What’s in my summer bag

It’s summer! Summer! My favorite time of the year! A time to dream of the beach, get to the beach, swim in the ocean, and everything else that comes after 😀 As a proud veteran of 6+ years of island living, I’d like to think that I’ve perfected the art of packing for the beach 🙂 So here goes: what’s in my (waterproof) gear bag for Summer 2014!

Clockwise from top left:

theislandergirl gearbag_small

Dry Pak waterproof pouch – essential for all electronics. The pouch is padded so it floats when dropped in the water (awesome!). The yellow sealing clip makes it easy to spot too. Comes with a lanyard and a carabiner. You can still use your phone through the pouch (only a very slight muffling of the sound) though using a touchscreen takes some practice. Good thing I use a Blackberry Q10 then 😛

Aquazorb travel towel – superior water-absorbing capabilities at the fraction of the weight of a regular terrycloth towel

Panasonic Lumix TS4 camera – 12 megapixels, waterproof up to 12 meters, shockproof up to 5 feet, and dustproof. Easy to use too. The default “Underwater” white balance setting is excellent in shallow water though it does lose something as you go deeper. But since I use this mainly for beach and snorkeling photos versus a Canon S95 with Ikelite underwater housing for diving photos, it’s all good. This camera has seen action in Orlando, El Nido, Leyte, and La Union. And remember the #1 rule of traveling: take only pictures! 😀

VMV Hypoallergenics Armada Sport 70 sunblock – the best sunscreen you’ll ever use. Excellent protection from UVA and UVB rays, easy to apply, absorbs easily into the skin, no greasy feeling afterwards, and no smell so you can also apply it to your face. I’ve used this for the past 5 years and have no regrets.

VMV Hypoallergenics Essence Skin-Saving Milk Conditioner – something for after the beach. I have sensitive skin so I can’t use just any shampoo or conditioner since whatever I apply to my hair will eventually end up on my face as it washes off when I shower. I love this conditioner because it makes my hair all smooth and shiny and doesn’t cause my face to break out.

O’Neill Superkini – my favorite bikini ever. I have this one plus another Superkini in teal. It’s made of Nanofront fabric that develops 200% more grip between the suit and your skin when wet. Read my full review.

Rusty boardshorts – top tip: shop for boardshorts in SM’s Surplus Shop. They stock brands like Roxy, Volcom, O’Neill, and Rusty but selling at much lower prices compared to other retailers.

Not included in the photo are my Fluidsurf rashguards (Filipino brand, great quality, good price compared to rashguards from Billabong and Roxy) and Flopeds filpflops (the best flipflops ever IMHO).

I brought all the gear described to San Juan, La Union last April and they worked perfectly. I’ll also be bringing the same gear to El Nido and Sagay, Negros Oriental in June when I help MSI in the training of DENR personnel. Yay for thorough field testing 😀

Macy’s guide to surviving Star Wars Weekends

So I’m home from a 15-day trip across the United States (and Canada!) split almost evenly between the two coasts: a few days in Seattle, a week-long cruise in Alaska, then another six days in Orlando. The Orlando leg of the trip was the most tiring by far, partly because it was the last leg but mostly because of all the walking we did in the theme parks. The most tiring theme park? Disney Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends. Woke up at 4:30am, left our hotel at 5:30, fell in line at 5:45 for the celebrity FastPass autograph distribution , entered the park at 7:30, started the day at the merchandise tent at 8am, then finally left DHS at 9:15pm. WOW. For the record, I had a GLORIOUS time and would definitely do it again. However, having a great time at Star Wars Weekends requires some planning and a whole lot of refreshments. Here are my tips to maximize your stay:

1. Get there early. How early depends on what you want to do. If you’re after a FastPass ticket to get an autograph from the visiting celebrities, get there by 6am. I arrived at 5:45am and this is the line I encountered:
line at celebrity fastpass distribution
Even if you’re not interested in getting an autograph, arriving early also means that you get to be the first ones on the major rides and cut the waiting time. DHS opens at 8am during SWW (usual opening time is 9am) so arriving at 7:30 should be fine. Once you’re in, I recommend doing all the major attractions first: the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, the Tower of Terror, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, and Star Tours. We were able to ride Star Tours two times in a row with only 15-20 minutes waiting time in between. There was also practically no waiting time for the Aerosmith ride but my friend wasn’t up for it so I let it go. When we got to The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow at 2pm, the waiting time was listed at 45 minutes but ended up being longer. We had to leave the line to make it in time for our 3:20pm slot for the autograph signing with Sam Witwer.

