December 31, 2014

Disney's Princess Makeover

Sept 26, 2013. Every girl dreams to be a princess -- and for our daughter's 7th birthday, she got to be one, in the happiest place on earth, amidst other princesses and fairytale characters. It was a truly magical celebration fit for royalty.

Our day started early as we catch the 5:00am flight to Hong Kong. We have a jam-packed day ahead of us and we are running on a really tight schedule.  

Thanks to beloved fairy godmother -- we landed at exactly 7:40am at the Hong Kong International Airport. We rushed out and get a cab quickly to make it in time for our 9:00am appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. 

Where the magic happens.

The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is located inside Disneyland Hotel. The salon is just mesmerizing, it feels like we're stepping in a beauty salon for royals.  As soon as we have confirmed our appointment, my daughter was ushered in one of the salon seats and the "fairies" started doing their magic.

The Princess Make-Over costs about HKD600 and includes make-up, hair styling, nail polish, a Princess sash and of course a tiara! They also have princess gowns for sale to complete the look. We bought our own gown for our daughter  so we just opted for the make-over. 

I first learned of the Princess Make-Over when we visited Disneyland Florida way back. "I" wanted to try it soooo badly then. The thing is, it's only for kids 12 years old and below. Maybe Disney should have something for the 'kids at heart' as well.

After about an hour our Princess is ready! 

After the make-over, there's a photo session that lasted for about half an hour. The photographer who worked with our daughter was really good. He knows how to  make her do the silly and adorable poses that was one for the books.

After just a few minutes, we were shown a huge stack of adorable, stunning, mesmerising photos -- in a photobook similar to those you get during weddings. The pictures are all gorgeous to say the least. I'd say Disneyland do know how to work their magic. You would want to buy ALL the photos and the photobook -- until you're shown the price that is.

A single print costs HKD130 and the photobook costs HKD1600! I know it's insanely expensive for photos, but I would have bought them all still :). Good thing hubby was there to remind me to be reasonable. So I asked the staff to hold on to the photos until the next morning so I can think it over on which ones to get.

It's a habit of mine that when deciding whether to get a big ticket item, I usually let it sit for a night. If I still think it's a good deal the next morning, then it's a good deal.

Ok, so after thinking about it long and hard -- I still wanted to buy all the photos! But since I don't want to start a fight with the hubby, I settled for 4 photos and we'll just have a photobook printed when we get home using the photos we got from hubby's camera. Problem solved!

After the make-over, we headed straight to Disneyland Park where our dear little Princess was indeed treated like royalty. Then, to cap off our little Princess's big day, we had dinner with the Disney characters at the Enchanted Garden Restaurant. More posts on this (hopefully) coming soon!

Some things that might help:

1. Set an appointment. I called months in advance to reserve a slot. You wouldn't want to spoil the fun by building up the excitement in your kid only to arrive at a fully-booked salon. You can also make dining reservations at the Enchanted Garden for a character meal and order a birthday cake in advance.

2. Bring your own dress. Your child will be wearing it the entire day, so best if it's something she already owns and you know that she'll be comfortable sashaying in it all day. It's a LOT cheaper this way too.

3. Prepare your budget. The experience is already memorable in itself, but you might want to plan ahead if you'll opt to get the photos. This way you won't  get caught off-guard and spoil your vacation budget.

Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel
Tel: +852 3510 6000/ +852 1830 830

August 28, 2014

Surfing in San Juan

June 7, 2014. A few minutes drive away from Thunderbird Poro Point is San Juan beach. Famous for its soft-peeling waves and short rides -- the place is just perfect for surfing beginners like ourselves.

San Juan Surf School is arguably the most popular surf school in the area. With Filipino-Australian surfer Luke Landrigan at the helm, they boast of an internationally-accredited surf training program and the use of soft boards -- all true to their commitment of offering fun, friendly and safe surfing experience.

Each of us get our own instructor. Our lesson started with a briefing about safety and standing techniques. After which, it was time to pick up our boards, run to the shore and paddle into the ocean.

Waiting for the wave.
The first ones to go were my daughter and my husband and they were able to stand on their first ride! Okay, so it kinda made me more nervous and excited and it added more to the pressure. Haha. 

