Behind the Quirino Grandstand, a sprawling complex houses several facilities that showcase the marvelous life of the aquatic in their own unique and memorable ways. Just by setting yourself a day or two at the Manila Ocean Park and Hotel H2O, you are whisked away from the busy urban life filled with honking cars and rigid, bleak structures of office buildings. In place of all that, you experience seascape, marine life, water fountain entertainment, aquarium walls -- little and big pieces of the underwater world that can make you feel like the Little Mermaid (or Nemo, whoever you fancy more).
Hotel H2O: A Chic Urban Getaway
Water. The most abundant substance in our earth's surface, and what many living creatures call home. It's the element that permeates in all forms of life, and, in the pristine hotel beside Ocean Park, it is its muse.
Hotel H2O boasts itself to be the chic urban getaway of customers seeking a more unique oomph in their hotel experience. Not just any hotel in Manila can offer an unobstructed view of the bay, a breathtaking seascape dotted with lights at night, and aquarium themed rooms enveloped in a classy, stylish package.
Food options abound at the hotel, as Makansutra Asian Food Village and White Moon Bar bar are two establishments just next to each other. The first one is offering Singaporean hawker fare and the other, signature cocktails served al fresco by the bay. I've been hearing that White Moon is the perfect place to catch the sunset. Just lounge at their soft seats, glass or bottle in hand, and let Mother Nature take care of the rest.
If these still do not satiate you tastebuds, the hotel is conveniently connected to the mall. If you're craving for more casual short order items like juices, fro-yo and sandwiches, or looking for old resto faves like Pancake House or North Park, just take a short stroll from the lobby to take your pick.
Bay View Room (rates start at P5,612/night)
I've had the chance to tour Hotel H2O and visit the different rooms they have, and my favorite ones by no contest are the aquarium themed rooms. I like how it added more fluidity and life to a room, and it makes the area less claustrophobic. Take away the colorful fish and the blue waters, you have yourself an average static and windowless room. It was a delight to see little fish dart back and forth the glass walls that I completely ignored the television set blasting American Idol. Hey, I can always catch a rerun of the episode at home, so the little Dorys and Nemos have my complete attention for the meantime.
Aqua Room (rates start at P5,734/night)
Aqua Supreme (rates start at P7,442/night)
The rooms facing the bay are at their most beautiful at night. Pull back the curtains to drink in the view through the glass walls. Calm waters that seem to stretch out forever, peppered with occasional lights coming from ships and boats passing by.
Deluxe Suite (rates start at 15,982/night)
Little details inside the room like the printed haikus made me smile. From the key card to the laundry bags, you get to read little poetry every now and then at Hotel H2O. "Shopping all around; Clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry; Shop until you drop," aptly jazzes up an otherwise plain white shopping bag I found inside the closet. Included also in your stay at Hotel H2O is an entrance to the Oceanarium, to make your stay truly aquatic.
Room rates are inclusive of buffet breakfast, and are subject to service charge and government tax. Children up to 5 years stay for free in parents' room when using existing beds in room.
The Oceanarium: A Deeper Experience
Perhaps the most popular attraction at Manila Ocean Park is the Oceanarium, occupying a large indoor and outdoor area of the complex. You journey around the oceanarium from the outdoor area to the indoor, viewing the freshwater creatures first and then going deeper underwater as the tour progresses. You enter the first section called Agos, where aquariums and ponds are displayed outdoors, alongside crocodiles and friendlier reptiles like turtles.
You then go through Bahura, Laot, and Buhay na Karagatan, experiencing marine life at deeper sea levels. At Buhay ng Karagatan, it gets more crowded by the walkway tunnel with acrylic walls as it is the most famous photo-op in Oceanarium. You end the Oceanarium tour with Ang Kalaliman, Pagi and Pating.
Aside from the Oceanarium tour, a new attraction drawing more crowds is the Aquanaut Voyage (P995 for 10 minutes). Think astronaut adventure, but this time, you're plunged underwater. You get to wear a special diving helmet that makes you breathe safely underwater.
There's also the Glass Bottom Boat Ride (P150) which takes you around the Buhay na Karagatan area of the Oceanarium, and the Dancing Fairies Jelly Exhibit (P150) where you encounter dancing and glowing jellyfish up close. And then, of course, the ticklish Fish Spa (P120), which has you either laughing or freaking out (or yes, both) during the entire process. Either way, you will end up with squeaky clean feet!
The Oceanarium is open Mondays and Tuesdays 10am to 7pm (last selling of tickets at 6:15pm); Wednesdays to Fridays 10am to 8:30pm (last selling of tickets at 7:45pm); Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays 9am to 8:30pm (last selling of tickets at 7:45pm). Admission is P400 (adults) and P350 (children 4.5ft and below). Aquanaut operates Tuesdays to Sundays, 10-11am and 3-5pm.
Aquatica: A Whimsical Water Musicale
Another attraction that's popular to families and children is Aquatica, a whimsical evening show of water fountains, lights and sounds. I was able to watch the 'Maiden of the Sea,' an entertaining show that educates young ones about preserving marine life and the dangers of abusing their habitat.
Three sons of a king set out on a mission to find the maiden of the sea. This maiden is the only one who can lift the curse that has been cast upon their kingdom. The kingdom of Kanimbala was cursed by a goddess because their folk have been abusing their environment.
The show keeps everything light, with bursts of spectacle, using multi-sensory technology -- computer imaging, grandiose water effects, even pyrotechnics. Live actors are also part of the show, dancing and portraying lead characters in the musical. Because of the water works during the entire show, audiences can choose to wear raincoats to avoid getting wet, or just seat themselves higher at the bleachers to avoid the sprays of water.
'Maiden of the Sea' shows are from Wednesdays to Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are P250 (Weekdays) and P300 (Weekends). You can avail of bundled tickets with Oceanarium, or solo tickets just for the show. NOTE: Acquatica is currently under techinical maintenance, and is scheduled to re-open by August 26.
There's no need to fasten your seatbelt for a long roadtrip just to get away from your busy city life. If you want to channel the little Ariel or Nemo in you, just head on to Manila Ocean Park and Hotel H2O to live the life aquatic. "Darling it's better down where it's wetter," as my favorite crustacean would say.
Published operating schedules and prices are subject to change without prior notice. Visit http://www.manilaoceanpark.com and http://www.hotelh2o.com for more information.