See the Star Tours line at 10am. Not bad, eh?

2. If you want an autograph from the visiting celebrities, arrive at the park before 6am to guarantee a FastPass for the signing. They distribute a limited number of FastPasses per day (wasn’t able to get the exact number). If you get there later, say around 7am, you’re most likely to get a standby ticket. “Standby” means that you aren’t guaranteed an autograph but have a good chance of getting one depending on how fast the guaranteed line is progressing and if the celebrity is up for it. Just a reminder: each person is allowed only ONE FastPass autograph ticket. Basically, choose the celebrity you would most like to meet. No substitutions will also be allowed. The FastPass also comes with a wristband and you need both at the autograph signing. If you want your kid to be able to meet the celebrities, they better be there in line with you too. The way other folks got more autographs is that they had other family members line up for the other celebrities and just give them the photos to be signed. I saw a guy and his autographed photo collection lined up for Sam Witwer, his dad for Tim Rose, and his mom for Warwick Davis.

What you get for waking up at 4:30am: Please note the mistake they made regarding the character that Sam Witwer voiced in TCW *facepalm*

3. Go on a Friday. It’s (relatively) the least busy of the three days.
4. Prioritize. Accept that you will not be able to do all the SWW events AND all of the regular DHS attractions in one day. Once you get the schedules of the SWW activities and the regular DHS attractions, set up your schedule for the day.
Our schedule:
  • Darth Mall
  • Star Tours (twice!)
  • 11:00 am – the “Legends of the Force” celebrity parade
  • 12:00 pm – “Behind the Force: Star Wars Voices” (Ashley Eckstein, Sam Witwer, and James Arnold Taylor)
  • lunch
  • 1:45 pm – Indiana Jones stunt show
  • fell in line at the Captain Jack Sparrow ride but had to leave because the line was too long
  • 3:20 pm – autograph signing with Sam Witwer (!!!)
  • missed the 3:30pm “Stars of the Saga” show with James Arnold Taylor because the autograph signing ran late so we arrived at the theater at 3:45 pm
  • 5:00 pm – “An Ewok’s Tale – My Short Story” (Warwick Davis)
  • 6:30 pm – “Obi-Wan and Beyond” (James Arnold Taylor)
  • 8:00 pm – Hyperspace Hoopla
Please note that the only regular DHS things we were able to do were the Indiana Jones stunt show and Star Tours. No photographs with the costumed characters too, though I purposely skipped this because hey, my friends and I regular dress up as Star Wars characters anyway 😛 If you want to have photos taken with all of the characters, be prepared to cull even more events from your schedule and/or to get show seats that are in the back of the theater.
5. The one-stop shop for event merchandise is the “Darth Mall” tent. However, if all you’re after are small items like event shirts, mugs, glasses, pins, and the like, there’s really no need for you to brave the crowds at the Mall since these items are scattered in the other gift shops around the park. Going to Darth Mall is only worth it if you’re going to buy a lot of toys, collectibles, and artwork (and Ashley Eckstein’s Her Universe line) since you’ll find them all in one place. If you’re going to Darth Mall, get there early as well to avoid the lines.
6. Be patient! And either bring a friend who loves Star Wars just as much as you do or someone who likes you enough to willingly subject themselves to the immense crows and long lines.
7. Drink lots of water. Seriously. It was freaking hot.
8. Bring something to read or a friend. Waiting in line may get boring. Another option is chatting with the other people in line.
9. No whining.
10. Have fun!
And those are my tips for a kick-ass time at Star Wars Weekends. My feet ached and I had no money left but hey, IT WAS WORTH IT. It was an experience I’ll never forget and something I look forward to doing again in the future. May the Force be with you! 😀

Amazing Alaska: wandering around Juneau

This trip had me exploring a place that never in my wildest dreams (okay fine, maybe in my wildest, most fervent dreams) did I think I’d ever visit. Alaska always seemed so remote, and yes, so amazing, that setting foot there just didn’t seem possible. That changed because of a semi-serious joke that an Alaskan cruise would be the perfect venue for a family reunion. Because why the heck not?

Our cruise started out in Seattle, then went on to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, then Victoria in Canada. Each place stole my heart in its own way.

Juneau is the state capital of Alaska and is one of only two state capitals that aren’t accessible by land (the other one is Honolulu, Hawaii). Because of the rugged terrain surrounding it, there are no roads leading to Juneau. The city is only accessible by sea and air (cars are loaded on a ferry). Our tour guide told us that Juneau International Airport qualifies as “international” because of the one flight a week to Canada via Alaskan Airlines but alas, I have yet to find that route (yes, I actually checked Alaska’s website).