Next up is my son and I. We were told to get ready as our instructors pushed our boards in time with the wave. I carefully tried to find my balance, stood up and rode the wave as far as I can and hopped off my board before it hits the sand. I might also have screamed a little during the ride as the speed took me by surprise. It was exciting, it was exhilarating and I love it!   

Surfs Up!

And so the cycle begins, we wait for the wave, we try to ride the wave and we paddle back to our spot. There are moments when we immediately flop, moments when we get to stand a little on our board before we lose our balance, and sweet moments when we get to ride the wave to the shore. We got wiped out, we got pounded by the waves, we got hit by our surf boards, my son even fell face first on the sand. It was one of the craziest and most fun we had. 

The hour sped by really fast -- too fast actually especially for the kids who insisted on surfing until closing hours! We were lucky it wasn't that hot even though it was middle of the day when we had our lessons.

To cap off our fun and tiring activity, we had lunch at the resort. They serve really good food that's reasonably priced. 

Rates start at P400 for an hour of surfing lessons and includes use of a soft surfboard and rash guard. They also offer packages that include accommodation at the resort.

A few things you need to know if you want to try this activity:

1. You should know how to swim (I think this one's a given). Although the water's not really that deep (instructors need to be able to stand on water), this is still a must. 
2. There's no minimum age. As long as the kid knows how to swim, is not afraid of the water, and can handle himself if he gets wiped out and gets pounded under water. This happened to us a couple of times. My son even hit the shore and ate sand on one of his rides (he said he enjoyed the ride so much he didn't want to jump when he reached the shore).
3. The surf school is open all year round. Surfing is possible any time of the year but the best season is in October to April.
4. You can wear a two-piece suit under your rash guard and board shorts. But I  suggest you wear a one piece to avoid any wardrobe malfunction especially if you get wiped out. 

Surfing is definitely one awesome experience. It's an activity that is fun, exciting and anyone up for it can try it! 

San Juan Surf School
Urbiztondo, San Juan
La Union
Tel: +6372 687 9990
Mobile: +63 917 800 8004 / +63 917 744 2229

July 29, 2014

Surfing in Catanduanes

July 06 2014. From Tugawe Cove Resort in Caramoan, we arrive at Codon Port in Virac, Catanduanes. We headed straight to Catanduanes Midtown Inn to check in for the night. 

The small hotel is near the airport and very close to a mall and a few fastfood restos. Our room was clean, comfortable and the bathroom looks newly renovated. For as low as Php985 a night, you get complimentary transfers to the airport. Plus, they have a genset, which proves to be really important as blackouts are very normal in the city.

Catanduanes is notorious for being frequented by super typhoons. Virac, it's capital town can be reached in less than an hour via plane from Manila. The province's claim to fame is the "majestic" surfing waves in Puraran Beach. The long, magnificent and barrelling swells draw surfers -- beginners and advance all the same, from all over the world.

Ok, so it wasn't actually a planned activity. But on our way up to our room, hubby saw a photo of someone surfing. When we asked the receptionist, she said that it was taken in Puraran Beach and it can be reached in an hour via tricycle. 

So not to waste any time, we dropped off our bags and packed our swimming stuff. We took a tricycle from the hotel to Puraran Beach and to be honest, an hour is too long to be in a tricycle especially when there's four of us cramped inside. We should have probably taken a cab or hired a van.

When we got there, we saw a lot of surfers (mostly, if not all, Pros). They were far out in the ocean and clearly enjoying the HUGE waves. We actually felt a little bad for the four of them who'll be called back to shore to give us lessons.

We immediately noticed the difference in the size of the waves compared to San Juan, La Union. The waves here are way bigger! Also, unlike in San Juan where you just paddle a little farther from the shore, we have to go all the way out because there are sharp corals near the shoreline. For us beginners, there's a separate area where the waves are not as intimidating (and dangerous!). But the good thing is it's not crowded. Actually, we are the only beginners who'll be surfing that time.

We were asked if we've tried surfing before and we said yes. Then we did away with the orientation and headed straight to the water. It was already late afternoon and the low tide is coming.

Surfing into the sunset.

We all had a hard time adjusting at first. It's harder to get your balance with the bigger and faster waves. But after a few tries, we were able to stand on our boards! Too bad we were not able to take pictures using our DSLR because we are too far from the shore. We just have to rely on what we can capture on our GoPro. 

