Hotel Review: Amanpulo - Pamalican Island, Philippines
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi Prestige Card
Earlier this month, TPG Points and Miles Editor Sarah Silbert enjoyed a fantastic stay at one of Aman's best-known properties, made semi-affordable thanks to Citi Prestige. Here's her review of the four-day experience.
When you think points hotels, you don't think Aman. A luxury hotel group with 30 properties across the globe, Amanresorts doesn't offer a loyalty program, and it doesn't have to. With nightly room rates almost always upwards of $1,000 at its hotels, it's not catering to travelers whose priority is minimizing out-of-pocket costs. That said, sometimes a splurge can be worth it.
During a recent trip to Cambodia and the Philippines, we decided to splash out for a four-night stay at Amanpulo, a resort located on a private island about an hour away from Manila by plane. We originally wanted to stay on Palawan, but early on in our trip planning we discovered that the nicest resorts on that island required pricey (and hard-to-book) transportation, so while Amanpulo was very expensive, it was actually an easier option, and it was less of a premium over the other options than you might think. Also, we've always wanted to stay at an Aman property, and it was a lot easier to justify it with the Amanpulo than it would be in locations like Siem Reap or Bali, where Aman has properties but where there are also plenty of much less expensive, yet still-luxurious options.
Keep reading for an in-depth review of our stay, including details on the various activities you can enjoy at the resort and information on how you can save substantially on your stay by using the Citi Prestige Card's 4th Night Free benefit.
Booking and Packages
The Amanpulo has three different sets of rates based on the dates you choose for your stay. We ended up booking a stay during the peak period in early February right before Chinese New Year. While it's often advisable to book off-peak travel to leverage lower airfare and hotel costs, in this case it made sense to book during the peak times. Why? From about June to October, it's rainy season in the area and if you're spending this much money on your stay, you better be getting good weather!
The rates above are for Amanpulo's three-night Island Escape packages, which are worth considering because they include three daily meals for two (excluding beverages), a bottle of Champagne and canapés on arrival and a complimentary mini-bar that is replenished each day. Considering the sky-high prices for pretty much all food on the island, this package can save you a considerable amount. Plus, it added a lot to the "relaxation" factor of our vacation given that we didn't have to worry about the price of every item at meal times.
One of the cool things about Amanpulo is that it has its own private runway, but that entails an additional expense for getting to the island. A round-trip turboprop flight from Manila, operated by Island Aviation, to the resort's Pamalican Island costs $495 per person. This is a separate expense that doesn't apply to the 4th Night Free benefit discussed below.
Citi Prestige 4th Night Free
As I mentioned above, we were able to save a ton on our stay thanks to booking with the Citi Prestige Card. This card's 4th Night Free benefit brought the cost of our booking down by 25% — we saved $1,490!
For those unfamiliar with the 4th Night Free perk, here are the basics. When you book a four-night (or longer) paid stay through the Citi concierge service, your confirmation will include the amount you'll get back through the 4th Night Free benefit. For prepaid rates, it can take up to two billing cycles from when the charge was made for the rebate to hit your account, though it usually takes much less time. Plus, it recently became easier than ever to book 4th Night Free stays, since you no longer have to wait for the Citi concierge to pass on your request to a Carlson Wagonlit travel agent.
One of the great things about the 4th Night Free benefit is that there's no limit to how often you can use it, or how much you can get back for a stay. You can only use this perk once during a stay, though.
Departing from Manila
After a brief stay at the Hyatt City of Dreams Manila, we arrived at the Amanpulo Lounge at MNL airport. The staff checked our passports, weighed our baggage (and us) and ushered us into the waiting area to relax before the flight. Note that there's a luggage limit of 44 pounds per person, including hand luggage, and this seems to be enforced.
As for the lounge area, it's not at all on par with premium airline lounges, but the staff was friendly and promptly came by with cold towels and a plate of sweets.
I wasn't even very hungry, but the lounge staff knew that I was a vegetarian from the notes in our reservation and brought me some veggie sandwiches. A few minutes after we arrived, a couple and a family with a child arrived in the lounge. The child was very loud, and kept running through the (rather small) lounge. I was surprised that a family would bring a kid to this resort, but as it turned out, there ended up being many more families at Amanpulo than I would have expected.
After maybe 20 minutes in the lounge, we were escorted to the plane for an early departure. It wasn't luxurious, but it was definitely a step up from the tiny bird that flies guests from MLE Airport to the Conrad Rangali Island in the Maldives.
