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Travel & Leisure

Stir-crazy Singaporeans find respite on island-hopping staycations

Local yacht charters and 'cruises to nowhere' promise a welcome escape from city streets

Advertising agency owner Leonard Lim took his family of four on a one-night chartered trip in waters near Singapore. (Photo courtesy of the Lim family)

SINGAPORE -- With international travel still restricted by the coronavirus pandemic, Singaporeans are chartering yachts and small vessels for local getaways to beat the urban doldrums.

Here, going on vacation often meant leaving the tiny city-state for an international destination picked out from among the many low-cost but attractive resorts in nearby Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere.

But the travel restrictions have made this all but impossible now, and people are turning to domestic beaches, flocking to St. John's Island, Lazarus Island and other parts of the Southern Islands right off the southern tip of the city. They are making do even though the water quality is not necessarily good, given the tankers and cargo vessels crowding the coastline.

Yachts are a good option because there is no need to worry about contracting COVID-19, according to Leonard Lim, an advertising agency owner who took his family of four on a one-night chartered trip in nearby waters this August. The 42-year-old, who had been upset about the cancellation of their vacation to Maldives and the Indonesian island of Bali, is now planning another getaway at the end of the year.

Discover Sailing Asia, a Hong Kong-based yacht charter company, has been offering local cruises departing from Singapore since March that include such marine activities as diving. With rates starting at 330 Singapore dollars ($243), two-day, one-night cruises have drawn what an official calls an "amazing" response. The program's fleet, which started out with two vessels, will get two more ahead of the year-end school break that starts in November.

For those with smaller budgets, SG$15 round-trip ferry services offer an alternative. Visitors to St. John's, Lazarus and Seringat islands have averaged 10,800 a month since June -- up about 60% on the year.

Then there are the luxury cruises to nowhere. Malaysia's Genting Cruise Lines will resume service in November with Singapore lifting its suspension. Reservations are filling up for Genting's cruises, which will leave and return to Singapore without visiting any ports.

Singapore is working to open up to international vacations, agreeing with Hong Kong to create an air travel bubble.

Singaporeans and permanent residents made upwards of 10 million international trips in 2019, more than double their population.

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