New attractions await globetrotters
For lovers of the highest, biggest, cleverest or freshest, this year presents a remarkable array of new attractions in all corners of the globe.
From Paris to far-north China, amazing feats of architecture, adrenalin-pumping roller coasters, world-class collections and even an endangered-animal experience will welcome visitors in 2013.
Here's our guide to 10 of the best.
Gardens by the Bay, Marina Boulevard, Singapore
Type of attraction: Botanical spectacular.
Wow factor: More flowers than Interflora on Mother's Day.
Great for: Gardening enthusiasts, respite from the Singapore heat and humidity.
Singapore's penchant for creative new architecture is fully in play at Gardens by the Bay. The Supertree Grove, a collection of fluted glass towers, is like something out of a futuristic space station. The walkways 22 metres above ground between the towers offer terrific views.
Two glass domes sit like giant sea snails on the edge of Marina Reservoir. Inside, visitors are surrounded by an extensive botanic collection, carefully zoned and climate controlled. It's a soothing and intriguing experience that, all up, 700,000 plants collaborate upon.
The Flower Dome is a pleasing walk through different microclimates and their plants. The Cloud Forest, with its 30m waterfall centrepiece, mimics a tropical climate 1000m-3500m above sea level. By night, light shows transform the gardens into a flashier - and perhaps more child-friendly - place.
"We could have used this for far more valuable commercial or residential developments, right in the middle of the new Singapore city," says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. "But our planners in URA [Urban Redevelopment Authority] believed that a large and beautiful park was an important element of our new downtown in Marina Bay South."
Entry to the domes ranges from S$8 ($7.75) to S$28.
View from the Shard, London
Type of attraction: High-rise viewing platform.
Wow factor: On a (rare) clear day, you can see forever - or at least 64 kilometres away.
Great for: Marriage proposals, London first-timers getting their bearings, a different perspective for London veterans.
Open: February 1.
The controversy surrounding Renzo Piano's The Shard made that about Sir Norman Foster's quirky "Gherkin" in the same city look a doddle.
The Shard - all 95 storeys of it - dwarfs the London skyline.
It's hated as incongruous and hailed as elegant. Either way, there's no denying it's spectacular.
The tapering edifice on the edge of the Thames at London Bridge is the tallest building in western Europe and incorporates offices, apartments, a hotel and two floors of public viewing space - The View from The Shard. The view is nothing short of breathtaking. The aspect of the winding course of the Thames is a highlight - it affords a deeper understanding of the way this warren of a city works.
"This iconic building is already the new centrepiece for the city," says the head of international media at VisitBritain, Paul Gauger.
"The View from The Shard will be the must-visit attraction for London in 2013 and I'm sure for years to come."
The attraction is expensive, however. Tickets cost £24.95 ($47) for an adult and £18.95 for a child. Compare that with the € 14 ($22) price of an adult ticket to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Type of attraction: The world's sixth Legoland.
Wow factor: Miniland: made from 30 million Lego bricks over three years.
Great for: Young families, hardcore Lego buffs.
Set on the border of Singapore, Legoland is hands-on, with more than 40 attractions, including mini trains, tots' playgrounds, castles, carousels and roller coasters.
The park is zoned into areas where you can build and test your creations, play jousting, damsels and dragons, or journey in the Land of Adventure to hook up with pharaohs and dinosaurs.
Intricate Miniland is a city of animated models of Asian landmarks, including the Taj Mahal and Petronas Twin Towers, at a scale of 1:20.
Coming in late 2013/early 2014 are a Legoland water park and hotel.
Buy online seven days in advance for the best price, from 112 ringgit ($43) for adults (12-59 years) and 88 ringgit for children and seniors (3-11 years, 60-plus years).
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Type of attraction: Art gallery.
Wow factor: The long-awaited return of one of the world's best art collections.
Great for: Culture vultures.
Open: April 13.
A decade and $375m later, the Netherlands' national art gallery reopens. It's five years late - "Everything that could go wrong did go wrong," general director Wim Pijbes says - but the delay was, in many ways, a blessing. There has been incredible progress in museum technology in the past five years; the museum has responded. The base collection will comprise 8000 works telling the story of the Netherlands from the Middle Ages to now.
Highlights include the Rembrandts and works by other artists from the Dutch golden age of painting, such as Vermeer and Hals.
There are revamped gardens, new public facilities and an Asian Pavilion, plus the stunningly renewed facade of the grand 17th-century building. The museum expects annual attendance to rise from about 1 million visitors before the closure to 5 million.
Amsterdam will be an art mecca in 2013. Also reopening are the Van Gogh Museum and the modern art gallery.
Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Type of attraction: The world's biggest water park.
Wow factor: The world's largest surfable sheet wave.
Great for: Families, thrill seekers, anyone who feels the heat at 50 degrees.
Open: January 24.
There are 43 Emirati-themed water rides at Yas Waterworld, including the little-kid-friendly Marah Fortress, complete with water cannon, and Dawwama, a 20m-high funnel ride that propels you into the air.
"Cameras installed inside the ride are meant to capture the looks of pure terror on riders' faces," the organisers say with unbridled glee.
There's a designer Arabian souk (market) within the park.
Action-packed Yas Island, half an hour from Abu Dhabi, is the leisure island of the Emirates, according to Abu Dhabi Tourism. It's home to Ferrari World, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit, and a string of hotels and shops. You can buy multi-park passes to Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld, or single-entrance tickets cost from 225 dirham ($72) for adults and 185 dirham for children under 1.1 metres. Free for children under 3 years.
