Island hopping 101: Guides and Tips On Your Trip in a Philippine Ferry Boat- 2019 Edition


“The trail is the thing, not the thrill of the trail. Travel too fast and you’ll miss what you’re travelling for.”

– Louise le’ Amour

Are you one of those people who dreamt of going to a holiday trip to far away land, but worries over the cost of getting you there… at your dream destination? Do you often wonder what was it like cruising on-board a ship- and feel the gentle summer breeze, while smothering the salty warmth air at sundeck as you anxiously scanning the horizon waiting for the right moment before pressing the shutter button of your camera. I say wonder no more! traveling on a ferry boat is a lot cheaper and more exciting than flying a commercial aircraft.

Imagine cruising for hours to a day or two, then after spending an inspiring evening on the loneliness of the turbulent seas under the cover of a moonlit sky showered with billions of stars overhead, then you woke up the following morning and see with your two wide awake eyes your dream destination slowly coming at you almost within arms length! isn’t it a melo-dramatic like epic of some sort? Whatever😄

Island hopping is a trend nowadays for young and not so young generation of ffrequent adventure seekers who’s not really on a tight schedule and doesn’t mind being in a slow boat while it cruises the sea heading to the summer get-away islands of Cebu, Bohol,  Boracay, Siquijor, Palawan and many more.

Below are list of my own tips, guide, and suggestion on how to Do It Yourself  (DIY) island hopping adventure via ferry boat. These information are based on my experiences while on-board a ferry on a countless years of traveling, covering wide sort of passenger ships/boats plying on different ports in this country. You as first time ferry traveler will gained insight and ideas on what to expect on buying a ticket, to getting around the ferry terminal, on boarding and dis-embarking a boat, and most importantly getting your way in and out of your port of destination SAFELY!

MY FIRST THREE TIPS
  1. Ferry travel in a Philippine setting is far more different from that of American or European standard on sea travel. Why? Go further to learn more about it.
  2. Be prepared. Do some research about Philippine culture, tradition, the settings, its people, and most importantly the weather (click it here).
  3. Island hopping via ferry boat is generally safe- the country’s Maritime Safety Standard have been improved over the years- so need not to worry. It can be tiring and boring especially during long voyage, but rest assured that upon arrival on each and every destination you will be awed with what every Island can offer.

Eager for more? here it goes.

One of the many outrigger boats found in Boracay  Island.

