REVIEW: Trans Studio Bandung

Bandung is where I experienced a lot of 1st times. Starting in 1998 when Bandung was my first stop after landing in Jakarta during my very first trip to Asia (as a backpacker at the time), then in 2007 when I saw my first Novotel project being built and opened in less than 2 years after I had signed with the owners – PT Kamarku Nyaman – in 2005; and now in 2014 when I finally experienced South East Asia’s first world-class homegrown theme park, Trans Studio.

I made the trip to Bandung just for it; flying Air Asia direct from KL and staying at the Ibis hotel conveniently located besides Trans Studio Mall.

This is where I give you a bit of background on Trans Studio Bandung. It is CT Corp’s second theme park project (after Trans Studio Makassar) and part of the redevelopment of an existing mall. In addition to owning a few TV channels (Trans TV, Trans 7), CT Corp is one of Indonesia’s largest retailers; they now own the Carrefour network in the country and master franchises for brands such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Baskin-Robbins, Wendy’s, etc. The new Trans Studio Mall looks very nice and quite upmarket; it houses South East Asia’s biggest indoor theme park and is flanked by 2 large hotels: the 5-star Trans Luxury Hotel and the largest Ibis hotel in Asia.

The ticketing for the theme park is on the ground floor on one of the sides of the mall. Then visitors take an escalator to the park entrance on the 3rd level of the mall (access is also possible from the food area of the mall). Tickets are IDR160,000 (USD13) for an Adult on week days (IDR260,000 on weekends) and they come on a magnetic card, which can be recharged for purchases within the park. Probably due to control issues in Indonesia, the park is strictly no-cash. In my opinion this is not optimal because of the inconvenience of having to find a cashier to reload the card (I couldn’t be bothered although I wanted to buy a souvenir) but some would argue the park gets additional revenue from unused value in cards after visitors leave.

Enough money matters! Let me tell you about the sense of arrival. I thought it was very well done. The ceiling height is very generous and the area just outside the park gates feels like a mini NYC Times Square with lots of signage and some F&B kiosks. After I passed the gates I found myself on the U-shaped main boulevard; a band was playing classic Indonesian rock songs, staff in costumes were greeting me, taking pictures with visitors and the facades along the boulevard were nicely themed with just the right lighting. I felt a strong sense of place, I was instantly transported into the universe of Trans Studio, which was going to be mine for a few hours.

Trans Studio Bandung

Trans Studio gets more than 2.5million visitors a year. The day of my visit was a week day and most visitors were Indonesians, probably from outside Bandung, on a family trip or as a group of teenager friends. There were also a number of school groups as well as incentive groups.

The park is built around the U-shaped boulevard with the exterior side left at full ceiling height (20m+) and the interior split in two levels with retail and F&B on the lower level and walk-through attractions on top (with small entrances on the lower level). The retail offering comprises of a series of 4 or 5 Trans Studio stores selling pretty much the same merchandise but with slight differences in theming. There is also a candy store. The F&B offering is nice and varied with a few kiosks (incl. CP Group’s own brands Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Baskin-Robbins) and outlets: American style diner, Japanese restaurant, local food, milk bar, etc.

Some of the signature rides and attractions include Dunia Lain (dark ride into a haunted house with very well executed theming and media content inspired by a popular Trans TV show), Special Effects Action Show (mini stunt show with short motorcyle demo and one action film scene) and the Yamaha Racing Coaster (boomerang family coaster coming out of the building).

Trans Studio Bandung

I really liked the Legenda Putra Mahkota show – a very well executed cultural acrobatic musical for all ages – performed on a stage in the heart of the park. The crew was very good and obviously experienced with a theme park crowd. As a matter of fact I found the entire staff of the park well trained and with a very good attitude. Later when I asked how many staff work for the park I was told 600 to 700, that’s a lot to manage and Trans Studio does a great job. And looking back at my day there I think this is what made the main difference. The Trans Studio universe I was referring to earlier would not exist without its staff.

legenda-putra-mahkota-trans-studio-bandung

Besides the above signature attractions there are a few worth mentioning such as the Si Bolang Adventure – a take on Disney’s it’s a small world where the visitor follows a character in the various regions of Indonesia – which is well themed but a bit repetitive, and the Science Center, which covers a large area with interactive displays and facilitating staff; maybe good for school groups visiting but not overly exciting for a typical theme park visitor.

You know my interest in sponsorships so I couldn’t help noticing that the park gets a fair amount of it. Nearly every significant ride is sponsored (Yamaha, Dunlop, Indosat, Indo Mie, Bank Mega) and taking the example of Dunlop and Yamaya the exposure is quite extensive with branding (banners everywhere, staff uniforms, etc), history of the brands, product displays, etc.

