[PHOTO AT LEFT - Cool blue view of the pool and ocean from the pink Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, MAY 22, 2009 (STAR) By Joy Angelica Subido - With down right cheap air fare rates now available to every Juan these days, traveling to some distant island is a more fetching option than stewing in traffic for hours on your way to any of the “nearby” haunts just outside the metro. The only dilemma left is in deciding where to go. With Cebu Pacific’s easy-on-the-pocket airfare deals, the options get even better. Cebu Pacific, after all, flies to numerous Philippine destinations. Flying off to any of your favorite Philippine vacation spots for an action-packed weekend – or even just for a lazy day of relaxation and recharging — will most definitely feel like a judicious way to make the most of what is left of summer.

For us on that particular weekend, it had to be Cebu — the perfect place to relax on the beach or enjoy the urban of a charming city. Although we took the early morning flight, the Cebu Pacific stewardesses were bright, perky and enthusiastic. The airline is well known for the games played on board, where they give out small prizes to passengers. But recognizing that most passengers were still in the Twilight Zone and barely awake at the early hour, there were no such games on our flight. In no time at all, we were in Cebu, whisked through the efficient airport, and deposited right in front of the Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa in Mactan.

The bright, birthday-cake pink color of the hotel effectively woke our group of sleepy zombies and put us in active party mode. The hotel pool is built beside an enclosed lagoon, with the aquamarine and turquoise ocean stretching beyond it. Water enthusiasts will surely be hard-pressed to decide where to swim first.

“The hotel is actually called the pink icon,” said general manager Harald Feurstein. “We cater to a diverse variety of clients.” And as we surveyed a group of golden-skinned youngsters cavorting in the water and silver-haired couples contentedly sipping their cold drinks under the shade of umbrellas, we decided that it was a happy mix. Hilton Cebu marketing and communications manager Sigfred Catalan shares that they have themed beach parties, with a constant extra effort to plan interesting activities for the enjoyment and entertainment of both hotel guests and Cebu locals, while tours can be arranged for both adventurous and lazy souls.

We were definitely in the lazy category. A quick freshening up at the hotel, and then we were off to Olango Island in one of Islands Banca Cruises’ party boats. Known to bird enthusiasts as a prime destination for bird watching, Olango is just five kilometers east of Mactan Island. But part of the fun is getting there. Since the bancas are outfitted with comfortable cushions and beanbags, an iPod dock, plus a cooler packed with cold drinks, one can truly chill out on the ride. Want more of the luxurious lifestyle? One can arrange for an onboard masseuse to soothe away your muscular kinks caused by urban stress.

A quick stop in Talima to try and feed the already overfed fish that ignored the breadcrumbs we dropped overboard, and we were soon on our way to one of the restaurants on stilts that ring the island.

For food enthusiasts, the selection is just glorious. Certainly, food styling is a rudimentary art form here, with all dishes uniformly decorated with random rings of onion and tomato. Definitely not much to look at. But the flavors were simply superb. We had freshly steamed saang shells whose chewy meat was delicious with a dipping sauce of chili-tinged vinegar; fat crabs with orange aligue that we mixed with white, steaming rice; scallops and mussels and shrimps; grilled unicorn fish; crunchy, briny lato or sea grapes and a fat fried eel that looked too brown and ordinary outside, but had delicious, white and cottony flesh within. We washed it all down with long draughts of coconut water. Never mind the bulging swimsuits.

It was an extended luncheon and we still could have stayed longer, but decided to check out Cebu’s city life. We dozed throughout the boat ride to Mactan and the car ride to the city.

As in all Philippine cities, the malls are a big attraction. Cebu is no different. However, we tasted a lovely, light and feathery bibingka in a restaurant called Laguna at an Ayala mall. There was also an ongoing Cebu Pacific promotion during our visit, where unused bus or ferry tickets to Siargao, Cotabato and Dumaguete could be traded for airline tickets. Passengers lined up outside the SM Mall to do just that. Good idea. Saves time to do fun things, we thought, remembering all we did in our few hours in Cebu. The rest of the afternoon was spent meandering around the malls.

One would think that we already had too much to eat. But locals are the best authority in finding gems of local restaurants, and we couldn’t pass up the chance to try out new local fare. Ria Redulla, marketing communications head of the Islands Group who joined us in the banca ride, suggested we try Rica’s in Paseo Saturnino on Ma. Luisa Road and, of course, we did. For supper, the dulong pasta made with tiny fish was delicious, and so was the highly recommended salpicao. Others in our group who had steak, pizza and other types of pasta also enjoyed their meal and we all swore that we would be back to try other items on the menu.

Later that night, as we sipped our cocktails at Manny O’s and enjoyed the sight of our pink hotel, and the fish swimming in the lighted lagoon below, we marveled at how much we were able to do in a day. The amazing thing was that we weren’t tired at all. Well, maybe a bit sleepy after all that gorging on eats. And so it was off to the wonderful spa, a good night’s rest and a hassle-free flight to Manila the next morning. Thank goodness for affordable air travel!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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