Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Transfer Passengers, Delayed Flights, and Running Through NAIA-3

Once upon a time, Cebu Pacific proudly advertised that their flights were 95% on time. Can't remember if that was the right figure exactly, but the point is that punctuality was their strong point. Not that it should matter much-- It's a wonder at all the humans can travel through the clouds at 800 km/h, so who cares about a delay of a few minutes, right? Yet, things always seem to go wrong when it matters the most.

Getting from Dumaguete to Puerto Princesa via Manila with Cebu Pacific was my first time to have to transfer to a connecting flight within the Philippines. I'm not even sure if I'm using the right terminology, that's how rare it is. Before this it has always been a straight trip from source to destination. And when traveling in the Philippines, one of those is almost always Manila.

Dumaguete to Manila

The time between the scheduled arrival of our first flight and the scheduled departure of our second flight was only 55 minutes, so it was with some trepidation that we boarded the plane in Dumaguete well after it was supposed to have taken off.

Already late, it was even more concerning when the plane flew north past the airport and circled Metro Manila seemingly aimlessly. I continued peering out the window as the plane wandered above Commonwealth Avenue and the Batasan complex, then around the grassy hills of Rizal, then the fish pens of Laguna de Bay. For some reason. A plane from Dumaguete to Manila has no business flying above the northern part of Metro Manila. The pilot hadn't announced anything, and he never did.

Airport dash

When we actually landed and got into Manila's NAIA Terminal 3, it was already a few minutes beyond the scheduled boarding time for Puerto Princesa. Adding to the troubles, it seems that the NAIA-3's infrastructure for transfer passengers to get straight back to the pre-departure area was under construction or something, so we had to go the long way-- pretty much just like normal passengers, except without lining up for check-in.

We climbed up the broken escalator, ran past the broken walkalators, up more non-functioning escalators to the check-in area, then through the maze of security checks and bureaucracy. I even had to pay the terminal fee. It's 200 pesos per person to briefly run through an airport terminal that is neither our starting point nor final destination? I was too much in a hurry to be frazzled by the injustice of it. Luckily a kind (or apathetic) soul let me cut to the front of the x-ray machine line when I told him I was already late for my flight.

Finally, out of breath, we reach the fathest end of the most inaccessible gate, and the dude tells us that the flight to Puerto Princesa is delayed. Boarding isn't for another 40 minutes. Heh.

Manila to Puerto Princesa

The delays did not stop there. Even after boarding the plane late, it just sat there on the runway for 20 minutes. I fell asleep, then woke up, and we still had not moved. The scheduled arrival time had already come and gone by the time the plane got to the air. To the pilot's credit, he did regularly give updates of the situation (something about the weather) to the passengers and apologize for the delay.

In the end the plane arrived in Puerto Princesa at 1:45pm, around 1 hour and 15 minutes behind schedule. Yes I did travel over 1200 km in hardly half a day to get to where I was going. But the minutes do seem longer when they're part of a lost hour of the only honeymoon I'll ever have.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Getting a Cebu Pacific Ticket for Palawan

Choosing a honeymoon destination was something that came up on the agenda soon after getting engaged in April last year. In some ways it seemed like more of a thing to look forward to than the actual wedding.

It should be somewhere new and exciting, as me and my then-fiancee are both game for adventure. But also somewhere relaxing to unwind after what surely would be an hectic run-up to a big wedding.

Singapore was an early contender, as we've both never been there before. And it seems like a trip to Singapore is just something people do at our age when they have the energy and the money. But going abroad seems to have its risks, and puts too much pressure on me to see all the sights in a short period of time.

Eventually we settled on Palawan, with its reputation of being the Philippines' final frontier, and its untamed but pristine beaches providing the right mix of excitement and relaxation we were looking for.

Booking a cheap Cebu Pacific ticket

Way back in August 2010, long before we had started to draft a honeymoon itinerary (or even begin to think about it seriously), Loren excitedly contacted me saying that there was yet another Cebu Pacific dirt-cheap ticket sales.

I have no idea how Cebu Pacific is able to sell plane tickets so cheaply. You can look at the payment breakdown on the emailed ticket-- at the most extreme, they pretty much get no revenue from this. They basically give out a limited number of these seats for free, to whoever can race their way through the online booking system fastest.

Now, me, I'm always wary of these promos. Booking tickets that far in advance has often not worked out well for me as plans change, and the cost of rebooking a ticket is usually ridiculous. But it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement when you realize what a bargain it could be. Also, these are seats in demand-- spend too much time thinking about it and you lose your chance.

So, with no research about our destination whatsoever, we decided we could go to Palawan on a Monday morning (two days after our wedding), spend four nights there, and return to Manila on Friday afternoon.

Boom. Five minutes later we have a round trip ticket from Manila to Puerto Princesa for P750 ($17.50)-- for TWO PEOPLE. Cheaper than dirt.

Booking the expensive Cebu Pacific ticket

Fast forward to April 2011, when we actually start to think about what we're going to be doing with our time in Palawan. The capital, Puerto Princesa, is the definitive entry point on the island, but all the reviews say that the real highlight is in El Nido, a grueling 8 hour bus ride away to the north. Our new plan is for 3 nights in Puerto Princesa, and 3 nights in El Nido. It is clear that the originally planned return trip ticket is unusable.

But our ticket actually going to Palawan is still good, right? Well. No. The thing is, although our Palawan trip would still be starting on that day and would require flying from Manila to Puerto Princesa, we're actually coming from Dumaguete. The original idea was that we would buy a Dumaguete-Manila ticket separately, but as it turns out, the gap in time between the arrival of the scheduled Dumaguete-Manila flight and the departure of the Manila-Puerto Princesa flight is just 50 minutes-- not enough time to get to the check-in counter.

