Philippine Airlines Manila – Cebu and Hilton Cebu Resort — a continuation of “Cathay & British Airways First Class, Philippines and Macau, a Presidential Suite, and the Fat Duck Restaurant”

A quick ride over to the airport and we were walking into the terminal. Documents checked upon entering, then all bags screened prior to reaching the checkin counter. We each checked a bag and then they weighed our carryons. So we checked two bags. These were not heavy rollaboards — two 20″ bags, not pushing a size limit by any stretch — and there was plenty of space on the flight.

Then we had to stand in line to pay the airport usage tax. They give you a receipt, which is then immediately collected. Then men and women stand in separate security lines. Computers didn’t have to come out, but everyone got a pat down. And off to the mediocre lounge downstairs.

Couldn’t get the wireless internet to work, and didn’t bother trying to convince the agents at the desk to try the age-old “turn it off and turn it back on trick.” So I just checked out the snacks. Nothing special. The lounge was fairly barren, nondescript, and not a particularly interesting place to wait for the flight. So we went into the terminal a few minutes early — much brighter, lighter, airy than the underground dungeon of a lounge.

Boarding was quickly called. Unfortunately, when I had booked the tickets the flight was supposed to be operated by a 747 with new business class seats but our aircraft that day was to be an Airbus with a regional-style seats. Perfectly plausible for an hour-long flight up to Cebu.

The inflight meal was spaghetti and meat sauce, which was surprisingly not terrible for a quick snack.

The Hilton’s car met us outside baggage claim and drove us the short 10 minutes or so to the hotel. We checked in in the club lounge and I realized I left my camera on the plane. Which is why this section of the trip report has so few photos.

The Executive Lounge assistant manager started calling around Philippine Airlines and managed to track down the camera. Then he took a copy of my passport and letter of authorization for the hotel to claim it on my behalf. And it was delivered to my room. The staff at the hotel, and in the lounge in particular, were as friendly and as helpful as any that I’ve met – anywhere.

The hotel itself, on the other hand…

It’s an aging physical plant, and it’s all pink. It’s their motif, and they’ve painted even the cars and their bus pink. The pink is fading and the property looks even older than it is.

Sandwiched in the middle of a working fishing village, the hotel isn’t a secluded oasis. But it does have some fantastic views from the upper floors. And we were given a large suite on the second highest floor with stunning panoramic views of the ocean.

The décor tries to be modern but doesn’t quite hit stylistically. And the water never got especially hot in the shower. The pool and beach area was fine, service there wasn’t especially good, they ran out of towels one day and promised to bring extras to our beach chairs but didn’t remember.

The spa on the other hand was quite good and very reasonable for a resort, with treatments running about US$40 per hour.

Breakfast was never available in the lounge during our stay. Occupancy was pretty low and I snuck a peak at the list of rooms eligible to use the facility. For most of our time there it was only five guest rooms. So we took our complimentary breakfast in the buffet restaurant.

It was typical Asian resort fare with a mix of Korean, Japanese, and local dishes plus standard Western cook-to-order eggs, breakfast meats, fresh toast and the like. The particulars were changed up a bit each day.

What really didn’t work, though, is the Hilton Breakfast branding, cards on the tables, and promotional materials in the rooms. It’s fine for a Western city Hilton hotel, or the median Hilton Garden Inn, but it’s a small thing that really diminishes any sense of place. It’s an observation that repeated itself later in the trip, staying at the Waldorf in London. No proper hotel striving to be unique, luxury, or boutique can survive if it displays Hilton Breakfast corporate-produced materials around the property.

The lounge was a nice refuge, largely because it was so quiet and the staff couldn’t do enough to please. They were bored there, though. Our second evening they even rang us in our room to remind us that they had complimentary cocktails and would we like to come up? (We didn’t.)

This is a friendly place and a decent beach vacation. But the dreary hallways and faded décor make it show its age. The most compelling argument for it is just how inexpensive it is. Actually booking an oceanview suite runs about $130 a night. And when you’re on-property things are generally inexpensive as well — my new standard metric for gauging the costliness of a property is the cost to have a pot of coffee delivered by room service. Here it was all of US$2.50.

Now, not everything is inexpensive. Somewhere along the way I cracked the face of the only watch I was traveling with. So I went into one of the hotel shops, where a cheap knockoff was running ~ $100. I didn’t see anyone buying anything of the sort in the shops, but they continue to insist on silly pricing. I bought a watch to use elsewhere.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ve stayed at that Hilton before and I’m not sure what you were expecting. It is not the Waldorf Astoria, but it is a nice, serviceable Hilton, similar to many of their properties that you would find in the Caribbean. Thanks to my Diamond status, I received the same upgrade as you and also decided to have breakfast in the restaurant (which I always do – given the choice of free breakfast in the lounge or going to the buffet downstairs, I choose the latter because the food selection/taste is almost always better).

    It is a bit odd looking out your window and seeing shacks with dirt floors, roaming chickens and other domesticated animals, but that is part of Mactan island. The pool and beach were OK – nothing special but I was able to see some colorful fish swimming in Hilton’s little artificial cove. I see no mention of Manny O’s wine bar (the round restaurant on the end of the seawall in your photo). Did you try it out? That was great…sitting there having a nice glass of wine and watching the sun go down. They also had a really delicious kobe-beef style hamburger (which they proudly boast as the “best burger in the Philippines”).

    Totally agree with you on the spa…it was a good bargain for the American dollar, although slightly expensive by Philippines standards. If I remember correctly, one of the towers at this hotel is primarily residential apartments owned by rich Filipinos and others who occupy them a few weeks a year. I’m actually surprised that the hotel wasn’t more busy since March is typically referred to as “summer” by the Filipinos, so you’d think that more people would be on holiday. Cebu is a cheap getaway if you need to get out of Manila although Boracay has a better beach.

  2. @Brian, “I’ve stayed at that Hilton before and I’m not sure what you were expecting. It is not the Waldorf Astoria, but it is a nice, serviceable Hilton” agree 100% and matched my expectations completely.

    I really did actually quite enjoy it. My ‘critical’ comments weren’t meant to imply I was unhappy, the property is what it is and is a fabulous value for that it is!

  3. I spent 2 nights here last Dec, it a rather charming property, aging as mentioned but laid back and restful.

    There are some great diving spots near the hotel, the onsite dive center is very expensive but there is a dive center right next door which is very reasonably priced.

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