With travel bubbles still in limbo in phase three, staycations remain the next best thing to escaping from work-at-home life without the need for a Covid-19 test to get on a cruise to nowhere.
The good news is, there are plenty of new and refurbished hotels to explore this year, whether you are looking for a place to celebrate an anniversary, chill with friends or work and play.
Hotels such as the Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore, Duxton Reserve, Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay and Mint Hotel within One Farrer Hotel opened their doors late last year despite the pandemic.
In fact, there are more than 8,600 hotel rooms in the works as of the third quarter of last year, according to a recent report in The Straits Times.
Those launching this year include the 169-room Citadines Connect City Centre in Clemenceau Avenue, which offers studio apartments, and the 324-room The Clan by Far East Hospitality, a luxury business hotel.
The Straits Times reviews three very different staycay experiences in these new offerings - a resort in a golf course, a "hospi-tel" concept within a hotel and glamorous boutique lodgings.
Dusit's isolation feels like a real holiday
"Is this Singapore?" my husband's colleagues around the world ask in disbelief over Zoom as he gives them a laptop tour of the Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore's poolside area.
Dusit International's first property here has that effect on you. Unlike hotels in Sentosa which are set in lush forested plots or by the beach, this five-star hotel is flanked by the green fairways of Laguna National Golf & Resort Club's two championship golf courses.
The hotel feels private and peaceful - it helps that only 77 out of its 198 rooms are open when we check in on a Monday just before Christmas. The occasional roar of passenger jets from nearby Changi Airport sparks joy rather than irritation - only in a Covid-19 year, perhaps.
THREE THINGS TO DO
1 Make full use of the generous three-hour pool access period to enjoy the three pools, then relax in a cabana or refuel at Tee Deck, an alfresco bar and grill located poolside.
2 Tee off at Laguna National Golf & Resort Club's two acclaimed golf courses. Its renovated club facilities, from buggies with GPS to luxurious changing rooms, are impressive.
3 Join one of many activities Laguna National organises for its members, space permitting. These range from lifestyle workshops to swimming lessons.
RATES The Discover Dusit package offers 30 per cent off the best available rate (from $650++ a room a night) plus a complimentary minibar, gym access and a care kit. Book directly for other benefits. The Stay and Play package for golfers starts at about $550++ for one or $800++ for two on weekdays, and is not available online. Call 6841-8888 to book.
While golf clubs such as Orchid Country Club have hotel rooms, the Dusit's stunning architecture and interiors, discreetly opulent finishings and top-notch facilities take it to the next level.
We see touches of its Thai hospitality roots, from the doorman dressed in a Thai costume who chirps a greeting of "sawadee kap", to the fresh coconuts placed in our lovely deluxe Laguna patio pool view room.
Golfers will appreciate the luxe lodgings, which allow them to sleep a little bit longer before an early tee-off. Hotel guests who are not members of Laguna National enjoy access when they book the Stay and Play package.
My husband plays 18 holes with a couple who entrust their baby to the hotel's babysitting staff, and finds the Masters course a satisfying challenge, thanks to its many water hazards.
Laguna National was the first golf club here to host American professional golfer Tiger Woods, among many other golf luminaries over the years.
I, on the other hand, am content to frolic in the main pool, all 53 glorious metres of it. Cleverly constructed with a very decent 30m lap pool area that serious swimmers will appreciate, it also has built-in social spaces (both wet and dry) for those who prefer to lounge.
Besides the main pool, there is a fun kids' pool that resembles a putting green, as well as a 32m-long relaxation pool with chic chairs where you can read a book or sunbathe without getting more than your ankles wet.
Go early to grab one of the comfy poolside cabanas because they fill up by 10am. You can reserve them for a fee of $100, which comes with $75 in food and beverage credit.
In line with the resort's wellness focus, guests have access to a well equipped DFiT gym and Devarana Wellness spa, which has seven treatment rooms.
My 90-minute Devarana Signature Massage ($220++) combines Thai, ayurvedic and shiatsu techniques with Swedish massage and aromatherapy, and while therapist Lydia's strokes are intense at times, she manages to put me in a sleepy stupor midway through and I feel rejuvenated afterwards.
As the Dusit Thani Laguna Singapore is still in its soft-launch phase, with an official opening slated for mid-year, not all its facilities are fully operational.
Its all-day dining restaurant, Greenhouse, is captivating with its forest theme and magnificent curved windows that look out onto the golf course. But only three of its five kitchens are open when I visit - the Chinese kitchen and Mediterranean one with a pizza oven are expected to open next Monday.
The satay I have for lunch is good, but the rest of its offerings, including breakfast, are average considering you pay five-star hotel prices. Still, I am sure it will improve and Greenhouse looks set to be a go-to dining destination this year.
Also in the works are three outdoor tennis courts and a recreation room.
