Sunday, May 8, 2011

36 Hours Mauritian Holiday

Mauritius. Moris. Maurice. An island nation located about 2000 km off the southeast coast of Africa and lies east of Madagascar. The only known home of the now extinct dodo bird.

I was psyched to find out that I am going to Mauritius, even better yet, I'll be staying there for 36 hours! To understand my excitement, let me break it down. Normally my layovers only lasts a day thus the need to cram places to see, sites to visit and sacrifice sleep just to be able to go around. More importantly, I am a self confessed/proclaimed beach bum! To be able to visit a place as exotic and enchanting as Mauritius.. WOW! Times like this is when I have to say, I love my job. ♥

After about a 7 hour plane ride and about a twenty minute drive, Shandrani Resort and Spa is finally in sight. I seriously couldn't wait to take off my uniform, wear my bikini, run towards the beach and bask under the sun. After checking in, I was then instructed to follow some instructions to get to my room. I was actually amused. It felt like a scavenger hunt. As I walked out of the reception area, I had to pass a restaurant, gardens and villas! The resort is massive! I was actually getting tired dragging my suitcase and not to mention my uniform is starting to stick to me, thanks to the perfect tropical weather. When I finally found my room, it was on the second level of what seemed like an apartment complex. With no lifts and no guys around to ask for help, I had to lug my suitcase and my cabin bag (which is actually heavier than my suitcase) in my high heels!
When I finally got to see my room, it was worth all that walking and lifting my luggage. Relaxation mode is so ON! I immediately explored my room and I love how it was designed. The bathroom was spacious and pristine. The bed was just the right size, there's a lounge area and the best part of the room is the veranda. I quickly changed and hung in the veranda knowing I have at least half an hour before I meet everyone for lunch. As I sat there, I thought to myself, if I were to stay here at my own expense it would certainly cost me an arm and a leg.

Shandrani Resort and Spa as I soon found out is one of the premiere accommodations in Mauritius. The hotel boasts that it is the first choice of holiday makers when it comes to an all inclusive luxury hotel. Located at the Southern Coast of Mauritius, situated on a private peninsula. Their concept Serenity Plus as they say is devised to give holiday makers the best value for money from the time they checked in til checked out. A major plus for this all inclusive hotel is that there are no more bills to pay. Almost everything is already covered by what you were quoted for. Almost everything, because there are several water activities that you actually pay for like kiteboarding and scuba diving. As for food (room service and restaurant dining), drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), mini bar, activities such as wakeboarding, water skiing, snorkelling, hobbie cat sailing, island hopping and other hotel amenities are already covered. So, how much exactly does the all inclusive Shandrani Hotel and Spa go for? Prices ranges from €224-€364 per person/ per night! It will definitely cost me both my arms and legs!

I consider myself blessed that I am able to go here and enjoy this posh hotel's offerings free of charge. Of course, not being a "regular" hotel guests there is one thing that we don't have free access to. The OPEN BAR. But, the hotel was considerate enough, they gave us complimentary 4 cans of beer, 2 small bottles of red and white wine in our mini bar. Anything more than that, comes out of our pockets.

I met my crew for lunch aka the pig out session. The food is absolutely delectable with numerous dishes to choose from. I am particularly happy that they have a grill station and seafood station. For me, seafood and barbecue is a staple when I'm at the beach.

After my gluttonous way, guilt kicks in and I want to burn some of the calories. In this particular trip, I was with another Filipina, Hannah. We decided to check the entire compound out and see what we want to do from there. We then discovered that are 3 beaches in the hotel. 2 are actually meant for swimming but the other one was highly tracherous because of the rocks and unfriendly waves. The beach actually reminds me of the many beaches in the Philippines particularly the ones in Batangas. White sand but quite pebbly so it's best to walk with your flip flops or Aqua shoes rather than barefoot.

The shore is littered with sun bathers lying on the abundant sunbeds and on sarongs laid on the sand. I chose a sunbed and lay there for a while and when the sun gets too much for me, I ran straight to the water. The staff was so attentive. Knowing that under the blazing sun, guests might get dehydrated or suffer from heat exhaustion, they constantly check and offer water or drinks. They also offer ice cream! I think I had about three and infinite number of mocktails called Cinderella!

I need to get off my butt and burn the calories again. I saw a speed boat whizzing by pulling a water skier. Fun! I must do it! I tried wakeboarding and water skiing with my friends in Lago De Oro, Batangas but I never got the hang of it. I wasn't able to stand. I just got dragged by the cables. I was feeling a little scared because I don't want to embarass myself but then again I just simply have to do it. Well, what do you know, I found myself water skiing and loving every second of it.