The flight took about an hour, and it was comfortable enough — though if, like me, you aren't a huge fan of small planes, you might feel a bit uneasy for the first few minutes.
Each seatback was stocked with a water bottle, a blanket, earplugs and a fan. There was also a book about Amanpulo and Pamalican Island, including information about the different water sports you can enjoy during your stay.
Especially on the final approach, the view of nearby islands was great.
Landing on the resort's runway was definitely a unique experience, and from the moment we stepped off the plane the staff was extremely friendly.
We were greeted by Harry, who would be our main point of contact throughout the stay. He loaded our luggage onto a golf cart and took us on a tour of the island.
We were also given our own golf cart (as all guests are) for driving around the island. On our request, bikes were delivered to the room as well.
The Treetop Casita
After driving by some of the resort's top locations, including the spa and the beachside restaurant, we arrived at our Treetop Casita. A bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, fresh fruit and some canapés were waiting for us in the room, just as advertised with the Island Escape package.
Though it's the lowest category of room at Amanpulo, it in no way felt small or "less than." When you're paying upwards of $1,000 per night, this should definitely be the case, but I was still pleasantly surprised by how spacious and well-appointed the room was.
There was plenty of space for relaxing and stretching out in the bedroom area. I wouldn't recommend spending too much time on your laptop when you're at such a luxurious resort, but there are some comfortable spaces for working if you do need to catch up.
Speaking of work, the Wi-Fi performance at Amanpulo was really, really bad. We had no choice but to use it for several hours each day — if you're planning to get a full week of work done during your Aman stay, you should definitely reconsider.
The bathroom was similarly huge, with a standalone tub, plenty of storage space and even a small seating area.
While Amanpulo doesn't have fancy name-brand toiletries, it does provide just about everything you could ever want. This includes sunscreen and insect repellent along with standard amenities like q-tips, cotton pads, toothbrushes and lotion.
Another part of our welcome gift was a beautiful assortment of colorful cookies, jelly beans and gummy worms. The child in me freaked out over this amenity.
The complimentary mini-bar (included as part of our package) was restocked (at least) once a day, and it included a variety of sodas, juices and waters.
There was also a selection of cookies, dried fruit and vegetables in the room, which made for good snacking — not that we ever went hungry!
Amanpulo has several different restaurants, including a steakhouse, the Club House, a beach bar (serving tapas) and a casual pizza joint (the latter is only open for lunch). On our first night, we opted for the steakhouse.
The restaurant was empty when we got there — we were told there were only about 40 guests on the island when we arrived, well short of the capacity of about 150 people. The staff was very courteous, quickly handing us menus and asking for our water preference.
Prices throughout the resort are displayed in Philippine pesos, and as you'd expect everything was on the pricey side. My boyfriend enjoyed a fantastic American tenderloin steak that would have cost about $100 if we hadn't booked the package including meals. He ordered it cooked medium and it arrived nearly well-done, but it was excellent nonetheless.
There's a whole separate vegetarian menu, which meant I had plenty of options no matter which restaurant we visited. Some of my favorite options were the tomato soup, the tofu steak, the vegetable curry and the truffle potato mash. And as far as desserts go, the mango trio was a must-have.
On our second day, we slept in and headed to the beach bar for lunch. This restaurant overlooks the beautiful, calm water, and it's definitely the most scenic option for eating during the day. The menu is tapas-themed, though it oddly included items like a vegetarian taco. In any case, everything we tried was great. I especially liked the goat cheese salad.
We ended up eating at the Club House for the rest of our dinners. This restaurant is in the main hang-out area on the island (there's a lounge, the resort store and a small bar off to the side), and it's also home to the pool.
Speaking of the pool, it felt a bit oddly placed. With guests eating lunch or dinner at the Club House seated very nearby, it didn't feel as private as I'd prefer, but with the amazing (and endless) beach as an option, this wasn't a huge issue. Still, I did notice some families enjoying the pool, as well as a child taking a scuba lesson.
On the plus side, Amanpulo has live music every night at the Club House and the beach bar, and the musicians were amazing. They played a mix of older and contemporary songs, and everything was beautiful. It really added to the relaxed island atmosphere.
A day into our stay, we discovered that room-service breakfast was included with our package, and we took advantage of this several times. There were several great options, including bruschetta with avocado and tomato and some great fresh-pressed juices. There was also a Filipino breakfast, which was on the heavy side but definitely filling for a day of water sports.
Twice a day, Amanpulo offers free snorkeling outings that depart from near the beach bar.
