Friday, 23 June 2017

Hotel and Inn Review: Hampton Inn Manhattan Grand Central (New York City, USA)

Date of Stay: June 23-26, 2017

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ********
Rooms: *********
Condition and Cleanliness: ********
Staff Performance: *********
Room Comfort: *********
Food and Beverage: ********
Other Amenities: ********
Value for Money: *********

Hampton Inn Manhattan Grand Central

This vibrant 3-star, high (20 floors) but narrow  (there are only 8 rooms on each floor making it really quiet) hotel has 148 rooms, all decent in terms of size for Manhattan. Our  traditionally decorated, non-smoking airconditioned room (307) was equipped with twin double beds, a 32”” flat-screen LCD TV, NDD/IDD phone, plush bedding, ensuite bathroom with free toiletries, a work desk, tea and coffee-making facility, hair dryer, safety deposit box and ironing board.  They had ample drawers and closet space. Some rooms have city views or a balcony with stunning panoramic views of the iconic Midtown Manhattan cityscape. Free Wi-Fi was offered in all areas, including rooms.


Reception Area

Coffee Shop
The coffee shop offers Continental and American cuisine. Breakfast (6 - 10 AM) features hot coffee or tea, waffles (DIY), cereals, bread, bagels, pork patties, milk, potatoes, sausages, omelettes, yogurt, fresh fruit and pastries.  At the hotel lobby you can have, 24/7, free hot coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate, cold lemonade, and home made cookies. They also have a 24-hour front desk, ATM/cash machine on site, 2 elevators, luggage storage, fitness center and a 24-hour business center. They also offer laundry, dry cleaning, valet, daily housekeeping, tour/ticket assistance, airport shuttle (US$50),  fax and photocopying services.



The hotel is located in Turtle Bay, just north of Tudor City, within Midtown East, a great choice for travelers interested in restaurants. It is easily accessible to public transportation as Grand Central – 42nd Street underground station is a 500 m./5-min. walk away. You can hop on the FDR Drive or Queens Midtown Tunnel for direct access to LaGuardia and JFK International Airports. Times Square, located 1.3 kms./15-min. walk away,  is a 10-min. ride via underground while Central Park is 2.1 kms. away. A variety of dining and shopping options are also within walking distance. 
Business Center

The hotel is located to major landmarks such as the Chrysler Building and the UN Headquarters building, both 320 m. away, Grand Central (500 m.); Fifth Ave./Bryant Park, Pierpont Public Library and  New York Public Library, all 800 m. away; Saks Fifth Ave. (1 km.); Empire State Building and Museum of Modern Art  (MOMA), both 1.13 kms. away; Times Square (1.3 kms.); Madison Square Garden (1.8 kms.); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (3.3 kms.).
Front Desk
The hotel is well maintained and all of their staff were very extremely nice and courteous to a fault. The young ladies at the front desk (Front Desk Manager Ms. Imela Castilla and staff Ms. Dashanda Cheatham and Ms. Soribel Diaz) happily provided us information about directions, subway, local establishments, etc. Ms. Christina Shagana and Ms. Marlen Alvarez (from the Dominican Republic), over at the coffee shop, were great with their friendly smiles an great hospitality. the adorable Christina even went the extra mile to send over a bag of chocolate chip cookies to our room for my grandson Kyle.  Kudos to Gen. Manager Ms. Elizabeth Ardiles for making our stay really comfortable and memorable. Truly the best value in New York where guests can get more for their money. Highly recommended.


Fitness Gym

Hampton Inn Grand Central: 231 East 43rd St., Midtown East, New York, NY 10017, USA.   Tel:  +1 212-897-3385. Fax: +1-212-897-3386. Website: www.hilton.com/Grand_Central.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Spa Review: Amuma Spa (Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu)

Amuma Spa 

Stairway to rejuvenation
The 2-storey Amuma  Spa, Maribago Bluewater Resort’s haven for rejuvenation, offers Filipino-inspired holistic treatments.  Amuma is a Visayan term that means "to pamper,"  “indulge with every attention,” “comfort,” “care” or “spoil” and, during my 3-day stay at the resort, I made sure I’d experience such pampering. 

