Via Puerto Plata / Air Transat and Sunquest vacations
The food was good; especially the chicken (every time and every way) and the breakfast omelet bar. Although there were a limited amount of items on the buffet table, we never left the restaurant hungry. I especially enjoyed a dessert that had a sort of bread pudding bottom and crème brule custard body. It was delicious and there just about every night! My husband is still disappointed that they only had rice pudding (his favorite) once during our seven-night stay. There were two a la carte restaurants at the resort; a Mexican-style and a Thai-style. Both were good and you could go as many times during your stay as you wished as long as you made reservations at the front desk in the morning. We didn’t have any problem getting a table either time and it was a nice change from the main buffet. My favorite meal at the buffet had to be the pasta bar, which was set up so that you could choose your own style of pasta, sauce and ingredients, and the chef would heat them up individually. A close second would be the burrito plate at the Mexican place. The Thai coconut-octopus soup at the Thai place would be third. There was also a snack bar near the beach that ran for a short time in late afternoon and it offered hamburgers, hot-dogs or grilled ham-n-cheese sandwiches depending on the day.
The service everywhere in the resort was very good. I did not expect to be waited on at the buffet, but we were provided drinks and table-clearing services by very friendly and courteous staff members, who had varying degrees of skill in the English language. They were very good about helping me with my efforts to speak Spanish, although quite pathetic at times, it seemed as though they appreciated me trying. I have always felt a warmth in the people that I have been lucky enough to meet during our four stays in the DR, and this was also present in Cabarete.
The beach itself is quite well-maintained and absolutely gorgeous! The surf and palm trees made for some amazing pictures, but it was way too harsh for any snorkeling. Even swimming was difficult, but it was fun to frolic in the giant waves and we enjoyed watching the kite-sailing. You could take lessons and rent boogie boards right on the beach. There were also the various vendors and hair-braiders one usually finds at beach-front resorts, and it sometimes took several negative responses before they would give up on their sales-pitches. There were also daily horse-back rides (also not part of the all-inclusive), but only once did we see any motorized vehicles along the beach or in the water, and that was only a couple of small dirt-bikes and only the one time. Not having the whine and exhaust smell of the motorized sea-doos and speedboats was a nice change from the place where we stayed during our last visit to the DR. The down side of the beach was the beach chair situation. There were too few of them so, as a result of the shortage the “reserve by towel” practice was a bit out of hand. It was difficult to get two decent chairs in the morning unless you were able to stick your towels on a couple before around 7:30am. The pool chairs were also busy, but we usually were able to find a vacancy in the latter part of the afternoon.
The Animation Team:
It may only be a small resort, but the entertaining Animation Team worked hard to ensure you wouldn’t be bored. There were games, at pool and beach-side throughout the day and Showtime every evening. The Magic show was the best show of its type that we’ve seen during our four visits to the DR. It starred the friendly and darn cute white bunny named Jackie, which has free range of the resort and isn’t the least bit shy. Jackie drove the gardener staff nuts digging up the plants in the front lobby, (which was actually quite entertaining) and she spent a fair bit of time in our building. The next most impressive show was a tribute to Africa, which involved fire, dancing, and had a faux fight using wooden poles. The sports bar had a flat screen TV, which always seemed to have a soccer game going on. There were two (just) usable pool tables and a dart board, as well as a ping-pong table. Organized activities included things like water polo, beach volley-ball and soccer, dancing lessons and Spanish lessons. I did get up and try a bit of Meringue with staff members on one of the dance nights, and had fun with it. They also had just a traditional high school dance type thing on Valentines Day and played love-songs. Most of the music we heard while at the resort was either North American or British popular music of yesteryear or Spanish slow ones, rather than what I would consider Dominican music. I would have preferred a bit more Meringue music and a lot more variety in the other styles. We heard the same CD several times over. There was also a live band playing at the buffet one night, which was a nice added touch to the entertainment line-up. The Animation team was always trying to keep people involved in the fun, but we prefer a quieter vacation experience, so we tended to lounge on the beach or around the quieter pool or use the pool tables rather than take part in the organized sports and activities.
The first room we were given was on the third floor of the lobby building that a nice British lady referred to as “the cell block.” I must admit there was a resemblance, but that’s not why we asked to switch to another room. None of the drawers in the dresser would open, the air conditioning unit in the room wasn’t working and it overlooked a somewhat noisy lane where the taxi drivers congregated and all the resort staff and supply trucks travelled. The door to the balcony, even when fully closed, had gaps around it that a bird could fly through (maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration). My husband is a light sleeper, so the noise level was really the deciding factor. The move wasn’t a problem for us, although we later heard others weren’t able to get different rooms. The second room was located in a building that was across the main lane from the lobby and furthermost from the beach, but it had been recently renovated and was very quiet. There were chickens and a few cows grazing outside our ground-floor balcony-patio, and a bunny hopping the hallway. The room was quite spacious and had adequate, functional furniture. The bathroom had a nice newly-tiled shower. There was always lots of water and it was as hot as you wanted it to be. The cleaning staff was constantly busy and we had no complaints other than the TV wouldn’t power up, but we aren’t TV watchers anyway so it wasn’t an issue. We did witness several flooding incidents. For those who prefer to be near the action, the rooms overlooking the sports-bar pool would probably be the best bet. The constant thumping of the bass from the party pool closer to the beach would likely hinder an afternoon nap. The review we first read about this resort said something to the effect that “if you want a lively night life, then this resort is not for you.” That’s actually one of the reasons we chose to go to this particular resort. There was lots of night-life close by, had we chosen to stay up past Showtime at the resort. Cabarete is a jumping little town at night, or so I’ve heard.
