Arrival: April 23-30, 2009:
A few days prior to leaving for our family vacation (myself 43, my mother 67, two daughters 17 and 19 and their two friends 19 and 20), Conquest went under which affected many vacationers – those already on vacation and those soon to depart. I did not book my vacation with Conquest, but this unfortunate event left many agents scrambling to get their customers back home, which resulted in our in-and-out-bound flights being changed – but lucky for us, it was for the better. We booked our vacation through Travel Last Minute and flew with Air Transat. While at the airport in Toronto Air Transat announced there were seats available in first class at an addition cost, which we took advantage of and we were happy we did. It started our vacation off fantastic – Jen in first class made the best mojitos! We arrived in Puerto Plata just before 11:00AM, it was sunny and hot. Luggage was brought out quickly, boarded our air conditioned tour bus and arrived at the Grand Paradise by noon. Check-in time is 3:00, so our rooms were not yet available. We grabbed a drink and headed to the beach to wait. After an hour or so, two of the three rooms were available and an hour after that mom and I got our rooms. The people at check-in are not as pleasant as the rest of the staff – not rude just so-so.
Well! These rooms were the most beautiful rooms I have stayed in. All rooms have been fully renovated and are mucho modern. The beds and pillows were very comfortable and clean. No smell of dampness that is normally experienced in the Carribean resorts. The maids ensured fresh water each day in the mini-fridge and the rooms were equipped with 4-cup coffee makers, coffee and tea. There are nice flat screen TV’s in each room – which made my mom happy because she was able to catch Dancing with the Stars while there. Very impressed. All of our rooms had ocean views – mom and I on the second floor, king size bed and balcony with wicker patio furnature. Both of my daughters rooms were just above us on the third floor, once similar to our room but with a double bed and the other was a two-storey loft style room with two separate bedrooms and kitchenette. Water pressure was not the best in the loft-style room, but great in the other two rooms and air conditioning was perfect in all three. The other thing I was happy to see is their care to incorporate energy efficient features – all bulbs were compact flourescent, programmable thermostats in every room and the resort encouraged re-using towels. Nothing bad can be said about the rooms.
Restaurants and Bars::
We were at the resort at the beginning of low season, therefore, it may have been at 2/3 capacity which resulted in not all restaurants being available each day. Normally I lose weight on these Carribean vacations because the food is not the greatest – this trip I gained weight! The buffet at the Hysbiscus serves breakfast and lunch each day and is opened most days for dinner – it is a covered open-air, Ocean-side eating area – vaiety for even the most picky eaters – very good. Be sure to sit in Victoriano’s section – he treats you like royalty. You never have to wait for water or drinks and when he see’s you coming, you are greated with a smile and a hug – he deserves every cent and works hard for his tips. There was one day where only Edens and Michael Angelo a-la-carts were the only two choices for dinner – both were not good and I’m not a picky person. The atmosphere of the two a-la-carts was great but the food less than so-so. Again, buffet is the way to go and if there is not something there for everyone to enjoy – well they are probably too hard to please even in North America! All bars were great – one major disappoinment was the swim-up bar was closed. I would have rather seen one of the other bars close during the day and have the swim-up bar open. From mid-might to 1:30ish, the sandwich bar was open. A huge selection of meats, cheeses, breads, trimmings and a panini press. I only made it one night, but the kids made it most nights. Very nice.
The grounds are immaculate, green, lush. The pool is the cleanest pool I have ever experienced in the Carribean! Could have had something to do with the fact that the swim-up bar was closed – you know as well as I do that some of the "regulars" at the swim-up bars sit there and drink all day and very seldom leave the pool to empty their bladder – but I would rather like to think it is because they keep it so clean. It was quite large and cool. Plenty of chairs and umbrellas each day. Watch your towels as one family we met there had one of their towels stolen from their chair while in the pool – it will cost you $25 US if you lose your towels. No reflection on the resort – was most likely a guest. The beach is absolutely gorgeous – plenty of chairs and very clean. BUT, be prepared to be swarmed by people selling things. It get a bit annoying after a while because they are very, very pushy. I am not a rude person, but at times have to be firm to get some of them to stop pestering. So the beach is beautiful, but because of the annoyance of sellers, not very relaxing. But from what I understand, this is the norm for Dominican.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:: Being an avid Cuba vacationner, the nightly entertainment is not the best in DR – or perhaps I have been spoiled with Cuba entertainment. Although they try their best, the Cuban’s are spectaular in comparison. They did their best and it was okay. We saw a great magician show, poker-night was a blast (not for money – just for fun) a so-so dancing show and two live bands. The entertainment/animation staff were the best – Lucas with the crazy Eddie Murphy laugh always got every up and playing something – morning to night. La Bamba, Rambo and Dennis made sure that every feamle danced and BonBon and Bubbles made sure the men got on the dance floor – even if the guests were hesitant at first, by the end of the night the vacationers couldn’t wait to get up there. We had a lot of fun with this group. Only went to the disco once, but never many people there so I can’t comment much on that. Beautiful disco if people would go. Thanks Lucas, LaBamba, Rambo, BonBon and Bubbles for the fun times! My family booked the Safari tour with Playa Runners – it was $78 US per person but after experiencing it, I know it is the best money I spent. There are people on the beach that try to sell you the trip for less but what people don’t know, and it is not promoted as such, that a portion of the money goes to help the schools and children of Puerta Plata. Everything they sell, proceeds go toward school supplies, desks and keeping the school grounds safe. This year, Playa Runners installed plumbing at the school for the kids. They had a boy and girl shack with a concrete block with a hole in it as a toilet. When the kids went on Easter break, Playa Runners installed new bathrooms with flusing toilets and a place to wash their hands – the kids couldn’t believe it! They do wonderful things – so please book through them. What your excursion consists of is a beautiful country drive, a tour of a typlical Dominican family house, how they produce, prepare and cook their own foods, explanation of their plants and trees and lifestyle. A stop at the top of the most beatiful mountain where you can purchase rum, coffee, arts and jewelry. A stop at the most beautiful beach with huge waves to boogie board (boards supplied) and horseback riding, a stop at an outdoor restaurant for an amazing typical Dominical lunch and rest time on the beach full of hammocks. Then to a hut where the make cigars right in front of you, let you sample before you purchase, then another stop where you are given a fresh coconut to drink from (rum optional if you haven’t yet had enough because all ice cold drinks – non-alcohol and alcohol are all included in the tour), you can eat the coconut after, you can buy rum, honey, chocolate, coffee there too). I am sure I am missing something – but if there is one thing you plan on doing, make sure it is this one. When you visit the school, the tour guide makes a note of any donations you bring (I brought some school supplies to leave there) so that they know where the school is lacking and can concentrate on those things. Just amazing! Bravo Playa Runners!
We also went snorkeling and fed banana’s to the fish. That was different, but because the ocean scares me a bit, it wasn’t my favorite thing – so I wouldn’t be the best person to rate this activity.
Other Comments:: The one sad part of this trip was that it rained about 2/3 of our vacation. Toward the end it was getting frustrating. But the few days of intense sun was wonderful. That would have been the only thing I would have changed.
Would I go back there? In a heart beat. The Dominican people are wonderful, happy, kind-hearted and fun. Is it perfect – no – but pretty darn close. Again, Carribean resorts cannot be compared to North American standards, but this is for sure a 4+ star in the Carribean and highly recommend it. We have many beautful memories from this trip. Not only the wonderful staff they have there, but the wonderful family we met and spent much of our days with – Crazy Liz, Joce, Doug and Nick – from our family to yours – thanks for the fun times!