written by Mikaela Zulueta (@kelazulueta); photos and video by Geraldine Gallardo (dindingallardo1799)
I’m gonna be honest here, I live five minutes away from the NAIA airports which also means I am literally a stone’s throw away from a variety of duty free shops. I’ve grown up making trips there for our regular grocery shopping, but also to make panic buys during sale season (read: grabbing bags of discounted chocolate with no bias). Because of this, my first thought on the drive to Subic was, “is this really worth it?”
Short answer: Yes, yes it is.
From the moment you step into the store you’re greeted with sights that aren’t typical of just any duty free store. The Lacoste and Under Amour boutiques greet you on your left, and straight ahead in the snacks section is a smorgasbord of choices. Get ready to be spoiled with options like character themed gummies, Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches and quality beef jerky (things I can never find in Manila!)
But as true Titas of Manila, we found ourselves gravitating towards the home and living section first, where the different branded sheets and comforter sets literally called to us.
It was all downhill from the sheets (or uphill, depending on your perspective) after we spotted all the cheap steals! From a curved tv that was going for around P10,000 to Buy 1 Take 1 offerings of branded clothes, Royal Duty Free did not disappoint on their promise of value shopping. None of us left the sale section with empty hands or any regrets. Unlike other impulse buys that has you feeling like trash, any decision you make here is the smart one.
A personal criteria of mine when it comes to shopping is how convenient the experience is made. I like doing groceries in stores that stock everything you could possibly want. If a zombie apocalypse ever comes I’d want to get my weapons in the same place I’d grab my food rations because, y’know, survival. So of course I was hyped when I realised that I could buy a tent and my weekly groceries all in one trip. You get a varied range of products when you shop here, with canned goods and local produce sitting alongside (ultra cheap) bikes, answering any and all needs you could possibly have.
Of course, Royal Duty Free would not be a duty free outlet without an impressive collection of chocolates. Being pinoy, its practically ingrained in us to look for chocolates when someone says cue words like ‘imported’ or ‘pasalubong’. Here, we’re not only appeased but indulged with all the confectionary choices. They offer special types such as the artisanal bars, different alcoholic types and the Japanese KitKat wafers. There are european brands Milka and Kinder. But of course our favorites are paid special attention to by Royal Duty Free. Hershey variations are overflowing with Reese’s, Kisses, mini bars; giant Maltesers and Toblerone are front and center, with Snickers, Reese’s, Kisses, mini bars; giant Maltesers and Toblerone are front and center, with Snickers M&M’s and Mars spilling out over shelves.
But more than anything, what sets Royal Duty Free apart is their employees and how they prioritise their customers. I’m not saying Paulo Avelino is going to be there everyday to serenade you like he did at the grand opening, but it’s an example of the lengths their management is willing to go to. Unlike a lot of other grocery stores that I frequent, the staff here are efficient even amongst chaos.
They are accommodating, but not over eager to please, striking a perfect balance before it crosses the line over to ‘creepy’.
I didn’t know what to expect from Royal Duty Free’s new Manila Avenue branch that would set it apart from other tax-free shops. I questioned if I would find anything that I wouldn’t just be able to get at home. It was a dumb question. Roughly three hours of shopping later had us leaving the building with an overflowing shopping cart and second thoughts about going back inside for a certain bicycle. I am positive that it’s only a matter of time before one of us cracks and makes a second trip back.
Royal Duty Free Manila Avenue
Manila Avenue, cor. Canal Road, Subic Bay Freeport Zone
Manila line: (02) 584-4530