Free gear includes a snorkeling mask, fins and an optional life vest. Staff members take guests out on a cool, double-decker boat and stop at different areas for viewing fish and sea turtles.
We had a great time swimming with the very colorful fish and were lucky enough to spot a huge sea turtle. There's no reason not to take advantage of this activity.
You can also take advantage of free non-motorized water sports, such as paddleboarding and kayaking. We took some kayaks out one day after lunch.
Since Amanpulo is in the middle of the ocean and far from polluted skies, when the weather is good the resort makes for great stargazing. Though stargazing is offered on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the staff set it up for us on a Wednesday since the weather wasn't ideal the previous night.
Especially coming from New York, we loved the opportunity to check out the completely clear sky through the island's huge telescope. Amanpulo's resident stargazing expert was very patient as we took forever looking at different stars, too.
On our last night, the staff even surprised us by setting the telescope up a second time. The sky was once again very clear, and we were even able to capture a nebula on camera!
This was just another way that the staff went above and beyond — they knew we were interested in stargazing and they made sure we got to experience it even though the scheduled program didn't match up with ideal viewing opportunities.
Amanpulo offers several other activities, many of which we simply didn't have time to try out. There's a fitness center, which we visited multiple times on the trip, and the resort's personal fitness instructor was always more than willing to offer advice and coaching (though a fee was attached). There's also a spa, which we didn't visit since we were a little spa-ed out after a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The island also has a large tennis court, which was almost always in use throughout our stay.
As far as water sports go, paddle boards are available. I regret not trying this out, as the calm waters would have been perfect for this activity. Scuba lessons were also available, as evidenced by the fact that some divers were learning in the pool.
Guests can also arrange a variety of private outings for a fee, including moonlight cruises, motor boats and a variety of picnic excursions to locations such as the Kawayan Bar (seen below) and a lagoon. Setting up a private meal in one of these locations entails a steep fee: $126 to as much as $189 depending on the location, plus more than $300 for the meal (which would have been included as part of our package).
Throughout our stay, everyone was incredibly polite and helpful. Every time we passed staff while walking or driving the golf cart, they waved at us (it's clear they're instructed to do this), and every time we went to a restaurant staff brought us an ottoman so my bag didn't have to sit on the floor. It did genuinely feel like our enjoyment was a top priority, but there were a few snags that are worth mentioning.
First, the staff kept pushing the "upsell" options on us. As with other island resorts, Amanpulo offers arranged meals and picnics at remote locations such as a sand bar reachable by boat and the property's Kawayan Bar, a shack set in the water about a quarter mile from the shore. The Kawayan Bar looked like a great place to watch the sunset, but it required a ridiculous setup fee of about $200, on top of the cost for meal and drinks. For accessing a hut that offered more or less the same view we had from shore — and that I could swim to! — this seemed completely unnecessary. Still, at least once every day of our stay, Harry and other staff asked us whether we wanted to set this up. Asking once or twice is understandable, but it really felt pushy after that.
Second, on the last day before our plane departed the island, we headed to the Club House for lunch. Maybe it was the fact that everyone knew we were leaving, or perhaps service was just coincidentally "off" that day, but the staff pretty much ignored us the entire time. It was a hot day and we were desperately in need of water refills, but it took us nearly 20 minutes to accomplish this even though the restaurant was mostly empty and we were actively trying to get someone's attention. There were multiple servers around, but they were basically just "spacing out" during lunch. This was a huge contrast to the service at every other meal during our stay — which was so attentive that our water glass was never even half empty — and it made me feel like we weren't as important now that we were about to leave the island.
That said, the positives far outweighed the negatives during our stay. Every night during turn-down service, the staff left us a different treat — on the last night, it was a turtle paperweight, a very cute memento of our stay.
Also on our last night, we came back to our room to find rose petals everywhere, including in a bubble bath that was drawn for us. It was yet another very sweet gesture.
Amanpulo was one of my most unique, memorable stays, and even though it was extremely expensive, I'm glad we decided to splurge. Overall, service and attention to detail was very impressive, and the beautiful location is in a league of its own. Even though we got a very good feel of everything the island had to offer during our four-night stay, I'd love to return some day — it was just so luxurious and idyllic.
While Amanpulo was the opposite of cheap, the Citi Prestige Card and its amazing 4th Night Free benefit made our stay more affordable. Even if you decide to spring for a more wallet-friendly option in the Palawan area, keep this perk in mind. For us, though, splurging on Amanpulo was worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Have you stayed at Amanpulo or another Aman resort? Share your experience in the comments below.