 CHOOSING A FERRY, DELAYS & CANCELLED TRIP
  1. There are ferry-boats that carries passengers and cargoes, and connects to one or more islands in a single trip.
  2. There are long distance passenger ferries that regularly sails from either Manila or Batangas, with destination to major ports in the Visayas, and Mindanao.
  3. Overnight ferries, on the other hand, sails to and from Port of Cebu, Batangas, and other smaller ports along this areas and proven to be rather convinient than overnight land trip.
  4. Whereas, short-distance ferries usually travels less than an hour or to more than an hour from one island connecting another island.
  5. Meanwhile, medium to large sized ferry boats are typically the RORO (Roll on-Roll off) type of vessel that carries passengers and rolling cargoes. These types of boats are commonly used in a long or short distance haul, depends on passenger traffic.
  6. Medium sized freighter/barge like ferry-boats on the other hand, has either a forward crane mast generally used to haul paletized cargoes or flatbed bottom hull to easily dock itself on a shallow wharves. These boats by the way can accommodates passengers or a vehicles (for barge) in a short or an overnight trip.
  7. Small ferry boats normally are those single hulled or catamaran fast craft that you may often see in Port of Batangas or in Cebu Port. These type of boats are the most convenient among the last two mentioned type of boats as it is fast, on-time and comfortable, although the drawback is its pricey fare compared to the two afore mentioned.
  8. There are also motorized outrigger boats that plies on a regular short distance route and can take passengers on a daily basis, they are normally cheap, often slow and uncomfortable especially when crossing a rough sea.
  9. Dive / tour bancas meanwhile tends to charge tourist on rates typically higher than the average, this beacuse of the distance and  hours it may take to reach its destination..
  10. When buying a ticket, there is one or more accommodation to choose from. The more expensive are the one that offers first class amenities (a Filipino standard amenities), the least expensive are mostly preferred by locals but it usually has minor inconveniences for passengers.
  11. Most ferry companies doesn’t have website, but many of them does have Facebook page wherein you may inquire or view their posted schedule.
  12. Most ferry companies doesn’t have online booking arrangement neither.
  13. Foreign tourist planning their travel itinerary and would want to try a ferry trip may book in advanced through travel agencies which are often found over the over the net.
  14. For locals, buying a ticket is usually done on a ticketing office or booth found on every port, and even inside a shopping malls located on a major thoroughfare of a city.
  15. Tickets are commonly issued hours before departure, sometimes a few minutes before the vessel departs. As a general rule tickets are sold at first come first served basis.
  16. Buying a ticket at least a day or week ahead will save you from long queue of people, and usually tickets are priced lower.
  17. Ticketing offices/booth do not accept credit or debit cards.
  18. If you’re traveling on holiday season (particularly Christmas and Lenten vacation , long-weekend, etc), I recommend you to secure your ticket as early as you can.
  19. Tickets during this time are often hard to find or none at all, sometimes tickets double its price-why am I not surprised! And more often the inexpensive economy accommodations are fully book, and you will likely opted to buy the first class tickets instead.  FYI: Port of Cebu, Port of Batangas, and Port of Matnog in Sorsogon, Caticlan Jetty Port are few of the many ports in the country with heavy concentration of passengers during holidays so expect some delays, long queuing lines and crowded terminals during this time.
  20. Tickets by the way are refundable and re-bookable, but seldom re-routable. Normally refunds are subject to fees, and honored only in a ticketing office where you actually bought it.
  21. Tickets does not include terminal fees.
  22. A purchased ticket may include charges for Insurance fee, government tax, fuel surcharge and other fees. It may also include Filipino meal for long distance route. You may chose not to pay the fees for the meal should you prefer, just inform the ticket issuing officer ahead.
  23. Normally toddlers, elderly person, and person with disabilities are subject to discounted tickets. Foreign tourist/travelers unfortunately are not covered on these privileges.
  24. You can transport your motorized vehicle from one island to another island with ease, just bring those necessary papers and have it all photocopied.
  25. Ferry schedules are posted here in Islandhopping Geek’s Travel Guide, they are all updated every now and then.
  26. Bringing pets is possible, just secure a permit to carry from the Bureau of Plants and Animal Industry’s office found near every port. Reminders: office hour’s is until 5 PM,  and to my surprise there were no fees for my pet when I requested for a clearance.
  27. Some ferry company charges you a minimal fee for every pet or animals brought on-board.
  28. If you’ve been notified ahead that your planned trip were cancelled due to non availability of a ship… don’t get surprised! most likely the ship undergoes repair. 
  29. You see almost all ferry boats plying between every port in this country are old, and acquired second-hand from Japan. 
  30. More often, areas affected by weather disturbances will likely caused shipping delays on departures and arrivals.
  31. Expect trips will likely be cancelled for a day to a week should the government’s weather agency -PAGASA declares storm strength as it is approaching a land mass.
  32. It can be heard all over local radio and television station nationwide, better have Plan B set aside.
  33. Delays on departure or arrival can also be attributed to cargo loading and unloading process.
  34. Cargoes by the way are the lifeline for every RORO boats plying on every route.
  35. More often these ferry boats carries a full load of vehicles on its cargo bay to compensate for their expenses- indeed a long waiting time for passengers.
CPA's Passenger Terminal Building

