Friday, March 19, 2010

Vacation in Cebu Part 1

I took advantage of the break between semesters to go on vacation in Cebu, the Philippines, with my friend Yukiko from Kyoto. Our purpose was entirely relaxation; our daily mission was to gain access to some resort's pool or beachside area, and sit out reading books and enjoying the view. From this experience I put together a pretty thorough knowledge of the area.

We stayed at the Crown Regency Residences in the Guadalupe neighborhood of Cebu City, which was the cheapest of several Crown Regency hotels in the area. We certainly got what we paid for. The hotel staff were friendly and helpful, and breakfast was included every morning at a pleasant dining area. But many the advertised amenities, such as airport pick-up and mail service, were actually not available. In addition, the wi-fi service was frequently out of order, and the small hotel pool was "closed for cleaning" for the entire 6 days we were there.

However, because the pool was closed, we were given permission to use the nicer pool at the nearby Crown Regency hotel in Mactan, a smaller island connected to Cebu by 2 bridges. We quickly learned that Mactan was the place to go for beaches and luxury resorts, and we settled into a routine of taking a taxi over to some hotel in Mactan every day after breakfast, paying for a day pass which usually included various coupons and free lunch, and returning in the evening.
Poolside at Crown Regency Hotel, Lapu-Lapu

A taxi from our hotel to the beach shore of Mactan usually took 30-40 minutes and cost about 250 pesos ($5.50) but in the morning no taxi driver would take us there for less than a set rate of 300, claiming it was too far and  they couldn't get a fare going back. Aside from taxis, for shorter trips we also rode twice on the cheap local transport called the "jeepney", which is a converted army truck open the back, used somewhat like a small bus. The jeepneys stopped just long enough for passengers to jump in the back, and traveled in numbered routes for the low price of 7-9 pesos per passenger. My favorite thing about jeepneys was the way each was brightly painted and decorated with some theme unique to the owner.
One day we tried a "public beach"; our concierge directed us to a place in Mactan called Hadsan Cove, which was so filthy and covered with green weeds and algae that we immediately left it for the privacy of a hotel. Our taxi had already left, so we took another imaginative form of transport, the motorcycle-powered rickshaw.
I also saw variations of this using a bicycle instead of a motorcycle.

That day we spent at the Vistamar resort, which charged us only about 500 pesos each for the pool, which included 150 pesos "consumable" which we could spend on drinks, food, etc. It had not much of a beach, but a nice enough pool and seemed to be more popular with Philipino tourists than any other hotel we saw.

Another fun day was spent at the 40-story Crown Regency Tower in Cebu City. They offered a deal called "888", where for 888 pesos we got access to their beautiful open-air pool on the 11th floor, as well as buffet lunch, a 1-hour massage, and a choice of one of the adventure rides on the top floors. One was a ride which conveyed passengers around a track the outside of the hotel, tipping the car over at a 45 degree angle at some points for added thrills. The other, which we chose, was the "Sky Walk" in which we walked around an exposed catwalk on the outside of the 37th floor, harnessed to sturdy ropes which went around a clothesline pulley system, just in case we might get blown off. The wind outside the building was quite strong, and the sense of vertigo of being outside at such a height was exciting, but with our safety harnesses and under the watchful eye of our guide and cameraman, there was really no danger. We made one circuit around the building, and they showed us how to pose for various photos which we could then purchase. We were lucky that we just happened to do this at sunset, producing some stunning views of the city.
At the end we received cute little diplomas certifying that we completed the skywalk. I approved of the way this hotel had made maximum use of its tower, which was the highest building in the city by far. Most would be content to have just a boring observatory or maybe a restaurant on the top floor. They were planning to use the adjoining tower and another under construction to add more rides in the future, including a zip-line, some kind of giant swing, and a rock-climbing wall.

On the upper stories there was also a rooftop "sky bar", which looked nicer in the brochure and in fact served no alcohol (probably some silly regulation against drunk people on exposed 40-story balconies), and an overpriced buffet restaurant full of people flourishing their skywalk diplomas. We gave both of these a pass and ended up eating a wonderful dinner at Mr. Grill on the 21st floor. This was like a buffet except the trays contained cuts of raw beef, pork, chicken and fish, which you selected and then gave to the grill-guy to cook. Despite being quite cheap, it was some of the best grilled fish I've ever tasted, and we went home happy.

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