Astoria Current: Riding the Current

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As a top commercial tourist destination, Boracay is perhaps the most popularly frequented vacation site in the Philippines—one I’ve become acquainted with over years of visiting the island. I’ve pretty much run the gamut of its various attractions: I’ve island-hopped between Puka Beach and Crystal Cove, snorkeled around Crocodile and Carabao Islands, gone cliff-diving at Ariel’s Point as well as Magic Island, ploughed through massive hordes of revelers during Labor Day, and conquered Cocomangas’ infamous 15 shots—thrice.

“Why? What’s new in Boracay?” I might respond at another invitation to travel there. Yet no matter how familiar the locale, even I perked up at the chance of staying at Astoria Current, the hotel chain’s latest venture, and their second in Boracay.

In 2014, the distinguished real estate developer acquired the One Greenbelt Hotel in Makati, subsequently reinvigorating it with a buoyant energy. Recently, they upgraded their Palawan resort with a thrilling water park. To cap off another industrious year, Astoria Current will finally open its doors to the public this December. Fortunately, we were given the privilege to preview their renowned brand of service in time for the grand launch. With Astoria’s commitment to modernity and reinvention, I could tell we had a delightful trip in store.

First splash

From the get-go, I realized this was not going to be just another typical Boracay trip. Rather than flying from Manila to Kalibo or Caticlan—the usual entry points to Boracay—Emman and I were to travel via Roxas City, Capiz. It was immediately something new for me.

Roxas prides itself as the Seafood Capital of the Philippines, so even if we were just passing through, we decided to have our fill of the city’s culinary specialty. The coastal area of Barangay Baybay is just a five-minute tricycle ride from Roxas Airport. Down the road, one can find the popular Seafood Court at People’s Park Plaza, but we opted for the more modest turo-turo joint right by the shore, which was already busy with the lunch crowd.

Sadly, due to red tide hazards, their prawns and prized crabs—something of a mascot in Roxas—were unavailable. Despite the supposedly limited selection, the spread of fresh catches was still impressive. We ordered grilled  bonito, danggit kilaw, and a mouthwatering pile of garlic-fried scallops.

After the scrumptious meal, it was time to embark on the four-hour commute to Boracay, comprising two shuttle rides: from Roxas to Kalibo and from Kalibo to Caticlan. At the Caticlan Jetty Port, a speedboat from Astoria Current awaited. Dark clouds began to loom overhead as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon. As we neared the Boracay shoreline, rain began to trickle down. But the weather wasn’t about to dampen my mood. Breathing in the surroundings, I was more eager than ever, ready to take the plunge.

Catch the drift

Built on the same DNA, Astoria Current shares key characteristics with its older cousin, the original Astoria Boracay. Both were designed by Cebu-based architect Ed Gallego, with interiors by Ivy and Cynthia Almario. The sleek white exteriors remain, and the playful use of graphic elements and natural materials with tropical flair carry over. However, while Astoria Boracay exudes a more boutique atmosphere, Astoria Current swells and flows like its namesake.

A hip, contemporary vibe permeates the establishment, as exemplified by the primary palette of vivid red, yellow, blue and green. The charismatic energy is palpable from the cheery reception area, with its colorful Kenneth Cobonpue rattan stools and eye-catching wall panels, all the way to the beachfront Parasol restaurant, featuring woven chairs in bright hues of turquoise and canary, down to the quirky accessories that adorn shelves, countertops and the individually styled guest rooms. The sprawling pool, lined with date palms and marked by Astoria’s signature Dedon-inspired submerged sunbeds, is a formidable centerpiece.

It was evident upon arriving, greeted by the warm smiles of the jolly fresh-faced staff, that Astoria upholds a relatable approach to hospitality, and understands the value of staying on the pulse, riding the current, ahead of the curve.

Surge of excitement

So what’s new in Boracay? When I posed the question to Astoria Current’s general manager, Miss Joy Suarez, she paused a moment.  “There’s always something new,” she began. With hotels, resorts, restaurants, cafés, and bars popping up every few months, with a new crop of visitors constantly strolling in and out, regulars returning for festivals and New Moon parties—the island is in a perpetual state of fluidity. And that keeps her on her toes. It keeps Boracay interesting. She assured me that they were always on the lookout for trendy new attractions, such as mermaid swimming lessons (something they plan to offer guests and showcase in Astoria Current’s own pool).

