This was the first time that my wife and I have visited the Dominican Republic. We have been to a wide variety of all inclusive resorts in Cuba, on both the East and West coasts of Mexico, Antigua and Granada. Before booking our trip to the Dominican Republic, we read many reviews and talked to several travel agents. We wanted to be at a nice beach resort over Christmas.
I have written reviews for most of the resorts we have stayed at and try to portray a realistic picture of the resort being visited. Before writing this review, I would like to mention how accurately the resort was presented in a review dated Nov. 23/09 by a couple from Barrie, ON. It’s this type of review that makes travelling much more enjoyable as you know whatâ€™s in store for you when you arrive.
ARRIVAL and CHECK IN: We travelled with Air Transat out of Toronto. By doing so in our packaged deal they paid both the entry and departure taxes, as well as giving us 3 a la carte meal vouchers. Another travel group with Nolitours had the taxes paid, but only got 2 a la carte vouchers for the resort. Be sure when you book your trip, you know which airport you are landing at. Initially we were flying into La Romana airport which would have meant a 1.5 hour bus ride to the resort. We changed trips and booked a flight flying into Punta Cana (Higuey) and saved over an hour on the bus and the overall package was cheaper. There was a half hour delay at the airport getting people into their correct buses and then a 20 minute ride to the resort.
The front desk at the Grand Paradise is very slow and receptionists lose their focus very easily. At the same time, travelers tend to be tired and quite irritable. This was, for us, the most stressful experience of the trip. We paid the extra $20 for a room safe, largely due to what we had read in other reviews.
ROOMS: Security was an issue, as both of our patio doors in our room couldn’t be locked . We were on the second floor but this wouldn’t have stopped anyone from getting into our room. Don’t even think about changing rooms over the busiest 2 weeks of the year. We talked to the travel rep and the front desk about the problem, but we knew nothing could or would be done to remedy the situation. The rooms were quite spacious and clean. Maid service was great. Electricity is both 120V and 220V so converters weren’t necessary. One comment that I should make is that ear plugs are recommended if you are a light sleeper. This is not to say that the room or the surrounding areas are noisy. It all depends on where you end up on the resort. The only problem we noticed with our room was that out TV remote didn’t work, even though we never watched it while our room.
I would suggest that if you are a beach person, book your room in the beach section and not in the middle select section or in the farthest from the beach section called the club section. The discos and casinos are in these two areas away from the beach. We stayed in the #2 building next to La Cana Bar and Grill (on the beach) which was an ideal location.
RESTAURANTS and BARS: The Laguna buffet was great. Service, food selection and quality were all very good. Meals included roast turkey on Christmas Eve along with evening presentations of roast beef, leg of lamb, rabbit, goat, and a variety of chicken and seafood dishes. Fresh fruit was scarce at times, but once the post Xmas crowds arrived, service and fresh produce seemed to be much more available. Freshly squeezed fruit juices seemed to suddenly appear. We never lacked for anything to eat. We took in 3 a la carte restaurants, Michaelangelo’s (Italian), Manglor (International) and the Taino (Dominican). All were excellent. Each course was presented beautifully and in a timely fashion. It was cooked to our specifications and tasted great. If given the opportunity, you must try these a la cartes to experience foods not found at the buffets. The only a la carte restaurant in the beach section that had a surcharge was the Asian restaurant right beside the Laguna buffet. On the best night there may have been 4 or 5 couples willing to pay the $15 per person surcharge. I really do think that the sole function of this fee is to reduce the number of patrons using this restaurant.
Be prepared to drink a lot of rum fruit drinks at the beach bar. Presidente beer is not too bad, daiquiris are OK, but that’s where it ends. Margueritas were different every time you ordered one. You had to specify rum if you wanted it in your drink and amounts of alcohol seemed to vary drastically for each drink poured. Most people didn’t care. Beer is beer and any drink with rum and a lot of colored fruit juice hits the spot when you’re lying on a sun drenched beach.
