 seconds ride?

The problem for these two rides is that they have really low hourly capacities. They seat 2 per row, and have a limited number of vehicles running on the tracks. Furthermore, the loading and unloading process is also slow and tedious, with numerous safety checks to slow the process down. Therefore, USS can either bump up the capacity for these two rides, or to entertain the guests while they are spending 90 minutes in line.

USS could install interactive games, videos, etc into the queues of these two attractions. Imagine a treasure finding game in the Treasures Hunters queue. Or an interactive Jurassic Park Visitor Center experience while waiting for the Canopy Flyer. These interactive elements can be as simple as touch screen games, or as elaborate as interactive animatronic dinosaurs that responds to guests.

6. Fix Madagascar
Madagascar: A Crate Adventure has been plagued by problems since the get-go. There were rumors of a small fire during construction, of boats that were too big to fit into the ride path, of design flaws that forced the removal of a splashdown etc. All these incidents left us with a rather watered down, and slightly pathetic attraction. The attraction was billed as a 12 minute dark ride, with amazing special effects and a final splashdown, but we eventually got a 7 minute gentle kiddie ride. This attraction has a gigantic footprint and takes up a huge piece of real estate, hence it is really a disappointing waste of land.

USS should fix up the attraction, or bulldoze it to make way for a better, more exciting attraction.

7. Fix the PR Team  
Resorts World Sentosa is notorious for their PR team. This is probably the only place where attraction openings are announced only a week in advance. RWS has not grasped that their fan base is huge, and they could achieve a lot more by reaching out to their fan base and getting the fans excited.

Just look at the publicity for the opening of New Fantasyland in Disney World Orlando. Plans for the expansion were "leaked" 4 years in advance to the fan community, allowing the media and many fan websites to generate a huge buzz about the possible expansion. Then the expansion was officially announced at a huge Disney convention 3 years prior. At every stage of the construction, media and press were invited to the site to report on the construction progress. Videos of interviews with the creators behind the expansion were also posted regularly on Youtube. The creators were also very active in attending fan conventions and seminars, seizing every opportunity to tell the public about the expansion. Finally, a few months prior to opening, a viral marketing campaign involving dragons and "found footages" was launched, and the opening date was announced months in advance.

The USS public relations team seems juvenile in contrast. For the opening of Transformers The Ride, they just had a small fan contest, some TV spots on local television, and a small opening ceremony.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New York, USS vs New York, USA

In this post, I will be comparing the various buildings in New York street in Universal Studios Singapore against the real buildings found in New York, New York.

New York street is one of the most detailed themed zones in Universal Singapore, and the attention to detail in the zone is very amazing. Many of the buildings there are actually based on real buildings in New York, and this adds to the level of authenticity. The various architectural styles and references in the park is actually impressively accurate.

The view of New York street from the entrance is dominated by the the Neo-classical building that looms at the end of the street. This facade is actually modelled after the real New York public library, found on 5th Ave in Manhattan.

Image courtesy of USSi 

The real deal - see the likeness?

The New York Public library is actually a really famous building, and it was featured in various blockbuster Hollywood films.

Who can forget the apocalyptic scene in The Day After Tomorrow where the characters hide out from Mother Nature's fury in the New York Public Library?

Or the goofy Ghostbusters busting ghosts in the vaults of the Library?
The next recognizable building on New York street is the Rockefeller building right next to the Public Library.

Remember this? - Image courtesy of SGsearchsite 
This facade is modelled after the famous Rockefeller complex located off 5th Ave. The statue of Atlas Carrying the World is modeled after the one below:

The Rockefeller Center is well known for its public art program. The entire complex is literally filled with dramatic pieces of Art Deco works that celebrate the spirit and achievements of mankind.

The mural behind Atlas in Universal Studios Singapore is modeled after the mural above the main entrance to the Rockefeller building. Notice that in the photo, there is no mural behind Atlas in the original building.

The shape of the facade also closely follows the original building. Forced perspective is put to great use here to give the impression of a tall building when the facade is actually only about 3 stories tall.

Notice the tapered design of the building

Who can forget the heartwarming scene in Home Alone 2 that was filmed in front of the Rockefeller center?

