Every kid enjoys the sandbox, literally a small box filled with sand. Imagine exploding the size of the sandbox and the vastly increasing the number of fun activities in it, and you have The Sandbox Adventure Park right in the middle of Alviera, out here in what used to be a quiet, lahar-stricken portion of Porac, Pampanga. Because we can’t resist the usual sneaky way of having fun with the intent of presenting our experience here in VisitPinas, we devoted one whole weekend day to explore The Sandbox.
As usual, we didn’t have any preconceived idea on how to write and present the travel article. We’ve realized that, based on what we’ve encountered at The Sandbox, the only way we can present this article is to talk about the things that adventure addicts should remember in order to fully enjoy The Sandbox. We’ll start with five of these reminders:
5. Summer = heat
This year’s summer is terribly hot and humid. Yes, we learn to adapt and enjoy summer, but it doesn’t make it any less hot. Out here at The Sandbox, right smack in the middle of flatlands without trees and other heat-absorbing structures nature provides in other places, like Dahilayan or Baguio, you can really feel the sweaty bite of hot summer. And can only enjoy the place when the sun is up, not during the night and not when it rains. The activities are done open-air, out under the sun. No covered courts so better prepare for the sun. The only covered portion is a few square meters at the reception area.
We arrived at The Sandbox after lunch. Around 1:00 p.m., to be exact. And perhaps we don’t have to say what’s obvious — it was hot. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was something else, but one lady dropped like a sack of potatoes — twitching, her face all scary white. The thud as she hit the floor hushed the fun chatter of guests waiting to pay for their tickets. Within 5 seconds or so — a very impressive response time — two orange-clad paramedics were attending to the lady. One guard was radioing for the ambulance, stationed 10 meters away (would have been more impressive if the key was actually with the driver beside the ambulance, not at the reception area).
So, prepare for the heat. Better still, visit the sunbox, The Sandbox we mean, early in the morning. It’s open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesdays to Sunday. Wear appropriate clothing. Hydrate properly (water, drinks and food brought from outside are not allowed inside). Wear sunblock.
4. Choose your adventure
The Aerial Walk Challenge was the only activity we paid for. Entrance fee of P75 per head is separate from the other activities: P150 for the Aerial Walk, P100 for the Giant Swing, P100 for the Free Fall, P50 for the Rappel Walk and the Wall Climbing, P150 for the Roller Coaster Zipline and Mini Golf, P2,500 for the ATV.
So, while falling in line to get your tickets (or, better still, while inside the car on the way to Porac), you better talk among yourselves and decide which adventure to choose and, on top of that, who gets to explore what adventure. Not everyone can check out all the rides/challenges if you’re on a budget. Choose wisely. Don’t pay for the ride/challenge if you have no intention to go through it.
For instance, the only adventure we chose was the Aerial Walk. The Giant Swing was out of commission. No generator was available, which means no electricity, which means no Giant Swing. It’s the only ride which requires electricity to work. The Avatar One (Asia’s first and only roller coaster hipline) requires a minimum weight of 40-kilo for riders. We won’t try it without the kids because they were the ones who asked to go there in the first place. The Mini-Golf was also not available.
There are no fun food boths or cooling areas, not like Enchanted Kingdom, Splash Island or Manila Ocean Park. So, come to think of it, we paid P75 + P150 for the SOLE purpose of riding the Aerial Walk. Better be sure of the availability of activities, both on the side of The Sandbox (running order, etc) and the rider side (minimum requirements like height and weight).
Now, remember that it doesn’t matter whether you happen to choose only one or all of the adventures. You’re bound to get sweaty and dirty. So don’t forget to bring extra sets of clothes. And towels. You’ll need the towels. And you’ll need to think of backup adventures because The Sandbox is found in the middle of nowhere. We ended up continuing the fun in Clark.
