Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hotel Review: Hotel Jen Manila (Why Millennials Will Love It)

I booked a stay at Hotel Jen Manila last June for a staycation with my husband and daughter, and my nieces. My brother Che and sister-in-law Joy left for Palawan with two of their kids but had to leave behind Joanna who was going to summer school. Jenna opted to stay behind with her sister.

I chose Hotel Jen because we received an overnight stay there as a wedding gift from a dear friend who works at the hotel and her husband who’s our co-worker. I gave the deluxe room to my nieces and booked us an executive suite because we needed a bigger space for Jia’s crib and an extra bed for her nurse.

Hotel Jen is part of the Shangri-La Hotels and Resort Group so I knew it was professionally run. Our experience was even better than I had expected.

Check-in was prompt and friendly. Our suite came with lounge access; my nieces’ room did not. But at check-in I was informed that they could be given lounge access throughout our stay for just an additional Php1,500.00. Not a bad deal.

On our way to the elevators, we noticed a big map of Manila taking up an entire wall. The historic landmarks of the city were highlighted. On the map were different colored Post-It notes containing tips and remarks left behind by previous visitors. Guests are invited to scribble and post a note. Beside the map were an Instagram frame and a freestanding letter J accent piece where guests are encouraged to take photos for sharing in social media, with the promise of a prize (an overnight stay) to the best post.

Afternoon snacks were being served at the Club Lounge called Windows By The Bay when we arrived so that’s where we headed. We were famished! The lounge was cozy and cool, with a sweeping view of the bay area. The teenagers quickly parked themselves on the bar stools to soak in the view while we adults went straight to the buffet table.

When I saw our room, I was even more impressed! At 72 sqm., it was so spacious that we had our own walk-in closet and plenty of space for our toddler to practice her walking.

Later, we had a buffet dinner at Kitsho, the Japanese restaurant at the ground floor. The sashimi and sushi were served in a buffet spread while the hot selections were cooked as you order, based on your choices from the a la carte buffet menu. Buffet price was Php1,500.00 for two persons.

My husband loves listening to live bands so he stayed behind at the lobby lounge while the girls and I went back to the room. He was a bit turned off that smoking was allowed inside the lounge, even if it was closed off from the rest of the lobby. He was also a bit let down by the quality of the band. I’m sure this can be addressed because there are so many talented Pinoy bands out there.

We had breakfast the next day at Latitude. The selection was ample, and I noticed that, in one corner, there were to-go boxes and plastic cutleries that guests can use to pack away their breakfast in case they’re up for an early tour start. Very handy. Beside this was a mobile phone charging station.

We didn’t get to do much the rest of the day because it was raining hard. It’s a pity because there are plenty to see in that area and you need not go far. The hotel is right across CCP, which is popular for biking and picnics and some fantastic plays. It’s also a short distance from Luneta and Intramuros, which are always worth a visit.

As we were leaving, my husband said, “I’d like to come back here.” I concurred, pointing out that, for all the privileges we got, the suite was not expensive. And I got to earn Golden Circle points because it was a Shangri-La property. “Yeah,” he agreed. “And the beer is cheap,” he added.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hotel Review: Raffles Makati (Why It's My New Favorite Hotel)

I didn’t get to treat my husband for Father’s Day last year because we were still reeling from all the changes that having a little one brings (for me, breastfeeding was particularly challenging). Since our daughter is bigger, I decided that for his second Father’s Day, we should celebrate in style.

I booked us a Junior Suite at Raffles Hotel. I got this at a 50% discount using my Citibank Premier Miles card. I love the promos in Citibank’s Love To Dine and Love To Travel. Yes, I have a weakness for discounts. Not a paid post, by the way.

The minute I set foot on the hotel, I felt welcome. How can I not when the doorman greeted me, “Mrs. Gallares, welcome to the Raffles Hotel.” Very personalized.

The lobby, though not as elaborate nor grand as Shangrila’s or The Peninsula’s, was tastefully done and so much to my liking. It had all the charm and elegance of a quintessentially British drawing room, separated from the Writer’s Bar with floor to ceiling bookcases. Seeing books instantly made me feel comfortable. The Writer’s Bar is just the perfect venue for an afternoon tea and a date with the girl friends.