Sichuan province, China
The Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control Centre
Type of attraction: Endangered wildlife sanctuary.
Wow factor: Up close with pandas - what's more "wow" than that?
Great for: Voluntourists, nature lovers.
The rescue centre is the third part of and completes a giant panda preservation network, collectively the only place in the world where visitors can get close to large groups of captive pandas. Dujiangyan encloses the panda area of China's west, making for easier protection, breeding, rescue and research work.
Voluntourists are invited to spend a week or so there, helping feed and care for the pandas.
Helen Wong, who runs panda tours for Australians and organises access to the animals, says getting so close to pandas is a "very moving experience".
"At the centres, people can get to know this indigenous species and understand why they are such an important treasure," she says.
Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is sponsoring a new bamboo plantation as part of its Care for Panda project. It will help feed the rescued ill and elderly wild giant pandas at the Dujiangyan Giant Panda Rescue and Disease Control Centre.
Guests at the Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu, will be able to visit the Dujiangyan centre, take education tours and participate in activities, such as preparing food for pandas.
The Department of Islamic Art, Musee du Louvre
Type of attraction: The Louvre's newest department.
Wow factor: The entrance, a 15th-century Egyptian Mamluk vestibule, sets the tone for the treasures within.
Great for: Art and design lovers.
After nearly five years' refurbishment, the new Department of Islamic Art exhibits almost 3000 of the Louvre's 12,000 Islamic works, spanning 12 centuries and many countries, from Spain to India.
Treasures include Turkish ceramics, Iranian ewers, tiles from central Asia and a silver-and-gold basin used to baptise Louis XII, many on display for the first time.
"The Egyptian Antiquities department is one of the most popular, but the new Islamic art collection is a great opportunity for [visitors] to go off the beaten tracks and discover an amazing civilisation," says Coralie Pierre of French Travel Connection.
The department's new home is almost worth the visit on its own: An 18th-century palace courtyard roofed by a gold, flowing architectural "veil".
The cost of the new wing? About $164 million.
Entrance costs from € 11 ($17.40) for adults, free for children under 18. Closed on Tuesdays.
Jackson, New Jersey, US
Six Flags Great Adventure
Type of attraction: Theme park.
Wow factor: Animals and 13 roller coasters. Oh, my! Great for Wildlife spotters, adrenalin junkies.
Open: March 23.
This adventure park in New Jersey will become the world's largest theme park when it merges its fun park and Wild Safari animal park.
Scream your way down the new four-storey-high Big Wave Racer water toboggan or splash through the million-gallon wave pool.
Make like Paris Hilton and hit the stand-up Green Lantern roller coaster. Or spot, hand-feed or zip over the top of some of the 1200 animals in the safari park. If you're lucky, you'll eyeball a red lechwe, kudu, nilgai twins or a khulan.
Get the best (camera) shot from an open-air safari vehicle on the park's new Safari Off Road Adventure, or the new zipline for a bird's-eye view of the African-style park. The park is 1 hours' drive south of New York City.
Buy tickets online from US$42.99 ($51) for adults, US$34.99 for children under 1.37m, free for kids under two.
Christchurch, New Zealand
The Cardboard Cathedral
Type of attraction: A temporary cathedral.
Wow factor: Seats 700 people, who won't get wet when it rains.
Great for: Fans of architecture and sustainability - atheists and the faithful alike.
Built in 1881, the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral was severely damaged in the February 2011 earthquake and in two subsequent quakes. The Gothic stone building is being replaced temporarily by a transitional cathedral made from 320 giant cardboard tubes, the signature material of "emergency architect" Shigeru Ban, who is working for no fee on the project.
The Japanese architect specialises in designing temporary buildings in disaster zones using cardboard, which is cheap, recyclable and readily available. It's also more earthquake resilient and it won't go soggy, thanks to a concrete floor, timber beams and polycarbonate roof.
It has a lifespan of about 20 years, and, in the ultimate recycling move, the temporary cathedral will become the permanent house of worship for the St John's parish, which also lost its church, hall and vicarage in the same earthquake. "The arrival of the cathedral will provide an important venue for both spiritual and community gatherings," says the chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, Tim Hunter.
Type of attraction: Theme park.
Wow factor: Cutting-edge animatronics and roller coasters featuring spectacular visuals.
Great for: All ages of kids who dig all things dinosaur.
Open: Sometime in 2013.
"China has become the new Eldorado for theme park designers thanks to frenetic development," says the online journal of the theme parks and leisure industry, NewsParcs. That's good news for lovers of theme parks and dinosaurs.
Heilongjiang province in the far north of China is the home of Heilongjiangosaurus, an obscure duck-billed species of dinosaur. Fossils of it, and other species, have been unearthed here.
Up until now, there has been little to entice enthusiasts in, especially with the oil-rich region's shocking weather - during the long winter, the temperature can drop to a chilly minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Enter Jurassic Dream, which puts paid to climate concerns by being one of the biggest covered, temperature-controlled theme parks in the world.
"The all-indoor theme park is a stunning celebration of dinosaurs . . . that will thrill guests of all ages," says Craig Hanna of Thinkwell, the mastermind behind the park.
Highlights include the Mystic Caverns Express, a family roller coaster that takes riders through extravagant dinosaur-related visuals, and the crowning glory, Dinosaur Encounter, a walk-through experience full of cutting-edge animatronic dinosaurs.
The 5.7-hectare 2013 version of the park is set to be quadrupled by 2015, with the likely addition of a hotel.
Sunday Star Times