We just returned from a week trip to the Gran Ventana – our first time to Puerto Plata. We choose to go there on a good friend’s recommendation: he lives in town several months each year and knows the resorts fairly well. Overall we were thrilled by our experience there. Overall – gorgeous beach and grounds, real nice people, excellent food, campy shows and not the best drinks. And probably by far the best 4-star resort in the area. If we return to that area and go the AI route again, we’d definitely choose the same place again – and that is not our usual style. Service. Very nice and efficient people – no complaints at all. Given that local wages are pretty low, we gave out alot of $1 and 100 peso bills during our stay there, as the service was real good. Internet: free in the main lobby (wifi), 3 real slow and old PCs available for guests beside the lobby, and at a price wifi available in your room. Your room also has a safe deposit box, but you need to pay for a key (in our room it was not one of the newer electric programmable safes).
Very easy – got on the AI resort bus 10 minutes after exiting the airport, and 20 minutes later we’d arrived.
Rooms: The Gran Ventana has been kept up real well and rooms are being gradually renovated.
Rooms directly overlooking the main pool may be somewhat noisy especially in the evening when the shows are on. Rooms at the back of those two buildings towards the ocean are quiet and nice. Try to get a top third floor room that comes with a much higher ceiling (but there are no elevators for those with mobility issues…). Essentially no rooms are ocean view – even those overlooking the ocean will have their views largely blocked by the large trees. They have an adjoining complex around the quiet adult pool where the rooms were closed in the summer. There, I’d think rooms overlooking that pool would be nice in the high season. However, other rooms in that building on the outside might overlook a service road with at times buses – not the best location.
Restaurants and Bars: Food. It the best we’ve had at any 4 star resort so far. If you aren’t vegetarian, in our experience the Iberostar Bavaro Beach and the Cancun Club Med had probably better food, but they would be rated on the order of 5 stars. Compared to a Bahia Principe, in Puerto Vallarta the Marival, Fiesta Americana and the Holiday Inn, and to Club Meds we visited in Australia and Brazil, the Gran Ventana is IMHO much better. And for vegetarians, all specialty restaurants had at least 2 vegetarian main dishes and also hors d’oeuvres. That said, like essentially all those other places, the house wine was just barely drinkable.
Cocktails. Essentially based on locally produced alcohols – good rum but beyond that, not the best. We overdid the Pina Colladas and a few other fruity drinks, but were not thrilled by some of the other choices in some bars (not always great fruit juices…). They should break down and at least pay for decent whiskey and tequila, from the UK and Mexico…
Beach/Pools/Grounds: Most of the resorts in the area were built around 25 years ago. As a result, unlike some other resort areas, the buildings aren’t the most up-to-date in style (e.g., our bathroom was abit dated); on the other hand the greenery is much lush compared to more recent resorts and, by staying in a somewhat older resort, you aren’t paying for recent damage to the local environment (important to us).
They have a very large and gorgeous beach, though the wind there is often pretty strong, making it hard to read books at times. Their beach was much larger than all the other resorts we saw walking far in both directions, and it was always easy to get lounge chairs in the shade at the swimming pool and along the beach. I spoke to people at the Barcelo next door and was definitely happy we had chosen the GV instead.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: Evening shows – pretty lame and campy, but we were there in the slow season – they might be better in the winter. And they were fun and well attended. They have a limited variety of organized activities during the day (water aerobics…), plus pool volleyball. Most people there are on these AI deals including airfare, and the local representatives really push people to buy their own local tours which are invariably real overpriced – the AI tour operators have a large desk beside the main lobby. The nearby Plaza Dorada has several independent tour companies where you can buy excursions for much less (James there has a good reputation). If you go downtown you need to be abit careful – don’t flaunt expensive jewels, watches, etc. or wander about aimlessly at night- but otherwise the area is not really dangerous. The tour people at the hotel clearly go out of the way to scare people to make them pay more for their own services, and it is a shame – unfairly hurts the town. We went downtown twice to visit the area (also easy to do with the the half day town tour offered by everyone), and had a day at the Jasmine spa (www.jasmine-spa-wellness.com) – excellent hour-long massage in the morning and, in the afternoon, either a facial, pedicure or manicure… depending on your taste. They also has a simple but outstandingly good lunch, a walk through their property (tasting interesting fresh fruit), the possibility of taking a mud bath (the spring-fed rince pool can be cold!), etc. They are real involved in helping the local rural town community which is an additional plus, and they don’t sell through tour companies (you need to e-mail them or call them up). It was somewhat expensive but we thought it much nicer than the usual tourist rum-and-fast-boat sort of day outing. And for those on their last day with an evening flight out, they will pick you up at your resort, give you a full day of relaxation, and then drop you off at the airport.
Finally, the Plaza Dorada (about 50 yards up from the Gran Ventana or Barcelo) has a variety of shops – pharmacy, tourist junk, tee shirts, rum and other liquors, etc. Prices can vary alot from store to store (liquor was cheaper and there was a better selection on the second floor), and some are negotiable (tourist babbles especially). They also have various banks with well guarded ATM machines – easy to withdraw money. They also had a bar and a couple restaurants/discos (which were mostly closed in the slow summer months) for those itching to get out of the resorts. They also have taxis and you can negotiate their prices too, especially if you want them to wait for you for a couple hours and bring you back.
We’d return (and returning to AI resorts is not really our style…).