Next to the Rockefeller center is actually a small clock, above the Empire State Emporium.

This clock is modelled after the facade of the famous Tiffany and Co on 5th Ave, as pictured below.

Finally, the rest of the buildings on New York street is modelled after the Tenement style of architecture, found all over New York, as well as other cities along the East Coast, like Philadelphia.

Tenements of New York, USS

Tenements of New York, USA
Such architecture is characteristic of New York, and was constructed in the 1800s to respond to the huge population boom due to the rise of the industrial factories in New York. You can see this style of architecture in famous movies like:
West Side Story

That concludes our tour of New York street. Do look out for more posts in the future.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

HHN2 Insanitarium Blueprint

Below is the blueprint for the Insanitarium Maze in Halloween Horror Nights 2. Although this is not the actual blueprints used in the construction of the maze, it is based on an accurate source. The layout is accurate, though it is not draw to scale. Watch out for more updates about HHN2 coming soon!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Yilun Audio Tours Relaunch

Yilun Audio Tours, the sister podcast of this blog, will be back on 1st August after a successful first season. Look out for exciting shows, reviews, interviews, walking guides, and more at

Subscribe to the show through RSS at to check out the show's archive, which includes exciting episodes covering USS's Halloween Horror Nights 2011, "Live" walking tour of Universal Studios Singapore, Audio Walking Tour of Singapore River, City Hall, Civic District, Fort Canning, and more!

Traveling through Singapore just got easier.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Universal Studios Singapore Aeriel Map

This is a consolidation of the series of articles I've posted for the past few months.

I was recently on Bing maps and found a really vivid, saturated satellite photo of Resorts World Singapore. Here it is:

Though this map is slightly old, and does not show the construction progress at the east zone of RWS, it is still very informative, and shows us lots of details on the layout of the resort.

Let's start with the basic layout of the entire Resorts World Sentosa development. This integrated resort is located on the North side of Sentosa island, facing mainland Singapore. The resort is split into 3 main areas, the West zone, Central zone and the East zone.

Let's begin with the park itself. Universal Studios Singapore is a highly compact park located at the West zone of the resort. It is surrounded by the service roads leading in and out of the Sentosa Island on three sides, and the monorail track on the fourth. The park, as you can see, is very built up, and has little empty spaces within its boundaries.

The entrance of the park. As can be seen from the image, the entire entrance plaza is highly shaded, and the Universal Studios globe is located in the center. The entrance of the park is located directly under the pair of monorail tracks that links Sentosa to mainland Singapore. The entire Hollywood area is under the shades of the canopy.

To the right of the entrance plaza, you can see a really interesting channel behind the Madagascar show building. This is the maintenance boat channel of the ride. Here's a bit of speculation: there are two blue rectangular objects floating in the channel. Were the original boats to the ride blue?

Looking at the layout of the Pantages theater, you can roughly see 3 distinct sections to the building. The front facade with the spire is visible. The first section of the building, the lobby, is the narrow arched shaped portion behind the facade. The next section is the main seating area. You can see that the seating area starts with a broad back, and tapers towards the stage. Finally, the stage area is the small rectangle at the very back of the building. You can see that the stage isn't very big relative to the entire building. Behind the stage, you can see the backstage loading docks used to bring in big set pieces to the theater.

You can of course see the Brown Derby hat store sticking out from the side of the theater.

Mel's Dine In and KT's grill. You can see the distinct curve of Mel's Drive In next to the lagoon. You can also see KT's grill attached right next to Mel's, and I bet that both restaurants share the same kitchen.

Moving on to New York zone of the park, the first major building is the Stage 28 soundstage. As you can see, the stage is actually made of 2 distinct soundstages, perhaps one for the walk-through attraction, and one as a MICE venue? Halloween Horror Night's maze was built at the rectangular soundstage next to the monorail station. Located right next to the Soundstages is the backstage area, as seen from the corrugated metal roofing.

Right next to the cast members' backstage area is a huge patch of open space currently undeveloped. This is a really nice spot for expansion, with nearly enough space to fit an attraction the size of Transformers. Given that this plot of land directly faces the New York street, it is then highly likely that a future attraction might be built here.

