I'm writing about our experience at the Pico Sands Hotel first and just save the rest for a separate post (read The Vastness of Pico de Loro). And yes, this is a review.
A section of the view from our room at the Pico Sands Hotel.
The hotel's website is practically useless. Apart from not having an online booking facility, there's also hardly any information about the rooms other than the floor area and size of the bed. No published rates either. So I had to call to get a better picture of the room and how much. FYI, room rates differ for members, referrals from members, and non-members, that last category being the most expensive. And since it was Holy Week, a super peak time throughout the country, the rate was even more expensive at Php 12,500 a night.
To be fair, however, processing my reservation was fast. After our phone conversation, it didn't take long for them to send me a confirmation email. And once I replied with my confirmation and credit card guarantee, that was it!
Welcome and check-in
I've read a couple of horror stories about their inefficient check-in but thankfully such wasn't the case with us, probably because it was already 3pm when we arrived, already an hour from the standard check-in time. Check-in didn't take too long (although the attending staff seemed new as she was making a lot of mistakes), and the calamansi juice and cold towels were a much-welcome relief from the sweltering heat outside.
The hotel lobby.
We were given a card (forgot what they called it) that was used in settling bills throughout the whole Pico de Loro property, except at Kultura. So there was no need for cash or credit cards until you check out, which was pretty convenient. They also gave us these waterproof wrist straps that we were supposed to wear throughout our stay as if we were in some amusement park. But why? Anyway, we didn't wear them ever and no one really called our attention about it.
Architecture and ambiance
Honestly, Pico Sands doesn't look much of a hotel. More like a condo, actually. Not that it looks really bad, but for the price it commands you'll feel it's really overpriced. I also get what other people are saying about the cheap materials they used in construction. Mind you, they do look cheap.
The hotel entrance.
On the plus side, the building and room design allow for lots of natural light to come in, which is at least consistent with their eco-friendly claim. There's also a nice garden, lots of trees, and of course, that fantastic view of the lagoon framed by buildings and then by the mountains behind them.
My view of the garden below, taken from our balcony.
The corridors upstairs. It doesn't really feel like a hotel, does it?
We got a penthouse loft, which was on the 7th floor. And with 64sqm of floor space, there was more than enough room for three people. On the lower level is a very bare living room set (the couch actually being a sofa bed), a TV, vanity, a number of drawers, personal fridge, a coffee-making facility, and a toilet. The glass door opens up to a small balcony overlooking the lagoon down below.
Different views of the room. Just don't mind our bags.
Upstairs is a king-size bed, a corner couch, another TV, cabinets, a safe, and the main toilet and shower. There's a huge glass window that also offers a fantastic view of the lagoon and surrounding mountains.
Views of the space upstairs.
Nice to look out the window and see this, right?
There are two toilets but only one shower, which is upstairs. The positioning of the shower's knob is quite weird as it's nowhere near the shower head, and which I never got used to. The towels weren't plush but smelled good.
The bathroom upstairs.
See the shower knob on the right? Do you realize how far it is from the shower head?
The toilet downstairs.
Again, with the price you pay here, it's hard not to notice the cheap materials and furniture that they used. But beyond that, and because of the sheer amount of space, the well-lit room, and the great views outside, I still found the room quite nice actually -- even if it clearly lacked character. The two split-type air conditioning units (one on each floor) also functioned perfectly, so it was all good. And if you need anything, there's a one-dial service so you don't have to dial extension numbers yourself. Sometimes, though, it takes a while before someone picks up.
While there are other restaurants elsewhere in Pico de Loro, the hotel has its own restaurant and bar that's open 24 hours. With a bright and airy atmosphere, they also have outdoor seating for that alfresco experience.
The Pico Restaurant.
Dining alfresco, especially in the morning, is definitely a good one with all the lush greenery around.
The Pico Bar. Every morning, at least when we were there, this space is cleared to give way to the breakfast buffet setup.
The food was just okay; not bad but nothing to rave about either. Room accommodation already comes with complimentary buffet breakfast. The choices were respectable but the spread was just not at par with most hotels of a similar price point.
While we had good experiences in terms of service with Pico de Loro's other restaurants, it just wasn't the same with this hotel, at least in that one time we had dinner here. Our orders took too long to arrive even when we were the only customers then. Worse, at least one piece of my chicken was raw, it grossed me out (see here).
Good thing it was the last piece, so I just didn't make a ruckus out of it anymore. But I told the waitress to show it to the chef. Alas, we already left and I still got no feedback! The people here clearly still lack that level of professionalism evident in other hotels.