I noticed a chipped off part at the front of my surfboard and I was told that, it was from a GoPro mount. Unfortunately, the waves washed out the mount (yes, including the GoPro). Apparently, a few GoPros have already been lost due to the waves. Too bad, we didn't find any floating around. Haha!

Best time to go if you're a beginner is from March to August. September to October is for the advance surfers. Rate is at Php400 per person inclusive of 1-hr lesson, use of surfboard and use of rashguard.

Time does fly super fast when your having fun. Before we know it, it was time to head back to shore (the water's becoming dangerously low). It was another surfing experience for the books!

Puraran Surf Camp
Puraran, Baras, Catanduanes
Mobile: +63 977 1827537

Catanduanes Midtown Inn
San Jose, Virac, Catanduanes
Mobile: +63 947 5638165 / +63 915 7218262

Thunderbird Resort Poro Point

June 6-8, 2014. Thunderbird Resort Poro Point is a Mediterranean-inspired resort in La Union. It has Santorini's signature white-wash architecture dotted with blue accents. It's a five-hour drive away from Manila and could soon be shorter when TPLEX gets completed. Just perfect for a quick spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway.

We arrived at the resort shortly after lunch. So after a quick check-in, we headed straight to our first activity - Water Gun Fight.

They have this huge "battle arena" complete with obstacle course. The mere sight of it made the kids so psyched. For Php200 per person per hour, you'll be provided with a big-a$$ water gun and of course safety goggles. You might think an hour is too short but once you're holding the heavy (as hell) water gun under the scorching sun, it'll be a miracle if you last for even half of the allotted time.

Having a blast.

The game is simple -- get your opponent's flag without getting hit during the process. Of course, you're free to have your own rules, or simply discard the rules altogether and hit each other until you turn blue or orange or whatever color of water ammunition you have.

The water they use is tinted (different color for each team) so you know if you get hit. It's totally safe -- washable and we did not get any allergies, whatsoever. We were totally drenched from head to foot with colored water.

We got to play two rounds, after which we were just plain exhausted from running and carrying the heavy water guns around. We probably was just able to play for fifteen minutes, though it felt as if we've worked out for an hour. It was awesome, and needless to say we all had a great time. 

Now it's time to shower, hit the pool, visit the beach and eat!

Special order -- Hawaiian Pizza.

Their pool bar serves delicious snacks and if you have something in mind that doesn't appear in the menu, simply ask and they can probably whip it up for you.

The beach is ok though their pool is a little small. Nonetheless, the kids had a blast swimming and playing.

For dinner, we decided to try the Chinese buffet at Vegas Restaurant. It's near their casino and there's a free shuttle that can take you there from the resort. It's separate from the main casino so kids are ok to go.

The buffet price is really cheap so I guess I should not have expected so much. I mean, I get what I pay for. The food is ok at best and there's a very limited spread. Imagine my disappointment when there was not a single dim sum, and it's a Chinese buffet!

View from Olives Restaurant

Luckily, the breakfast the next day at Olives restaurant made up for the disappointing dinner the previous night. The spread is ample, the food is delicious and the view of the pool and the beach from the veranda is gorgeous. 

Driving range at The Cliffs Golf and Beach Club.

Activity for the day: try the driving range. At Php125 per bucket of 50 balls, I guess it's not bad. It's the kids' first time to try the sport and they didn't like it that much. They both had a hard time making their balls fly and they both complained about how heavy the clubs are (no kid's club available). Amidst the complaints, they kept on hitting until they finish their own buckets.

Our last stop was the Lighthouse, just a short ten-minute drive from the resort. Nothing really special here, just a lighthouse and a museum. We snapped a few photos and headed back. 

Overall, the resort is beautiful and their room is clean and spacious (though it already shows signs of aging). The staff, especially the person in charge of their activities, is courteous and knowleadgeable. I've read a few not so good reviews online and it's probably because the amount the resort charges doesn't quite live up to the expectations. You can book a better room from a better resort for the same price. It's definitely far from Bellarocca Resort which really has luxurious rooms and amenities. 