Next to this patch of land is the rather uninspiring air-conditioning compressor tower.

Moving on, as you can see, the New York street is really just a thin facade constructed with no structure behind it. The Rockefeller center facade and the New York Public library facade leads to nowhere.

Lights, Cameras, Action is housed in another rectangular soundstage, right next to the lagoon. As you can see, the queue to the show is housed under the corrugated metal roof right next to the small alleyway of New York. The building also shares the space with the Sci-Fi city restaurant, as one side of the building faces the Sci-fi city area. The still vacant Sci-Fi stage is located at the side of this showbuilding.

Speaking of Sci-Fi city, the Transformers ride building is located behind the New York Public library facade of New York street. This show building is not very big, and wedged in this awkard location. Adjacent to the showbuilding is the queue building for the Transformers ride, with happens to house the gift shop as well as some toilets too.

The Accelerator ride is wedged in this small plot of land between the walkways and the Battlestar Galactica ride.

As for Battlestar Galactica the ride, the queue for both sides starts off at the plaza, before meandering under the track paths, before finally heading into the indoor queue building. It is actually the same building for both sides of the queue, and the loading station is actually just next to each other, separated by a thin wall. You can also see the two vehicle repair stations at the extreme ends of the ride.

Moving on to Ancient Egypt.

The monstrosity of a building in this zone is the Revenge of the Mummy ride building. As you can see, the entrance facade of the building is off-center and tilted with reference to the ride building. On the roof of the show building is also the largest Photovoltaic roof of the entire resort. The ride exits from the right of the building, and you can see the small gift shop attached to the massive show building.

The ancient Egypt zone also contains a restaurant and Treasure Hunters ride. The restaurant is a small building located across the pathway from Revenge of the Mummy the ride. The Treasure Hunters queue building across from the restaurant. The ride path for Treasure Hunters is essentially a 8 that spans the waterfront area of the zone.

Next up is Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park food court. Nothing interesting here.

The Jurassic Park area is really a small tangle of paths with small carnival rides well hidden in thick vegetation. The Canopy Flyers ride is anther attraction shaped in an 8, with a tight loop over the splashdown area of Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure. Amber Rock climb is a pathetic slab of artificial rock bolted to the walls of the Waterworld theater.

The Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure is actually compacted into a very small plot of land, with the ride path wound into many S turns. This compact layout gives rise many interesting features. The Parasaurolophus lagoon is directly back to back with the final splashdown, the rocky section of the ride is constructed to hide the boundaries of the park and the indoor show building of the ride. The indoor section of the ride is really just a boat channel with walls and a roof built over it, and the final splashdown is just two small elevator shafts.

The Waterworld stadium is a classic C shaped amphitheater with a lagoon in the center. There is a small backstage lagoon at the right side of the stage, where the vehicles are parked when no in show. You can also see the tracks where the water plane launches from behind the stage facade. Over here is also where the backstage perimeter road is the most obvious.

There is a curious plot of land beside the Waterworld queue, which also leads to the back portion of the Romeo Drive in Far Far Away. Perhaps this is also a possible spot for expansion? It is sizable enough to hold an attraction like Madagascar.

Moving on to the Shrek area. Far Far Away is an interesting land, consisting of a main thoroughfare and many side meanders, as well as Romeo Drive which dead ends at a smokers' zone. There is a small stretch of water channel that flows between FFA and Lost World. This is the docks where boats and the like can park, and easily go into the lagoon.

Shrek castle has a really interesting layout. On the left side of the building houses the Shrek 4D theater, and we can see from the Ariel map that the rectangle to the left is the preshow area, while the big rectangle behind the castle is the main theater. The theater empties out into a long corridor in the middle of the building, which is actually the retail shop. On the right side of the building, facing Romeo Drive, lies Donkey live. This attraction's queue is hosed under the blue roofing, while the preshow building is located next to it. The main show space is marked by the rectangular box and lots of air condition pipes above it. The main show area empties out into the same central axis which is the gift shop.

The kiddie coaster at FFA is highly compact. Next to the tracks is the Shrek house where he meets the guests.

