Arrival: We travelled by Air Transat out of Toronto. Because my wife is seriously overweight, she would not go unless I upgraded to Cabin Class. This cost an extra $221 Cdn apiece roundtrip. It included extra luggage capacity (88 lb. instead of 44), champagne on arrival at your seat, an open bar, blankets, ear phones and the like. It was much nicer than travelling in cattle class, but the jury is still out on whether or not it was worth the extra cost
Check in (close to midnight) was quite fast and pleasant. There was enough staff on hand to handle the bus load of us that arrived within a reasonable time. No complaints there, or on checkout a week later. The only quibble I had with reception is that they would not give us a second room key even when I went back the next morning as instructed on arrival.
I had been corresponding for some days before we left with one of the senior members on Debbies’s, and it turned out that he knew the manager, Osiris Cid, and e-mailed him on our behalf (thanks, Bob!), getting a reply saying that he would “look after your friends.” And he did! On arrival, we found that we had been upgraded to a beachfront, ground floor, suite, no. 9101, which was absolutely lovely. I cannot comment on what other rooms are like because I was not in any others, but ours was very pleasant, and tidied and cleaned daily. The aircon was a bit odd, in that it needed a card, like a room key except that it wouldn’t open the door, and if it was removed, the power went off in the room. The maid seemed to remove the card when she cleaned the room. No problem as we didn’t really use the aircon anyway. The only oddity was that when the card was removed, the temperature reset to 70 so you had to remember to resent it to 76 or you would freeze at night
Restaurants and Bars: The main buffet was Hibiscus, which is directly on the beach. The views were great and the food was typical Dominican buffet style– something for everyone and lots of it. There was a grill which did omelettes at breakfast and meats at supper. There was always a line, so we never bothered with it as the rest of the buffet was great anyway. We ate breakfast there every day, some lunches and most dinners. Eden’s is next door and has a smaller buffet at lunch and is an à la carte restaurant at dinner. We reserved for it once and had a nice meal. The soup was excellent and so was the entré, although my kabobs were a bit underdone for my taste– my own fault for not specifying. Service was friendly. We did not eat at the other à la carte.
There is a swim up bar in the pool, but it is shaded and closes early (4:00 I think) so we never tried it, but there is another, Extasis, by the pool which is open until 11:00. They had live music there most nights, which was quite good, and we spent most evenings there. At 11:00, we moved down to the main bar, Sinners, which is at the beach between Eden’s and Hibiscus. It was open until 1:00. Bar service in general was good. Sometimes there was a rush on the bar and patience was needed, but often there was no one else around an service was quick. The bartenders did well under all circumstances. Beer was Presidente on tap, and the rum was Barceló. I prefer Brugal, but nothing wrong with what they had. Some of the other liquors were Classic, which is a cheaper brand. Every day there was a drink special of the day. My wife tried them all and liked them all.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The beach is great, probably the nicest in Playa Dorada, and certainly with the best snorkelling. There is a reef/rock formation a hundred yards or so off shore in about six feet of water at high tide where there are scores of fish. I even saw a lionfish one day. I did a couple of dives with Sea Pro at Sosua one day, and the fish were about as nice at Grand Paradise without the cost and travel. A twenty minute walk along the beach to the west brings you to a couple of markets. The usual game of reserving loungers with towels begins each morning, and many are often empty except for the towel for hours, but we never had a problem getting one.
The pool is quite large, but shallow, not over four feet or so, and has a net strung over part of it. It is not meant for swimming lengths, but is a good spot to cool off in fresh water. It was not heated and not heavily chlorinated so quite pleasant on a hot day.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
We did no excursions, although friends did and quite enjoyed them. I did a couple of dives with Sea Pro one day, but they now bus you to Sosua for them, and it ended up being a commitment of five and a half hours for two thirty-five minute dives. The dives were nice, but it was just as pleasant snorkelling at the beach with mainly the same fish to see.
All in all, a great week, and I’d certainly go back there again, but for longer the next time.