Daily spa appointments begin at 10 AM until 12 MN and, during my very first night at the resort, I took the 9 PM slot. Upon arrival at spa lobby, I was first asked to choose from four variants of massages oils – Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO), Ilang-Ilang, Lemon Grass and Green Tea.  

Believe me, I wanted to choose all but I settled for Lemon Grass. I was also given the choice of "Music For The Mond and Body" ("A Day at the Spa," "Healing Touch," "Meditation," "Relaxation," "Relaxing Piano," "Water Sounds" and "Zen").  I chose "Relaxing Piano" music.

I was then led, up their railing-less stairs, to their clean and well-maintained, Filipiniana-inspired shower room, complete with bath amenities like lotion, cotton, Q-tips, shampoo, conditioner, towels and soap, where I changed into white shorts and stowed my personal stuff in lockers made of native materials.
My manghihilot that evening was Ms. Emme Igot and she started my spa experience with the suob, the Filipino version of the steam bath used by various Filipino ethnic groups to drive away elements of illnesses. 


Amuma Spa lobby

Towel, flowers and salt
Basin with warm water
At the balcony, I was first asked to sit down and put my feet into a basin with a concoction of warm water, herbs, salt and flowers. 

Then, a large towel enveloped my feet, allowing the therapeutic mixture to vaporize inside, its healthy steam increasing my blood circulation, fat metabolism and detoxification as well as nourishing the skin of my feet, making it supple, and softening the muscle fibers.  Truly, a worthwhile treatment before any hilot.
The author experiencing the suob 
After my suob, we proceeded with my much awaited Amuma Signature massage, a rendition of the fusion of hilot (the traditional Filipino massage) techniques from across the country. 

This uniquely Filipino therapy (PhP3,900 for a 90-min. session) promotes healing and induces relaxation.  At first glance, the hilot looks like just another type of massage, with Emme manipulating my muscles - very similar, it seems, to what they do at any spa. 

However, this was not just the case. Massage, mainly for relaxation purposes, emphasizes the use of a sequence of pre-determined strokes which is applied to all clients.


My actual experience of the therapeutic hilot followed basic natural principles and  my healing session was tailored to my unique healing needs which was worlds away from the soothing massage at the spa. In fact, hilot is all about pressure.  

It was initially painful as Emme expertly applied just the right pressure directly on the problematic parts of my body - the shoulders, lower back and legs. Afterwards, I soon began to feel relief. Truly, the hilot was very effective, surprising me with its speed and efficacy.
I also indulged in a 10-15-min. head and shoulder massage called hingut-an that de-stressed me. This invigorating and therapeutic hair-pulling technique, a different take on the scalp and shoulder massage, is akin to an Indian practice that improves and stimulates blood circulation, relieves headaches and induces rest and sleep.
Then, I experienced the Filipino version of the famous hot stone and ventosa massage wherein warm fresh banana fronds were placed on my back to softened and loosen my stiff and tense muscles.  

The banana leaves also detected the areas with imbalance or negative energy called lamig.  Emme focused on joints with air trapped in (“napasukan ng hangin”) which were causing me bodily discomfort (mild aches, pain of a muscle spasm or pulled muscle).  Creating a balance between the cold and the hot energies, it kept my body in the right temperature.
She also placed two slices of freshly cut cucumber onto my eye area to help reduce the appearance of under eye darkness and puffiness.
Miss Eva performing hingut-an head and shoulder massage 

Recharged, I then headed to the showers and then the sat at the lounge area to indulge on a cup of ginger ale.  One of the most relaxing spa experiences I ever had, it was definitely a physical, as well as visual experience for me.  