CPA’s Passenger Terminal Building

GOING YOUR WAY TO A SEA PORT
  1. The convenient way going to a major ports like the one in Manila, Cebu, or Davao is through taxicab.
  2. Normally the cost of flagging down a taxi depends on what was on the taxi meter’s display.
  3.  Other taxi driver may charged you for a  fix price which is normally expensive, and illigal.
  4. If you’re a foreigner-don’t bite it if I were you; try to find a taxicab that would rather charge you based on what was on the taxi meter’s rate.
  5. Ordinary metered taxi (white) from NAIA terminals to North Harbor Port Terminal would normally cost in between 300 to 500 pesos, that’s if it never encounters heavy traffic.
  6. It may also cost you a little more during late at night.
  7. Whereas airport taxi (yellow) will cost you double than the normal but you can be assured by their well mannered and professional service.
  8. You may check the link here to learn more about taxicab fare rate.
  9. However, port access on a smaller cities are conveniently reached through public transport such as the famous local jeepney, multi-cabs, tricycles and commuter buses.
  10. Fares for this vehicle are per person or per trip basis.
  11. There are uniformed porters inside the terminal area ready to assist every passengers.  Manila North Harbor Terminal by the way regulates the collection of fees to passengers for every baggage checked-in, so no need to haggle for the price for each of the porter’s services.
  12. Other port does not have such arrangement like in Manila so the rule is you need to find amicable deals.
  13. If you happen to take the services of these porters make sure you have his name, or the number of his uniform, or at least remember his face, after all you, yourself entrusting your belonging on his hands…don’t get too confident.
  14. Before entering into a passenger terminal, you will be required to present your boarding ticket together with the terminal ticket.
  15. Terminal fee will cost from fifteen pesos to a hundred pesos more depending on a Port terminal.
  16. Terminal tickets are issued only to passengers with boarding tickets.
  17. Major ports have spacious passenger terminal building, with modern facilities to handle and capable to accommodate large numbers of passengers on any given time.
  18. During holiday rush and weather disturbances, ship’s  schedules changes more often thereby resulting to delays and cancellation of trip; passenger terminal building- on this situation- are normally busy accommodating crowds of stranded passengers.
  19. These passengers often littered on a terminal’s benches, floors, and corners together with their baggages, luggages, and boxes they brought in; and most likely a hundred more passengers are waiting outside eager to get inside the building .
  20. Arrive at least three hours ahead of scheduled departure.
  21. When I was doing an island hopping in Palawan a month ago, I was actually at the passenger terminal six hours ahead of the scheduled departure. Later on after spending five hours at the crowded terminal waiting for a boat, a ferry company representative went to announced that the boat’s arrival would be delayed for another more hours (what a poor Press Released). It turned out that the announced “more hours” of delay means it would reach to agonizing 12 hours of waiting until the boat arrived/departed from the port.
  22. Is these are the normal settings? I remember I was once asked by a confused foreign couple the same question,
  23. Honestly, in such circumstance wherein weather is the main caused I’m looking at it as a normal phenomena.
  24. The best thing to do when your in such unbelievable situation, is to ready your option A and C, which is to either wait or ask for refund. 
  25. Most of the ports implements Port security measures-Philippine Porrs Authority do comply International Port Standard.
  26. Do expect your bags, luggage and other things you brought in with you are gonna be checked and subjected to thermal scanners, and k9 sniffing as part of the standard procedure.
  27. Passengers will be required to undergo metal detector and body frisking as well.
  28.  Filipinos loved to travel that’s the fact.
  29. You’ll find them quite excited and friendly- sometimes noisy to the point it would distract other passengers- some are walking back and forth endlessly, while others are laughing to the point it would annoy fellow passengers… just relax they’re just  too eager to board a ship, you see almost all of us pinoy love to be in a ferry boat.

