Summer vacation’s already halfway through–at least here in the Philippines–and while my girls feel that they still haven’t done enough, I am worried that I’ve already indulged them so much. Let’s see… we go to the malls almost each time they feel like it. We’ve been shopping and dining out, depending on the extra money we have on hand. So far, they’ve had dance lessons–a crash course on ballet and Hawaiian–and have already performed before a crowd at the mall for their first ever dance recital. When we’re home, they would stay all day in their mini pool, which I usually set up in the veranda, and they would even invite some of their friends over. If not, they would stay inside the house, watch TV or movies on DVD, play with their toys, read their books, do various art activities, or just sleep. Sometimes, when it’s not so sunny, I let them go out and run around the neighborhood or on scooters with their playmates. And on other days, the three of us would head to a park, especially after attending a Sunday afternoon church service.
Last May 3, we trotted to a different kind of park, that is, the Manila Ocean Park for Zoe’s 5th birthday. Thanks to my sister, we got our tickets at only PhP500 each, which originally cost around PhP1, 500/each or higher. (Such tickets were exclusively offered to certain companies like theirs. Based on the posters I saw at the lobby of Manila Ocean Park, however, ticket price starts from PhP330/head, depending on the package a person or a group would choose.) It was our second time to be there; the first time was when it was still fairly new, in December of 2008, and the girls and I were with my late mother. So I guess I was also sad to see the place again, especially that I have lost my camera phone a few months after our first visit without being able to save the last pictures and videos we had with my mother, that is, when she was in a better condition and was still unaware of her pancreatic cancer, stage 4. Nevertheless, with the tranquility that the sea creatures bring, I soon found myself enjoying the place, and with the girls a little older now, they were able to appreciate things much better.
The place wasn’t crowded at all when we arrived at around 2 PM, that is, compared to the first time we were there. Some of the must-see creatures were moved to another location and new attractions have been added like the Musical Fountain Show, the Habitat, the Dancing Sea Fairies, Shark Attack, and the Sea Lion Show. There’s also a pool now that’s open to the public who’d like to take a dip amidst the scorching summer heat. It’s open until 5:00 PM and costs less than PhP200/head. The same pool turns into a nice backdrop for their bar which opens at 7:00 PM. There are also more restaurants now, which not only serve famous Filipino dishes, but international dishes as well. More food stalls have been added too for those who’d prefer light snacks. A small indoor theme park and 3D arts center have also been constructed upstairs. Along with the Manila Ocean Park gift shop, boutiques and small toy stores are now also open to those who would like some souvenirs or simply enjoy shopping. Moreover, just before the entrance, a mini bungee jumping site has been erected. Anyone who weighs no more than 120 lbs may try it may try it for only PhP120/head.
My little girls certainly loved seeing all the fish and other sea creatures at the Oceanarium. It felt so peaceful to look at them. We were given the opportunity to touch a live star fish and we took photos of nearly every creature we found there. They would always shout with glee whenever a sting ray would pass by overhead, claiming that each was smiling down at us. The sharks were also a sight for them, although there seemed to be fewer sharks now. They are now in a separate tank where one could dive in and experience being with them for a few minutes, while enclosed in a cage of course, for a fee of PhP900/person.
We also liked the Sea Lion Show, although I’m sure we could’ve enjoyed it much better if it did not rain. The sea lions were simply lovely! They were well trained and friendly and smart enough to be able to follow a script! For a PhP500 fee, we were able to have our pictures taken with them, which were copied onto a CD as souvenir. We had also seen them swim freely and lounge at the Habitat.
In between each activity, the girls and I were either having some snacks or changing clothes. The weather was so hot that day and not all areas were with air conditioning, of course, so we were soaked in perspiration. As much as we wanted to sit down and have a nice meal at one of the restaurants, we couldn’t sit and rest for more than 15 minutes for fear of missing a show. The food and drinks offered in the food stalls seemed good, but a little pricey, I think. For example, a bottle of water that would normally cost PhP18 at mall stands, cost PhP30 at some stores in the Ocean Park, while a hotdog sandwich with only ketchup and mayo on it, which would normally cost around PhP45 somewhere else, was PhP60 from one of the food stalls there.
The Musical Fountain Show, which starts at 6:30 PM, was also a must see. The combination of neon lights and water fountains in sync with the music was fantastic. My little girls thoroughly enjoyed the show, especially with mascots completing the program. They also had their pictures taken with them, this time for free. However, by the time the show was over, only the restaurants and the 3D arts center were open. We decided to go home then and just come back before the week’s over.
On our way out, we saw some kids bungee jumping (using a trampoline) by the main entrance, and my girls insisted that they try it, too. I was worried that once they reached the highest point, they would cry and suddenly ask to be released for fear of heights. They promised they won’t cry and assured me that they would enjoy it. I finally gave in to their request, especially when Zoe started crying, and allowed them to experience it–something that I probably will never try myself now that I’m older. Much to my surprise, they both enjoyed it thoroughly, shouting even more with glee the higher they went up into the air. I even saw some of the onlookers taking a video or pictures of them, especially of Zoe, probably because she was much smaller and younger, and was shrieking with so much delight than any child who had tried it.