01 Juneau downtown

Juneau’s modern history, as with most Alaskan towns, started because of the gold rush. The city is named after prospector Joe Juneau. It used to be called Harrisburg, after Juneau’s co-founder Richard Harris, but the local Tlingit ended up not liking him very much and shifted their allegiance to Juneau. Tlingit Chief Kowee guided Harris and Juneau to the mouth of Gold Creek in 1880, where the two struck gold.

So what’s there to see in Juneau?

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The Peninsula Manila – a tranquil oasis in the heart of Makati CBD

When most people think of vacations, they usually imagine far-flung places where they can laze in the sun and be waited on hand and foot. Unfortunately, traveling to said far-flung place means time spent on the road and if you’ve only got the weekend to spare, that’s time you can’t afford to lose. The popularity of the “staycation” has increased over the years and there’s no better place to retreat to than The Peninsula Manila in Makati.

Opened in 1976 to coincide with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Conference in Manila, the Peninsula Manila is the first Peninsula hotel outside of Chinese territory. It’s located on the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues in the heart of the Makati Central Business District, just across the street from the Glorietta and Greenbelt malls. This makes it perfect for both business and leisure travelers, as well as Manila residents looking for a quick and convenient escape. There are 497 rooms and suites in the two towers – the Ayala and Makati towers, respectively – including the 372 sq m Peninsula Suite (it’s bigger than my house!). The Peninsula Manila is home to five restaurants and two bars, including their iconic lobby area simply called The Lobby.

When your lobby is this grand, there’s no need to think of a separate name for it. The Lobby says it all.

I entered the Pen’s lobby after a 15-minute walk from the bus stop across Glorietta. It was raining and my fold-up umbrella could only protect me for so long. Confession time: this was only my second time to visit the Pen, the first being years ago during my grandparents’ 50th anniversary reception in one of the function rooms. It was nerve-wracking to go inside knowing that I was only a couple of steps above “bedraggled”. The nervousness disappeared once I got a good look around the Pen’s famed lobby. The place really does deserve to be called The Lobby as no other hotel lobby I’ve been in so far can compare to it. I found the Front Desk quickly enough, where I met the friendly Rowi who escorted me to the elevators and took me up to the room. Nothing if not efficient!

The Deluxe Rooms are the room category above the Superior Rooms, measuring 41 sq m and with a view of the park. The king-sized bed and the heavy yet soft pillows are the perfect place to rest while watching movies on the 40″ LCD TV with cable TV. Just lying on the bed made me want to fall asleep right there and then, cuddling the pillows. I marveled at the bedside panel used to control practically everything in the room: the lights, air-conditioning, TV, radio, plus the “Do Not Disturb” on the door. You can also use it to call the Front Desk and Room Service! (Yes, I’m a newbie when it comes to stuff like this.) There’s also free wired and wireless Internet access (a must!) and a kick-ass executive work desk. There’s also a coffee and tea-making unit in the room. Then there’s the matter of the bathroom. It is possible to fall in love with a bathroom? A tub, separate toilet and shower stalls, a huge mirror, and large, white, and fluffy towels and bathrobes? I’m sold! The standard room amenities include a daily fruit platter and newspaper.

I wouldn’t mind waking up in a bed like this day after day. And the executive work desk is boss.

Have I mentioned how divine the food at the Peninsula is? Escolta is home to their delectable buffet breakfast (included in the standard room rate). I consider breakfast the most important meal of the day and Escolta’s spread did not disappoint. From miso soup, dumplings, and mini siopao to eggs, sausages, bacon, and waffles, to pastries, cereal, and fruit, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The food was so yummy that I filled up two plates. Not my finest moment to be sure, but I can’t the regret savoring those bites of blueberry danish as they melted in my mouth. One tip from me: leave room for their ice cream!

The entrance to Escolta
My second breakfast plate. I regret nothing.

Walking around and exploring the pool area was a must after eating such a heavy breakfast. It was warm and humid – practically how yesterday was except that it wasn’t raining. Part of me envied the people lounging on their chairs and soaking up the sun but another part welcomed being in the shade. My bid to start digesting breakfast failed when the pool bar staff offered fresh fruit skewers. Curse the fruits for looking so good!

I left the Peninsula counting the days until I come back. There were so may other places to explore: Old Manila for modern European food, Spices for Asian cuisine, and The Peninsula Spa to reward myself after long days at work. Now I know where I’ll be spending my birthday!