After water skiing, Hannah and I tried almost all the water sport available: kayak, pedal boat and snorkelling. Snorkelling was a blast! We rode a glass bottom boat and the water was crystal clear we could see the fish and several corals underneath us. We got our one on one encounter with the fish when we fed them. They're so big and agressive!  I was still enjoying snorkelling when our guide called us back because the current is getting stronger. We head back to the shore and I wanted to try another activity but it's just too bad it got too windy so we never got to try Hobbie cat sailing. Next time then. After all those activites, I was ravenous again! It's still a good 2 hours before dinner time and I won't last that long. I told myself, I'm on holiday, so just enjoy and worry about the weight later. I devoured perhaps one of the most delicious beef burgers in my life. I'm still drooling!

As night time approaches, we gathered for dinner. I looked around the table to see my companions sun kissed as I am. Skin glowing, eyes bright and big smiles all around. We sat enjoying the food, a toast here and there. Here we are a bunch of strangers who met hours earlier tasked to transport passengers to this beautiful island paradise, enjoying a warm and intimate dinner as if we truly knew each other. As much as I have enjoyed Mauritius with my crew, it would have been a bliss if only my friends and loved ones were the ones with me. My strength starts to dwindle, I head back to my room. I lay in bed with a prayer of gratitude on my lips and a wish on my heart. Everything would have been perfect but just like that jaded postcard phrase, I utter, wish you were here!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sweet Serenity: Acuatico Beach Resort and Hotel


Just a three hour of leisurely drive from Manila is the municipality of San Juan from the province of Batangas. San Juan is well known for it’s majestic coastline forming Laiya Beach.

Laiya Beach or simply Laiya is an expanse of white sandy shore with Mt. Daguldol serving as a backdrop complementing the coast to its full splendor. Laiya over the years has risen in popularity and the proof is the mushrooming resorts and hotels in the stretch and the ever growing patrons that visit the place each chance they get.
It has been almost five years since I was last in Laiya and so this trip makes me feel like I’m visiting an old friend whom I haven’t seen in a while. This trip is extra special since I’m traveling with my most favorite person in the whole world and a birthday celebration is in order. ♥

A day before we have decided to book an overnight stay in Acuatico Beach Resort and Hotel. We came across their website and I was impressed of what I saw. The presentation of the resort is absolutely impeccable! What truly caught my eye and convinced us to stay at the resort is their infinity pool. Spectacular, that’s what it is! I would also like to say kudos to the web designer because the site is too damn inviting! I just hope that the site translates to reality as well. I have been to some places where the place doesn’t look anything like the pictures posted! Check it out!

As our drive commenced from the busy highway to the off beaten path, through cemented paths and rough roads, through the busy industrial areas and laid back provincial greeneries; the escapade begins. I can feel the stress and worries being left behind. It is now time to embrace the much needed respite. The directions to Acuatico is easy to follow not to mention there are signs along the way. As we approach the resort, I keep my fingers crossed hoping that we have indeed made the right choice in staying here.

We arrived early. 3 hours early! Nonetheless, we were welcomed warmly and offered a refreshing pandan drink. As our room is not ready yet, one of the staff toured us around the resort. Walking in, we were greeted with a magnificent view; the infinity pool! It is no doubt the main attraction of the resort. In my opinion it’s the real reason why most people actually check in here. I could honestly say that Acuatico’s pool is so far the best I have seen. Trust me, I’ve been around *wink wink hehehe. Moving on, we were then showed the restaurant, Oceano Acuatico, an al fresco dining experience with a panoramic view of the entire resort. As you are feasting on gastronomic delights, your eyes are also treated with the hull shape view of the pools that seems to merge with the sea’s placid waves and on the sides are the Neo-Balinese inspired villas. On the left side of the restaurant is the Game room equipped with table tennis, air hockey, foosball, darts and several board games. If you want a more physical sport the resort also has a basketball court. The Nautilus Bar, a floating bar right in the middle of the pools. Here guests can order an array of drinks from cocktails to mocktails, shakes and juices. We were then told that in Acuatico, coffee (Kapeng Barako ), tea and water is free flowing.  I love the fact that water is free because in most resorts they charge you, knowing that they can make a killing with the sales.