Finally, Madagascar. The restaurant in Madagascar is shown by the big building here. The slightly raised area is the kitchen, while the rest of the building is the seating area.

The Madagascar ride show building is really interesting. It consists of the queue and the main indoor show building. The queue is the bright yellow area you can see from the picture. The main show building is clad in a facade that is made to look like a big cargo ship. The slightly raised portion of the show building is where the rumored second level of the ride is (which is abandoned due to technical difficulties). The ride exits to a small green hut at the other end of the queue, which happens to be the gift shop.

That's it. Hope you have enjoyed this article.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Madagascar Ride Review Full Post

This is a consolidated post of the series of articles on Madagascar: A Crate Adventure

General Feelings
This much anticipated ride is an excellent case of anticipointment. After delayed opening for more than a year, this ride finally opens, but with a mediocre ride experience. The scenes are cute, and well constructed, albeit with rather simple animatronics and a lack of excitement. It serves well as a kiddie ride, much along the lines of Small World, and is definitely not an E-ticket.


Entrance to the Madagascar ride is located in the Madagascar zone. The pathway leading to the ride is part of the main thoroughfare of the park, and is highly themed with lush vegetation (though fake) right out of the colorful animated forests in the movies. The ride building is covered in a giant facade of the cargo ship from the movies, and dominated the skyline along that side of the park. The entrance 0f the attraction is not directly located at the ship facade, but is instead a distance away, at a small amusement park style entryway with the four characters sculpted on the marquee. The queue is divided into two, one for those with Universal Express, and the other for regular guests.

The queue

The queue is gigantic. It is located outdoors, covered by a vast canopy. The queue consists mainly of switchbacks, nicely themed as bamboo trunks. This area is kept windy by a crazy ventilation system that makes a heck lot of noise. There are cute light fixtures hanging from the canopy that is reminiscent of the lights that Marty had hanging on his party hut in the first movie. There are also television monitors along the queue that plays news loops reporting on the animals' departure from the New York zoo, in an attempt to fill guests who haven't watched the films on the backstroke. On top of all that, the soundtrack from two of the Madagascar films are also blaring.

Loading Dock

The loading dock is manned by cast members dressed in ranger clothing. The system there consists of two loading spots back to back, with the boarding guests on the left and the exit to the right. Loading is not very efficient, and takes quite a while for the guests to get on and off. The cast is generally cheerful, and can be seen to be working their best to compensate for the inefficiency of the system.

The Boat

Guests will step into the boat, which is 5 rows long and sits 3 per row. The two seats at the sides doubles up as steps for the guests to step in. There is a redundant lap bar that the cast members have to lower. The boat is themed as a boxy crate, and is painted with bright colors. The boat is floating on the water, and is entirely driven by the currents, with no tracks, no motors etc. Bumpers in the form of rollers are installed at the two sides to prevent the boat from crashing into the walls of the trough.

The Entry
The boat floats lazily through the trough outdoors before slowly making its way to the entry into the show building. The entry is themed as a cut out opening to the ship. A gush of cool air from the air conditioning welcomes the guest.

Scene 1: Cargo storage
The boats enters a utilitarian-like room in a ship, with bolts and nuts clearly visible on the walls, and nautical lights hanging from the ceiling. This room is reminiscent of the ships from the golden days of sea-faring, like the Unicorn in Tin Tin movie. Cargo crates are stacked along the sides. The voices of Alex, Marty, Gloria and Melman emerge from the crates one by one, discussing their situation.
"Hey can you hear me? Its me, its me, Alex!" - Alex "Hey is that you? Talk to me buddy! We're being sent away!" - Marty "What do you mean sent away?" - Gloria

Scene 2: The Bridge
The boats then goes past a illuminated screen with the silhouette of the captain, drinking from his mug. The 3 penguins then emerge and whack the captain unconscious, before taking control of the steering wheel.

Scene 3: The Storm
The boat the goes into another room. A(n animated) porthole offers the guests a view of the choppy seas outside, along with a crate floating on the sea. The room is dimly lit, and to heighten the tension and make the experience more authentic, wind is blown onto the guests and sirens blare.

