Over the past week or so, we've told you all about the diving we did in the Philippines and some of the stuff we did outside of the water. One of the things we haven't talked much about is the place we stayed, and who coordinated it all for us.
Back in the US, we met Cheryl Patterson who owns Deep Blue Adventures through friends of ours (she's a hoot by the way!). They focus solely on dive travel so when we decided we wanted to take a dive trip this fall, naturally, we contacted her. Our agent was Terri and basically, we gave her a couple of criteria to work with and a budget, and left the rest up to her. We wanted somewhere warm, not the Caribbean or South America since those will both be easily accessible once we are living in the US Gulf Coast, and sometime in the month of November. She suggested Atlantis Dive Resort in the Philippines. Flights were decently priced (half to 1/3 the cost of what it would have cost from the US) and the resort fit our budget. Plus the Philippines are one of the best places in the world to dive. It wasn't too hard to say yes. She was also great to work with when realizing, shortly after booking airline tickets, that we needed to reschedule due to a big work meeting I had forgotten about.
Time for a little bit of a disclaimer. As of this writing, there is a travel warning issued for the Philippines by the US Department of State. The region identified in the warning is in the far southern part of the Philippines, not close to the island of Mindoro. And while South East Asia is typically thought of as a somewhat dangerous region to travel to, we did not have any problems. Much of this was due to the excellent planning and coordination between Terri and Atlantis.
When we arrived at the Manila airport, there was a resort representative (wearing a shirt with the logo on it making him easy to spot) waiting there to help us with out luggage and escort us to our hotel for the night. Atlantis arranged all of our transfers and hotel stays in Manila (a late arriving flight and an early departing flight made this necessary). We stayed at the Midas Hotel and Casino and it was a very nice hotel, although it seemed like a pity since we spent such a short amount of time there (less than 8 hours). The room service is reasonably priced too, which was a bonus since the restaurants were closed by the time we arrived and we were hungry. Security at the hotel is top notch too. There are guards standing outside with a drug dog that sniffs all your luggage. While this may seem odd, or cause for alarm, it isn't. We think it is mostly due to the fact that it is a casino.
Atlantis staff picked us up again in the morning, helped us with our luggage, and drove us two hours from Manila to Batangas, were we boarded a boat owned by Atlantis to go to Mindoro. The entire time, the staff were friendly, helpful, and managed all of our luggage, including dive gear. We were only responsible for our backpacks (although they would have handled those too, but we didn't feel it was necessary).
Upon our arrival, there was a welcome drink waiting for us, as well as any paperwork that we needed to fill out (mostly for diving). Nearly every staff member greeted us by name, too. They do an amazing job of making you feel both welcomed and like a guest of honor. At the resort, we stayed in one of their deluxe double rooms. It had a full sized bed and a twin bed, making it suitable for a maximum of 3 people. While it wasn't an ocean view, it was quiet and very comfortable (and really, who spend a bunch of time in a hotel room when they travel anyways). The rooms each have their own air conditioner, cable TV (with English channels!), and a safe. The showers were the only problem - they were awesome (hot water, amazing pressure), making it very difficult to actually get out of the shower. An important point to note here, the tap water in the rooms may not safe to drink, so we didn't risk it. So, there is a minifridge with bottled water in each room. The bottled water does have a charge, but a glass of filtered water is free (and unlimited) at the restaurant and bar. The outlets in the room accept both European and US plugs, but the voltage is 220V 50Hz (higher than US). Just something to be aware of if you bring something the is not dual voltage.
Our package at the resort included unlimited boat diving, all meals, and coffee, tea, and filtered water. Alcoholic drinks, pop and smoothies were an additional cost, but were very reasonably priced. And let me say this about the menu, the food is amazing. They have a rotating menu for both lunch and dinner. Each meal, there is the option of a soup (great after diving) or a salad, a choice from four entrees and dessert. Most times, we had a hard time with the meals, not because they weren't good, but because we couldn't decide which one we wanted!
You've already seen pictures of the diving, but the real stars here are the Dive Masters and the boat drivers. They are helpful, courteous, and take care of all your gear (except for mask/fins/camera and analyzing your tanks, which as a responsible diver, you should be doing yourself). All the dive sites are less than a 12 minute boat ride away and even those aren't bad with the beautiful views of the island to look at.
At the end of the day, the dive staff unload your equipment from the boat, rinse it in fresh water and hang it up over night. Each person gets his own ''locker'' which is secured at night. At first we were worried about our gear walking away, but it wasn't an issue at all during the week. The dive gear room is locked and they have security guards on staff all night to ensure gear is not stolen.
The resort also has a camera room. Here, there are different plugs in case the ones in the room don't work for you. They also have large, padded surfaces for opening housing and working on your camera, or letting it dry out. There are also computers for transferring images from a computer to a USB stick or for viewing. You can leave your camera and lights in there if you like since it is also secured overnight.
Down closer to the water is the 50 Bar, where guests gather each night. The local beer is brewed by San Miguel, and was pretty tasty, not to mention cheap. If local beer isn't your thing, they had imports from all over the world that included Heineken, Chimay, Budweiser, etc. They also have wine and liquor available if those are more your fancy. Not being a rum drinker myself, I can't comment from experience on the local rum, but Aaron said it was pretty good.
There is also a dive shop on site. While they don't have a lot of gear, they do stock a number of small accessory type items that you may need during your stay. They also sell T-shirts, dive bags, rash guards (Fourth Element brand :) with the resort logo), and other small souvenirs. All charges from the store, as well as the bar and restaurant, are charged directly to your room, so there is no need to carry cash around the resort. However, if you do need to exchange money, the front desk can exchange a number of foreign currencies into the Filipino Peso. One thing that is common is, for lack of a better term, wandering street vendors. These are people that walk up and down the sidewalk by the resort selling things - necklaces, DVDs, luggage tags, pool cues, pearls, etc. Many of them are pretty insistent, but we found by telling them that we are there to dive, not shop, they left us alone, for that day at least. This was also common in Roatan and I have a feeling this is not unusual in many parts of the world. Just something to be aware of.
The resort also has a spa on site. On our last day there, since we couldn't dive due to flight restrictions, we each booked a massage. It was very reasonably priced and was easily one of the best massages that I have ever had. And it was a 90 minute massage - so relaxing! If you are going there, make sure that you book a massage.
All in all, we were extremely happy with the services of Terri at Deep Blue Adventures and the Atlantis Resort. Given the opportunity, we would really like to go back, and would highly recommend them to anyone else looking to plan a dive trip to the Philippines. There is only one problem with the whole experience: it has probably spoiled any diving we may do in the future and other resorts now have a lot to live up to. If you have any questions about Atlantis, Deep Blue Adventures, or the Philippines, let us know and we will try to do our best to answer them! Check out some more pictures from the resort below.
- Meghan -