On May 6, we visited the place again, since our ticket included five shows and we were not able to use all of them last May 3. This time, we saw the Dancing Sea Fairies (jelly fish) enclosed in different aquariums with lights changing into various colors. They were simply mesmerizing! Zoe kept trying to make me promise her that we would have our own aquarium filled with jelly fish despite Ali repeatedly explaining to her that we shouldn’t have one because jelly fish could sting and kill.
The girls also tried the Furzeball (it sounded like that, at least), which looked like a giant inflatable wheel with openings on each side, allowing children to stay inside and move about above the water. They enjoyed bouncing and somersaulting in it, and again, they were shrieking with delight. However, before the girls were able to enjoy this activity, I had to lose my temper first. Tickets to this activity cost PhP50 each and must be bought from the nearby Quiosk, where food and drinks were also sold. Apparently, I wasn’t sure whether I was at the right counter since there was no sign that I must buy the tickets there. I have already called the attention of two attendants behind the counter, who both pointed me to a vague direction. The cashier who was supposed to take my money was chatting with them. When she finally took her proper position behind the counter and I stood before her, a family of three cut before me and started ordering food. I let it pass. But when it was obvious that the cashier was ignoring me, attending to newcomers when I had stood in front of her for about five minutes already and had held my money up high for her to see, that’s when I lost my temper and told her loud and clear how she had ignored me. I immediately asked for the OIC to report the cashier’s rude behavior. The OIC apologized on her behalf, but the girl was obviously insincere in her attempt to try to make me feel better. Seeing the kind of ticket I was holding, the OIC and the other staff immediately became solicitous. So far, that was the only thing that would probably keep us from going back to Manila Ocean Park, or at least, from that particular area. If anything, I easily get upset with lousy customer service.
After the girls had their five minutes of fun at the Furzeball, we finally tried the Fish Spa. This time, I was the one who enjoyed the most. As soon as I stepped into a pool filled with doctor fish, a school of fish went after both of my feet, eating away dead skin cells. I was so happy that the doctor fish seemed to have smoothed the soles of my feet and the big toe on my right foot–apparently, I have developed an allergy from my last foot spa at a salon in our village and have not had a foot spa since then. I think I’ll look for doctor fish the next time I visit a pet shop and get some both as pets and my personal foot spa specialists.
Indeed, the place is so much better now and they also offer packages, especially for groups, to make it more affordable. In a month or two, another attraction called the Antarctica is expected to open. One of the employees told me that the Manila Ocean Park would be importing real penguins for that. I wonder if that’s true. I’m sure that would be a good reason for us to visit the place again, next to trying the Shark Attack and consuming my free ticket to their evening poolside bar. I only wish that my husband would be home to accompany us next time.
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Reminders to those who would like to visit the Manila Ocean Park:
Make sure you’re full and have already relieved yourself before you begin the tour, especially the Oceanarium. It takes about an hour to see and enjoy the entire marine collection AND re-entry is prohibited. By the way, although you may take pictures as much as you want, cameras with flash are not allowed in the Oceanarium.
Bring your own bottle of drinking water. Aside from being a little pricey, (food and) drinks are only sold in certain areas. A 1-1.5 L of water for each adult may be sufficient for a half-day tour on a very warm day.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and even bring extra shirts, flip flops, and an umbrella. You’d be doing a lot of walking and not all areas have good air conditioning. In fact, there are open areas where you’d find yourself directly under the sun, so it’s so easy to become sore and irritable, especially on a very warm weather. You’d also either be soaked from perspiration or from the “Musical Fountain,” and yes, even from the rain like we experienced when we were watching the Sea Lion Show at the arena. (The weather that day was indeed crazy! One minute, the sun was shining so brightly, the next minute, rain was pouring! In that case, although they did provide free disposable rain coats, not everyone was able to receive one in time for him/her not to get wet from the drizzle.)
Check out the Manila Ocean Park (MOP) website (www.manilaoceanpark.com) so you’ll have a better idea on how much money you should bring, which ticket you should buy (there are packages to choose from and prices vary), as well as where to eat in order to save time. (For the kind of dishes a restaurant at the MOP offers and how much they cost, you may google their website separately or follow the links provided in the MOP website–see the options under the Entertainment heading.)
In our case, i.e., for my two little girls and myself, a PhP2,500.00 pocket money was enough for a half-day tour: PhP240 – taxi (from Buendia-Taft to Manila Ocean Park and back); PhP120/head bungee jumping; PhP50/head Furzeball; PhP500 photo opportunity with a sea lion (photos in CD); PhP 250-300 snack consisting of three hotdog sandwiches, cotton candy, and two bottles of mineral water (in addition to the 1L of water that we brought); PhP360 worth of souvenirs for the kids (a small-sized stuffed toy that Zoe chose for herself, PhP250, and a fish lunch kit for Ali, which she also picked herself, PhP110); PhP300-350 light dinner (pork barbecue, pancit bihon, and refillable iced tea) at a Filipino restaurant across the Manila Ocean Park.
Try to come in the morning or as soon as they’re open, so you won’t have to go back to see everything and spend twice on transportation and food like we did 😦 Moreover, try to avoid visiting on weekends and holidays or when more people are expected to come.
Make it your goal to enjoy all the sights and activities the whole time you’re at MOP. There will always be nuisances–people who would try to get ahead of you or stay too long in the same spot where you would like to have your picture taken, etc.–so do your best to overlook them and avoid ruining your day with your loved ones and those loveable marine creatures 🙂