After a frustrating call to Cebu Pacific's customer service representative, I was resigned to the fact that the only way to do this would be to buy an all new ticket for Dumaguete-Manila-Puerto Princesa, and the original Manila-Puerto Princesa ticket was unusable as well.

The result

So much for the cheap Cebu Pacific promo fare. But you only get one honeymoon, right? This is as an appropriate time as any to bite the bullet. Total damage:

June 20: Dumaguete - Manila - Puerto Princesa (for 2)
PHP 11,027.52

June 26: Puerto Princesa - Manila (for 2)
PHP 6,639.36

Totally worth it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

7-Day Palawan Intinerary

Palawan is, I think, the most remarkable place I have been to in the Philippines. Puerto Princesa is such a peaceful and homey city, filled with pleasant people and things to do. And God seems to have let his imagination run wild when he made the stunning Bacuit Archipelago in El Nido, with its limestone cliffs rising dramatically out of the waters and hundreds of feet into the sky.

Sunset view from El Nido

Below is our glorious 7-day Palawan honeymoon itinerary-- Puerto Princesa City, Sabang, and El Nido. I was very pleased with the way it all turned out, allowing us to see almost all the highlights, with just enough rest time to keep our sanity.

Day 1 - Monday

8:00am - Check in at Dumaguete Airport
9:00am - Plane departure from Dumaguete Airport
10:00am - Plane arrival at Manila NAIA-3

12:30pm - Plane departure from Manila NAIA-3 (very delayed flight)
1:30pm - Plane arrival at Puerto Princesa Airport

2:00pm - Check in at Hibiscus Garden Inn
3:00pm - Lunch at Balinsasayaw Grill

4:15pm - Butterfly Garden
4:50pm - Baker's Hill
5:30pm - Mitra's Ranch

6:00pm - NCCC Mall

7:00pm - Dinner at Kalui
8:30pm - Back at Hibiscus Garden Inn

Day 2 - Tuesday

6:30am - Check out from Hibiscus Garden Inn
7:00am - Tricycle to the van terminal
7:30am - Van departure from Puerto Princesa
9:00am - Van arrival in Sabang

9:15am - Check in to Sheridan Beach Resort

11:00am - Boat to the Underground River place
12:00pm - Underground River tour
1:00pm - Start Monkey Trail / Jungle Trail
3:00pm - Arrival back at Sabang Beach
3:30pm - Lunch at Daluyon Resort
5:00pm - Back at Sheridan Resort - Rest time

8:00pm - Swimming at Sheridan Resort pool
9:30pm - Dinner at Sheridan Resort's restaurant

Day 3 - Wednesday

8:30am - Breakfast at Sheridan Resort

10:00am - Mangrove paddle boat tour
11:30am - More picture taking and swimming at Sheridan Resort

1:30pm - Check out from Sheridan Resort (late check out requested)
2:00pm - Van departure from Sabang
3:30pm - Van arrival in Puerto Princesa
4:00pm - Check in again at Hibiscus Garden Inn

4:15pm - Lunch at Jollibee
4:45pm - Puerto Princesa Baywalk
5:15pm - Unitop
6:00pm - Palawan Provincial Capitol / Baragatan

7:30pm - Dinner at Kinabuchs
8:30pm - Back at Hibiscus Garden Inn

Day 4 - Thursday

7:00am - Van pickup at Hibiscus Garden Inn
8:00am - Van actual departure from Puerto Princesa
2:00pm - Van arrival at El Nido Airport (drop off at airport was requested)

5:00pm - Boat departure for El Nido Lagen Island Resort
6:00pm - Arrival and check in at Lagen Island Resort

7:30pm - Buffet dinner at Lagen Island Resort
8:30pm - Cultural show

Day 5 - Friday

7:30am - Buffet breakfast at Lagen Island Resort
9:00am - Boat departure for island hopping tour

9:20am - Pinasil Island - Cathedral Cave picture taking
9:45am - Cudugnon Cave on Palawan mainland
10:40am - Vigan Island (Snake Island)
12:15pm - Picnic lunch and picture taking at Entalula Island
2:30pm - Miniloc Island - Big Lagoon tour
3:00pm - Miniloc Island - Small Lagoon kayaking
4:00pm - Snorkeling near Miniloc Island

5:00pm - Arrival back at Lagen Island Resort
5:15pm - Swimming at Lagan Island Resort pool
7:30pm - Buffet dinner at Lagen Island Resort

Day 6 - Saturday

7:00am - Boat departure for more adventures
7:45am - Buffet lunch at Miniloc Island Resort
9:20am - Dibuluan Island - Picture taking, swimming, catamaran ride
11:30pm - Back in Lagen Island Resort

11:45am - Swimming in pool
12:30pm - Buffet lunch

2:00pm - Check out from Lagen Island Resort
3:00pm - Boat departure from Lagen Island
3:45pm - Boat arrival at El Nido Airport; Tricycle to El Nido town
5:00pm - Check in at Rosanna Cottages
5:30pm - Walk through town; Pasalubong shopping
6:30pm - Dinner at Sea Slugs

Day 7 - Sunday

7:00am - Van departure from El Nido
12:30pm - Van arrival in Puerto Princesa

1:30pm - Crocodile Farm tour
2:30pm - Pasalubong shopping at Tiangge Tiangge
3:00pm - Late lunch at Chowking

4:30pm - Check in at Puerto Princesa Airport
5:30pm - Plane departure from Puerto Princesa Airport
6:30pm - Plane arrival at Manila NAIA-3