Every time I visit a popular restaurant or a highly recommended tourist attraction overseas, there will always be a hall of fame where restaurants will display their award plates and attractions will show of their TripAdvisor 5 star rating and other awards. I think these awards build a level of confidence among customers as to what they can expect in terms of service and experience.  At the same time, these awards acknowledge an organisation’s efforts to deliver an exceptional customer experience and encourage healthy competition.

To me, an exceptional customer experience means going above and beyond a customer’s expectations. It can be as simple as listening to your customer’s wants and needs and helping them out. This could mean coming up with solutions to a customer’s problems or at least finding someone who can help with the problem as soon as possible. I remembered one time when I was attending a wedding dinner at a hotel, I experienced a wardrobe malfunction – the soles of my leather shoes came off! When I approached a hotel staff for help, he volunteered to lend me his spare work shoes for the night without even taking down my details. This is to me a truly exceptional customer experience!

Thus, I am glad to hear that we also have a Singapore Experience Awards that celebrates outstanding experiences in the tourism sector, while promoting the innovation and creation of distinctive and compelling Singapore experiences.

Oceans Dreams – a programme by Resorts World Sentosa S.E.A. Aquarium – is a finalist this year for the Awards, and we went behind the scenes to understand what factors make the Ocean Dreams programme such a unique experience.

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S.E.A. Aquarium’s Ocean Dreams programme comprises:

  • A journey through maritime history and a multi-media extravaganza where you’ll get to feel what it’s like to be part of a crew experiencing peril on the high seas
  • A 90-minute guided tour through S.E.A. Aquarium packed with fascinating information about the many wonders of our blue planet
  • Discover more about sharks, dolphins, coral reefs and other marine animals, and how you can do your part for marine conservation
  • Exclusive back-of-house experience to witness the feeding of the resident fishes

What makes this programme unique is perhaps what happens after all of the above – a sleepover at the S.E.A Aquarium’s large viewing gallery – the Open Ocean tank! Don’t expect hotel mattresses and fluffy pillows though – sleeping bags and blankets are provided.

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We didn’t do a sleepover at the Aquarium – instead we had a guided back-of-house experience where we met the staff at S.E.A. Aquarium and saw first-hand how they prepared for their daily operations as well as for the Ocean Dreams tour. We had the chance and privilege of having a one-on-one interaction with the Aquarist – a knowledge master on marine animals, and the Manta Captains –storytelling experts and tour facilitators, where everybody works together to create a captivating experience for every Ocean Dreamer.

During our guided tour of the Aquarium, we were greeted by a friendly dolphin who happily posed for photos with many people in our group.  Ocean Dreamers will get to enjoy this private interaction time with the dolphins in the morning after breakfast! This is a very rare sight as during the usual Aquarium opening hours, this area is usually very crowded and noisy as the crowds try to get a glimpse of the dolphins and at times, there are people doing their Dolphin Trek experience at the Dolphin Lagoon .

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The S.E.A. Aquarium is one of the world’s largest aquariums and is home to more than 100,000 marine animals from over 800 species.  My favourite exhibit has to be the jellyfishes as they gracefully swim around their small aquarium tanks.

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The highlight of the tour had to be the huge Open Ocean tank – picture time with the manta rays and the fishes behind us! By the way, did you notice the orange pumpkin head within the tank behind us? That is actually part of the Halloween themed décor that the Ocean Dreams team had put up in parts of the S.E.A Aquarium. It is the small details that makes each visit to the aquarium a different experience.

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This shows how big the Open Ocean tank is – this is one of the world’s largest viewing panel at over 30 metres wide and 8.3 metres tall.  Imagine the shiokness of sleeping in front of this huge tank and watching the fishes and manta rays swim gracefully within the tank – it will feel as if you are on the ocean floor!

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As part of the Ocean Dreams’ back of house experience, you will learn what the manta rays eat here at the S.E.A. aquarium – krill.  Krill are small crustaceans – prawn-like creatures that have higher protein content compared to plankton that the rays eat in the wild.

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We saw the manta ray feeding session – not something that a regular visitor to the S.E.A. Aquarium can see but as an Ocean Dreamer, you get to watch professional Aquarists feed them. Just a side note, there are 3 big manta rays in the Open Ocean tank and they are creatively named as M1, M2 and M3. To differentiate them, look at the patterns on the underside of the manta rays – if there is a white stripe, that’s M1; almost completely black, that’s M2; a V-shaped mark, that’s M3.  In the picture below, you are looking at M3.

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A step-by-step pictorial guide to the feeding process of the manta rays in S.E.A. Aquarium – the manta rays will swim in circles after each feed as the Aquarist replenishes the krill for the next feed.  The manta rays just looked so graceful all the time even while feeding!

manta-ray-feeding-step-by-step

We were brought to the kitchen where food for the manta rays and all marine animals in S.E.A. Aquarium is prepared – sorry Ocean Dreamers, you won’t be going to the kitchen to see the food preparation! Here at this kitchen, our Aquarist educated us on the various food that the marine animals feed on daily and the preparation process behind it.

