Hotel Insider Singapore's landmark hotel is already a victim of its own success.
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore is fun but too crowded for comfort
We are welcomed brightly as we exit our taxi outside Tower 1, the first of the hotel's three vast towers and home to its main reception. The lobby is cavernous and impressive, with lots of glass and light and Anthony Gormley sculptures dangling from a great height. There are, however, long queues at check-in. We have a 30-minute wait to reach the counter and staff seem unable to cope with the flood of people, which dampens our mood as we only have one night at the property.
The hotel is part of the vast Marina Bay Sands development, an "integrated resort" which includes a large shopping centre, casino, dozens of restaurants, a convention centre and the striking ArtScience museum, all of which sit on reclaimed land. They are part of the new Marina Bay district close to the recently expanded modern financial district. Behind the hotel, a new cruise centre is taking shape next to the port; in front of the shopping centre is Louis Vuitton's Island Maison, which juts out into the reservoir. Bayfront MRT station connects the complex to the rest of the city, and water taxis up the Singapore River go from the jetty beside the ArtScience museum.
We have a standard room on the 47th floor looking out over the Singapore Strait and, below, the still-under-construction "Gardens by the Bay", which will showcase tropical horticulture and serve as an outdoor recreation centre. It's quite a spectacular view, mainly because of the number of ships heading in and out of the nearby port. The room decor is rather bland and Vegas-like, with patterned brown carpet on the floors, brown furniture and light brown walls. It does, however, have everything a five-star hotel guest could want in terms of comfort, privacy and functionality. The bed, bedding and bathroom are large and very comfortable, the pillows are firm and the aircon works properly, which is more than can be said for a lot of hotels that offer frillier gimmicks. I love the fact that we can open our balcony doors to enjoy an un-overlooked view and fresh air.
The 2,561-roomed hotel is crowded from top to bottom with Chinese, Japanese and Russian tourists and businesspeople who fill the ground-floor restaurants, lifts and rooftop Sands Skypark, which includes the spectacular - but also crowded - infinity pool. Perhaps because of the apparently high occupancy levels and large numbers of walk-in visitors, rather than feeling exclusive, the hotel feels more like a cross between Atlantis and the Venetian in Las Vegas. That's no surprise, since it's owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which also owns the Venetian. The next-door shopping centre and waterfront walkways, however, are much less crowded, and, in a way, more attractive than the communal parts of the hotel.
The complex has seven "celebrity chef" restaurants, most of which are in the shopping centre and are quiet when we visit, so we try the hotel's ground-floor Chinese restaurant, Jin Shan Lou. The grilled cod (S$16; Dh46), steamed chicken in Szechuan sauce (S$20; Dh58) and vegetables in black bean sauce (S$20; Dh58) are pleasant but bland and overpriced compared to the food we've been eating at the city's other restaurants and food markets. The buffet breakfast is also disappointing, with the Asian selection particularly lacking in flavour. We had wanted to try Sky on 57, with a menu by Singaporean Chef Justin Quek, or Ku Dé Ta, another Asian restaurant on the rooftop, but at 3.15pm are told we are too late for lunch. At the adjacent Ku Dé Ta bar, we order the crunchy fried chicken (S$16; Dh46) but find it soft and oily.
The staff at this hotel all seem hard-working and dedicated, and apart from check-in we don't have to wait long for anything.
The views from our room and the rooftop.
The crowds in the infinity pool and the lack of spice in the food.
This is a great building but a rather soulless hotel, a fun addition to any trip to Singapore but not a place to stay for an intimate weekend.
The bottom line
Double rooms cost from S$422 (Dh1,236) per night, including taxes. Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore (www.marinabaysands.com; 00 65 6688 8897).