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The dealer motions for me to place my bet on the velvety green table. Heady with adrenaline, I glance at my wife for a moment, trying to figure out where to go, and she eventually settles on a box marked “even”. Fifty/fifty odds are pretty decent. Those are the odds of a coin toss so we think, what the heck.
The dealer takes a smooth white ball and lets it loose in a counter arc opposite the clockwise rotations of the roulette wheel. There is something hypnotic about the circuitous dance of ball and wheel. I lean against a transparent acrylic barrier only to be gently warned by the dealer not to do so. After what seems like a lifetime in a heartbeat, the ball lands neatly on 31 black. Oh well. Easy come, easy go.
Good thing my bet was dinky. After all, I’ve been warned: “Bet only what you can afford to lose.”
As it later turns out, I have much better luck waiting for me beyond the frenetic activities at the glitzy slot machines, the eager players and the scintillating lights. This is my first chance to get to know the Solaire Resort and Casino in Paranaque City and I’m in for quite an experience.
Bounties of the sun
The Solaire complex is resplendent, catering to international aesthetics but with a strong Hong Kong Chinese verve. Water fountains adorn the entrance to bring in feng shui-channeled prosperity, and thorough security checks by discreet, friendly guards ensure that everyone remains safe and free from harm while having a good time. I am ushered through cavernous halls with shiny marble floors to a Solaire Rewards Program station where smartly dressed attendants guide me through the process of signing up.
The Rewards Program is Solaire’s version of the Keys to the Kingdom; signing up gives greater access to exclusivity, hand-and-foot pampering, and first-rate perks as you pay and play your way around this grownup theme park.
They start you off with a Silver card. Getting this brand-new membership card is so quick and painless; they even embed your photo onto the card faster than it takes to nuke popcorn.
The Silver card eventually leads to the other tiers: Gold, Platinum, Emerald, and Ruby. The highest, Diamond, can be acquired for a princely sum. Each tier has a qualifying number of points that you can earn either by shopping, dining or staying in their hotel, or by playing in the casino.
Now, the rewards one earns are distinct, depending on the activities—gamers get Bonus Pesos, which they can use to get promo chips and slot credits to play with at any table or slot game, while Solaire Pesos are what everyone else acquires, just like the rewards programs of shops, restaurants, supermarkets, and mall chains. Either way, the more you pay or play, the more points you earn and the cooler the benefits.
What are those benefits? Read on—everything below is available via Solaire Pesos aside from the usual modes of payment.
In the lap of luxury
The Bay Tower and Sky Tower of Solaire are opulent digs with lots of serious wiggle room. What passes for a Presidential Suite in most American and European hotels is considered to be a fourth tier room in either tower. The grander rooms come with sprawling living areas, offices, pantries, receiving rooms, and even a butler to manage your every need, whether it’s a day jaunt to Nasugbu or an out-of-town trip to Seoul.
For the ultimate in cocooning, you and your loved ones can stay in one of Solaire’s private villas. Practically a home away from home, these ritzy mini-palaces are perfect for extended holiday family gatherings and even have their own swimming pools.
Trying all the wonderful restaurants in Solaire is not meant to be done in a single month—let alone a weekend—unless you wish to stuff yourself into a stupor. That said, I manage to sample a fraction of the myriad delights of Solaire’s eateries, watering holes, and dining areas. Each one has a distinct bleeding-edge look that was painstakingly crafted to convey identity and individuality.
Few breakfast options match Fresh’s Buffet. Unlike most other restaurants, Fresh has international stations—Chinese, Continental, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and even a Gluten-Free assortment—to start your day with.
Red Lantern is one of three Chinese restaurants inside Solaire but is classified as a fine dining place. Their dimsum buffet is top notch and I find the Wok-Fried Prawns with Wasabi Mayo and Mixed Fresh Fruits and the Deep Fried Butter Prawns with Salted Egg Yolk to be especially delicious.
As far as watering holes go, you can’t find fault with Waterside. This restobar is thematically South American and one of the few places in the city where you can get ceviche (raw seafood cured in lemon and spiced with chili).
Try their paellas—the rice and viands, a mere centimeter thick, are spread around the paella plate, which cooks it nice and evenly. The Paella Negra and Paella Valenciana are quite hearty and go smashingly well with the Seafood Lover, an exquisite mélange of blackened salmon, chimichurri (a garlicky sauce from Argentina), halibut, grilled prawn, Green Lip Mussel and fried baby squid. The salmon and halibut are so good that I can’t stop thinking about them days after.
For some authentically amazing sushi, curry ramen, maki and saké, Yakumi is the place to go. They even fly in fresh seafood from Tokyo’s legendary Tsukiji Fish Market twice a week.
A lot of the restaurants have pretty nice desserts but the more discerning confection aficionado will want to go to Oasis Garden Café and the Patisserie for a sugar fix. Both have an assortment of cakes and cookies that you must try—like Oasis’ Strawberry Cheesecake, which I am quite fond of. The Patisserie however, has their own gelato and various pralines to go with their scrumptious signature cakes. They even have sugar-free options for the diet-conscious.
Beyond the gilded halls of the high rollers are other varied forms of entertainment for guests whose interests are not restricted to cards, slots, and Wheels of Fortune.
Luxury goods are also a staple at Solaire and the shopping options are dazzling. With big names such as Givenchy, Bulgari, Lucerne, Rimowa, Beleza Jewelry and French Sole, you may indulge in baubles and lavish finery after a windfall at the tables.
Alternatively, how about a night at the theater? With a lineup of productions such as Les Miserables, Wicked, Singin’ in the Rain, and Chicago, as well as international performers like Earth, Wind and Fire, Blue Man Group and Lea Salonga, The Theater at Solaire has been racking up quite a reputation for itself. It’s not hard to see why—the theater is state-of-the-art, with lights, sound systems, backdrop array, platform control, and dressing room facilities that few theaters in the country can match.
For more physical pursuits, the Solaire gym boasts complete treadmill, weights, and exercise machinery to help tone and sculpt your figure, or just keep you in fighting form.
Speaking of fighting form, there’s a special area for combat training with punching bags and striking poles for people with backgrounds in boxing or martial arts. The training area is also available for more meditative disciplines such as yoga. Skilled and highly attentive trainers are always on standby for consultation. After your workout, check out the spa next door where you can indulge in saunas, whirlpool baths, and hot tubs to soak away all the aches and pains of a full workout.
For more relaxing, less high-impact activities, there’s nothing like a dip in the pool. It’s where I enjoy one of the most vibrant sunsets I’ve ever seen. Cozy cabanas, some with their own whirlpool baths, surround the water’s edge and a poolside bar offers tall drinks and snacks to hungry patrons wanting to bask in the rays of the perpetual Manila sun.
I save the best for last. Whether you’re a seasoned marksman or just curious as to how it feels, the Sky Range is the swankiest indoor firing range I’ve ever seen. It has both pistol and rifle ranges with options for day and night effects, strobes, and flipping targets to simulate all sorts of conditions.
A variety of pistols are available for rent, including Berettas, Glocks, Chiappa Rhinos, and even Arsenal Firearms AF2011-A1 (it looks like two .45 automatic pistols glued together). Colt rifles, FN-FALs, Steyr AUGs, and other handsome assault weapons are also at your disposal if you wish to live out your sniper fantasies. The range guides are accommodating, highly qualified, and teach not only about gun safety but practical shooting tips that will make a difference between missing the target entirely and scoring a sweet tight grouping.