Note: We went with young children so we weren’t looking for lots of nightlife or activities for singles/teenagers. My husband and I took our 2 children (ages 5 and 2) for a 2-week stay from July 4-18, 2006. We were thinking it would be extremely hot but it was not unlike a southern Ontario summer except instead of smog there was an ocean breeze. The purpose of our trip was to relax, enjoy the beach and the weather and to visit my husband’s family who live in the area. If you go expecting 5-star, North American style conditions then you should stay at a North American resort because you will be disappointed.
The Colonia Tropical is a quiet little hotel that was clean, air-conditioned and had all the comfort we needed to enjoy the trip. The staff was friendly and quick to respond to any requests and check-in was easy. If you stay there you have full access to the larger Capella hotel directly across the street. Yes, there were a few minor problems. There was a problem with the hot water one day, no cable for a short time due to a rain storm (but we weren’t there to watch TV), a problem with making long distance phone calls for a couple of days (we could still receive calls) but this is a developing country. They don’t pay taxes so they don’t get the reliable services we enjoy at home. If you travel outside the resort area at all, you shouldn’t complain. Citizens have to endure rolling black-outs on a daily basis in un-air conditioned houses and living conditions, even for the “middle class”, are difficult. We went with realistic expectations and a relaxed attitude and we had a fantastic time.
Getting There: We flew Zoom Airlines out of Montreal to La Romana. The flight itself was ok but check-in in Montreal is a nightmare and our flight back was delayed by 10 hours. If you do go to the Juan Dolio area, fly into La Romana. It’s only a 45 minute drive and once you pass San Pdero the road is perfect, plus you get to see a few little villages on the way. If you fly to Punta Cana you may as well stay there because it’s a 3-4 hour drive to Juan Dolio.
Food: We often had breakfast at the restaurant in the Colonia hotel since it was included with the room. It’s pretty basic (coffee/juice/fruit/toast and they’ll make eggs to order for you if you ask) plus it was convenient with 2 kids. The staff and cook are very friendly and got to know our kids by name. The food at the Capella buffet is nothing spectacular. Breakfast wasn’t bad. There’s an omelette bar where the guy will cook it to your specifications in front of you. There was also a smoothie station and lots of fresh juice, toast, muffins, etc. Try the tamarindo juice – texture like tomato juice but it has a sweet/tangy taste. Lunch was OK but by dinner it seemed to get monotonous. There is a nice Dominican themed restaurant that is included but you have to make reservations, which was never a problem. We discovered this on our 2nd night there and ate there every night afterwards until we left. Food was good, it’s small so the staff get to know you and they’re very patient with kids. There’s a buffet as well as a menu. They even arranged for a birthday cake for my mother-in-law whom we brought to the hotel for a night as a birthday present. Try it at least once to get a taste of traditional Dominican dishes.
Staff: With the exception of a few of the staff at the main buffet restaurant, the staff was friendly and helpful. They always said hi to the kids and will return your greeting with a smile. Try to learn a few Spanish words or phrases since not all staff speak English. You would expect front desk staff to know a bit but really, why would the maid have to speak it? She’s getting paid next to nothing so learning to say (or write) “more towels” or “more water/Coke” would be helpful. We left tips and small presents for the maid on occasion and when we left, I left the kids’ sand toys and a few other things for her children.
Beaches: Not the sandy white beaches that you would find at Punta Cana but we knew that. They are raked regularly but are a bit rocky so just bring water shoes. The rocks actually provided great entertainment for our kids as they enjoyed looking for snails and small crabs left behind by the tide. Walk up past the Kids’ Club and the dive shop (east) where there’s softer sand and fewer people (including vendors). It’s actually in front of another hotel but in the Dominican all beaches are public so while you can’t use their chairs, the sand is free for all! (just bring a towel) There are quite a few vendors selling the usual jewellery, hair braiding, massages, coconuts, etc but just continue to say no or avoid eye contact and they’ll leave you alone.
Pools: A couple of nice, large, free form pools. One by the beach/buffet restaurant has a swim up bar and waterfall as well as a separate kids pool. Gets a bit noisy at lunchtime with animation staff doing aerobics. Another pool by the Dominican restaurant has a kids area where they can wade in plus a small waterslide. Bring your own floaties and water toys since there are none available from the hotel.
Kids Club and Show: Just down the beach from the main buffet restaurant there’s a quiet little area with a play structure, some shade, a small shallow pool and some activities inside a little hut. There are some water toys available here. There’s a bar and washrooms with a large area of chairs for parents to relax while the kids play plus the vendors don’t venture in that far. Good for younger kids, maybe up to 9 or 10 years old. Our 2 year old enjoyed himself as well, but kids younger than 4 have to be supervised by parents. Closed from noon until 3pm. Nightly “kids show” from 8pm-8:30 pm where kids get on stage and learn some songs with a couple of the activities staff. Our little ones loved it.
Activities: The activities staff are usually centered around the main pool by the buffet restaurant. There’s aerobics, dancing lessons, volleyball and other things throughout the day. They encourage participation but if you don’t want to hear it, just go down the beach or to the other pool. At night there’s a show until about 11pm and then everyone moves to the disco at the beach that’s open until about 2am.
Illness: None of us got sick, which was my biggest fear, especially for the kids. I did bring a good supply of Pepto/Immodium/Tylenol/Gravol from home just in case. A few things that I think helped were that we only drank bottled water, used only bottled water to brush our teeth, tried not to have ice in our drinks, stayed clear of salads and uncooked vegetables, limited fruit and went to the buffet early so the food was fresher. My daughter and son both had upset stomachs on a couple of occasions but I think it was due to over-indulgence in mango and pineapple!
Communication with home: Just down the street from the Colonia is a little store where you can buy a phone card to call home. Much cheaper than calling direct from the hotel. 100 pesos (approx $4 CDN) gets you 11 minutes to Canada with no surprises when you check out. Just around the corner from that is a little Internet café (next to a manicure place) where you can check your email or send a quick message at a very reasonable price. I paid 20 pesos (approx $1CDN) for 15 or 20 minutes. They write down the time you start and then you just bring them the piece of paper when you’re done.
Overall, we had a really enjoyable vacation. The first time I went to this resort was with a friend 10 years ago. We had a great time then and this time, with my husband and children, it was still fun but in a different way. If you take a more relaxed attitude and realize that you are leaving North America, you will enjoy yourself. You’ll get great, friendly service and you’ll appreciate the comforts of home once you return!