We were pointed towards the beach. The resort provides free use of the kayak, pedal boat and beach volleyball can be arranged. In here, sunbeds and umbrellas are availble for resort guests to use. Beach towels are also provided on request. It is here where we decided to lounge as we wait for our room to be ready. Drinks were ordered and the celebration is officially on!
We had about three pitchers of the bartenders special concoction (a green drink of some sort), a glass of mojito and Malibu when our room was finally ready. We were then led up the stairs behind the restaurant to our room Alta Vista room. Located at the third floor with a mountain view; the room includes 2 twin beds, a/c unit, 32 inch satellite TV, phone and iPOD docks available on request although in the more premium rooms, it is already installed. I have to admit I was a tad disappointed. I feel the space is a bit cramped. But then again, I won’t be staying in the room majority of the time anyway. The bathroom is a nice surprise. Normally, if the room is small, the bathroom is smaller. However, this time around it’s a pretty decent size with a tub and water heating system. A bidet is also installed and for me that’s plus points! Hahaha!

Being under the sun for a bit can make one a little lethargic so it was nap time for an hour before we enjoyed all of the resorts facilities. I love how the linens were crisp and smooth, the duvet smells fresh from the laundry, the mattress was in between firm and soft, just the way I like it and momentarily I drift off in peaceful slumber.

The bed was so comfortable I would have loved to just lay there and sleep to my heart’s content but nature beckons and I must go. I have to feel the the sand in my feet, I need the wind to caress my face and the blazing sun touch my skin, I want the tides to wash me over and the water to rejuvenate my tired body. To the beach!!

We were meant to go to the beach first BUT the infinity pool is simply irresistible! On a closer look, Acuatico’s pool is a combination of three pools. The first two is a kiddie pool connected to the adult pool or the infinity pool. Fun fact: you can go through all the pools without having to leave the water, all you need to do is swim under! But be careful not to hit your head! It’s a pretty low ceiling down there. There is also a jacuzzi just behind the bar but I never got to hang there. I was just too relaxed staying at the infinity pool to care. There are ledges on the sides to enhance the relaxation experience in the water. I don’t know how long I sat there staring at the sea with my eyes closed as the gentle waves lulls me to nirvana. My companion seems to feel the same sense of tranquility. Eyes closed, gazing at the horizon, a smile on the lips every now and then. Hmm.. sweet serenity.

The sun slowly sets in beautiful shades of red, orange and pink and then darkness chased away the remaining bits of day. The moon peeked and slowly a few stars appear shyly, it’s officially night time. We didn’t leave the pool, we just relocated to the sunbeds to continue our lazy ways. A few more rounds of drink to toast to todays birthday, to the past, the present and the future. A deal was made, when we leave this place, we would remember nothing but happiness and love.

From where we sat we could smell the enticing aroma, permeating the air. Dinner time. We decided to have a look on what’s on the menu to see if we would go for the buffet or a la carte. Buffet is priced at PHP 525 while an a la carte order would range from PHP 300 up. I see a decent selection of food so we opt for the buffet. There’s soup, salad bar, about 6 main entrees, deserts with some of my favorite Filipino deserts like ginataan, halo halo, pastillas and bottomless ice tea and lemonade. I’m actually surprised that they even offer balo’t penoy in the buffet. I am awashed once again, how good it feels to be in my own country again. I absolutely love Pinoy food! I would like to make a special mention that their kare kare is really really yummy! It’s one of my favorite dishes and I am very picky when it comes to it and I would say that their kare-kare is a definite must eat! I ate way too much that night that I ended up with a bad case of indigestion! No regrets though.

To rate my whole gastronomic experience in Acuatico, I would give them a 7 out of 10. I think they can and still need to improve the taste and food selection. As for service, I would give them a 9. The staff are so cordial and they really try their best to make your stay seamless as possible. They accommodate requests to the best of their abilities which I truly appreciate. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s my companions birthday. The staff planned a surprise birthday song, balloons and a special made desert. It’s very thoughtful of them really. It’s one of those little things that you remember and will make you come back plus spread the word to your friends. Just like what I’m doing now. My entire experience is a 9. Would’ve been a 10 if the food is just a bit better and if they could just lower the room rates.

Coming to Acuatico I wanted to just have a wonderfully relaxing time. The picturesque resort and its staff helped me achieve it. I literally sat back, relax and let the entire experience swallow me whole.

For the workhorses out there, Acuatico provides resortwide free wifi access so you can mix business and pleasure. But do yourself a favor and LIVE your life. Quoting my old Professor in Elbi, “Naghahanapbuhay tayo para mabuhay hindi para mamatay.”

I didn’t take a lot of pictures. We must not forget to immerse ourselves with the experience rather than documenting for memories sake. J