Laguna National organises workshops and classes for its members, and hotel guests can also sign up if space permits, paying $10 more than members. I peek into a Christmas baking workshop ($69 for 21/2 hours for members) and see children happily kneading, rolling and cutting cookies.
The workshop is held in one of the Dusit's eight double-storey pavilions, each of which has its own pool. Originally planned as guest accommodation pre-Covid-19, some units are available to the public for small-scale events such as corporate retreats or wedding ceremonies.
As dusk arrives and the Dusit's curvilinear form twinkles like a spaceship against the unblocked sky, I realise that its appeal lies in its splendid isolation away from the city and the usual hotel hubs.
Driving past the dusty mega construction site of the East Coast Integrated Depot to get to the hotel is somewhat off-putting. (Dusit provides shuttle buses to and from Expo MRT station and Jewel Changi Airport for those who do not drive.)
But ensconced in the resort's cocoon of luxury, I feel like I am on holiday for the first time since the pandemic. If only I could keep it my little staycay secret for longer.
Sumptuous glamour by former Bond girl at Duxton Reserve
There is something unutterably sumptuous about black and gold. These shades give newly reopened boutique hotel Duxton Reserve a dash of old-world glamour.
The hotel, in a row of restored heritage shophouses, was formerly Six Senses Duxton, which opened in 2018 and closed during the circuit breaker period. Its owner, The Garcha Group, has since reopened it and its sister hotel, The Maxwell Reserve, under Marriott's Autograph Collection range.
The new hotel retains the stunning aesthetic by British hotelier and interior designer Anouska Hempel, who is feted for her 1970s work on London's Blakes Hotel, considered one of the world's first luxury boutique hotels.
Ms Hempel is also a former Bond girl - she appeared as one of the Angels of Death in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) - and the stylish interior of Duxton Reserve feels like it could pass off as the opulent backdrop to one of 007's evenings of derring-do.
THREE THINGS TO DO
1 You can be ferried from your doorstep to the hotel in a London cab dubbed Sir Harold. The service is available to guests on request at $100++ for pick-up and return.
2 At Anouska's Bar, the cocktail you should absolutely not miss out on is Escape To Kaifeng ($24), a housemade chrysanthemum cordial with Tanqueray gin that achieves a startling clarity of flavour.
3 Design your own customised scent at the hotel's neighbour Maison 21G, which runs a bespoke perfume workshop ($150 a person with a 15 per cent discount for hotel guests).
RATES The Chope Exclusive Staycation + Dine Deal package is $277++ (Mondays to Thursdays) or $314++ (Fridays to Sundays) for an overnight Shophouse Room stay for two; $382++ (Mondays to Thursdays) or $433++ (Fridays to Sundays) for an overnight Duplex Room stay for two
Huge golden fans and black lacquer screens line the long hall that is restaurant Yellow Pot.
Helmed by chef Sebastian Goh, it delivers modern Chinese cooking - from delectable lion's mane mushrooms with avocado puree to the clean flavours of barramundi in housemade fish stock. A la carte breakfast is also served here in the mornings - the chilli crab omelette is especially recommended.
The luminous Anouska's Bar, named for its glamorous designer, serves classic cocktails with a Chinese twist - such as the Chen Pi Collins, a Tom Collins with mandarin-infused gin; or the Duxton Mary, a Bloody Mary laced with orange and hua diao wine.
Elsewhere in the hotel, eclectic elements pop up around each corner - from the old-school telephones in the corridors to the wallpaper, based on 18th-century English property indenture documents.
Historic shophouses give one little wiggle room, but the elegant screens and dark curves of Ms Hempel's design grant narrow spaces an intimate mystique.
My duplex suite is furnished with a small forest of standing lamps and a spiral staircase that leads up to the loft bed.
I am delighted because I love spiral staircases. If you are, however, the sort who hates tramping up and down steps to get your phone charger or switch off the said standing lamps before bed, opt for a basic Shophouse Room or the Montgomerie Executive Club Suite which, at 51 sq m, is the largest room.
I while away the afternoon wandering Duxton, a district once rife with KTV bars and ladies of the night that has regentrified in the past decade.
Today, upmarket boutiques and eateries sit cheek by jowl with the likes of the 124-year-old Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop, which makes Taoist effigies.
Duxton Reserve is within walking distance of two lovely independent bookstores - Littered With Books across the street and Chinese-language stalwart Grassroots Book Room in Bukit Pasoh Road.
A few doors down from the hotel is bespoke perfumery Maison 21G, which created the hotel's signature scent La Reserve - an enchanting potpourri of amber, oud, patchouli and a dash of ginger.
I pop in for a workshop with founder Johanna Monange, 45, who leads me through a dizzying spectrum of scents - from refreshing sage to the jaw-droppingly expensive orris, which is made from iris rhizomes that are dried over years and which can fetch more than €50,000 (S$80,750) a kilogram.