Most IP’s in the park are from the owner’s TV channels except for a Marvel 4D ride, which I personally thought was one of the least interesting ones.

I stayed in the park until the afternoon parade, which was well sized for such indoor park, with bright-lit cars, dancers, etc. A very nice way to end the day in South East Asia’s first world-class homegrown theme park, which happens to be indoor. But isn’t everything indoor in South East Asia!?

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REVIEW: LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort

On 21st September I paid a long overdue visit to LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort. Opened in 2012 as Malaysia’s first international theme park it is now flanked by a waterpark and a 250-room hotel thus the name ‘resort’.

Well, to call it resort is a bit of a stretch. The complex is surrounded by construction works in the middle of nowhere, about 25km from Johor Bahru town centre; not really what I would call a resort location!

OK, enough negativism for this introduction; but I had to share this first impression I had when I got there (by public bus, that’s another story I will spare you); I was a bit scared I must admit. In fact, I had a good time and let me tell you why.

I will start by stating the obvious: it is an international theme park. And that in itself is quite a draw in Malaysia where, despite being one of the most developed country in the region, the level of quality (and maintenance) is not always up to expectations.

I had purchased my ticket online the day before (USD 45), which is quite high for Malaysia. Of course no discounts available the day before; Merlin Entertainments know their revenue management! I thought I could use the bar code on my mobile but that was not the case so I had to go to the ticketing counter first to redeem my ticket. Thankfully there was no queue.

Speaking of it; I must admit I was surprised by how quiet the park was for a Sunday, during School Holidays and just after the opening of Star Wars Miniland (supported by an advertising campaign). I would say at least 30% of the visitors where from Australia or the US and looked like theme park regulars (maybe living in Singapore), and the rest were Malaysian families with young children.

I started my visit naturally walking around the circular path, which would take me from Lego City to Land of Adventure, Imagination, Lego Kingdoms and finally Lego Technic. Visitor flow and signage are very well done; it’s impossible to miss any attraction. Also, I thought there was just the right amount of food & beverage kiosks and redemption games along the way, creating a nice sense of happening without being overwhelming.

Although I did not have food at the park I had a look at all their outlets and they looked appetizing as well as clean and well maintained. The choice of food is mostly international with only one Asian outlet. I wonder why they made this choice? I would have expected more demand for Asian food.

I was very impressed by the attention to details in the theming and the landscape; the park is full of surprises and funny things such as this old man snoring on a bench! It makes it fun and creates the magic that one would expect from a theme park.

The best ride is by far The Dragon, which is the main roller coaster of the park and boasts a nicely themed queuing area (inside the Lego castle) and dark area at the beginning of the coaster. Maybank is the ride sponsor and I found the brand integration very well done (Maybank logo is turned into a coat of arms). The same goes with the other park’s sponsors (Nissan, Coca Cola, Ribena, Walls, Canon), which are well taken care of.

On the down side of the product I would list the number of kids playgrounds (maybe 4 or 5), which present not particular interest and as such remained empty. It feels like they serve as fillers but don’t add much to the visitors experience.

The staff were all very nice and helpful; they were everywhere you would expected them to be and engaging visitors, especially kids. Knowing how difficult service training can be in Malaysia I have to take my hat off for the management of the park!

Now, Star Wars Miniland. This new addition to the park, which Merlin claims cost USD 2million is a series of 6 rooms each housing a giant Lego display inspired by the Star Wars video produced by Lego. Great displays if you’re a Star Wars fan but in my opinion a bit repetitive and not very interactive. If you don’t plan to go but still want to have a look you may watch this video I shot.

My final attraction before leaving the park was the Miniland at the centre of the park. Inspired by different locations in Malaysia and Asia, these scenes are very well done and certainly a treat for all Lego fans out there. Unfortunately the tropical Malaysian weather hasn’t been too nice with them and they start aging. I wouldn’t be surprised if the park replaced them by something else in the future.

Verdict? A very pleasant international theme park – and I insist on “theme” as the Lego theming is one of the highlights of the park – but very targeted towards young children and maybe more enjoyable for non-Asian children (food offering, hands-on activities). Not convinced by the product extension trying to cater to an older crowd (Star Wars Miniland). Not sure about the return visitors rate either. For me it was not so much the heat or the lack of shade (actually I thought it was fine and most people I saw seemed fine as well) but the lack of shows and the remote location that would keep me from visiting again.