|Gloria's Fantasyland in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte, is the first and biggest amusement park in the Visayas and Mindanao|
|A fireworks display caps the Festival of Colors parade and show at the Gloria's Fantasyland|
Except for the makeshift stalls selling souvenirs, candies and snacks, the iron gate and a small building undergoing renovation, the Rizal Shrine looked like an entrance to an enchanted forest. The park is leafy, shaded by trees and the hills behind it. The museum was closed and under construction, the biggest concrete structure in the shrine. The Dapitan Bay was placid, and the few fishing boats were almost motionless on the water. Huts of bamboo, wood and grass could be seen among the foliage, replicas of a clinic, homes and students’ domicile of Jose Rizal. Old men and women unobtrusively were sweeping off dried leaves and litter and keeping the place clean. They could be hardly noticed except they were clad in all white, a thing one associates with cults. They are actually Rizalistas, members of a group which believes the novelist, eye doctor and the Philippines’ foremost hero is a divine being. They came from all over the country and help maintain the shrine, which is sacred to them. Visitors often chat them up, and they are friendly, but mostly they just go on in their quiet ways, as quiet as the surroundings and most parts of Dapitan City.
During his exile here from 1892 to 1896, Rizal bought about sixteen hectares of land in the barangay of Talisay with money he won from a lottery. Here, he temporarily lived and became very productive—writing, sculpting, studying, teaching, exploring the place and helping out the local community. The place later became a national shrine and a major historical landmark of the Philippines. This is what Dapitan in Zamboanga de Norte is known for. About 650 kilometers southwest of the capital Manila, the city is generally sleepy and rustic.
At the town proper, many structures are old, and there are constant reminders of Rizal. The biggest structure in the area is perhaps the Church of Saint James the Greater, where Rizal attended mass. In front of the church, he made a relief map of Mindanao. The plaza was expansive. Nearby is the Casa Real, Rizal’s official residence in Dapitan, and the old city hall. The street names are associated with Rizal such as Noli Me Tangere and Josephine Bracken, one of his lovers. At the coast, a monument, the Punto del Desembarco de Rizal, was installed, marking the site where Rizal first disembarked. The area, with its historical landmarks and several ancestral houses, was declared the country’s first Heritage Zone in 2011, in time for the 150th birth anniversary of the hero.
There is another face of Dapitan City, and it starts at other side of the Punto del Desembarco de Rizal, where Sunset Boulevard starts and ends with the new, almost palatial city hall, greeting visitors coming from Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte’s capital. The coastal street is lined with resorts, coconut trees and, incongruously, street lamps of futuristic design, similar to those along Roxas Boulevard in Manila. This is the so-called new Dapitan with modern developments, and its brightest structure is the Gloria de Dapitan, an entertainment, business and dining complex in the barangay of Dawo.
Heralded by a wall of dancing and colorful lights, Gloria de Dapitan has bars and restaurants, a bowling center, a fitness gym, a “five-star cockpit,” a beauty salon, a computer arcade, an Internet café, a billiards and dart hall, a disco pub, a coffee shop and bakery, boutiques, shoe and souvenir shops, a pharmacy, a money changer, a spa and food stores. A big water fountain with lights sits in the middle. A call center is expected to be put up in the future.
The three-hectare complex was built by the Jalosjoses, the most prominent political family in Zamboanga del Norte, whose patriarch is the former representative of the province, 73-year-old Romeo Jalosjos. Contrary to many visitors’ conjecture that it is named after former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a political ally, Gloria de Dapitan simply means “glory of Dapitan,” something, it is hoped, that will be the pride of the city.
The most prominent feature of Gloria de Dapitan is the theme park Gloria’s Fantasyland whose façade in the shape of a castle, bathed in light, welcomes visitors. On December 14, 2014, the nightly parade was launched, marking the completion of the theme park. According to Svetlana “Lana” Jalosjos, daughter of Romeo Jalosjos, the vice president for sales and marketing, and the unseated mayor of Baliangao, Misamis Occidental, they have invested about P200 million on the theme park. The presence of such a park, with a level of sophistication and technology unexpected in the region, can be surprising. Gloria’s Fantasyland is the first and biggest amusement park in the Visayas and Mindanao. There is none in Zamboanga City, the most urbanized hub in the region and the country’s third largest city, 156 nautical miles from Dapitan. Even Cebu City, the country’s most important city outside Metro Manila, does not have anything like it, said Lana. It is perhaps the second biggest theme park after The Enchanted Kingdom in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
|Inside Gloria's Fantasyland in Dapitan City|
|A water feature inside Gloria's Fantasyland in Dapitan City which looks like a sculpture at the Bonifacio High Street in Taguig City|
|Said to be the most expensive horror house in the country, Gloria's Fantasyland's horror house is impressive|
|The three-hectare entertainment, business and dining complex Gloria de Dapitan, owned by the Jalosjoses|
|The 5D theater of Gloria's Fantasyland in Dapitan City|
Gloria’s Fantasyland is the brainchild of Romeo Jalosjos. It is said that it is a gift to his daughters, who wanted to go to Enchanted Kingdom when they visited him when he was at the New Bilibid Prison. Jalosjos was convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to two life terms in 1997. His sentence was commuted by Macapagal-Arroyo to 16 years, three months and three days in 2007, and then later to 13 years, five months and 15 days because of good conduct. He was released in March 2009.