The menu was very limited but price-wise, I didn't find it too expensive. A bit expensive, yes, with main courses that range from Php 400 to Php 730, but the servings are huge (you can check out their full Pico Restaurant menu). I haven't tried their bulalosso, though, a dish of beef bone marrow cooked osso bucco style that's good for 4 persons (Php 1,300).
My rosemary half-chicken in a really huge plate (Php 540). Too bad it was raw.
Room service, by the way, is non-existent in this hotel. In lieu of this, they have this curious "Order and Pick-up" service. Though we never tried it, the idea is that you place your order through phone in the comfort of your room, and then they'll tell you when it's ready for pick-up at the restaurant. What hotel does that? I mean, what is this, a condo? It's just laughably weird. Clearly, SM still is incapable of running a fully operational hotel.
Another testament that running a hotel is evidently not SM's core competency is Pico Sands' spa, Rain. Despite having the facilities like a couple's room with its own toilet, shower, and bathtub, this place just lacks the ambiance and feel of a legit spa. Besides, the staff talked oh so loudly you can hear them from the reception.
The spa's reception area.
Their operating hours can also be confusing. Officially, they close at 10pm but when My Bibe called up the day before to book some treatments for the following night, she was told they'll be open till midnight, presumably because there were a lot of guests. However, on the night of our appointment, we were advised that they'll be closing at ten. Apparently the number of hotel guests didn't translate to increased appointments at the spa.
But what was really annoying was when the receptionist entered the treatment room to inform My Bibe that they'll have to reschedule the pedicure the next morning since it was already 9pm and we still had a 60-minute massage. My Bibe booked some fancy foot spa and a pedicure that were to be done before our massage.
The thing is, that bitch of a receptionist accepted the booking in the first place. And I've never heard of a spa that had to cancel a treatment because it couldn't be completed by closing time. Only at Pico Sands! Now what would have happened had My Bibe not modified her original treatments that would have taken some 3 to 4 hours to complete? I can only wonder.
Inside the spa's couple's room. But what's with that trolley? Coupled with the white light, it feels more like a "parlor" than a spa.
Even with this bathtub, the room still lacks the ambiance.
I was satisfied with the massage, though. You can check out their Pico Sands Hotel Rain Spa menu of spa services for info and prices of other treatments offered.
Apart from the restaurant, bar, and spa, there really aren't any other facilities at this hotel because the Country Club and Beach Club have it all.
But wait, they have a convenience store at the lobby. Really, it's a convenience store and with convenience store prices. Sometimes the door's locked but a sign will tell you to just approach the front desk for assistance. I just thought it was funny. But convenient nonetheless.
Checking out wasn't bad. It was actually still faster than check-in despite a charge that I was disputing.
Pico Sands Hotel still has a long way to go in terms of service. Not that the staff are unpleasant but it's more about how they do things for their service to be considered professional at all. Much is expected because much is paid by guests. There's nothing that can be done about the cheap building materials and furniture but please open up a room service, fire your cook, replace your spa receptionist, train and retrain your staff, and just get rid of that stupid wrist strap.
Nonetheless, I'd still love to come back but that's because of the whole Pico de Loro Cove in general and not because of Pico Sands Hotel. Unless there's an alternative hotel, then us non-members are stuck with this condominium masquerading as a hotel.
From the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), take the Sta. Rosa exit (or any of those alternate exits) and head for Tagaytay. Drive way past Tagaytay proper and onto Nasugbu, Batangas.
Once you reach the Balayan Junction, there's a Caltex gas station at the right. Turn right going to Nasugbu.
Once you pass by the Central Azucarera de Don Pedro to your left, it won't be long before you see a Shell gas station, also to your left. Turn right to go the Nasugbu town proper. There are roadside signs available, so don't worry about getting lost.
Just drive straight through Nasugbu, where slow-moving tricycles will test your patience.
You'll have to drive 40-plus kilometers more and you'll pass by a "Welcome to Bgy. Wawa" arc and all those other resorts from Canyon Cove to Peninsula de Punta Fuego. Just follow the yellow Hamilo Coast signs along the way.
Once you reach the main Hamilo Coast gate, it's 2.7 kilometers more to Pico de Loro. At the third rotunda from the main gate, turn right. Pico Sands Hotel is the 5th building along that strip.
(Driving to Tagaytay may take anywhere between 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on traffic. Pico de Loro will entail another 1 to 2 hours, so I suggest you make a short stop at Tagaytay before proceeding.)
Schedules are not definite, so it's best to check their website.