I liked it so much, I had another hilot session on the morning of my last day at the resort, with Ms. Eva Mangapis as manghihilot.  For a change, I chose virgin coconut oil (VCO), as my massage oil, with "Meditation" music to set the mood. 

Aside from the hilot, Amuma Spa offers Western and Asian massage therapies such as Water Shiatsu (WATSU), Swedish, Namikoshi Shiatsu, Duot, Hot Stone and Travel Revive Fusion. Spa packages are also available.


Amuma Spa: Maribago Bluewaters Beach Resort, Buyong Maribago, Mactan Island, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.  Tel: (032) 492 0100 local 520.  E-mail: amumaspa.maribago@bluewater.com.ph.  Website:  www.bluewatermaribago.com.ph/amuma-spa. Spa Manager: Ms. Noreen Yuson.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Restaurant Review: El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto (Pagsanjan, Laguna)

El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto

It was already past noon when Jandy, Joy, Desiree, Ann, Jessica and I arrived in Pagsanjan and, after meeting up with retired Municipal Tourism Officer Mr. Ramon “Mon” Cabela at the town’s Spanish-era Arch of Guadalupe, asked him on where to delight our craving for some real good food. 

Mon recommended El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto, a restaurant offering Mexican street food favorites with a Filipino twist.  We followed him as he drove his motorcycle.
The dining area

Owned by the husband and wife team of Kit Delos Santos Zaguirre  (the grandson of the woman behind the iconic Aling Taleng's Halo-Halo, the best halo halo in town since 1933) and Jymsee Abaquin Zaguirre, this restaurant opened its doors in 2015.  

The restaurant’s facade had a very homey feel, the fact being it is actually a home, not far from the famous old arch, converted into an L-shaped restaurant.  The dining area was formerly the garage.  The premises of this family-friendly restaurant are clean, the ambiance superb and very relaxing, and the atmosphere wholesome and calm.  
Anticuchos de Pollo

Nachos Bravas
In the dining area, we saw guitars, ukuleles, maracas and Mexican hats on display.  Adding to the Mexican feel was the Mexican music being played.  The whole experience was made even greater by the free Wifi!

Then there’s the great food.  For starters (Antojitos/Pampagana in their menu), we ordered a plate of Nachos Bravas (PhP190) - home fried, multi-colored tortilla chips, drizzled with cheese sauce and crema, topped with mozarella cheese, cheddar cheese, signature picadillo and jalapeno and served with house salsa on the side. They tasted really good, not as dry as some nacho dishes I’ve tasted before, and the  jalapenos were huge.


El Cerdo Fritos
Their main dishes (El Plato Principal/Ulam in their menu) really grabbed a hold of us - Anticuchos de Pollo (PhP200, marinated grilled chicken seasoned with fresh Mexican spices, and served with Mexican rice, buttered corn and pickled cucumber with crema on the side) for Desiree; the El Cerdo BBQ (PhP150, grilled pork liempo in sweet BBQ sauce, with coleslaw and corn, and served with plain rice) for Joy; Chicken Burger (PhP190, deep-fried chicken fillet with coleslaw, lettuce, nachos, tomatoes and cucumber, served with chips on the side) for my son Jandy; El Cerdo Fritos (PhP130, deep-fried pork liempo with pickled cucumber and corn, drizzled with crema and served with Mexican rice) for me and Jessica; and Sisig Plato (PhP160, signature Filipino-style pork sisig, with chopped hard-boiled egg on top, and served with plain rice) for Ann.


Brownie Caliente Con Helado
El Cerdo BBQ
Finally, there’s the sizzling sweetness of their desserts (Postre/Panghimagas in their menu) - the Brownie Caliente Con Helado (PhP190, hot brownies with ice cream on it and milk poured on it) and the famous Aling Taleng’s halo-halo (PhP90).  We liked the former so much, we ordered a second serving. Adding to our fun was all of us wearing Mexican hats, holding ukuleles and having our photo taken in them.

