October 04, 2007

Discover luxury on Boracay’s shores

(AS promised, here's my review of Discovery Shores, the new luxury hotel in Boracay Island. This review was published in BusinessMirror but this blog entry is the unabridged version.)

WHEN I started going to Boracay Island in the late ’80s, I would usually take an hour’s flight to Roxas City, then make a torturous two- to three-hour land trip to Kalibo, over rough roads, then on to Caticlan for another bumpy three hours. (Camera on: Thank you to the wind and the dust for my hair and makeup!)

Arriving in Caticlan, still woozy from the dizzying land trip, there were a number of pump boats which would ferry passengers to the island, although there was a bit of price haggling involved depending on the number of passengers. The pump boats would chug along the glistening sea, which sometimes splashed me in the face and my clothes, but it was fun.

The resort features a 14-meter waterfall which cascades from the rock wall separating the upper and lower clusters of suites. Here, a view of Discovery Shores from the upper clusters.

How things have changed dramatically in just under 20 years!

Pampering to the hilt

THESE days, you can hop on an Asian Spirit jet from the Manila domestic airport and be in Caticlan in less than 30 minutes, much shorter than a cab ride from my home near Visayas Avenue to The Block at SM North Edsa.

And instead of the motorized pump boat depositing passengers right in front of their hotel or resort, or at the boat station nearest it, all boats now dock or leave from the Cagban jetty port in barangay Manoc-Manoc (the southernmost tip of the island which faces Caticlan across a strait), and rates are fixed. Now, there’s order for you.

With electricity and indoor plumbing now the rule rather than the exception, a myriad of resorts has sprung up especially in the last 10 years, catering to any budget to suit any lifestyle. And still more are being built as investors cash in on the divine pleasures of the island and the fine gorgeous white beach which continues to fascinate locals and foreigners alike.

Discovery Shores, the newest of the lot, has been generating a lot of buzz since it opened in March, as it guarantees luxurious and personalized guest services from the time you leave Caticlan until you arrive at the resort, and back.

First of all, a fastcraft, covered to protect you against all the elements, picks you up at the dock of Fairways & Bluewater Resort’s lounge on Caticlan, instead of the main dock, and deposits you at the same establishment’s beach at Newcoast, on the northern tip of Boracay. From there, an air-conditioned van takes you to Discovery’s entrance along the island’s main road in just five minutes, where guest officers proceed to fuss over you and escort you to your suite.

My photo of the junior suite: lounging sofa in the background, flat-screen TV to the right, two king-sized beds in the foreground with a desk-cum-divider behind them.

Fil, a friend, and I eagerly entered our room, a junior suite on the ground floor, which was splendid with two comfortable king-sized beds as the most commanding presence inside. There were gifts on the bed, like cute teddybears and some toiletries, as well as a lovely complimentary plate with the sweetest fruits of the season on a table by the lounging sofa with lots of large comfortable pillows. There was a flat-screen TV and a DVD player on a console table near the wall. At the back of our bed was a divider-cum-desk, where we could plug in the laptop for an Internet connection; a bar, which also functioned as a divider to the vanity area with a sink; and a well-appointed shower and toilet area hidden by a heavy glass door.

Our pampering by a most attentive staff immediately began with a welcoming warm footbath, which was a terrific treat for me considering the tiring, heat-stroking walk we just had, having come from lunch at Station 2 with the sun still shining at its mightiest at 3 pm. (Long story but blame Fil for this torturous hike.)

No doubt, no expense was spared in building and creating the chic design and classy interiors of Discovery Shores. Centered on a modern tropical resort theme, this takes it to the next level of excellence under the guidance of Architect Willy V. Coscolluela and award-winning interior designer Budji Layug and partner Royal Pineda.

Ahh to sleep like a baby!

THERE are guest rooms in clusters close to the beach, while other clusters are on a natural slope, closer to the main road entrance, with fantastic views of the sea. The guest rooms on the hill are the most perfect location to view Boracay’s legendary sunsets.

A 14-meter waterfall cascades from the rock wall separating the upper and lower room clusters, spreading out into open canals that meander throughout the expansive grounds, connecting other water facilities such as the children’s pool and the main swimming pool, where we swam a few laps.

Chef David Pardo de Ayala poses for my camera as he shows off his brilliant selection of Spanish dishes.

I was told by friends who had already visited Discovery that it was quite possible not to leave one’s room anymore. I’m sure they had other things in mind, but for me it rang true, sleep-wise. With king-sized beds, linens at a comfortable 350-thread count, and large goose-down pillows, I could no longer envision resting in anything but. To say I slept like a baby would be an understatement, but I did, most pleasantly so, notwithstanding my allergic rhinitis and a raging sinusitis attack. On most nights, my congested nose would have kept me awake but in that bed, the sandman enfolded me in his arms almost immediately, not letting me go ’til the next morning.