As I watch, she mixes up a bottle of La Reserve in Maison 21G's in-house machine La Source, something like an espresso machine, only with perfume cartridges.
The scent of it lingers long after I have unpacked back home. Duxton Reserve certainly knows how to leave an impression.
'Hospi-tel' with access to culturally rich neighbourhood
When describing my stay at One Farrer Hotel to friends, I found myself mixing up the words "hotel" and "hospital" very often.
Perhaps it is the five-star hotel's location - right next to Farrer Park Hospital, to which it is affiliated. Hospital experts were also consulted in the recently completed $2 million refurbishment of 70 per cent of the hotel - or 176 rooms - that fall under the Mint category of rooms at One Farrer.
Or perhaps it is the quiet, hospital-like hallways that lead to my Skyline room on the 19th floor, which overlooks the bustling Farrer Park neighbourhood.
In the pursuit of cleanliness, no detail has been spared. Carpets, which are a hotbed for germs and pathogens, have been removed from all Mint category rooms and common areas in favour of vinyl flooring for ease of cleaning.
THREE THINGS TO DO
1 Guests staying on the 18th to 20th floors have exclusive access to a dedicated pool located next to the lounge. Open from 7am to 10pm, it is perfect for a quick midday dip.
2 Enjoy one-stop dining at multi-concept restaurant Socieaty. Here, you get some of Les Amis group's best offerings, from Japanese (Tenjin and Sushi Jin) to posh nasi lemak by Lemak Boys.
3 Pick or buy a pillow from the Pillow Lab. Set to open end of next month, its pillows are deep-cleaned in a dedicated deep disinfecting room.
ROOMS 249, ranging from the recently refurbished Mint Hotel to two-bedroom Sky Villas with living and dining areas
RATES Skyline package: $250 nett a night for Skyline Room with breakfast, all-day light refreshments and free-flow evening cocktails for two; package valid until Feb 28; not applicable for use with SingapoRediscovers Vouchers. A Walk in the Farrer Park package: $599 nett for two nights in a Mint Den with daily breakfast for two, guided walking tours and cooking class; package valid until June 30; applicable for use with SingapoRediscovers Vouchers.
As the label "mint" evokes, there is a freshness and cleanliness about the rooms, where everything from the window blinds (antimicrobial fabrics) to the paint on the walls (antifungal) have probably helped the hotel earn that coveted SG Clean quality mark.
I get a demonstration of how guestrooms are further sanitised during housekeeping with the latest technology - an Ultraviolet-C (UVC) lamp that looks like a blue light-emitting device straight out of science-fiction television series Doctor Who. It is placed in the room undisturbed for 15 minutes to kill all the remaining pathogens.
There is also a UVC chest in which targeted sterilisation is done for high touchpoint items such as remote controls.
With Covid-19 still an ongoing concern, the Mint hotel rooms are a clean freak's dream - if that is the peace of mind you are looking for.
But I find my previously non-existent germophobia heightened, knowing that I am in such a sterile environment.
I crave the warmth and luxury of the carpets underfoot at the Nest at One Farrer, where I had a sumptuous, bespoke private dining experience earlier that day.
Members of the public can also book and customise gourmet meals at the newly launched Nest in one of the hotel's Presidential Villas. About 30 per cent of the hotel, including the villas and loft apartments, remains intact with all the frills such as carpets and chandeliers.
With room service ending by 9.30pm and the lounge mostly full throughout the day because of safe-distancing measures, it is probably best to take advantage of the plethora of authentic food options in the area - whether it is the famous Norris Road chapati or a delectable briyani set from Mr Biryani, both a 10-minute walk away.
You are also a skip and a hop away from 24-hour shopping at Singaporean stalwart Mustafa Centre.
With overseas travel still not on the cards, the hotel - which has several stays eligible for SingapoRediscovers Vouchers - proves a good home base from which to rediscover the cultural richness of the neighbourhood.
One of its staycation packages, A Walk in the Farrer Park, includes a two-hour Secrets of Jalan Besar guided tour, where you weave in and out of back alleys with stunning murals and learn about the colonial and sporting past of neighbourhoods like Race Course Road.
Though parts of the tour give me flashbacks to compulsory national education tours I did in primary school, there are hidden gems, like a serene, Tibetan-style temple called Thekchen Choling I had never noticed before on my visits to coffee joint Chye Seng Huat Hardware.
Perhaps a hotel-and-hospital hybrid - or "hospi-tel" - is the new normal for hospitality, not just in Singapore but globally.
The hotel's dedication to sterility will probably appeal to those wary of staycations, but I prefer a little more indulgence - carpets and all - in my hotel stay.
• The staycations were hosted by the hotels and are part of a weekly series. For more staycation reviews, go to str.sg/SuiteLife.
Correction note: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Farrer Park Hospital. We are sorry for the error.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2021, with the headline 'Dip into fresh staycays'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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