The boat then floats past two tall stacks of crates. One of the crate stacks suddenly collapses, almost threatening to hit the guests. Effect is achieved by sliding individual crates away from each other. See diagram.
Scene 4: The Beach-up

Scene 4: The Beach-up
After the storm, the boats beached up in the calm sunny beaches of Madagascar. Alex is the first character to be seen, breaking out of his crate. One interesting detail is the "days without steak" carving on his crate. Then it is Melman, with his signature complains about his sickness. Gloria then appears, with starfishes covering her essentials. Finally, Marty appears, lounging in his party hut, apparently getting very comfortable in the new environment. One fun thing to do is to look back, and you will see the other side of the cargo ship, as well as a huge anchor in the sand.

"Alright boys, party's over" - Gloria
"This is frak-a-lacking" - Marty

Scene 5: Penguins
In this scene, the 3 penguins are studying the map of Madagascar.

"This map's written in code"
"We are going into hostile territory"
- Skipper

Scene 6: Danger Ahead
This section takes place in a heavily themed jungle section, with low ambient lighting and fog effects. We start with seeing Melman looking at the "Turn Back!(Before it is too late)" sign. Then Marty appears, with half his butt being swallowed by a carnivorous plant. A fun thing to look out for is a hidden "Kuala Lumpur 354km" sign. Then there are more carnivorous plants along the trough, and the soundtrack here is foreboding.

The next section starts with Alex stuck on a spider web, and Marty trying to help him out. We move on to see more spider webs, with spider animations squeaking "How'do you do?" in incrementally higher pitches. We also go past an animatronics crocodile, and see Gloria swing overhead on a snake.

This is also where the entrance to the maintenance dock for the boats are.

In the next scene, we see the monkeys, and they start flinging poo at you, rather unexpectedly. (The poo is actually water)

"If you have poo, fling it!" - Monkey

Scene 7: Move it Move it

At the entrance to this scene is a pair of giant green leaf-like gates, with projections of the silhouette of small animals dancing. The door then opens up to reveal a party in full swing. The lemurs are dancing to the beat.

Scene 8: Foosa

King Julien informs the "New York Giants" about the foosa attacks, and the gang are determined to fight the foosas. As the boat turns a corner, we see the Mort (the small hamster like creature that got chased by a shark in Madagascar 2) being seasoned by the foosas.

Scene 9: The plan

In this scene, we see King Julien planning the foosa attack in front of a giant model and map of Madagascar island.

"I came up with it! Me! Me!" - King Julien

Scene 10: Preparation

We see King Julien introducing his "Wonderfully camouflaged fighters". Marty is dressed as a trojan horse, Gloria is trying desperately to fit into her overly small outfit.

As the boat take a turn, we see the penguins having their own plan. They are preparing explosives to chase away the foosas.

Scene 11: The showdown

We enter the foosa's volcano through a foosa shaped cave entryway. This is a wonderfully crafted area, with smoke coming out of the mouth, fire in the eyes, and lots of foosa shadows running around the entryway.

This entryway leads into the main room where the gang are fighting the foosas. This takes place in a volcano caldera. Fountains of water are lighted red to mimic boiling lava. Alex is owning the foosas, swing one by the tail, Melman is knocking the Foosas out with his head, and so on.

As we turn the corner, we see the penguins throwing King Julien a bomb. The bomb explodes, and destroys the foosas, leaving a rather smoked King Julien.

At this point, the boat inches nearer to a waterfall that spans the entire boat channel. Just was the "bomb" explodes, the waterfall stops and the boat passes under it.

Scene 12: Celebration

In this scene, we see the animals celebrating their victory over the Foosas. We see a giant "Thank you freaks" banner over the boat channel, we see the animals dancing to the music. There are even bubbles being blown at the boat. We see Marty lounging on his chair, sipping drink out of a coconut, and spitting the drink on the guests.

We also see the plane trying to take flight(a scene from Madagascar 2), with smoke coming out of their propellers. The ride ends here, and the boats come out of the show building, back to the loading/ unloading dock.

The guests are then directed into a gift shop where they can purchase their on-ride photos.