Expect long queuing lines during peak season

BOARDING A FERRY

  1. During boarding calls almost all local passengers  would want to board a ship as quickest as possible… too eager as anyone would notice.
  2. Some would resort to pushing and hustling with one another.
  3. Others will create their own lines instead of following what was the normal queuing lines… while foreigners calls it “Chaotic”, I call it culture.
  4. You have to understand that these Filipino travelers do not have the luxury to travel more often, so they have this tendency to get too excited on a feeling of what was like traveling on a ship. Why join the euphoria? relax and wait till the situation calms down.     
  5. Don’t lose your ticket.
  6. Always carry your ticket with you.
  7. Your seat or bunk assignment will be based on what was indicated on your ticket. If someone other than you occupies your assigned seat or bed, tell the boat crew.
  8. If you’re in an Economy Accommodation, then expect that you will be staying for the rest of your journey together with the other passengers in a non-air-conditioned, crowded, noisy, and a bit of chaotic surrounding.
  9. Why chaotic? Most of foreign travelers on a first time ferry trip on a local boat/ferry did not expect what was it like being on a budget accommodation.
  10. Actually for us locals what was in there onboard were pretty normal…you would be sleeping on a bunk with fellow passenger on an inch apart.
  11. You will also be sleeping side by side with people who snores and cough like a German howling guard dog ha ha ha- it’s not funny!
  12. Families with kids often running here and there sometimes knocking out things;
  13. Annoying passengers keep on talking, laughing, and singing on a videoke machine in the middle of the night
  14. Ship’s engine is quite noisy especially if your near the rear section where there’s a lot of vibration going on a deck of a boat.
  15. Others are eating in front of you and not on a dining or mess hall;
  16. Luggage’s, boxes, pets, electronic appliances and other household stuff are blocking your way almost like occupying the entire ship.
  17. And oh, you might wondering why do most Filipinos carries almost every stuff inside their house when they travel? That was a question asked by a puzzled foreign guy…a question were only us flipino travelers knows the exact answer.
  18. Never leave your bag open or display any valuables anywhere- laptop, smartphone, jewelry, money- to anyone especially if your on a crowded room or dining places (a disaster waiting to happen).
  19. Person with disability will have a little difficulty while on-board a ferry as most do not have facilities that would address their needs.

Sometimes you have to deal with reality…toilets are closed and under repair.

SANITATION & HYGENE
  1. Here’s more…when nature calls and you find yourself looking for a toilet (“loo”, “john”, or “room 100” as what foreigners call it), and get stunned rather with what was in front of you upon opening the door.
  2. If you’re traveling on a ferry carrying a hundred to a thousands of passengers, please don’t expect smooth sailing going to the toilet as most of the hundreds of passengers before you will be using the same toilet room at the same time.
  3. Most ferry does not have dedicated crew whose task is to clean the toilet every minute.
  4. If you are traveling on an overnight ferry, the best time to visit the toilet is during late at night wherein almost all people are asleep, and more likely toilets are cleaned at least.
  5. If you’re traveling on a short distance trip and you dreaded the smelly toilet, try to hold on it for an hour, until you got off the boat- if it is bearable.
  6. Might as well visit a comfortable toilet before boarding a ferry boat instead for your convinience..
  7. I suggest you visit a well known fastfood chain in the city as this establishment maintains clean toilet room as compared to what was onboard.
  8. Almost all toilet found on every ferry do not have hand soap in a soap dispenser, neither do have any toilet paper on its tissue paper holder.
  9. Expect that toilet flush isn’t working as well, more likely you will be using a bucket system.
  10. Toilet exhaust fan maybe working maybe not.
  11. Neither have any hand washing facilities near dining area, more often you need to visit toilet room to wash your hand after you eat.
  12. The general practice is you bring your own toiletries or buy it in a store on-board.
  13. Let me reiterate that what you pay is what you get. You choose for a budget accommodation then expect those inconviniences mentioned above.
  14. But if you wish to venture for more comfortable and relaxing trip on board you may upgrade to cabin or suite accommodation, rest assure you wil have the luxury and the privacy on your entire trip.
  15. Meals are not free unless stated in your ticket. Meals serve are often local dish of various taste and style packed in a styro with plastic cutleries in it.
  16. First class dining, on the other hand, offers better meal experience suitable for tourist and well to do passengers .
  17. On-board stores offers snacks, sodas, instant coffee, and more choices of instant noodles- hey, don’t ask me why first thing you would notice on an on-board stores is nothing but instant noodles- I, get puzzled too!

 “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”– James Michener

Got a good camera? moments such as this are worthy of a snapshot.