There were zero hassles getting between the airport in Puerto Plata and the Paraiso in Cabarete either coming or going. In fact, since we were the end of the line for resort drop-off and pick-up, we got a sort of free tour of the Playa Dorada complex and the towns of Sousua and Cabarete en route. That was helpful, as we had a better idea of where the Scotiabank and best place to shop was before we went to town on our own. The Paraiso has a free shuttle to town that leaves in the morning daily and comes back in late afternoon. We chose to go on Saturday, as that’s the day the shuttle supposedly returns to the resort at noon. I say, “supposedly,” because it didn’t return at all on the Saturday that we went. After more than a half hour had passed, a German lady from the group of nine people who had come into town on the shuttle made a call to the front desk. This is when we learned there would be no return shuttle. He had told us to be back at the Scotiabank parking lot at noon, so we were a bit miffed, but the hotel paid for our taxis back. The next time we went to town, we took the shuttle in and the local bus back. That was an experience; 23 people in a van meant to hold a maximum of thirteen! It reminded me of Vancouver busses downtown at rush hour. We paid 30 pesos each and the guy seemed happy with that.
The Town of Cabarete:
The cheapest place to buy vanilla, coffee and rum to bring home is always the town supermercado, so we hit Janet’s for that. It’s located on the north side of the street at the east end of town and is a bit of a hike from the Scotiabank. It was also the only place in town where I was able to find feminine hygiene products, but that’s another story. (One would think the pharmacy would carry such things!) The best place for touristy-type stuff was Liquidation World. It is located on the south side of the street and just west of Scotiabank. Several other merchants (including one in the lower level of the building that the real one is in) have been capitalizing on Liquidation World’s reputation for good prices by putting up their own “Liquidation” signs so don’t be fooled by imitations! Their building has an orange roof and also is home to a surfer supply store called “No Work Crew”. The ‘real’ Liquidation World opens around 10am and the prices are so low that you don’t do any bartering there. I bought a really cute dress for my young granddaughter, a package of vanilla cigarillos, and two pairs of earrings. There were also some really nice leather hats that were tempting (975 pesos/36$Can); not to mention all the other stuff like t-shirts, sarongs, jewelry, paintings, and clay stuff. We also enjoyed a bit of a break at a sports restaurant called the Downwinder, which is almost right next door to Janets’ supermarket. The bathroom is clean and the cappuccino was good. There was a menu in English (the staff spoke very good English too) that offered breakfast for under 300 pesos, but it was a cash-only establishment, so don’t expect to use your credit card. The best rate for money-changing was at Scotiabank and I wish I had brought my bank card, as that’s all I would have needed. To change money inside the bank itself required a passport. Our Sunquest rep had advised us to change our money at the bank as it’s not uncommon to get counterfeit pesos from some of the money exchangers that seem to be on every corner. We also got a slightly better rate at Scotiabank. Most places would accept US currency as well as pesos, but forget using Canadian cash. Many places also take credit cards. We were told that Visa and Mastercard would be the most likely ones to be accepted. Be careful walking in Cabarete, the sidewalks are very narrow at best and are often blocked by merchants’ signs or parked vehicles. Don’t even think about renting a vehicle of any type unless your life insurance is paid up and you are ready to meet your maker. The Sunquest rep told us she has been living in the DR for 22 years and still does not drive herself. The DR is the only place I’ve ever been where a car’s horn likely wears out before the tires.
The only off-resort organized tour we elected to do during this visit to the DR was the Zip-Line Adventure Tour, which was a blast! It is offered from Paraiso twice per week, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and costs $89 US each. We booked it through our SunQuest rep. Pick-up was an early 7:40am and we didn’t get back until close to 2pm. It took some time to collect others on the tour and drop them off, plus the zip line itself is inland toward Santiago. Franklin, our guide, was great and his English was excellent. All of the staff was very professional and we felt safe at all times. We had never zip-lined before, but it wasn’t a problem. There was a guy selling a video of the whole experience, but we elected not to buy. I think he charged $25 or $39 US. You could also buy a beer or pop for a reasonable amount of money at the last platform, which is where the office is located, and I was really looking forward to it! There were eight or nine lines, some faster or longer than others, but all were fun. I would do it again, for sure. This one ranks up with the jungle safari tour that we did on a previous visit, which I would also recommend.
The first thing we noticed when we got on the plane was the generous (for an airliner) leg room. Apparently Transat has listened to their passengers and reconfigured their planes, loosing a few rows of seats to offer a bit more comfort. It was a very smooth flight south. The approach was very rough on the way back because of the snow storm in Halifax (welcome back to Canada EH?) but the cockpit crew made a very graceful landing in spite of it. The cabin crew was very polite and attentive. The southbound breakfast meal was good. The meal served on the return trip (black beans and beef) earned some negative comments from some of our neighbouring passengers. We normally don’t eat beef and if there had been an alternative meal, there were none left by the time we were served.
Very good things to say about the Sunquest reps. Lilly met us at the airport and escorted us to the resort, staying with each group long enough to make sure everything was in order before the bus moved on to the next. She is a native of Canada (Quebec). English is not her first language, but it is adequate. Leslie, the rep who visited the resort most every day, is also from Canada and has impeccable English. She was very patient and answered all the questions we had.
Overall, I think the Paraiso Tropical was good value for money. Resort guests hailed mainly from Canada (the majority), Germany, and Britain. There’s a lot that could be done to improve this resort, my handyman husband figures he could stay busy fixing stuff at the resort for a long time to come, but it is a 3-star and pretty much what we expected. Very high marks go to the staff and the food. We do enjoy swimming and snorkeling a great deal, so would probably choose not to return to the Cabarete area for that reason.