Travel and Tourism

Plantation Bay is pool of surprises

- Mirava M. Yuson -

MANILA, Philippines - Having previously visited Plantation Bay twice (once during childhood and then as a teenager), wondering whether a third time would be too much proved to be an unnecessary concern upon arriving at the resort. Truthfully, what remained etched in my memory — from 1999 — were the lagoons.

Plantation Bay’s one-of-a-kind pools have always been truly deserving of their appearance in most of the resort’s signature photos. Whether via a machine or just wind power, the slightest current sifting the saltwater, combined with the hyper-realistic outlines of ecru and turquoise, could make even the most diehard beach lover (such as yours truly) question his or her preference. After roughly a decade, the feeling of contentment that arises just from idly floating about in pool to pool has not only remained, but gotten even stronger.

Visiting as a teenager in 2006 meant an introduction to Plantation Bay’s other amenities that, surprisingly, did not involve splashing — not much of it, at least. There was the Mogambo Springs, which has developed quite a reputation over the years as a formidable feature for rivaling many other spas in Asia today. After delighting in going through an entrance shrouded in foliage and resembling a Japanese temple, those aching for face and/or body treatments are whisked off to another realm, to gain a serene glow that might rival the waters itself.

Back then, the period of unabashed Internet geekdom had also reached its peak, and thus, the wireless Internet available almost everywhere was a godsend. Even now, the more muscular guests can be seen browsing their Facebook pages on one of the computers available for use (documents may even be printed) after a workout at the gym. All of these features are enclosed in the Gameroom, where one can also indulge in billiards, table tennis, air hockey, darts, foosball, arcade games, books and game consoles. It’s the perfect place for those who are not as aquatically inclined.

Now, as a full-fledged adult, enjoying Plantation Bay for the third time was to be expected. But by spending 48 straight hours in the resort, more discoveries were made, and the lagoons, spa, and gaming amenities were surprisingly not abused by this third-time’s-the-charm visitor.

Mogambo Springs prides itself on its aura of seclusion and excellent service.

It’s no wonder that the moment one checks in at the front desk, he or she is presented with a map and a guide to all the activities one can do at the resort. As my companion commented, “It’s like Disneyland.” The list of things to do in Plantation Bay has somehow increased exponentially since the last visit, with TV screens now scattered all over, displaying scheduled activities for the week. “Where to begin?” one might be tempted to ask, staring at the screen and trying to make a mental schedule of everything to do. But just like any adult hankering to prove the existence of what is termed “good taste,” it was necessary to cover the basic needs first: start with the food.

Lunch upon arrival was at Savannah Grill, located in one of the quieter edges of the resort. Offering gourmet versions of popular fast food dishes, the restaurant is ideal for families. Dishes like barbecue, chili con carne and onion rings are some of the popular choices, and many have been tempted to try the Grill’s self-proclaimed “best hotdog and burger in the world.”

It’s a very accessible location for lunch and afternoon snacking, situated next to one of the resort’s unique freshwater pools. This one has a one-of-a-kind erupting water volcano in the middle, plus mist caves, rain-makers and bubble-benches on every corner. Afternoon drinks can easily be enjoyed while watching kids whooping outside every time they discover another one of the pool’s intricacies.

The ideal breakfast place is situated at the heart of the resort: Kilimanjaro Kafé is a three-tiered structure (the top two floors acting as a penthouse suite) that is open 24/7 and will satisfy even the strangest midnight cravings. Its breakfast buffet alone offers a myriad of dishes and themed selections that change daily. So if one gets tired of the classic bacon and eggs or bread and jam and fruits combos, poached eggs and Italian sausages will make an appearance one day and be gone the next. Even pasta is available, alongside dishes that have been borrowed from the other PB restaurants’ menus. The buffet lasts until 10 a.m., after which one (having already donned swimming gear, as many guests do before sitting down to eat) can take a dip in the country’s largest freshwater swimming pool. This is right beside the Kafé, and is so large that the sheer space is perpetually inviting for anyone passing by, even though half the hotel may already be in it.

