TRIP DATE: Jan 18, 2014 to Feb 01, 2014 (two weeks) SYNOPSIS: Nolitours, Lifestyle Tropical, Cofresi (Puerto Plata), DR Lifestyle Tropical is a small part of the Lifestyle complex at Cofresi, near Puerto Plata. Most of the property consists of villas and condo units, but Cofresi Palms (formerly Sun Village) and Lifestyle Tropical (formerly Hacienda Tropical) are a large part of the complex. These are hotel room type units. They’re nothing fancy, but certainly adequate. The food was good and there seemed to be lots of choices, even though there were a lot of repeats. There were several specialty restaurants scattered throughout the property. We had access to most of them, but there was another set of higher quality choices available to the VIP crowd. The beer served on the resort was Presidente and the rum was Brugal. All the other liquors served were local. All in all, it was about what you would expect from a 4 star AI resort. SUMMARY: First Class – These guys know how to throw a party.
Arrival: Since we had a late afternoon flight, our arrival at the hotel was about 11:30 pm. It seems that all the other Nolitours customers had booked Cofresi Palms and we were the only passengers destined for Lifestyle Tropical. Check in was fast and painless. We got our armbands (note that we got two since Tropical clients had access to all the Cofresi Palms bars and they apparently couldn’t access the same at Tropical). Even without asking, we were given two room keys. Usually you have to get down and beg to get that second key. We also got our towel cards and a resort map. The map is tiny and hard to read. The bellhop gave us a quick tour and showed us where the late night food and beverage service was. We dropped our stuff in the room and headed for a nice snack and a few drinks. The staff at reception were friendly, efficient and most important, proficient in English (and as far as I know, a few other languages such as German and French). They got us checked in and taken to our room quickly.
Interestingly enough, after that midnight snack, we were accosted by another guest when we were returning to our room. "Did you just get here?" she asked. We responded "Yes" and then she said "You’re not going to like it. The place is a hole and the food is disgusting". Well, having just had a nice burger, fries, salad and a few Presidentes, I had to wonder just what the heck she was expecting.
Rooms: This was our first visit to this property and we were pleasantly surprised. OK, the room wasn’t fancy, but it was about what we expected. It was somewhat dated but clean. Think CRT tube type TV and those ceramic towel bars with the 1" plastic tubing for the towel bar. This year we had a standard hotel room on the second floor. It had two queen beds, a balcony/patio, a bar fridge, hanging closet, bathroom with shower, an iron and ironing board (unused by us I might add), washcloths, and an amenities package that included soap, shampoo, body moisturizer, a sewing kit, and a shaving kit. Note that washcloths are a rare item in the DR. We usually bring our own, just in case. The room was basic but quite serviceable. It appeared to be recently painted and pretty well everything was in good condition. As for the shower, there was hot water, but let’s just say there was no danger of scalding yourself. That situation continued for a few days and then they apparently had a failure of some kind. The water went off completely several times over the next few days, and even when it was on, the water pressure was very low. I think they tapped into another building as a temporary fix. After about three days of this, everything returned to normal, and for the first time I had to mix some cold along with the hot in the shower. The air conditioning was very quiet and worked well. Towels and bedding were replaced daily, although the towels disappeared early in the morning and reappeared some time later in the afternoon. It’s necessary to plan around this. We felt quite safe and comfortable in this room. I regularly left my laptop, cell phone and tablet computer on charge and nothing was ever touched. We did have a few issues with the room. When we first checked in, we discovered that we couldn’t lock the patio door. We reported this to the front desk and someone was there to fix it within 15 minutes. A half hour after the repair, the front desk phoned to check that we were satisfied. Good marks. We weren’t quite so lucky with the TV set that decided to turn itself on at random times during the night. We reported this, explained the situation, but the gal wrote down the room number and the word ‘TV’. So I know what happened there. The repair guy turned up, turned on the TV, noted that it worked, called me ‘loco’, shook his head and left. Actually, that was twice. After that we pulled the plug before retiring for the night. Now, if it had come on after this, I would have really been worried. Oh, and the thermostat was flakey as heck, so once we got it set and working, we left it alone. There were a few anomalies in the tub as well. For some reason the red label was on the cold water tap and the blue one was on the hot. Go figure.