In May 2009, Gloria’s Fantasyland opened. Lana said it is the vision of his father that this place will be where people can be children again. Barred from running for public office ever by the Supreme Court, Jalosjos spends most of his time on family businesses, which include the Dakak Park and Beach Resort in a cove in the barangay of Taguilon, perhaps the best resort in the Zamboanga Peninsula and even in Western Mindanao, which started in 1988, and the production of Eat...Bulaga!, the country’s longest running noontime variety show. Dakak and Gloria de Dapitan employ about 1,200 workers, one of the biggest employers in the peninsula, Lana revealed.
Apparently and admittedly patterned after the world-renowned Disneyland, Gloria’s Fantasyland is meant to fill a gap in this kind of entertainment in the tourism of the Visayas and Mindanao, Lana said. She remembered starting out with just 26 small kiddie rides. Over the years, there was a demand for more thrilling rides. Thus, interactive rides were imported from China. The highlights of the park prove to be the 5D theater and the Zimerman, the single-loop and double-corkscrew rollercoaster, said to be the only one in the Philippines. The Ferris wheel remains to be the most conspicuous fixture. The Apollo crudely simulates a ride in a rocket ship. The Galleon is a giant ship that rocks riders to and fro, one of the most fun rides. The classics are present—the carousel and the bumper cars.
The most successful feature of the park is the horror house. The most expensive horror house in the country, Lana described it. It is said to be more “detailed” with eleven rooms and a story as visitors walk through the house. They hired costume and set designers who worked with the popular Shake, Rattle and Roll movie franchise.
To complete the Disneyland-inspired format, the parade was added. For the parade, they hired professionals from Metro Manila such as Peter Macrohon as entertainment director, Wally Tuyan as choreographer, Rolando de Leon, a scenographer who works for the regional branch of network giant GMA 7, as float and costume designer, Joey Nombres as lighting design consultant, etc. For its launch, they invited Eat...Bulaga! hosts Jose Manalo, Wally Bayona and Paolo Ballesteros; the country’s most popular child performer, Ryzza Mae Dizon; and the country’s most popular actress, Marian Rivera, to do a short show. It was an extra treat for the locals, who thronged around the center stage, and for the crowd at the gate, outside the park, squealing at very glimpse of the celebrities when the gate partially opened.
Called the Festival of Colors and described as the “soul of the park,” the parade is a pageant of extravagant and lit costumes and colorful floats inspired by world cultures and civilizations, interspersed with dancers. The floats depict China, Thailand, Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Persia and the Philippines, each with a costumed model riding on them. Models parade in costumes adorned with lights and gigantic skirts. The marching band also shimmers with light. One of the highlights of the parade is 21-year-old Junrey Balawing from Sindangan, who at 22 inches was declared the world’s smallest man in 2011 by the Guinness Book of World Records and rides on the Persia float.
After going through the theme park, the parade is followed by thirty-minute, Cirque du Soleil-inspired show called “Joie de Vivre,” a series of modern jazz, hip-hop and pop dances that feature acrobatics. The dances are energetic and impressive. And the dancers are all locals, Nombres beamed. More than 100 dancers and performers, some of them park employees and most residents of the city and nearby areas, are involved in the parade and show. Lana said the parade and show will be a permanent feature of Gloria’s Fantasyland, mounted daily starting ten in the evening.
|The marching band of the Festival of Colors of Gloria's Fantasyland in Dapitan City glows like phantoms|
|The Gloria's Fantasyland float in the Festival of Colors|
|The Queen of Fire in the Festival of Colors parade|
|The Queen of Water in the Festival of Colors parade|
|The Queen of Gems in the Festival of Colors parade|
|Dancers of the Thailand float|
|The Thailand float in the Festival of Colors parade|
|The Africa float in the Festival of Colors parade|
|People crowd around the float to take a picture of Marian Rivera during the Festival of Colors launch in December 14, 2014|
|Marian Rivera delights the crowds|
|The Mexico float in the Festival of Colors parade|
|The Philippines float in the Festival of Colors parade|
|Dances in the "Joie de Vivre" show features acrobatics|
|Most of the dancers are locals, and the dances are energetic and fast-paced|
The blasé visitor from Metro Manila may find the theme park a tad tacky, and it is, but one can’t help but to be impressed with the level of technology and effort put in as well as to see incongruity in place as rural and laidback as Dapitan City. But Gloria’s Fantasyland is more for the locals, who may not have the chance to visit Enchanted Kingdom in Luzon or Disneyland in Hong Kong.
Capping the parade and show was a fireworks display, enthralling everyone as it sparked the night sky to brightly blossom. Its colored lights momentarily shone on the calm, dark bay, maybe on the shadowy forests and upon sleeping huddles of houses, projecting the happiest place in the Zamboanga Peninsula and auguring a future in appearance might be bright.