Fiji was the chosen lunch venue for Day Two, though it serves both lunch and dinner. Known for its tempura, the restaurant is fittingly positioned in such a way that one is awarded a spectacular view of the beach and coast. It provides a fusion of Asian cultures (though it specializes mostly in seafood) but remains predominantly and unabashedly Filipino, in its architecture and its servings. One can order classic dishes like crispy pata or try one of the quirkier choices, like one called “Kissing Cousins” — which is essentially comprised of shrimp and lobster.

The fourth and final restaurant in PB is one that uniquely changes form and function depending on the time. By day (starting 6 a.m.), Palermo is a café that serves coffee for those who aren’t fans of room service but also desire a quieter place than Kilimanjaro. Until evening, the café offers desserts, from the classy New York cheesecake to simple homemade ice cream. By 5 p.m., walk a bit further into the establishment and the Palermo restaurant will be open by then. It serves dinner and specializes in reasonably priced pastas and tapas. Couples in particular will enjoy the romantic feel of the Italian-inspired interior (raised ceiling, checkered tablecloth, candles, cushioned seats, the works) while being serenaded by a singer, a skilled pianist at her side. Palermo is one of those restaurants one should definitely try while at PB, preferably before the night gets too late, because that’s when it fulfills its final function of the day — as a bar.

Variety has a whole new meaning at the resort, for other than its restaurants, Plantation Bay now offers very different kinds of dinners depending on the day of the week. Themed buffet meals are offered (though one has to book them at least a few hours in advance) with a distinctly personalized brand of entertainment. The resort staff transforms into a performance troupe by night, and entertains guests with good old song and dance.

Saturday’s theme was Sahara Night, and by sundown the beachfront had been effectively turned into a Bedouin tent. Families could use tables and chairs or hunker around a low table on a carpet covering the sand, with cushions and candles taking the experience one step further. On the buffet menu were — sure enough — middle-eastern-inspired dishes accompanied by popular Indian food. Guests ate while a singer provided the first round of entertainment. After dinner, the actual program began: belly dancers and fire dancers wowed the guests. The belly-dancing instructor even gave on-the-spot lessons to those interested, and raucous cheers could still be heard late into the night. Other themes throughout the week include Filipino Fiesta, CharBQ (a beach barbecue party), Hawaiian Luau and Brazilian Fever. Pick your poison and make sure to attend at least one, for it’ll certainly spice up your stay.

East Lagoon: Plantation Bay’s manmade lagoons could very well pass for the real thing.

In between eating and swimming, too much of each may cause one to end up with the unfortunate combination of both a food belly and prune-y fingers — not exactly great for those who want to maintain their beach body. Although the resort’s gym is well equipped, guests who prefer workouts that are much less strenuous will enjoy the bike station, which is right outside the Gameroom. There are bikes for virtually every size that one can ride for one hour for free daily, thus making him or her more liberal with their diet.

It is common to see entire families zipping through the road that loops around the resort, overtaking calesas and PB’s signature tram that shuttles one from one location to the next. However, one does not need the tram to indulge in the activity of “lagoon-jumping” — for less than 20 steps away is another body of water to explore and gallivant in. The pools are so large it is almost impossible, during a three-day stay, to explore every inch of just one (believe me, I’ve tried). Aqua sports are also available at the beach area, and daily activities like tug-of-war, beach tennis, beach volleyball and sandcastle-making are other recent additions. 

Almost every combination of social group possible can be found enjoying the many amenities, from large families to couples to barkadas. There was even a wedding that took place on Day One, and various social functions went on in some of the many halls available.

Perhaps one of the more subtle aspects that one learns to appreciate during a stay is that no guest feels out-of-place among the rest. Courtesy is provided not just by the staff but by fellow guests who lounge about comfortably alongside one another, in pools or restaurants. It helps that there is no strict dress code implemented, even in the upscale eating areas, and slippers and sandos are welcome. This makes moving from one activity to the next much easier.

Ultimately, the feeling of wistfulness that prevails upon checking out is accompanied by sentiments of wanting to come back again, because there’s still so much to do at Plantation Bay.

(Plantation Bay has an ongoing promo billed Summer Frolix 2011. Filipinos and balikbayans can stay six nights for the price of three, with P4,000 worth of giveaways on food and beverages and island cruises regardless of how long you stay. For more details, visit www.plantationbay.com)










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