Restaurants and Bars: Our package allowed access to facilities at both Cofresi Palms and Lifestyles, but not all of them. There were other VIP facilities on the property and while we were allowed to wander around, we didn’t have access to them. They’re reserved for the vacation club people. They paid extra, so …. We found the food to be good, but we also found people that disagreed. I’m a fussy eater and I always found something good to eat and never left the restaurant hungry. The service is exceptional. They seemed to be waiting in the background and almost without exception, when your wine glass, beer or coffee got empty, another would appear or at least you would be asked if you wanted more. There is one main buffet restaurant for the Tropical and several specialty ones (Italian, Mexican, Dominican, Seafood, Asian Fusion, Brazilian, International x 2). We also had access to the buffet restaurant at Cofresi Palms. You were allowed three specialty restaurants per week. The first three reservations were pre-assigned at check-in. For the second week we were told to submit our requests on Sunday morning. However, they couldn’t confirm dates and times and only delivered the reservation voucher to the room the same day as the reservation. They have to come up with a better system than this. We managed to visit the Mexican twice, the Seafood, the Italian, and the Brazilian. We enjoyed them all. Bacon, sausage and omelets from the egg station appeared every morning at breakfast. There was also ice cream each day at lunch. And rotisserie chicken. The tables were well bused and it was a rare event to sit down at a table that didn’t have the proper utensils and cloth serviettes (napkins) already on the table. OK, sometimes they didn’t have spoons, but they did have the knives and forks. The top table cloths were replaced frequently. The service was quite good. After the first day at breakfast, we fell in with a fantastic waitress Jaqueline (Jackie). Once she knew we wanted our coffee first thing. We’d no sooner sit down and the coffee was right there. Nice. The only thing that I didn’t understand is why the coffee wasn’t very hot. They filled their serving jugs from the main urn, which was hot, but somehow the coffee poured at the table wasn’t quite as hot The food could have been a little hotter as well. They let the serving dishes run right down to the bottom before replacing. At least they didn’t top it up and leave cold stale food at the bottom. The dish was replaced. Sometimes there was a little delay. There are a lot of bars located throughout the property. Drinks were also available in the restaurants at meal time. Of note, Presidente beer was served at almost all the bars. The wine served at dinner was quite pleasant. We drink red, but I made the ultimate sacrifice and sampled the white. It was quite pleasant as well, but in my opinion it was a bit on the sweet side.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The pools are nice and appeared clean and well maintained. The main pool also has a very nice swim-up bar. There’s also an adult only pools which is a nice feature. I didn’t have any issues. Overall the beach was pretty nice, but a lot of it was taken up by what they called the VIP Beach. This was a raised area with the large tanning beds. There was drink and food service here, but once you went to the REAL beach area, there was no drink service and just a few loungers. The grounds were clean and well maintained. There’s a fair bit of greenery and trees, all carefully groomed. It’s not an easy resort to find your way around. The map provided was small and somewhat deceptive. We were in learning mode for the first two or three days, but after that we learned the shortcuts. Essentially you could walk to anywhere in the resort in less than 10 minutes, once you knew the correct paths to take. If that didn’t work, there is a resort shuttle service to take you where you want. The main buffet restaurant is located near the lobby, but the specialty restaurants are scattered throughout the resort property and in some cases not even in your particular area. Not a big issue; just something to be aware of. After all that eating and drinking it’s nice to know that there are abundant washroom facilities and they are all pretty conveniently located. They just didn’t seem to be where you expected them to be, but they were there. They seemed to be clean and well maintained.