Through word of mouth, this charming restaurant, no longer a hidden secret, will truly become a favorite watering hole for lunch, snacks or dinner for both locals and travelers in the town. Their food prices were very affordable and the servers were very alert and approachable. A must-try restaurant when in Pagsanjan, Laguna.
All dressed up in Mexican hats with ukuleles. L-R: Ms. Desiree Benitez, Mr. Jandy Layug, Mr. Mon Cabela, the author, Ms. Julie Ann Zafe, Ms. Joy Tenedero and Ms. Jessica Bez

El Panchito's Fil-Mexicano Resto: 661 Mabini St., Poblacion Dos, Pagsanjan, 4008 Laguna. Tel: (049) 250-3849.  Mobile number: (0917) 811-4452.  Open daily, 11:00AM - 10:00PM.  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elpanchitospagsanjan. Instagram: @elpanchitospagsanjan.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

A Walk for Safety and Unity (Tanay, Rizal)

Walk for Safety and Unity
Last April 5, the DOT Region 4-A led by Dir. Rebecca Villanueva-Labit, the Rizal Provincial Government, Tanay LGU led by Mayor Rex Manuel C. Tanjuatco launched the "A WALK FOR SAFETY AND UNITY," a campaign to lift the moratorium on field trips imposed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and Department of Education (DepEd) in wake of the tragic bus mishap in Tanay, Rizal which killed 15 people (14 students and the bus driver) last February 21. 

Barker Hall Basketball Court
Chapel of Our Lady of Queen of
Heaven and Earth
At 7 AM, tourism officers, travel agencies, tour operators, academe, tour guides and tourism stakeholders marched from the main road to EPIC PARC Rainforest Camp in Sitio Bayucan, Brgy. Sampaloc.  After a mass held at the Chapel of Our Lady of Queen of Heaven and Earth, a press conference was held at the Barker Hall Basketball Court.   
Mass attendees at Chapel of Our Lady of Queen of Heaven and Earth

Mayor Rex Tanjuatco
Dir. Rebecca Labit
At the presscon were Dir. Labit, Mayor Tanjuatco, Mr. Dong Malonzo (Rizal Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office Chief), Dr. Oliva de Leon (Rizal Provincial Board Member), Engr. Carlos Inofre, Jr. (Chief of the Tanay Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office) and Mr. Rommel Ayuson (Rizal Provincial Board Member).  
In her speech, Dir. Labit lamented that because of the bus driver’s human error, the town of Tanay, as well as other LGUs benefitting from field trips and educational tours, suffered due to the moratorium. A meeting with DepEd and CHED, regarding the moratorium, will be held in June.  She also answered questions regarding DOT accreditation.
Mayor Tanjuatco, on the other hand, commended the  Rizal Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO)  and Tanay Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRM) for their quick response  during the accident, bringing the wounded to the hospital and preventing further loss of life. He too lamented the municipality’s loss of income and opportunity due to the incident. 
Press conference, L-R: Mr. Dong Malonzo, Ms. Oliva de Leon, Mayor Rex Tanjuatco, Dir. Rebecca Labit, Mr. Rommel Ayuson and Engr. Carlos Inofre
After the "Walk for Safety," travel agencies and tour operators participated in the free familiarization tour, from 1 PM to 5 PM, visiting Regina Rica, Calinawan Cave, and Daranak Falls plus site visits to hotels and restaurants of Tanay. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Resort Review: Momarco Resort & Hotel (Tanay, Rizal)

Date of Stay: April 4-5, 2017
RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ******
Rooms: ********
Condition and Cleanliness: *********
Staff Performance: *******
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *******
Other Amenities: ********
Value for Money: *******

Momarco Resort & Hotel

The 2-storey hotel
Reception Desk
This spacious, cool, breezy and well-maintained resort, with lots of greenery, has various types of rooms available to cater to different needs with a newly built hotel and casitas with suites good for couples.  
Hotel lobby