Thunderbird Resort Poro Point 

Poro Point Freeport Zone
San Fernando City, La Union
Tel: +63 72 888 7777
Mobile: +63 908 815 8984

June 19, 2014

Breathtaking Boracay

July 5-7 2013. I love celebrating my birthday on the beach! Scorching sun, pristine white sand and crystal clear water -- heaven! 

For this trip, we were choosing between Shangri-la Resort and Discovery Shores. After browsing through reviews and blogs over the Internet, we decided to stay in Shangri-la, which is supposed to be more family friendly. We were not disappointed, this is one of the best resorts we've been to and the whole trip was just awesome!

Ok, so it didn't exactly started out perfectly as our AirAsiaZest flight was delayed for more than three hours. Fortunately, my little angels were in a good mood and busied themselves with playing their iPods while waiting for our flight.

It was a short one hour flight to Kalibo. At the airport, we were met by a representative from Shangri-La who helped us get to a bus going to Caticlan. There are several bus companies and van operators at the airport so getting a transfer on your own will not be a problem. 

Having fun at Kalibo airport
Comfy buses
At Caticlan, Shangri-la has it's own lounge where a private speedboat will take us to the resort. 

Private lounge at Caticlan 
Aboard Shangri-La's private boat

We cruised for less than thirty minutes along the white beach of Boracay and I'm just reminded of how beautiful and breathtaking the place is.

Shangri-La Boracay is just paradise! The atmosphere is so relaxing and the view is just stunning.

Check in was a breeze (you can provide your info and IDs via email prior to your trip to avail of the express check-in). The room is spacious and gorgeous and the bathroom is huge! The veranda has a daybed and opens up to a garden. What I love also is the strong wi-fi connection in the room and free flowing bottled water all through out the resort.

Welcome treats for the kids

Daybeds at the veranda

The pool area is massive -- it's like one huge maze of free-form pools surrounded with landscaped garden and fountains. It's just absolutely beautiful. I know I can't stop gushing, even remembering the place now makes me drool. Haha. 

The beach though is a little dissapointing. The resort has it's own private beach, so it's not that crowded, but the sand is on the rough side (doesn't even come close to the one on White Beach). But of course, this didn't stop us from having a blast.

Snorkeling gear is provided free of charge at the resort. They also have sand-digging toys for the kids.

There's a restaurant at the pool area and they serve yummy and reasonably priced snacks. Me and the hubby stayed under the umbrellas while the kiddos  went snorkeling at the beach and hopped from one pool to another. 

For dinner, we tried their buffet by the beach. The spread is ok and the food is good, though (as expected) a little pricey.

The next morning, we had a hearty breakfast (needless to say it was very delicious) and headed to White Beach. The resort offers a free shuttle that runs every hour. 

We were greeted with powdery white sand and crystal clear, glistening, turquoise water. Not a single trace of lumot!

After walking along the shore and having a sip of the famous Jona's shake, we decided to try two activities -- Banana Boat and Helmet Diving. I wanted to try the Flying Fish but the kids are still too small for it. 

The Banana Boat was a little scarier than the UFO ride we tried in Puerto Galera. Both kids were screaming all throughout the ride. Haha.

The Helmet Dive is waaaay harder than it looks! My daughter was only able to go halfway through the water then decided to go back up. My son was able to go all the way down though he was not able to stay very long. He had a hard time equalizing. Hubby got a terrible headache after. There's a constant noise over your ear and at times it's hard to equalize (you just feel the pressure stuffing both your ears). 

This activity will allow you to see and feed a lot of fish. I just feel like you'll enjoy it more if you know what to expect. I thought it'll be as easy as jumping on the water, putting on the helmet and walking underwater. Just remember that there's pressure underwater and it's going to make you very, very, very uncomfortable.

Dinner at MaƱana Mexican Restaurant

The next day, we stayed at the resort and tried their indoor activities:

Remember to bring socks AND long sleeves for the kids. They need both to play in the indoor play area and use the slides.

All in all, it was a GREAT vacation. I'd say Shangri-la is worth every penny you'll be spending. Just a tip, call or email Shangri-la Boracay directly and ask for their local residents rate -- it's by far the best rate you can get. Even better that discounted rates they offer online.

Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa
Barangay Yapak, Boracay Island
Malay, Aklan
Tel: +63 36 288 4988