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We were surprised with our first challenge of the day. Me – equipped with an apron and gloves – taking on the challenge to prepare a 500-gram feed comprising prawns, small fish and squid in less than 3 minutes.  I have to say this is hard work and the Aquarists are required to prepare a lot more food (about 4 kg for each manta ray!) than my measly 500-gram food preparation.  This work seemed mundane e.g. cutting off prawn heads, chopping the fish in half but someone has got to do it to keep the S.E.A. Aquarium running!

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Next, we were introduced to the roles of the Manta Captains – they are the ones who ensure that all Ocean Dreamers are well taken care of and their duties could include working with the Ocean Dreamers (and this includes playful and naughty kids) to fold up their sleeping bag and blankets after the sleepover…

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… and keeping the Ocean Dreamers engaged with educational games – here the kids are learning about dragonfish and how the male dragonfishes carry the eggs.

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For me, I took on the role of a Manta Captain, explaining what manta rays eat and how the 3 manta rays at the S.E.A. Aquarium are identified. I do a lot of presentations during my daily work but I have to say engaging a young audience (i.e. children) is very very different from doing presentations to adults.  I felt the children’s disengagement, especially after they had been very actively folding sleeping bags and throwing balls as part of a game, and now they had to sit still listening to an uncle rambling on and on about manta rays – it felt so stressful!

aquarist-challenge-telling-stories-sea-aquarium

I think I should stick to my day job and this Manta Captain job is better left to the professionals like Jun Hao who is able to effectively engage the Ocean Dreamers – be it children or adults.  When I talk to Manta Captains like Jun Hao, I can feel their passion for the job and their desire to share knowledge about anything in the S.E.A. Aquarium – this coupled with their ability to connect with S.E.A. Aquarium visitors, completes the whole Ocean Dreams experience and at a broader level, the entire experience at the Aquarium.

I have been to too many attractions with excellent exhibits but still the experience was incomplete as they lacked the human touch because of indifferent staff or untrained guides.  At S.E.A. Aquarium, you won’t feel this way – during our 90-minute guided tour through the Aquarium, we learnt so much about the marine animals in the Aquarium from our Manta Captain Diyana as she regaled us with stories of Mermaid’s Purse (shark egg cases) and how they grow from embryo to mini sharks. There are even live displays of these Mermaid’s Purse during the different months before they hatch.

aquarist-explaining-manta-ray-m1-sea-aquarium

Everyone in this team has a role to play and without one or the other, guests would not be able to enjoy the complete experience of the Ocean Dreams programme. The Manta Captains keep the Dreamers engaged and excited about this sleepover and coordinate with their team-mates on logistics such as meals, sleeping bags and game items. The Aquarists keep the manta rays and the various marine creatures healthy and happy by ensuring their food is adequate and properly prepared.

When I read about the Ocean Dreams programme, I thought to myself “wah so expensive – $193 just to sleep on the floor by the aquarium” but actually if you look at the efforts of the Manta Captains like Diyana and Jun Hao to deliver an entertaining and educational experience to the Dreamers, and how they make the whole sleepover as comfortable and enjoyable as possible to both the kids and adults, I say this is the type of exceptional customer service I referred to in the beginning of this blog post.

I applaud this team of Manta Captains and Aquarists who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make every experience (including the Ocean Dreams programme) at the S.E.A. Aquarium such a fulfilling and educational one.

singapore-experience-awards

This year, there are 29 awards in the categories of Customer Service, Experience, Marketing & Media, Outstanding Contribution and Special Recognition.  Within the Experience category, the “Best Learning & Travel Experience” award recognises programmes curated to allow the curious explorer discover Singapore’s heritage and culture, world-class attractions, vibrant precincts amidst this modern cosmopolitan city. I wish S.E.A. Aquarium luck in their quest to win the “Best Learning & Travel Experience” award as part of the 2014 Singapore Experience Awards!

For more information on the other Awards finalists, check out the Singapore Experience Awards webpage.  You can also share your favourite experiences and tag then with #yoursingapore photo might get reposted by @Visit_Singapore Instagram account – instant fame!

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More information on the Ocean Dreams programme can be found below:

Price Adult
(13 – 59 years old)
Child (6 – 12 years old)
Senior (60 years old & above)
Family Package
(2 Adults + 2 Children)
Non-members $193 $173 $688
Members* $173 $153 $608

*Only applicable to S.E.A. Aquarium and Adventure Cove Waterpark Annual Pass holders as well as RWS Invites® members. RWS Invites members will enjoy 3% rebate on the purchase.

Price includes: Admission to S.E.A. Aquarium within the stipulated hours of the programme, evening snack, morning snack, breakfast and GST. Sleeping bags will be provided to all participants.