The 2-storey hotel  has airconditioned rooms with LED cable TV, minibar, smart key card, writing desk and private bath with hot and cold shower, hair dryer and hygiene kit – Superior A (PhP5,625-6,200, 1 queen-size bed and 1 single bed ), Superior B (PhP3,750-4,125, 1 queen-size bed) and Superior C (PhP3,750-4,125, 2 single beds). 
It also has nice and spacious, airconditioned single detached casitas with LCD cable TV, minibar, barbecue grille, outdoor garden set and private bath with hot and cold shower, hair dryer and hygiene kit – Casita De Luxe for 2 (PhP3,250-3,575, 1 king-size bed), Casita De Luxe for 6 (PhP6,750-7,000, 3 double beds) and Casita De Luxe for 7 (PhP7,875-8,125, 2 double beds and 1 bunk bed with pull out). 
Superior C Room - 207

Hotel balcony
Their regular airconditioned rooms have common wash areas, barbecue grilles and common outdoor garden table – Regular A/C for 2 (PhP1,600-1,760, 1 queen or 2 single beds), Regular A/C for 4 (PhP2,600-2,860, 2 bunk beds) and Regular A/C for 10 (PhP6,450-6,700, 5 bunk beds). 

Casita
Large groups are 
accommodated in basic fan-cooled room with double deck beds, good for youth camps and budgeted group outings (PhP425-450). Casa Lucia (PhP18,500-20,000), the yellow house on the hill, can sleep 30 persons. This full service house has a kitchen, dining and living areas.  

Bedrooms are fan-cooled and furnished with queen-size beds and or double deck beds. Bahay ni Inday (PhP11,750-12,000), good for 8 persons, has 2 airconditioned bedrooms and a living, dining and kitchen area. The Gazebo, good for 10 pax, has 2 fan-cooled rooms with bunk beds, It is furnished with grille, dining area and a service kitchen.
The Lanai Restaurant

The resort also has a restaurant (The Lanai, open 6 AM – 8 PM), bar and KTV (Bathala), function rooms (40-pax Laiban A & B, 60-80-pax Sampaloc Hall, 100-150-pax Aldea Hall, Kubo Hall), a huge, kidney-shaped outdoor swimming pool (open 7 AM – 5 PM), two smaller pools (a children’s pool with fountain and the other a manmade lagoon, lined with natural pebbles, with small waterfalls and rock features), poolside cabanas, view deck, , hiking path, mini zoo with some birds an snakes, sundry shop, basketball court, tennis court, sports center (billiards, table tennis, darts),and children’s playground. They've got bikes for rent (PhP100/hour) which you can use on the challenging Bathala Bike Trail of humps, rollers, jumps, berms and other obstacles. They offer videoke rental. 
The huge outdoor swimming pool
The food at the restaurant is reasonably priced and there are quite a lot of options. Whether you are on foot or on a wheelchair, you can get to where you want to be as there are ramps going to the swimming pool, the casitas and the resort’s other amenities. The staff was courteous and helpful. However, internet is only available at the hotel lobby. 
Koi pond

Function hall
This is a good place to unwind as it is close to nature, with massive trees of all sorts. It's also a great place for youth camps, religious activities and teambuilding. 

The resort is also open for those who want to try camping around the rolling terrain or forest trails. Its location, far from the main road, makes it more private and somehow secluded. However, the winding access road leading to the resort was bumpy. There was ample and secure parking space. 
Mini zoo
Momarco Resort & Hotel: Sampaloc Road, Sitio Bathala, Brgy. Plaza Aldea, Tanay, Rizal. Teleax:: +632-4274476. Mobile numbers: (0917) 851-3626, (0928) 559-5306, (0927) 822-9865 and (0918) 942-9873. Email: momarcoresort@yahoo.com. Website: www.momarcoresort.com. Facebook: Momarco Resort and Hotel. Entrance fee: PhP250/person (3 yrs up, inclusive of use of swimming pool). Food corkage: PhP50/pax. No pets allowed.