Many, many thanks to Meet Manila and The Peninsula Manila for making this experience possible. As one of Meet Manila’s Empowered Travelers, The Peninsula Manila sponsored my Peninsula experience, including the room and breakfast buffet at Escolta. Please note that while my experience was sponsored, The Peninsula Manila had no editorial control over the content of this post. I raved because I was impressed by everything they had to offer, including excellent rooms, good service, and mouth-watering food.

A full belly and aching feet in Puerto Princesa

The previous post is up here. Yes, it’s taken me this long to write about the second part of my Puerto Princesa adventures. This trip happened last July 8-9. *hangs head in shame*

We woke up at 7am because we needed to get an early start for the day’s activities. The latest we could leave Puerto Princesa was 5pm so that we’d arrive in El Nido at the somewhat reasonable hour of 11pm. Since breakfast wasn’t included in the room rate (boooo), we checked out of the inn and had breakfast in Jollibee.

Hibiscus Garden Inn’s small restaurant. Breakfast ought to be included in the room rate since there’s nowhere else nearby to eat.
All hotels should come with hammocks.

Continue reading “A full belly and aching feet in Puerto Princesa”

Eating my way through Puerto Princesa

I work in El Nido, a municipality on the northwestern side of Palawan. The funny thing is that people are always surprised they I tell them it takes 6 hours non-stop to travel from El Nido to Puerto Princesa by land. First: Puerto Princesa is on the opposite side of Palawan so you travel via old logging roads turned paved roads that hug the side of the mountains. Even though you’re traveling on flat land, the winding and swerving road from El Nido to Puerto Princesa feels worse than Kennon Road going up to Baguio. Second: the road from El Nido to Taytay isn’t paved. During the dry season, it’s dusty as hell. During the wet season (when we traveled), the road is littered with deep potholes that need to be avoided or traversed carefully. I went on my first El Nido-Puerto Princesa road trip last July 8-9 when we went to Puerto to buy stuff for Family Day.

Rural Palawan from the van window
The long road ahead of us
They’re paving the road very, very very slowly.

Continue reading “Eating my way through Puerto Princesa”

Remembering Australia (part 1/?)

I’m finally getting around to organizing the photos from my trips these past few years in preparation for finally getting them printed in their respective photo books. The process is both time-consuming and rewarding. The one I’m working on now is for a trip to Australia in 2010, where my friend and co-worker Rima and I attended a conference in Townsville, went on a post-conference field trip to Cairns, then flew back to Sydney for some R&R. It wasn’t my first time in Australia (visited Sydney and the Gold Coast in 2005) but it was my first trip abroad with a friend instead of family.

Our itinerary was pretty packed:

Day 01 – Manila-Singapore, layover in Singapore, leave Singapore in the evening
Day 02 – arrive in Sydney in the morning, transfer to Townsville, conference meet-and-greet
Day 03 – conference proper, dinner at The Cultural Centre
Day 04 – off-site session (I got to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef!), dinner at the hotel banquet hall
Day 05 – conference proper, dinner at the the Billabong Sanctuary
Day 06 – conference proper, farewell dinner
Day 07 – post-conference trip to the Cardwell Bush Telegraph Heritage Centre and the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway on our way up to Cairns
Day 08 – snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef with Quicksilver Cruises
Day 09 – Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Day 10 – fly to Sydney, visit the Sydney Aquarium
Day 11 – the Sydney Opera House (of course!), the Sydney Fish Market, and The Rocks
Day 12 – Wild Life Sydney (it was still Sydney Wildlife World when we visited), Sydney Tower, Manly, and Darling Harbour
Day 13 – fly back to Manila via Singapore. Awww 🙁

Day 01: Singapore

Rima gave me free reign over our entire itinerary (MWAHAHAH!) so I chose the Singapore Airlines flight with an 8-hour layover in Singapore before proceeding to Sydney. Why the heck would anyone choose to have a long layover? Because Changi Airport is freaking awesome, that’s why 😛

  • They offer free city tours to folks with layovers of 5 hours or more (my main reason for wanting the long stay).
  • They have a bajilion duty free shops and restaurants.
  • They have shower areas! And free Wi-Fi! And free computer stations! (I got to shower and change before the Singapore-Sydney leg.)
  • They have a butterfly garden, movie theaters, and super comfy couches. And a giant slide. Did I mention the giant slide?

[slideshow]

Day 02 – Townsville!