I well remember, a few years back, going on a press trip to Hong Kong on behalf of a newspaper in the Middle East. I probably filed at least a dozen articles, all of which, bar one, were printed. The errant story was about the recently-opened H.K. Disney World that the newspaper refused to publish. Apparently the advertising department felt that if they did so they would lose advertising from a valued client. For some reason they took particular exception to me writing something along the lines of “The best sight in the entire HK Disney World is the sign that reads Exit”.
So I was somewhat amused recently to come across what had been dubbed by many at the time it was scheduled to open as the ‘Disneyland of the Philippines’.
Fantasy World is located just off the Diokno Highway, near Lemery in Batangas, 2-3 hours drive south of Manila . You can hardly miss it.
Fantasy World has been there since 2001, and has a chequered history, to put it mildly. It started off life destined to become a theme park, but according to initial stories the money ran out early on when the ECE Realty Corporation’s head, Emilio Ching, fell ill. So Plan B was to convert it into a 'photo-opportunity' park instead.
In the initial stages, Fantasy World was endorsed by the Department of Tourism and was designed to have a castle, a club house, a 504-room hotel, a chapel and rides. The budget was set at over ₱1 billion (or just over US$19m). Later internet reports, written in the past five years, claim that Fantasy World had a suspension order forced on it after the developers failed to comply with disclosure requirements. Its stock market listing was also suspended as a result.
What is not in doubt is the fact that in its present state the entrance fee was initially set at ₱1,000 (US$19) for up to 10 people to be allowed to wander in the 30-hectare park and climb to the top of the Disneyesque-Bavarian-inspired castle. No doubt following complaints of this rip-off level of pricing, you can nowadays enter for ₱100 per head.
The park is currently run and maintained by neighbouring residents in a kind of homeowners association. Food and drinks bought outside are not allowed inside Fantasy World, no doubt to protect what few profits the homeowners can drum up from the gullible tourists. Guests can purchase drinks and snacks for between ₱30 and ₱125 in an underwhelming cafeteria room that has appalling write-ups if you read the travel sites that have actually bothered to visit the place.
ABS-CBN News actually made a feature about the park, struggling heroically to think of anything good to say about it: “Here are some of the things you can do inside: Take lots of photos... Rent a costume for ₱300... This will make your selfies much more fun... Climb to the top of the main tower... Cross the hanging bridge... Find a moment of peace...”!
For professional shoots, pre-nup photographic sessions, and even for flying drones, there is an additional fee of ₱5,000.
ABS-CBN continues: “Those who would not mind climbing about a hundred steps [up the castle staircase] will be rewarded with an unobstructed view of the Batangas greenery that surrounds the park”. What we are not told is that the castle is simply a poorly built facade with nothing more than a tower that you can climb up in order to reach the viewing gallery that probably holds a maximum of 15 people standing shoulder to shoulder.
But they are correct when they say you can see greenery – that looks pretty much like the greenery you can also see from the bottom of the tower.
ABS-CBN also reports that “several theme park rides such as mini-ferris wheels, roller coasters, and mechanical swings can be spotted in different parts of the property”.
Ah... my dictionary helps me out. “Several: being more than two but fewer than many in number or kind”.
Or to put it another way... Three!
Apparently the THREE rides were installed in early 2017 but not one has been finished as of two and a half years later and they are still not operational. One wonders if they ever will be.
This eight-ball ferris wheel is what you might find in any children’s amusement park anywhere in the world, and I shudder to think how real Disneyland employees would describe it!
Likewise this mini rollercoaster that I think is meant to resemble a dragon is overgrown with weeds.
Ah, but hang on a moment... one of Fantasy World’s more popular features is the tree house. Well, compared with the non operational rides, it probably is a lot more popular. Actually, there are two tree houses connected by a hanging bridge. Go climb the top and you will be rewarded with panoramic views of Taal Volcano – a view that will make you feel like the ruler of the land.
(Drive a little further along the road, however, and you can get even better views of Taal volcano!)
In the lower half of the Park is a pleasant garden. And if you climb to the bottom of the hill and back, that will eat up at least another half an hour of your time. But perhaps because of the stifling heat, no one seems interested in climbing down the stone stairs, knowing that what goes down has to climb back up again.
So what few visitors there are in this place wander aimlessly past topiary-inspired hedges ...
... and admire some of the pleasant trees and flowers.
Heaven forbid that you should even think about picking any of the flowers though – there are stern warning notices all over the park telling you in no uncertain terms not to do so. But there’s nothing to say you can’t uproot one of any number of self-seeded tree weeds, which is possibly a better way of getting some kind of value for money in this place.
To add insult to injury, ABS-CBN tells us that if we can't get enough of Fantasy World, the management offers free access to the park for a lifetime membership fee of ₱187,000. Hold on... does anyone really think they will want to come back to this place even once more, let alone another 1,870 times?
I’m beginning to see why they call this Fantasy World!
Fantasy World can be found on the main road linking Tagaytay to Nasugbu, not far from Lemery.