November 21, 2009

Manila Marriott Hotel

When Marriott first made its footprint in Cebu, everybody was expecting that it would immediately carve a spot for its second Philippine chain in the capital. However, the management of one of the world’s best names in the hotel business seemed not too keen in immediately leaving its Visayan nest. It took more than a decade before they’ve decided to establish a niche in Manila.

Situated in the fast-developing and world class tourism complex of Resorts World Manila, Marriott Hotel Manila is an oasis not just for the weary traveler, but also for locals who want an out-of-town experience without actually going out of town. Guests who will be checking in straight from the airport will be delighted to know that they will be spared of the metro’s horrendous traffic as the hotel is located just along the NAIA grounds, infront of Terminal 3.

The Sala
The first thing that you’ll notice upon entering the building is the lobby’s homey ambiance. It’s not as grand as Peninsula’s “The Lobby,” but Manila Marriott Hotel’s sala is definitely more welcoming and less formal. Instead of the reception desk, the centerpiece of the lobby is a bar whose backdrop is a teaser of the garden and golf course that neighbors the entertainment complex. If you’re not observant enough, you might even miss the check-in or concierge’s desk as it is partly hidden. The couches that abound in the lobby prod the guests to relax first before checking in, a noticeable departure from the typical arrangement or order of things in most hotels.

We were billeted in a deluxe room that resembles the one that we’ve been to in Marriott Bangkok. I guess the hotel has a standard design for each and every chain it has around the globe. There’s nothing much to rave about the room, except for the 40-inch Samsung flat screen display and a uniquely-designed bathroom that might tickle the fancy out of every voyeur as the wall dividing it and the room is made of plain, see-through glass. For those who are not that excited with the thought of having an aquarium-like experience when taking a bath, an electronically-controlled blind is just within reach to give you the privacy that you need. As for the bed and pillows, suffice it to say that it made me send a message to my boss that I would be reporting to work a few hours late.

Small But Charming

If you’re expecting a scuba-dive experience with Marriott Hotel Manila’s swimming pool, then you’re in for a disappointment. However, if what you’re after is just a relaxing dip and a date with the sun, then the pool area will definitely make you want to extend a day or two. The pool is just over 4-feet deep. It’s not that big, either. However, it does offer a panoramic view of the Makati and Ortigas skyline which provides a romantic or reflective backdrop at night. On the other hand, the Villamor Golf Club is the best vista when the sun is up. The 18-hole green will surely calm and relax your weary eyes from the grays that shade the metro.

Meat and More

One of the best ways to go around the world is to go around a multi-cuisine buffet table. Marriott Café offers the best dishes from the East, as well as from the West. Meat lovers will be delighted with the choices that are sprawled before them. Sadly, though, as with most hotels, it doesn’t offer the best pig dish in the world – lechon. But unlike most hotel café’s, Manila Marriott Hotel does not scrimp on expensive shrimps! It also has a delectable selection of cakes and other desserts that will make you forget your physician’s warning about diabetes.

For those who want their meat even bigger and tastier, a visit at the hotel’s Cru Steakhouse is in order. For those who just want to drink and groove all night, then the Velocity Bar is the right spot for you. Gin and I went there early in the evening for some killjoy drinks – plain, nutritious, non-alcoholic, out-of-the-box, grocery-grade MANGO JUICE. The fact that the area is meant for liquor-loving patrons made us quite apologetic and embarrassed of our order. Our bar experience was good and relaxing, though, especially since an excellent selection of Usher’s R&B masterpieces was being played in the background.

While the Manila Marriott Hotel is just a few weeks old, having only formally opened last November 12, 2009, it won’t be surprising if it becomes fully booked by December. The fact that the hotel is within a recreational complex makes it all the more enticing for those who want a taste of what the metro has to offer.

November 2, 2009

Cebu! Cebu!

(Featured in Travel Plus' March-April issue)

Cebu has not earned the label “Queen City of the South” for nothing. If the Cebuanos and the thousands of Manileños who have visited it would be asked, I’m sure they’ll say that Cebu is the Queen City not just of the south, but of every direction that a compass could point to at this part of the world.