3. Safety first
The impressive response time we witnessed convinced us that The Sandbox takes safety very, very seriously. This perception was reinforced when, after falling in line for around 30 minutes to get our tickets, we finally proceeded to the Aerial Walk Challenge (a series of obstacles and challenges to test one’s physical prowess and mental toughness — high up there). We waited for another hour or so, with the crisp heat and all, because the Aerial Walk looked fun and we would have loved to try it.
Going through the entire Aerial Walk Challenge can be done in less than 30 minutes. Unfortunately, this challenge is an illustration of the “weakest link” concept. Anyone getting stuck, for one reason or another, holds everyone else at the back of the obstacle course. And this, unfortunately, holds back the excited souls waiting in line. Safety rules require only a number of individuals on the course at any given time. Unfortunately for us, someone froze as she was about to go through the first zipline component of the Aerial Walk (mind you, you’re alone up there, with no staff by your side, which means you hook yourself to the zipline). Everyone was “encouraging” the lady to make it a go. No luck. She froze. After more than 30 minutes, a crew decided to go up and “fetch” her.
All those time, the Sandbox staff helped us strap on our safety gears. Our kid had to wait for smaller safety gears (minimum height requirement is 4 feet) because there was only a few. My husband had to wait for a helmet that fits his [enormous] head, a problem we didn’t encounter in ALL other places. Maybe The Sandbox will eventually do something about this (bigger helmets perhaps, Mr. Pangilinan?) because it opened only on April 12, 2014. And while we’re at it, perhaps Mr. Aris Pangilinan (who was kind enough to come out after we asked to speak to a manager) could fine-tune little things that could make guests feel less ripped off. We understand that safety is a priority, but we would have appreciated being told — right away and not after hours while waiting in line, with the summer heat — that we could not proceed because of the helmet problem. We would have appreciated a crew — and not a security guard, like we’ve committed a serious infraction — approach and to tell us that we can’t proceed. We would have appreciated being invited to the sidelines, and not being confronted in the middle of everyone in line.
By the way, one more thing, wear closed shoes. It’s required. This is not a place to play pretty. The Sandbox is a place for adventure.
2. Distance and expense
The Sandbox is not exactly near. It’s accessible by public transportation, we’ve been told, but we didn’t see any jeepney or other public utility vehicles in the area. For those taking their own cars, we suggest passing through the NLEX, then SCTEX (taking the road to Subic), taking off at the Porac exit of SCTEX. That’s around one and a half hour travel time from Manila (but The Sandbox is merely around 5 minutes from the Porac Exit of the SCTEX).
And that got our goat, so to speak (we really don’t mind traveling day and night, on land, by air or water). We were offered a reimbursement, but only for the Aerial Challenge fee. That was the moment we asked to speak to the manager. We drove for more than an hour. We wasted our time. We wasted money for gas and toll fees. We spent hours lining up, through all that summer heat. We chose two rides, the Giant Swing (which was out of commission when we were there) and the Aerial Walk. When we were buying the entrance tickets, nobody told us about the helmet specs. And they’re going to reimburse only the Aerial Walk ticket?
To add salt to the injury, and perhaps this is the greatest injury The Sandbox inflicted on us fun-seekers: they made us wait for more than an hour, all those time excitedly waiting for our turn on that exciting Aerial Walk, discussing how to tackle each obstacle, what to avoid, and making a dare on who’s the fastest among the group. No amount of sun and heat can stop us from enjoying the Aerial Challenge, we thought, not knowing that it was that helmet which will douse all our excitement.
1. Group fun
We had our temper in check because, we thought, The Sandbox opened only recently and has to fix some bugs. On a scale of 1 to 10, the expression of our utter disappointment was only around 3. We thought that The Sandbox staff will get the hang of it. We’re sure they’ll make adjustments. They have to. While our youngest kid can grow to reach the minimum height and weight requirements of The Sandbox, my husband said that there’s no way we can shrink his head. The Sandbox will have to get those bigger helmets. They have to. Then we’ll definitely be back.