Participants can purchase discounted tickets to Adventure Cove Waterpark if they wish to continue their visit in the park after the Ocean Dreams programme.

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After our lunch – black pork tofu kimchi hotpot meal and a morning of climbing the Seongsan Ilchulbong Sunrise Peak, we drove to our next attraction for the day – the Manjanggul Lava Tube (also known as the Manjanggul Cave 만장굴).  Manjanggul Cave 만장굴 is a must-see attraction for any Jeju itinerary. Jeju is well-known for its natural monuments e.g. the 3 famous Jeju waterfalls, Mount Hallasan and of course the Seongsan Ilchulbong.

The Korean GPS coordinates of Manjanggul Cave (by phone number) is 7834818 – just key in this number in the Korean GPS provided with your KT Kumho Jeju rental car and you will get estimated time of arrival and step by step directions.  The drive from the Sunrise Peak area to Manjanggul Cave took us about 30-40 minutes.  There is free parking facilities at the Manjanggul Cave carpark.  Go to the toilets beside the carpark as there are no toilet facilities at the Manjanggul Cave.

You will need to walk about 5-7 minutes from the Manjanggul Cave carpark to reach the Manjanggul Cave entrance and the Manjanggul Cave ticket office.  Adult entrance tickets for Manjanggul Cave is 2000 KRW (2 USD) – do note that the Cave closes at 6pm.

Upon exiting the carpark, you will see the Manjanggul Cave museum (see pictue below) – this is not the entrance to the cave.  You can check out the interesting exhibits and information boards inside explaining Jeju’s natural sights and attractions and how the Manjanggul Cave is formed (from thousands of years of volcanic activities).

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The Manjanggul Cave is a 13 km-long multi-level lava tube. It is one of the largest lava tubes in the world with a width of up to 18 m and a height of up to 23 m.  Despite being thousands of years old, what makes Manjanggul Lava Tube stand out from other lava tubes around the world is its well-preserved passage shapes and internal micro-topographic features. Only about 1 kilometre of the Manjanggul cave is open to tourists.  See map below for the size of the Manjanggul lava tube.

manjanggul-lava-cave-cross-section-map

Set aside about 45 minutes to visit the Manjanggul Cave – you need not walk the full 1 kilometre trail if you are not really into geology stuff and lava flowlines and cave structures.  Going on the full 1 km trail means you need to walk 2 km in total because the entrance to the Manjanggul Cave (see picture below) is also where you will exit from (there is no exit at the end of the 1 km trail so you will need to walk back along the same path).  Most people walk for about 400 metres to see one of Manjanggul Cave’s key attraction – the Stone Turtle.

Manjanggul Cave is not wheelchair-friendly – there are 2 flights of stairs (the one you see in the picture below and another one further in the cave).  The floor is always wet because of the cave’s own atmosphere.

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This is the second flight of stairs – the floor is very wet and the steps are well-trodden (so not completely flat) so hold on to the railings.

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The Manjanggul Cave is not as dark as the Dark Cave at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur - there are lightings illuminating the cave but it is quite dim and the floor is quite rocky and uneven so you should wear comfortable shoes and watch your step.

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Photography will be a challenge due to the dim lighting – just enjoy the view and the natural wonders of the Manjanggul Cave :-)

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Along the wall of the Manjanggul Cave, you will find lava flow lines like the ones you see in the picture below – these straight lines are natural and they are formed by lava flowing through this Manjanggul lava tube many many years ago.  The lava no longer flow through here so it is safe to visit the Manjanggul cave. :-)

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manjanggul-lava-cave-jeju-lava-flowlines

Do note that the Manjanggul Cave can get quite chilly – so wear a sweater or a jacket to keep yourself warm.

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After about 20-30 minutes of walking through Manjanggul Cave, we reached our trail milestone – the Stone Turtle.  This is a natural formation and it is one of the attractions in the Cave because it looked like a turtle and the shape of the overall structure resembled Jeju island’s shape.  From this point, we made our way back to the entrance.

manjanggul-lava-cave-turtle-rock

Manjanggul Cave is open from 9am to 6pm during summer and 9am to 5.30pm during winter.

Admission fees for Manjanggul Cave is 2000 KRW for adults and 1000 KRW for youth and children

If you are driving, key in this GPS coordinates: 7834818

There are some forum posts that mention a 20-minute walk from the Manjanggul Cave entrance (parking lot) to the Cave itself.  This is not true if you are driving – the carpark is just about a 5-7 minute walk to the Cave itself.

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Top Travel Tips for Trips in Southeast Asia

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map sea

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jeju kimchi hotpot

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Planning for 2015 Public Holidays Long Weekend Vacations: 6 Possible Getaway Destinations in Asia

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OCBC Travelwise Travel Insurance

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Advice for First Time Travelers to Singapore

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Singapore Food Dining

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Review of Pan Pacific Singapore’s Sunday Champagne Brunch Buffet

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Pan Pac Champagne Brunch Sunday Buffet Review

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