By CJ JUNTEREAL
Staying at Discovery Shores Boracay is like coming home— even if it’s your first visit. I have to admit though that it’s like coming home to a mansion, luxurious but homey if such a thing is possible. I think it’s because of the staff, and those genuine smiles they gave me as I stepped out of the van at the entrance and they handed me a drink and a cold towel. Several local hotels now have their staff greet guests with a hand-over-heart gesture, but I remember that the Discovery hotel group was the first to do that several years ago, as a gesture to symbolize Filipino hospitality. It seems cheesy sometimes, but it’s a reminder to both staff and guests that genuine hospitality comes from the heart.
But then again, it could also be because of the comfortable, luxe, light-filled suite that I stayed in during a media preview of Discovery Shore’s new Signature Suites, a collection of just 11 exclusive suites located in a new wing of the resort—sort of like the club or executive floor of a hotel. Each suite (there are no regular rooms here) has a full-sized living room and a dining area and opens up into a large balcony that has a private lounge pool and deck chairs for catching some sun. The balcony can be accessed from the bedroom too. The suites are decorated in restful colors—neutrals, light-colored wood, and accents in shades of blue that recall waves and sea foam as they wash up on the shore. The bedroom has a table by the window; not a desk that makes you think of the office, but a table perfect for writing or journaling, or daydreaming as you gaze out at the sea and pretend to work. The en-suite bathrooms are huge, with a separate bathtub and television, and a Dyson hair dryer.
The luxury suites
The Signature Suites are filled with small details that show that management thought about guests’ needs with their hearts. The Dyson hair dryer in the bathroom is a wow factor, but a set of brightly colored rubber toys for playing in the bathtub is heartwarming. As is the Himalayan salt lamp and the essential oil diffuser that I found tucked away under the bathroom sink. I bring my essential oils everywhere, so it’s nice to know that I can set the diffuser on the bedside table and leave it on all night. In the dining area, a fancy coffee maker is standard for luxury resorts these days, but the small tray of packaged snacks and a jar of delicious buttery cookies baked in-house is something special. All the drinks and things in the mini-bar are complimentary and replenished each day. There are glass carafes of water instead of plastic water bottles, and after the first evening when I asked for a bucket of ice, it was replenished daily. Each day, an afternoon snack was sent to my suite—just in case I didn’t feel like walking down to the Great Room for complimentary snacks and drinks.
The Great Room is Discovery Shores’ equivalent of a Club Lounge, with televisions, comfortable sofas, and private reading nooks. I never really saw anyone use it because the suites already have everything, but it’s where I met the Guest Experience Maker (GEM) assigned to me. Guests at the Signature Suites are assigned a personal concierge to assist in planning their vacation and handle other requests.
The resort is compact instead of sprawling and built up into the hillside. With buildings that have whitewashed walls and simple lines, greenery lining its walkways, and the blue sea on the horizon, climbing the stone steps that wind up towards the Signature Suites has the feel of Santorini. It also felt pretty tranquil because I couldn’t hear any sounds from the pool or the beach.
The stairs continue on to the roof deck and open up into 360 Roof Lounge, which is available only to Signature Suites guests. The lounge has Jacuzzis, an infinity pool, hammocks and deck chairs for lazing around, and a bar that serves pretty good cocktails and bar chow. Erwin Lopez, the resort’s manager, told me that the Signature Suites are sometimes booked by large families who practically take over most of the 11 rooms and the exclusive 360 Roof Lounge for a fun family reunion.
I was tempted to cocoon in my suite and live off 24-hour room service and drinks on the roof lounge, but Boracay’s finally clean white sands beckoned, and I wanted to check out the other restaurants. Deck chairs aren’t allowed on the beach anymore, but Discovery Shores has managed to solve this problem. A beach butler laid out a mat, a giant towel, and a pillow for me—under the sun but near enough to Sands restaurant that I could get drinks and food if I wanted to.
Eats by the beach
Sands is the resort’s main restaurant, a beachside café with an extensive menu that serves just about anything a guest desires. And unlike many mediocre places I’ve tried in Boracay, the food is genuinely good!
The Filipino section of the menu probably has some of the best dishes on the island. I was told that the kitchen staff, all of whom come from different provinces, made it a point to learn the true flavors of each other’s regional cuisines.
I’m not really a fan of Humba, but Sands serves the best I have ever tasted—slices of pork belly so tender that the fat jiggles like jelly, bathed in a sticky sauce just this side of sweet with a salty counterpoint from fermented black beans. And then there was Bacolod Kansi—the broth sunset orange from annatto seeds and faintly sour from batuan, with chunks of meaty jackfruit, fall-off-the-bone meat, and finger long green chilis—plus fat crabs with Zamboanga’s famous Alavar sauce, and a mound of garlicky fried rice with crisp shards of salted fish that could convert even the most resolute carb-hating person.
Just beside Sands is the smaller Indigo restaurant, which serves grilled dishes for lunch, and a more upscale continental menu at night. The grilled dishes are spot on, especially when one is sandy and sticky from a morning at the beach. The prawns, crabs, and shellfish are just kissed by the flame and served with fire-roasted garlic, grilled lemon slices, and dipping sauces. The chefs have their timing right, and nothing is overcooked. Barbecued baby back ribs also hit the spot, sticky-sweet and falling off the bone.
I was happy that the resort chooses to serve heirloom red and black rice, as well as regular steamed white rice.
The jewel in Discovery Shores’ crown is FornoOsteria, their new Italian restaurant inside the Signature Suites wing. Forno has a Josper—probably the only one on the island—a combination of grill and oven capable of amazingly high heat that is the hearts desire of chefs around the world. The Josper allows Forno to serve pizzas with puffy, chewy crusts that are singed black in all the right places. It also turns out beautifully crusted, juicy, rare steaks with a whiff of smokiness. Forno may be an Italian place with good pizzas and great hand-made pastas, but their steaks are something else, and worth the trek to Station 1. The restaurant is still new and is the perfect place for a quiet dinner because the crowds haven’t discovered it yet. It has an open kitchen with bar seating so guests can watch the chefs at work, sort of like having dinner at your best friend’s home and watching her cook while you chat. I did say that staying at Discovery Shores Boracay was like coming home, didn’t I?
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Discovery Shores Boracay is located on Station 1, Barangay Balabag, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, 5608, Philippines. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 720-8888.