Each evening, fabulous treats awaited us in our room, such as a bag of hair and skin products designed for sun worshippers from VMV Hypoallergenics; a L’Occitane gift pack from Rustan’s containing soap and skin balm; and even a CD with a different take on resort/vacation tunes from EMI appropriately entitled The Easy Life. Then at bedtime, there were also sweet indulgences, like small cuts of espasol and petite puto, quite a welcome alternative to chocolate truffles which luxury hotels usually proffer their guests.

Adding just the right touch to even more pleasurable pampering was a massage treat from Mandala Spa. As the spa’s branch had yet to be finished during our visit to the resort, we had to travel to the spa’s main outlet to experience the skillful hands of Mandala’s massage therapists. For my treatment, I chose the Lymph Drainage Massage, where my therapist’s gentle strokes helped me eliminate the toxins that had accumulated in my body by stimulating lymph flow. By the end of the session, I felt, well, blissed out.

Attentive staff, delightful desserts

BUT what is really endearing about Discovery is its friendly, courteous and efficient staff ever ready with a smile for guests and a warm greeting to perk up one’s day. Everyone speaks English fluently and will answer with their de riguer “Certainly!” when asked to perform a chore, or when responding to a request. No task is too small for them to carry out, even sewing the unfinished hem on a bedcover which I had bought at D’Mall, as one female attendant volunteered to do. It was like having our own personal concierge.

There are butlers by the pool or by the beach who will lay out your beach towel on your lounging bed, dust off the sand from your flip-flops, and fold your sarong or tunic setting them aside for you on a table. Immediately there is a cold face towel, an ice-filled glass of water, and a scoop of refreshing homemade ice cream offered.

As for the cuisine, I enjoyed Chef David Pardo de Ayala’s dinner specialties on our last night at the resort. With a Spanish theme in mind, there was a sublime selection of hot and cold tapas, and the chef’s Paella de Mariscos, with bounties from the sea that are common to Aklan, was quite delectable. Unfortunately, Fil and I were not able to partake of what we were told was a fabulous lunch he had earlier prepared for our other colleagues.

Of all the dishes savored during our stay, the desserts were what I relished the most. My favorite has to be the hot pepper ice cream, which was unusual yet delightful. It was a most curious taste—bold and sensual, as the burn of the cracked pepper played off the sweetness and chill of the dessert, making for an interesting counterpoint.

That being said, our stay at Discovery Shores was a luxurious thrill which I wouldn’t have any problem enjoying all over again, although next time I do hope to get a room which gives me a better view of the pool instead of guests at the business center across from us, or the staff walking to and from what appeared to be a stock room. (This was room 117, so beware.) Sure, there were blinds to shade us from all those goings-on but I would rather see through the clear windows with an unimpeded view of the gorgeous resort layout. And because the room was across the main building where some construction was still ongoing, I could hear the loud hammerings of the workers on the second floor. For its part, Discovery promises that all building work will be completed by November.

While the suites are all brilliantly designed, my quarrel was just with the layout of the vanity area. The mirror hung above a sink which was often wet, as most sinks are. There was hardly space to place one’s makeup brushes, blushes, powders and creams, thus it was kind of difficult to put my face on. Also, the shower area was only half enclosed in glass so after a bath, the floor leading to the toilet would be drenched, and we always had to mop up with a foot towel. (I am quite anal about dry bathroom floors.)

And while the butlers are a nice touch to the whole Discovery Shores experience, I think they still have to work on being unobtrusive because after a while, having one come around with something new every five or 10 minutes can be a tad annoying. Butlers should always be ready to attend to one’s needs but, at the same time, remain invisible.

Pool butlers are at the guests' beck and call.

Overall, the resort’s cuisine does need some improvement in keeping with its ultra-luxe branding. More choices for weight- and health-conscious guests would be most welcome, say sugar-free desserts, and a better breakfast spread instead of the limiting array of rather bland pork and beef choices. I’ve eaten in smaller hotels and resorts where even their egg station offered more worthy ingredients for one’s runny scrambled eggs. Truth to tell I’m not really a breakfast person but on the occasion that I do wake up early, I would like to be wowed by the morning food options. So I was left wondering whether on normal days, and without Chef Pardo de Ayala around, would the food still be as delicious as the special meals he had prepared for us?

Having said that, whether one is staying at Discovery Shores or any other resort, what will take any guest’s breath away is really the fabulous white beach of Boracay. A stay on the island will never be complete without a walk on the beach, or laying down on the fine white sand, and a swim in its clear cool waters. And that to me, will always be the height of true luxury.

Of course, staying at Discovery Shores does make for a splendid bonus.

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