Located in Station 3—considered the daytime action epicenter of Boracay—Astoria Current offers package deals for every imaginable island activity, from sea-based (glass-bottom boat rides, helmet diving, jetskiing, parasailing, banana boat rides, and fly fish rides) to land-based (horseback, zipline, ATV rental, buggies, Zorbs, and go-karts).

“Oh, there’s also the reverse bungee next door,” Miss Suarez grinned. That was it—I was sold. In all my years of coming to this place, having mostly been confined to the boisterous night life and entertainment scenes of Stations 1 and 2, I never even considered Boracay’s sportier affairs. Indeed, I hadn’t exhausted Boracay’s many, many charms at all.

Thus, we arranged for two activities the next day that I had never experienced before. Following a delicious buffet breakfast that morning, we agreed to let our stomachs settle before the imminent adrenaline rush. In the distance, gray skies threatened to spoil our schedule. First up was reverse bungee at G-MAX, which isn’t anything like bungee at all. The giant mechanism involves a spherical three-seater swing that catapults riders up above a height of 50 m at 200 kph. The entire thing can be recorded on video, so you can repeatedly watch (in high-definition) all the color drain from your face before you hear the mix of terrified howling and relieved laughter once it’s all over.

With blood still coursing furiously through me, I felt pumped for parasailing up next. But as misfortune would have it, violent gales began to whip up the waters, and soon we were back at the hotel, sipping coffee and cursing the rain. Even the most rigorous itinerary should leave room for spontaneity. But there’s no accounting for the unpredictable.

Wave of tranquility

I recognized then, whether or not I had been able to fill my day with all those would-be activities, that Astoria Current filled yet another purpose: a restful haven. A perfect place to come back to after spending hours of thrill-seeking and beach exploration.

There’s the central Onyx Lounge, with sofas and acrylic armchairs that glow in pulsating colors. The fitness center includes a spa and steam room for relaxing tired muscles. But that evening, I went with the swimming pool’s built-in aqua loungers, with the jet-massage nozzles soothing my back.

Even Miss Suarez admitted being surprised—having previously been assigned to the original Astoria Boracay for over 6 years—at how peaceful and quiet it was in Station 3 as compared to the lively bustle of Stations 1 and 2, where loud parties, fire dancers, and acoustic performers abound.

For our last night, we met Astoria’s newly appointed Corporate Head Chef, Crisanto Castro, and sampled a range of dishes from Parasol. Driven by his vast experience working for luxury cruise ships, international resorts, and high-profile private clients (such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Chef Cris has produced a diverse and progressive menu fusing modern techniques with a decidedly Filipino taste. He emphasizes his use of wholly local ingredients, drawing from Aklan’s bounty of seafood, livestock and vegetables.

Leafy sigarilyas and alugbati flavor the appetizers and salads. Chef Cris exhibits his clever talent with a twist on Rouille, grilling rather than poaching the snapper, and serving the bouillabaisse on the side. Especially delicious is the trio of shrimp, salmon and peppered grouper on a bed of fresh greens. The medallion of beef tenderloin entrée is garnished with sitaw, pechay, and a fluffy carrot mousse. The paella-stuffed chicken comes with a bell pepper coulis and mashed peas. Finally, a decadent dessert of tiered chocolate parfait with vanilla sorbet and a hint of pili is sureto satisfy the most discerning sweet tooth.

Shifting tides

I learned that day that only optimism trumps the weather’s uncooperative nature. There was no point wallowing in negativity over cancelled plans. Regrettably, the storm also thwarted one other item on our agenda: the sunset cruise, a unique offering from Astoria Current for guests to witness Boracay’s famed golden sunset aboard a speedboat.

Instead, we donned ponchos purchased from the nearby D’Talipapa marketplace and posted ourselves atop the hotel’s viewing deck—a floor above their al fresco bar, Stratos. From the vantage point, we could spot the two or three stubborn paraw sailors bobbing along the vast ocean. And even through the sheets of rain, we watched as shades of pink, purple, and muted orange swept across the sky.

Despite the uncooperative weather, there was indeed always something new to look forward to, particularly for those billeted at a dynamic and happening hotel like Astoria Current.

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