It was our second time at Mandai's Bird Paradise - the new version of our beloved Jurong Bird Park. We were greeted by friendly staff and taken to an area to check in our luggage and receive a briefing about the next 24 hours - our exclusive stay in Penguin Cove!
We were introduced to the team who would be our guides through night and day - Arif, Audrey, Safi and of course, uncle Anthony - these four made our stay extra special with the close attention they gave us and our kids. We started with a personal tour and it was great to have some commentary of the areas of the park we had seen before. One of our guides, Anthony, shared that some of the areas of Bird Paradise used to be an orchid plantation, where our national flower was grown before being sent out to florists all around the island.
The rain came down heavily as we enjoyed the Wings of the World show in the state of the art amphitheatre which seats many hundreds in the audience over a spectacular and educational show, complete with on screen facts as well as video replays. We were treated like VIPs as we had reserved seating, followed by an exclusive experience, getting up close and personal with the flamingo's and pelicans in the show. We also learned that the rain water is all collected in underground reservoirs and moved around the park, providing water to the rushing waterfalls and other water features.
As the park emptied out of its day visitors, we began to realise just how exclusive our experience was. We were escorted to the restaurants outside of the park, but still within the Mandai grounds. Old Chang Kee - a true Singapore favourite, has a restaurant there and instead of yellow paper packets, full of goodies, we were provided with delicious meals cook up and plated beautifully. We sat and enjoyed our food - especially Millie, who claims to be OCK's number 1 fan! We were given a little time to wander and enjoy the grounds while other guests finished off their dinner and we were fortunate enough to catch one of the most arresting sunset skies I have ever seen. The rain had cleared and what was left was a striking orangey-grey sky - the sort that inspires a painting or a photo, or even a dance - none of which would ever do the view or the moment any justice.
We were scooped up by our guides who escorted us back into the park. We were taken into a private room where we were reunited with our bags. Hot showers were available and we too time to freshen up, but not before we were taken on a night walk through the Winged Sanctuary - an area of smaller aviaries - home to some beautiful birds including the giant Philippines Eagle.
It was time. We were gathered with the other guests and walked towards Penguin Cove. For those familiar and fond of Jurong Bird Park, Penguin Cove sits on the right side of the park after entering the gates, just like at the original Bird Park - a small detail which I felt honoured the great predecessor. The doors were opened as we arrived and two of our guides were there: "welcome to Penguin Cove, your home for the night".
Gasps, wows and excited noises echoed around the underwater viewing gallery of Penguin Cove, as we set eyes upon our accommodation for the night. Four large tents, beautifully adorned with fairy lights, lanterns and cosy looking bedding, were spaced out, each with an exclusive view of diving penguins, gliding through the water. We took time to open our welcome hampers that had been provided for us with snacks drinks and even a cuddly toy for each of our children. We sat on the beds, motionless - staring at the penguins for a good half hour while the children walked around the space with a couple of other kids from another family staying the night, their excitement too much to contain in a calm viewing.
Before bedtime, we were taken upstairs to the Antarctic habitat of the Penguins. We were surprised to see the lights on and were told that the Penguins were given as natural an environment as possible, with light mimicking that of the south pole. Careful viewing would reveal that the finest details had been followed, even the images of the southern lights being projected into the sky above the penguins.
Bedtime came and we got into our comfortable beds, taking in one final view of the penguins before zipping up the tents for the night. The air felt cold and it took me back to camping in the UK. The following morning, I woke, cosy, under the blankets with a refreshingly cold face - just like the mornings of waking up in a tent in the UK mountains. Aspen, our 8 year old, was up and sketching the penguins who were diving down for their breakfast and to our surprise, we were scheduled to feed the breakfast to the birds in the Heart of Africa aviary too. No one else was around, just the glamping guests, as we took a stroll towards the giant aviary which is also home to a huge fig tree, untouched and well-protected for many decades. The morning rain had only recently stopped and so many birds were out, looking to catch their morning worm. We were able to give their morning worms, as well as some seeds. There was an amazing array of birds, small and big, who came to feast. Hornbills could skillfully catch worms that we threw into the air too.
Our breakfast was served at the Bird Bakery - fresh coffee and pastries were on the menu. We too, had a feast and enjoyed every last crumb, before our next exclusive experience. We were taken behind the scenes to where some chicks hatched and where the vets operated. We were surprised to find out that the many mealworms that were being fed to the birds were in fact farmed right there in Mandai too, as well as seeing all the fruit and meal preparations taking place.
We were then escorted to the Crimson Wetlands, as the park began to fill with its visitors for the day. The spectacular waterfall - an ode to the former waterfall at Jurong Bird Park, cascaded down: the perfect backdrop for the boldly coloured Flamingos and Macaws that graced the wetlands and the skies. Lunch was served with that perfect scene - an elevated restaurant experience at Crimson. Three course meals were served to us as our eyes scoured for more and more flashes of colour. The food was exquisite, but the view stole the show, appropriately concluding an incredible 24 hours at the Bird Paradise.
Would you like to experience glamping at Penguin Cove? Visit the website here.