Arrival Easy and hassle free. They did the check in on the bus ride to the resort. We were Golden Club, which I would highly recommend upgrading to (Transat). Our room wasn’t ready when we got there, so we walked down to the pool bar and had a drink and looked around a bit before we went to our room.
We stayed in the suites that are down the cliff apart from the hotel. They all have ocean view rooms. You have to take the golf cart shuttle to and from the rooms (well, you can walk if you want, but there are hundreds of stairs and the rooms are very far from the main hotel/resturants/pool). Otherwise, the rooms were very clean and well kept. Fridge was stocked with beer, pop and water. Bathrooms were large with a standup shower and a separate jacuzzi tub. My only complaint was that because of the standard of the sewars in Samana, you cannot flush your toilet paper and have to place it in the garbage (ok, certain times I cheated on this, but that was the general rule). This was for all the restrooms in the resort. Oh, one other complaint…we had to pay for the room safe, $30 for the week, which I think is a rip off, but oh well.
Restaurants and Bars
The a la carte consisted of Italian, Gourmet and Seafood. They were alright…I’ve had better. The buffet was alright. Not a huge selection, and they tended to recycle certain dishes from dinner to breakfast or lunch to dinner. I never went hungary, and we never got sick. The best part of the buffet were the desserts…every night they had some fancy, awesome desserts like Banana’s Foster or Creme Brulee or warm fudge brownies. The ice cream there was the best. The pool bars were alright. You usually had to ask for rum in your drinks (the frozen kinds like pina coladas) or they gave them to you virgins. The lobby bar was where people tended to hang at night before the "shows" in the disco. This place isn’t for night owls…the lobby closed at 11, and if you stayed at the disco, you had to pay for your drinks after 11.
Beach/Pools/Grounds Main pool area was gorgeous, but crowded and people played the towel game. Not a lot of chairs. The main beach was small and good for shells with lots of chairs, but garbace tended to wash up after it rained. Staff were always on the go raking and cleaning, so it wasn’t too unsightly. The pool and beach in front of our suites were nice. The pool was actually 3 jacuzzi tubs with a shallow outer rim. Not much shade, and again with the towel game. There was a large deck built out over the ocean with lots of chairs and NO shade. The beach off to the side (where I spent 75% of my time) was small but it had these great trees for shade and you could drag chairs over to it. And it was public…the locals tended to stay off further to the side, but you could still hear them all the time playing and splashing. Not much garbage here, some decent snorkeling off closer to the shoreline, but watch out for the little jellyfish! Overall, the grounds were immaculate and beautiful, lush and tropical. Be warned…you have a lot of walking to get to anything!!!!!!! The whole resort was walking and stairs! Not for people with reduced or impaired mobility!!!!!
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel
We didn’t do the main pool at all, but we could hear it and it seemed to be busy and entertaining most of the day. We did 2 excursions. Whale watching was great, but they dumped you on Cayo Levantado for the afternoon and you had to rent beach chairs (don’t pay any more than 50 pesos!). We also did the El Limon waterfall excursion. I was not impressed. It was very misleading "take a guided horseback tour through the jungle and end up at the bottom of a beautiful 50 ft waterfall." Ok, the "guide" actually owns the horse and walks beside you holding onto the horse or donkey or whatever you get. Then you have to park your ride and climb down the mountain. The steps are a good 2-3 feet steep, cut into the rocks. My thighs hurt at the bottom. Then, after a few minutes, you have to climb back up the mountian. Not once did anyone say "this isn’t for people with reduced mobility or heart conditions or asthma or for anyone who is generally out of shape", otherwise, I wouldn’t have gone. Ok, so back at the top, you get back on your ride and go back to the ranch for lunch. Don’t eat anything that isn’t cooked…my friend got very sick off the lettuce. But first you had to tip your guide…the tour rep at the hotel said around 150 peso’s, which is about $5US. My friend’s guide said he wanted $20. She gave him $11, and he looked pissed. I gave mine $10, after he didn’t look too happy with the first $5. Then our tour guide "Dominique" came over and we asked him what was a good tip, and he said that the horse guides don’t get paid from the tour, so their tips was how they made their money, and at least $5, but $15, 20 was great. Here’s my thought…what the hell did I pay $75 US for???A bus ride to and from the ranch and lunch??? So when I got back to the hotel, I complained to the Transat rep, and she said that yes the horse guides do get paid. So…the tour tried to rip us off, basically. I heard from others that the Los Hatisis Park and the Catamaran tours were good.
Samana is a growing area. Shopping isn’t great. There’s a plaza down from the hotel you can go to that’s acutally owned by the hotel and locals rent shops. Some of them are strictly "no bartering", so the price you see is what you pay. The prices aren’t unreasonable, really. Other shops are in the town, but only a few tourist types. Do not buy from these guys…I bought white vanilla from one and got home only to find it was some type of cleaning solution (thank God it leaked in the bag in my luggage before I gave it away or used it!). They will rip you off 5 ways from Sunday if they can. There is a grocery store you can buy rum and coffee and whatever cheaper than in the shops. There’s also an open air market further up the road, but I didn’t get a chance to go. It was mostly fruits and stuff from what I heard. Overall, I’d give the resort a 5star, but the food only a 4star. I’d go back…after I go other places first.