Exaggeration aside (or is it?), Cebu is definitely the most developed city in the Philippines after Manila. Some even say that it’s almost like a spitting image of the capital, except that it is less infested with pollution and traffic. I agree.

Concrete Rainbows

The first thing that would welcome you upon driving to the island is one of its bridges. In our case, it was the one built in honor of the late Chief Justice and Senate President, Marcelo B. Fernan. It’s one of the longest bridges in the country, and the second most picturesque after the San Juanico. The other concrete rainbow, the Mactan-Mandaue bridge, was built a few decades earlier. At the end of both bridges lies the port city of Mandaue. There’s nothing much to see there other than Henry Sy’s first and biggest Visayan model of his shoe box.

The first stop of our hour 5-hour Cebu sojourn is the Taoist Temple at Beverly Hills Subdivision. It took us around 40 minutes to get there from Mactan (Cebu’s traffic is slowly rivaling that of Manila’s!). We were quite worried about this trip as the temple is a long walk from the subdivision gates. It’s a good thing our cab driver was cool to the idea that he’d be our transportation host for the rest of the afternoon (and for P400 only!).

Taoist Temple

Built in 1972 by the city’s Chinese-Filipino community, the structure resembles a typical oriental place of worship, albeit more ornate. Take a deep breath before attempting to reach its peak, though. The temple has 99 steps, a daunting number for those who are infatuated with escalators and elevators.

But the effort will be worth it, I assure you. Upon reaching the top, you’ll be treated to an exhilarating view of the city, Mactan Island, and nearby Bohol. The temple is situated 300 meters above sea level, so I’m sure you already have an idea how good the vista is at this part of town. The setting is quite romantic. Unfortunately for me, my partner is romantically-challenged (but I love her just the same  ). The fact that we were catching our breath from the steep climb may have also erased any possibility of a hallmark moment.

Magellan’s Cross

It’s already 4:00 p.m. and the sun was racing us to the ground. We hurried back to our waiting taxi and headed off to the downtown area. Daylight was fast dimming when we reached Magellan’s Cross. In case you might not know, this cross is the very one that Magellan planted on the island on April 14, 1521. The shrine is also the very spot where Rajah Humabon, Reyna Juana, and a few hundred of their followers were baptized by Fr. Pedro Valderama, making them the country’s first Christians.

The wooden cross that you’ll see in the shrine is actually just the casing. Inside it is the original cross. It was encased therein by the Augustinian priests as locals were chipping bits of the cross as it was widely believed to have miraculous qualities. Local folklore also has it that the cross is actually growing and that its present size is significantly bigger than the original one. A mural of the conversion and baptism can be seen on the ceiling of the chapel/pavilion that houses the cross.

The Sto. Niño

Right beside the shrine is the most important structure in Cebu City – the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño. Built in 1735, it is the oldest church in the country and the cradle of Catholicism in the region. It’s also the very spot where the image of the Sto. Niño was found unscathed after a fire gutted the structure which housed it. It underwent several constructions since it first stood in 1566. The church was originally made of wood, mud, and nipa.

As with Magellan’s Cross, the image of the Sto. Niño is the very one that the Portuguese conquistador gave to the royal couple of the island in 1521. The figure’s complexion turned dark, though, due to the fire that engulfed the small shrine that hosted when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived in the city. Hundreds of pilgrims line up to pray before the image, while thousands flock around it during the annual Sinulog festival held every third week of January.

After praying before the basilica’s altar and the image of the Child Jesus, we headed off to Colon, the country’s oldest street. The sun already bade goodbye to us when we were looking for a pasalubong shop, so we went to the first grocery store that we saw (Metro Gaisano). Images of the plane leaving us flashed in my mind when we exited the store as people were jostling for taxis. Luckily, Gin was able to hale one down and one-upped the others to it. We arrived at the airport well ahead of our departure time and just before the pasalubong shops locked their danggits and dried mangoes for the rest of the day.


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