WHAT TO BRING ONBOARD?
  1. Bring ear plugs or earphones. This may help you sleep soundly even on a noisy environment.
  2. Buy pack meals, snacks, bottled water, motion sickness tablets, and toiletries while your in the city. On-board store sell this stuff but often at higher price.
  3. Smartphone or your ordinary phone. Smartphone will help your kids ease their boredom on a long distance trip, especially if they can play their favorite games.
  4. You can bring your cellphone charger and have it hook-up on a wall socket on-board. Just ask the crew where you can safely plug it.
  5. Power bank too!
  6. Telephones services by the way (i.e. Calls, SMS, and 3G/4G mobile internet) can also be access even far shore- usually your phone may pick a not too strong signal but good enough to send or receive a text message. Often a 4G signal will only be picked-up by your smartphone only if there is an island nearby.
  7. Identification papers in case you need it.     
Zaragoza Gate Pier 4 Manila North Harbor.

Zaragoza Gate Pier 4 Manila North Harbor.

UPON ARRIVAL
  1. Check your belongings especially when dis-embarking a boat, make sure that all things are within your reach.
  2. Arrival on a daylight posed no difficulty when finding a public vehicle going to a city. During late at night things maybe difficult especially when few public transport vehicles are found, most if not all will charge you high.
  3. The best thing to do (if you think fare is too stiff and not safe to travel at night) is to stay for a while at the port’s passenger terminal until daylight.
  4. Arrival at night in Manila is a bit of a test for those first timer especially for foreign tourist coming from Palawan or Cebu.
  5. Once outside Zaragoza Gate of the Manila North Harbor you will find  hundreds of passengers looking for a transportation just like you do.
  6. Public transport like jeepneys are common here and most have different route with different fare, some will charge you minimum while others will charge double. Just ask the driver how much would be the cost before boarding any of these jeepneys. Be alert of snatchers and crooks lurking around.
  7. If you’re heading to the NAIA Passenger Terminals 1, 2 and 3 or at any of those big hotels in Makati, Pasay or Manila, it’s better to take a taxicab as public transport like jeepney or buses are not available for this route.
  8. Again if you can find a taxi that is willing to charge you based on what was on the taxi meter’s reading the better, if not try to haggle for a better deal.
  9. If your boarding a vessel from Caticlan (Aklan), Romblon, Puerto Galera or Calapan in Oriental Mindoro and you wish to travel to Manila, the easiest way is through the numerous ferry boats that connects these provinces to the Port of Batangas.
  10. Upon arrival on a modern port located in Batangas City several bus companies (almost all of them offers air-conditioned buses) are waiting outside the terminal round the clock, some bus will take you to Alabang in Muntinlupa, others will go to Cubao in Quezon City, but most buses will end up to Buendia in Pasay City.
  11. There are a good bus competition around here so expect each bus company will offers nice and well air-conditioned coach, a well mannered driver and conductor, and a cheap fare.
  12. Getting out on provincial or municipal ports are easy as plenty of four/two-wheelies awaits outside the gate. Drivers here  normally are  courtious and so willing to assist to load your heavy bags on their vehicle, still watch you valuables!

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

 ― Clifton Fadiman

That’s it for now. If you have questions feel free to comment here, if you think this blog help  please do share it!  Thanks.

3 thoughts on “Island hopping 101: Guides and Tips On Your Trip in a Philippine Ferry Boat- 2019 Edition

  1. Pingback: Islandhopping 101: Five Questions to Ask for People Who Wish to Venture on an Island Hopping Adventure | Islandhopping Geek's Travel Guide

  2. WOW! Great guide! I’ll go to take a ferry from Iloilo to Palawan in second week of March 2016. Is there really NO possibility to book in advance? How can I send a Mail to Milagrosa Shipping? the FB page doesn’t offer contact,… or at least I’m to blind to see it 🙂

    Like

    • Hi,

      Actually there is no need to book in advance, just be there at Milagrosa office few hours before the schedule departure of their boat and buy you’re ticket then your good to go. There are enough space inside their boat to accommodate every passenger heading Cuyo and Puerto Princesa- unless its peak season- so booking ahead make no sense (”,). Beside this is the Philippines, were people here tend to not to take seriously about planning ahead- we often enjoy each day, go with the flow and opt not to worry too much or else it will ruin everyone else day.

      I doubt if they (Milagrosa) would respond to anybody’s email unless they find it interesting-cargo inquiries which are very important to them would be their main interest.

      Relax, enjoy your vacation and travel safe. Thanks for visiting my site Jannik.

      Regards.

      Like

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