PHILIPPINES TRIP REPORT
While maybe not on too many “bucket lists” the Philippines consists of over 7000 islands and you are bound to find at least ONE that is enticing enough to recommend. This stay on the island of Boracay was a perfect getaway to somewhere exotic, exciting, relaxing and friendly. The Philippine idea of hospitality is known all over the globe to be most accommodating, helpful and friendly and I can now vouch first hand for that.
Trip began with AA flight ORD/NRT on their 788 aircraft in Business Class. Very nice with the exception of the seat behind me always shaking my seat when the other passenger “plopped” down in the seat or got restless while sleeping in lie-flat position. The meal service was a joke, I had ordered a vegetarian meal which began with a very non-descript salad followed by an “entrée” which was placed in front of me consisting of a rectangular dish of rigatoni pasta in tomato sauce which looked completely unappetizing. I asked a flight attendant if this indeed was the veggie meal (because they did have pasta option on the regular menu), she checked and came back saying yes it is the veggie meal. I asked if I could have the fish on the Japanese meal which she agreed would be a better option and thankfully they had that available. At any rate, the flight operated on time and was smooth over the Polar route. Very friendly flight crew also. From my experience, AA’s crews are more pleasant on these longer haul flights over the Pacific than those going over the Atlantic……go figure.
Then on to a JL 767 flight of 4h30m NRT/MNL. The “Sky Suite 2” seat in Business is anything but a suite. More like a tiny Tokyo apartment for a 6-year old ! Thank goodness these seats are being phased out for new more spacious pods because this was almost uncomfortable being very narrow, an armrest that was more like needles to the arm and a very large side “cabinet” area which is totally useless and just takes up space that could be used for a slightly wider seat. Awesome flight crew here though made for a nice inflight experience.
Landed in Manila and found the Shangri-La Hotel desk in the Arrival Hall and was escorted to a nice sedan for the approximate 20 minute transfer to The Shangri-La Makati Hotel. Was given an immense one-bedroom suite which was lovely, full living room, separate huge bedroom with desk/work area, bathroom with separate tub/shower.
Since I did not arrive until after 10:30pm I was not able to site this property because I had 6 am transfer back to the airport the next morning!
Flight from Manila to Caticlan was approximately 45 minutes and total mayhem at the airport with Philippine Airlines which I more or less expected. They apparently had canceled the 8:35am departure without telling anyone and when I finally was able to force my way through the crowd in the gate area to the gate desk, I was told I had been rebooked on a 9:50am departure …. I found this out at 9:20am as they were boarding the flight! Of course then I start to panic because I had a transfer arranged through Shangri-La from Caticlan airport to their resort. I emailed the concierge to advise my later arrival and they replied within 10 minutes, no worries.
On arrival at the Caticlan Airport, a mere airstrip, we were taken by shuttle bus into town about 20 minutes on the bus …. It was a little disconcerting but I thought “if they are kidnapping us, I have plenty of witnesses”. Arrival at the “terminal” where I found the Shangri-La Resort arrival lounge in a separate building on its’ own. There were maybe a dozen other guests as well, we were offered chilled towels and water while the personnel checked that each guest was there. Then on to the resort’s private boat for an approximate 20 minute transfer along the beach front of Boracay directly to their private jetty. The Shangri-La is the only resort on the island with this kind of facility. Anyone else must take the public ferry.
Guests are met by a small group playing drums and “welcoming us home” in song, then by golf cart to the main lobby and reception area where (for suite and villa guests) you meet with your Butler who then escorts you by buggy (golf cart) to your accommodation.
This is the view from the upstairs bedroom in the two-level Loft Villa that was confirmed. Bedroom had a comfy king size bed,double vanities in the bathroom with large soaking tub on the outside wall with huge picture window and large walk-in rain-shower.
The resort consists of a total 219 rooms and suites, a North and South wing of 4 and 5 story buildings housing guest rooms and some suites, ground level villas with private pools, 5 cliffside Loft villas with private pools and 11 higher up Cliffside Treetop villas with jacuzzi on the deck. Day and evening butler service available for any needs.
The resort operates mini-bus shuttle service on the half-hour, from the resort from 9am until midnight and return at 20 and 40 minutes past the hour back to the resort until 2am. The town is a bustling tourist resort area with D-Mall being a pedestrian zone FILLED with restaurants, cafes, shops, small hotels and tons of people ! The public beach is filled with outdoor dining areas and at night several of the beachfront hotels feature fire dancers routines for about 60 minutes. It was quite entertaining to watch.
Back at the resort, we were treated to a 90 minute Philippine Hilot massage which was heavenly. This traditional Filipino massage focuses on releasing blocked energy. Warm strips of banana leaves and coconut oil are applied to the body, and the healing hands of the therapist detect and unclog energy pathways.
I must say, since my health episode in 2011, I am a fan of starting off the day right with a good breakfast and the “buffet” that was set up in the Vintana Café here is amazing. I hate to call it buffet because it was 7 different stations offering everything from spicy Indian and Malaysian dishes (yumm!!) to cereal, Filipino, Japanese (sushi, etc.), Chinese (dumplings, noodles, etc.) Western (eggs, etc.) and even ice cream … which my friend was a huge fan of.
The seafood restaurant, Sirena, was exceptional with outdoor seating on huge daybed seats to get cozy in, and their gourmet restaurant “Rima” is Italian fare which was also very good though I am not a big fan of Italian cuisine anymore and thought this to be a little “out of place” for the locale. A me thing I guess!
The pool area is expansive with the restaurant Cielo serving salads and sandwiches throughout the afternoon.
So all good things must end, I flew back to Manila on PR which again was changed at the last minute due to a delay on the original flight, and arrived back into Manila approximately 6:00pm for overnight at The Peninsula Hotel. Beautiful hotel, across the street from the Shangri-La, in Makati. It is suggested and strongly recommended that IF you have anyone traveling here they use the hotel car transfer service rather than risk a taxi ride. Life in the big city and Manila is notorious for shady cabbies who will try and get much more than necessary for a fare from tourists.
Was confirmed in a very nice one-bedroom suite here and had dinner at their Spices Restaurant which was excellent ! The hotel lobby is huge and houses seating for many guests and non-guests throughout the day for nibbles, afternoon tea and drinks.
JL back from Manila to Tokyo in the Tokyo apartment sized Business class seat was a day flight then I had 2 hour layover at NRT. Wound up in the Qantas “lounge” for a bit (not impressed at all with the pre-packaged food, crackers, coffee/tea and soft drinks) then went over the AA Admiral’s Club lounge for the rest of the layover. Nice atmosphere here for a very large space. Then back on the AA 788 aircraft for the 11 hour flight back home. This crew was exceptional. I had a few conversations with the purser, one thing leading to another, telling her I was in the travel industry and she divulged that she was previously with Carlson here in Chicago!
We got to talking and I told her I was flying to Barcelona within the week …. After a few minutes she returned and said she found who the purser was for the BCN flight and it was a friend of hers so she told this gal that I would be on their flight! I did meet with the other flight attendant Friday night here at ORD and she could not have been any nicer … I told her I was on her Paris flight this past January! Surprising how different crews handle their passengers!
To end this, it was a perfect getaway to somewhere new and different from what I have experienced in many places. Will I go back ???? ……. A certain somebody is saying “yes”.