Other Comments: Here are my comments about the hotel (in no particular order): 1) For those that care, there were individual packets of ketchup (Heinz) and mayonnaise. 2) The beer served was Presidente on tap. This is a GOOD thing. 3) At some bars the mix was bottled, and the remainder used fountain. And yes, they had Diet. Mostly the mix was Pepsi, 7-Up and soda. 4) Bacon was served every day at breakfast. Good thing. 5) The best place to have lunch on/near the beach was the area overlooking the VIP Beach (actually the Sushi bar) but food was brought up from the bar/restaurant below. Or you could eat right from the bar on VIP Beach. These are good places to have lunch due to the locations. The food selection in the buffet was also good at lunch time. We ate most lunches at the buffet, but had several lunches at the beach as well. 7) The pizza served at lunch (and sometimes supper) is quite good. It’s different than at home, and the crust is pretty thin, but good. They had several varieties and you just picked what appealed. 8) There seems to be a lot of useable covered areas to use in the event of rain. 9) There were a lot of locals on the weekend. And it was a holiday weekend (both weekends we were there) to boot. There were no issues. They behaved the same as the other guests. 10) There were three bottles of water in the room at check-in. They were refreshed as they got used up. There was Pepsi, 7-Up and Presidente in the fridge as well. I don’t think it was supposed to be replenished, but I left tip money and lo and behold, more beer showed up. 11) We had some very nice roasts (beef, pork and ham) and we had roast turkey three times at dinner and in the words of another guest, it was "awesome". And I agree. 12) The staff really tried to please all their customers and would literally bend over backwards to try to help. 13) There are a lot of stairs and ramps on this property. If mobility is an issue, you might keep that in mind.
There is free wifi internet at the VIP Beach. I also found a few open nodes, notably at the Lifestyles Vacation office building (where the helicopters land) and near some of the Villas. I was lucky enough to be able to access the Villa one just outside our room entrance, but it wouldn’t work in the room. Just connect to their router and go. There is paid in-room internet access, but it is very expensive.
Good, Bad and Ugly: As long as you’re a low maintenance type and don’t need marble countertops and stuff like that, this place provides great bang for the buck. Everything wasn’t perfect. There were some minor issues, but in the end you have to ask the question ‘Would we return?’ In this case, the answer is yes. We will be back. I wouldn’t even think twice. The GOOD: Food, service, cleanliness, our room, didn’t have to ask for a second room key, washcloths (somewhat rare in the DR), nice sheets, comfortable bed, nice pool swim up bar, live entertainment, a weekly Sunday welcome party that just blows you away, a lavish Wednesday ‘just because’ party that isn’t far behind the Sunday spectacular, Presidente beer on tap (most places), Brugal Anejo or Extra Viejo (in some bars but not all), nice selection of specialty restaurants (Dominican, Italian, Mexican, Seafood, Asian Fusion, International), free internet at VIP Beach, and some unencrypted nodes at various locations on the property. The BAD (or maybe I should say The NOT SO GOOD): In room wireless internet for a fee (excessive), a lot of beach area taken up with tanning beds (see VIP Beach photos), no bars right on the beach itself but bars in what they called the VIP Beach (a raised area with the tanning beds), mustard hard to come by at lunch but you could find packets at breakfast (go figure), relish forget it. We also had a TV that decided to turn itself on at random times during the night. The vacation Club salesmen were also a pain, but they gave up after we were there for a few days. I also thought that the helicopters arriving and departing the onsite helipad would be annoying, but after a few days we hardly noticed them. The UGLY: There were more different colour armbands than you could shake a stick at. Each allowed access to various areas/bars and it was hard to figure out whether your particular colour allowed access. It seemed that about a third of the security people had the function to check that the right colour armband was allowed access. Since we had access to amenities at the sister resort, we had two armbands. We adopted a policy that you would try to get in and if they shook their head at you, just turn around and go elsewhere …..
Summary: I’m never quite sure how to rate a 4 star property. If you get what you paid for, how do you rate that? So, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’ll use 5 to represent what we expected. 5 means we got what we paid for and expected. Using that scale: Food – 8 (good) Service – 10 (excellent) Room – 5 (about as expected, no real issues) Pool area – 7 (pretty good) Facilities – 7 (again, pretty good) Cleanliness – 8 (their standards seemed pretty high) So, the accommodation was acceptable, the food was good and plentiful, the place was clean and the service was good. There seems to be a great staff. What else can you ask for? All in all, a pretty good combination. We had no major complaints. This property is exceptionally good value for the money. Would we return? YES. We wouldn’t even think twice about it. I had to re-arrange and shorten this review to get it to fit Debbie’s form factor. There’s a slightly longer version and a photo set at http://www.worldisround.com/articles/380754/index.html and a ProShow slideshow with sound at www.bobfromcanada.com Note that for the slideshow the Photodex Presenter helper app is required and it only runs on PC’s (not Apples or tablets). You will be prompted to allow the installation the first time you run the show, but shouldn’t be asked again (at least until Photodex updates it).