A Filipino travel writer shows you how to travel between these beautiful tropical islands and explore the best family resorts in the Philippines.
The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands, and its location just above the equator makes it a tropical destination worth exploring at any time of year. To maximize your time in this country, hop from island to island by plane, boat or nautical highway, where buses travel inter-island on top of barges. Whatever sort of travel your family enjoys, the Philippines offers sun, sand, and warm hospitality year-round.
Here are my tips for booking resorts: If you’re not booking through a travel agent, it’s best to contact the resorts directly. Since most resorts require you to fly into an island, find a package that includes airfare plus resort stay. For local travel agencies, try Lakbay ((632/635-9684, 635-4212; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Wow Philippines ((632/636-1980; 632/636-1926) or if traveling from Cebu, Destinations Specialists. Some resort packages are all-inclusive, which means the stay includes meals and resort activities. These are typical for island resorts where there isn’t much else to do, except enjoy their comfort and service.
Family Resorts on Cebu
Plantation Bay Resort & Spa
Mactan Island, Cebu 6015
If you’d like to experience something other than a chain resort, then I highly recommend Plantation Bay. This five-star resort has man-made lagoons filled with salt water, fresh-water pools, hot tubs and a waterfall surrounding this verdant landscape. The beachfront is relatively small, but the focus is really the plantation-style buildings set around the lagoons. Some rooms have porches that open directly to the water. The resort undoubtedly has a theme park feel, which makes it the type of place one would either love or hate. As a Cebu native, I have always appreciated the local, homegrown flavor it brings to luxury vacations. Kids usually love the eclecticism of the setting, the constant activities like a mini-triathlon around the resort grounds, and the interesting nooks and crannies one discovers around the resort. The no-tipping policy keeps the staff smiling and friendly (guests are charged a 10% service charge, which is then split among all employees at the end of the month). Plantation Bay is 40 minutes away from the city, so the resort is a little world unto itself, with several good restaurants and an outdoor spa.
Shangri-La Mactan Resort & Spa
Punta Engaño Road
Lapu-Lapu, Cebu 6015
Cebu has several luxury resorts, and the Shangri-La Mactan is a favorite among international and local travelers alike. Located on Mactan Island, the five-star resort with its luxurious new spa is just a 25-minute ride to Cebu City, and just 15 minutes away from the airport. Some guests never step foot outside of the resort’s 14 hectares of beachfront property. Shangri-La boasts one of the province’s best shorelines with a marine park that’s perfect for snorkeling or some shallow, scenic diving. The resort also has two pools, a gym, the lushly designed Chi Spa, an Adventure Zone and activity center for kids, and serene landscaped gardens. My favorite part of the resort is the beachside bar called Cowrie Cove. The cool outdoor lounge setting is perfect for sipping a fruity cocktail while taking in the wide expanse of sea and nearby islands. If you can, reserve the lone private table at the end of the wharf. Enjoy a seafood dinner at sunset while sipping a mango shake — Cebu produces the sweetest mangoes in the world!
Family Resorts on Aklan and Bohol
Boracay is the most popular beach destination in the Philippines. Just a 40-minute flight from Manila or Cebu, this island has a 6km stretch of the softest white sand. White Beach, as it’s called, is packed with establishments ranging from 5-star resorts to mom-and-pop shops and cottages for rent. While there is a myriad of luxury accommodations in Boracay, I like the Regency because it’s owned by a local. It also occupies the biggest property on White Beach, which means it has more amenities for the family to enjoy. There are three swimming pools, including a kiddie pool and swim-up bar, a gym, and business center. Weddings and parties are regularly held at the resort’s open-air event space, which sits atop a sprawling waterfall. Resort staff can hook you up with banana boat rides, island tours, snorkeling, SCUBA diving and other marine sports. The Regency’s four restaurants offer a range of international cuisine, though the best meals in Boracay are freshly-grilled seafood. And while Boracay is meant to be enjoyed for its beach, it never hurts to have a reliable, full-service hotel that caters to your needs.
Panglao Island Nature Resort
Bohol is just a short hop away from Cebu. In fact, the best way to get there if traveling from Cebu is by fast ferry service from Supercat (6332/233-7000) or Oceanjet. The ride takes just 90 minutes in a comfortable, air-conditioned cabin where movies are played to make the time pass more quickly. Ferry service is daily with several trips each day. Panglao Island Nature Resort is an example of Bohol’s successful ecotourism campaign. Situated just 15 minutes away from the pier, this resort has managed to create a serene setting that doesn’t compete with the abundance of nature around it. Each guest room comes with a private lanai that faces either a garden or the sea. There is an infinity pool, outdoor jacuzzi, recreation area, gym and sauna. The resort’s most distinctive feature is a small rock island about 500 feet from the sandy white shore. Guests can lounge in this private enclave that has been outfitted with lounge chairs and cabanas, or go snorkeling in the marine park that surrounds it. If you have time, ask the resort staff about trips around Bohol. It’s a province that’s rife with lagoons, caves, historic churches and the famous Chocolate Hills.
Getting to the Philippines & Tropical Beach Resorts
Most international travelers use Manila as a home base, since the capital has the biggest international airport in the country. If you’re not interested in exploring the commercial and historical districts of Manila, the better option is to fly into Cebu. As the 2nd biggest city, Cebu has regular flights to international destinations such as Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. While Manila is a landlocked metropolis, Cebu is an island known for its beaches and is easily accessible from many family resorts.
Getting from one island to another is inexpensive, and there are regular flights from several local airlines. The most expensive one-way trip to any destination should cost just US$120, and flights last about one to two hours. Philippine Airlines (632/855-8888) known as PAL, has the most flights to any destination, though Cebu Pacific (632/70-20-888) comes a close second. In fact, the latter usually has better discount rates. Some islands are only accessibly by small planes. For these, find flights from SEAir (632/849-0100) or Asian Spirit (632/855-3333).
Large cruise liners also ply the inter-island routes, and most trips are overnight. Getting a cabin for the family is not a bad idea, and this way you get to see the other islands en route to your destination. Check out destinations and prices for Superferry (632/528-7000) and Sulpicio Lines (632/232-5361). The information on websites may not be accurate because they have not been update for a while, so make sure you call them.
Wherever you travel around the Philippines, remember that the people are warm and friendly, and are always receptive to foreigners who show an interest in their country. As comfortable as your resort may be, always venture outside of its gates and meet the people who call this pocket of paradise home.