When my husband and I saw our suite, we reconsidered the look of our new house, which we are renovating. The room was exquisite, with hardwood flooring, luxurious linens, an intimate parlor, a bath with double sink, and the dreamiest soaking tub.

Each room is assigned a butler. Ours was Carl, who showed us the features of the room and was promptly at our doorstep whenever we needed anything.

Of all the Philippine hotels I have stayed in, Raffles Makati hits the highest mark in terms of service, which is at once attentive yet unobtrusive. All throughout our stay, I received warm smiles and all my requests were promptly attended to.

My husband and I slipped away from our daughter for about two hours to dine at Mireio, which serves our favorite Provençal cuisine. My husband loved his steak while I relished every bit of my clams marinières. The clams came with frites but I opted for the crusty bread to sop up the juices with. We had a fine meal.

The complimentary petit fours

Breakfast was at Spectrum, which the hotel shares with Fairmont Hotel guests. The selection was not extensive but well-curated.

The regular rate includes breakfast, and all-day refreshments, classic afternoon tea, and evening cocktails and canapés at Writer's Bar. Worth every penny.

Raffles Makati is an all-suite hotel that is small and intimate so you receive a proper amount of attention. Upon checkout, I was presented by My, the front office manager, with a box of chocolates from Café Macaron as a parting gift.

This is the kind of hotel I would go back to, again and again. And the great news is, it is now part of the Accor group (together with Sofitel, Novotel, etc.) so I can use my stay to continue racking up Accor loyalty points soon (integration is within 18 months).

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hotel Review: Manila Hotel (Why It's A Good Idea to Stay and Dine)

The lobby
Back to regular programming.

I’ll always have fond memories of Manila Hotel. When we started dating, my husband would take me there either Saturday or Sunday afternoons to enjoy the merienda buffet at Café Ilang Ilang. We stopped going when traffic became so bad and new favorites took its place.

Our recent stay there was unintended. I already made a booking at Hotel Jen but cancelled at the last minute when I received an email informing of a whole-day aircon shutdown during our scheduled stay. Since our booking was mainly for the purpose of being near the US Embassy for my husband’s visa renewal and my daughter’s visa application, I had to look for another hotel within the area. I decided on Manila Hotel for a change since we’ve been to Sofitel several times and it was one of the best options for our embassy appointment.

I made sure to book one of the newly renovated rooms. Online booking sites don’t have this info so I decided to do the reservations over the phone.

I love the lobby. The gigantic capiz chandeliers make quite an impression.

After we checked in, we went back to Cafe Ilang Ilang for merienda but learned that their mid-afternoon buffet has been scrapped to make room for an expanded lunch and dinner buffet offerings. We sought our snacks at the lobby.

An amiable waiter suggested their eat-all-you-can bar bites consisting of Filipino street food such as Ilocos empanada, ukoy, and pork barbecue. At only Php500 per person, it was a no-brainer.

We were stuffed after merienda. I wanted Jia to experience riding in a calesa so I told our helper to hail one for us at Rizal Park.

The calesa took us past the US Embassy and through the length of the Baywalk but halfway through, Jia dozed off. When we got to Luneta, the kutsero (coachman) asked if we wanted to proceed to Intramuros. I would have wanted to but my kuya and family were waiting at the hotel and Jia was asleep so we decided to save that for another time.

Instead, we went for the dinner buffet of Cafe Ilang Ilang. I was so pleasantly surprised by the spread! I think this is one of the best buffet offerings in Manila in terms of food quality, variety, and value for money. I urge you to try it.

The buffet is Php2,450 per person but BDO debit and credit card holders get a 50% discount. Luckily, my husband is a BDO depositor.

Thanks to our perfect location, we were able to enjoy the buffet breakfast and made it to our 8:30 a.m. appointment right on time and was in and out of the US Embassy in 30 minutes. Advice to those who are coming for an interview, leave your mobile phones at home or hand it over to someone (someone you know!) who can wait for you at the gate.


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