Admittedly a novice when it comes to travel in the Philippines, Tom has had the local's-eye view as his tour guides have all been family.
Highlights of Our Stay at Graceland
This inaptly named country club offers a lot for visitors, but if you want to knock tiny balls into little holes with a stick, this is not the place for you. The "golf course" consists of two or three putting greens that are more rock than dirt and are hardly green. But that's not why people go to Graceland.
There Are Loads of Fun Activities
On the sprawling grounds, you'll find plenty of other activities to keep you busy. There is an indoor shooting range, a small but fun zip line, a rock climbing wall, obstacle course, tennis courts, basketball and volleyball courts, bike rentals, horseback riding, swimming, paddle boats and, for those desperate for water sports who aren't prone to motion sickness, you can even rent a jet ski and ride it in tight circles around the man-made but delightful lagoon.
The Food Is Superb
My favorite recreational activity at Graceland has always been eating; the restaurant has one of the finest chefs in the Philippines, and for those unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine, this is a superb place to become friends with the fantastic food. Breakfasts are included in the room rental fee, and all of the selections are terrific, but if you want to try the best noodle dish you will ever eat, get the miki bihon pansit (try not to drool on the table!). All dining is outdoors, but covered, naturally, as it rains half the time and no one enjoys soggy food. Most tables offer excellent views of the lagoon and beautifully landscaped grounds, and on Saturday nights a singer/guitarist serenades late diners. My wife and I had the most romantic evening of our lives here.
Not Everything About Graceland Is Perfect
The country club villas are luxurious, impressively detailed, expensive and were off limits to us, so all that I can tell you about are the apartelles (rental rooms). Each ground floor room has a patio, and every upstairs room has a large balcony. The rooms are of adequate size and include a bar with a sink, and the view from each is wonderful. What's more, the beers in the minibar (San Miguel, of course) actually cost less than they do at the restaurant/bar. Those are the good points when it comes to accommodations.
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The Apartelles Don't Have the Best Amenities
- Be warned: the beds do not have mattresses or pillows. You have to order these and pay extra when checking in if you want such amenities.
- Extra towels will also cost you, though not much.
- The showers will annoy you. Each one has an instant-flow water heater, which is something I usually favor, unless it's electric, as these are. If you want lukewarm water for your shower, you will be bathing under a trickle and there is no bathtub, so forget about that option.
- The air conditioners are inadequate for the size of the rooms, and they rattle and sometimes spew warm air instead of cold. Be sure you test the AC before the busboy leaves when you check in. In any case, I recommend that you buy a tabletop fan when you arrive in the Philippines (220 volts, of course) and take it everywhere you go. You will want the breeze while lounging in your private patio or balcony.
Communication Can Be Tricky
This resort caters to Filipino families, so if you don't speak Tagalog communication may be difficult, though never impossible (it helps if you speak slowly—not condescendingly—and separate each word, as most Americans have a habit of combining every word in a sentence while speaking, as in, "How'sitgoing?").
But Wait, There's More!
The wonderfully laid out grounds include a deer park that seems oddly out of place, though the deer seem content and the background consists of an excellent view of Mount Banahaw (and yes, it is a volcano, though it hasn't blown its top for quite some time). A well-appointed playground lies within sight of all the apartelles so that parents can keep an eye on the little ones while relaxing in their patio or balcony.
Graceland is a great place for long walks; however, if one of your walks leads to a stone, picturesque stairway leading down behind the registration office, do yourself a favor and take a couple pictures from above and don't go down. At the bottom are two muddy cement ponds (not swimming pools in the vernacular of the Beverly Hillbillies), a polluted river rapid lined with litter and a slum situated across the filthy river. Don't harsh your buzz by going down.
As of August 2018, apartelles range in price between P3,000 and P3,600 per night (about $56–$68, depending on the exchange rate) at peak season, which is December. The more accommodating accommodations range from P6,500 to P8,500 per night (about $122–$160). If you go off-season and book your room through an online travel site, it will cost considerably less.
Pro Tip: The apartelles only offer views of the main grounds, but if you're an early riser, as I am, check out the most spectacular sunrises you'll ever see behind the buildings.