BEACH, POOL AND GROUNDS: All were very well maintained. The grounds were manicured but some wear and tear is evident on the walkways and buildings. It truly is a beautiful beach resort minus the grandeur of a Riu Palace or a Bahia Principe. There were sections of Bavaro Beach around the resort that had small bits of seaweed floating in as they were scraped off the bottom by the continuous wave action. Most were quickly raked up and removed. Swimming areas were clearly marked and roped off all along Bavaro Beach, not just in front of the Grand Paradise resort. People swimming outside these zones were taking their life into their own hands as water taxis and other motorized watercraft were constantly running by. Outside these marked areas, swimming was perilous right off the beach due to rip currents, sloping beaches with little shallow safe areas and rogue waves. My wife lost her prescription sunglasses and her camera when hit by one wave while wading waist deep in the shallow surf. The wave was several feet over her head when it struck her. Another person injured her leg when struck by a large wave at a neighboring resort. On the other side of the coin, most people loved playing in the waves inside the swimming areas. Boogie boards were quite popular as many kids and adults rode the waves up onto the beach. Snorkeling was impossible due to water turbulence and weed debris within the designated are as. The beach is relatively narrow and on good days the sun worshippers clog the beach with hundreds of lounge chairs. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the lounge chair cities in front of some of the larger resorts (Riu Palace) .
If you are a pool person, then none of the above is important to you. The pools were great. There were all kinds of organized activities and sports that you could take part in: badminton, volleyball, bocia ball, shuffleboard, yoga and pool aerobics, just to mention a few.
ACTIVITIES and EXCURSIONS: We did not do any off-site land excursions. We did however try parasailing and went on a 4 hour fishing trip organized by the Watersports team at the resort. Avoid signing up for any excursions offered by locals on the beach as there are many stories of people losing their money. Commissioned vendors, carrying binders with Watersports Activities written on it, are working on behalf of the resort. This is the safest way to go or book directly at the Watersports booth. Parasailing was amazing. Ten minute ride for $50 per person or $85 for 2 people. We actually saw a grandfather take his two young granddaughters for a ride all at the same time. I am afraid of heights, but my wife talked me into it. Initially, I thought she was going after my life insurance, but really, I did enjoy the ride. The ocean was a little rough for our 4 hour fishing trip and yes a few people did feel a little sick but we had a lot of fun. We caught 8 Mahi Mahi and 2 Barracuda. There were 8 of us on the boat but only 5 were fishing. The cost was $95 per person to fish or $50 per person just to go for the ride and with the waves it truly was a thrill seekers delight to get on the other side of the offshore reef. On a nice day, you can walk 3 to 4 miles along the beach to the beach flea market. An extra half mile gets you to the little village where the fishing boats are anchored. Here you will find a variety of shops and beachfront restaurants serving fresh fish, jumbo shrimps and a variety of Dominican specialties. It’s a great spot to spend an afternoon. You can arrange to have a watertaxi take you back to the resort for $10-$15 if you don’t want to walk back.
Personally, I would stay away from the flea market by the front gate of the hotel. The vendors aggressiveness is relentless. It is definitely, not worth the trinkets that they are trying to sell to you. You will have a much better selection at the resort. For several evenings, vendors will be showing their wares just outside the lobby area. This will include such things as cigars, rum, local herbal remedies, artworks and jewelry.
COMMENTS: Sure, some people got sick (diarrhea). A few got hurt by the waves. There were some incidences of theft (3 rooms cleaned out at the Barcelo Premium next door). It is no different than we have experienced at any of the other resorts we have stayed at. Just be careful, be cautious and be prepared for anything that might happen during your stay. Overall this was an excellent trip, good value, good service and we came home fully relaxed and with a great tan. Thank you Grand Paradise Bavaro. Bruce Berry (firstname.lastname@example.org)