Old Reviews – Be Live Grand Marien

We have just returned from 2 weeks at the Grand Oasis Marien in Costa Dorada, Dominican Republic. This is our second visit to this hotel, although it was the Hilton Coral Marien before. I will try and be as objective as possible in this review and give you as many tips as possible for a great holiday at the Grand Oasis as well as in the Dominican Republic in general. Firstly, if you have been scanning through some reviews on this site you might be puzzled at the disparity of ratings and opinions for this property, mostly very good, but some very poor. If you look closely you will see that generally the good reviews come from the British, Europeans and Canadians and the bad from United States Americans. We met a delightful US couple on our stay and they were embarrassed by the reviews from a few of their fellow countrymen. However it would appear some US Tour Operators market the Marien as being on the same level as Sandals 5 star and other totally top-bracket resorts, however at about 35% of the price. The Marien is a really well run "5 star DR" resort (which means 4 star elsewhere). It is NOT Sandals!…it is also geared more for UK and European tastes. US visitors to Marien who somehow expected to get a $10,000 vacation for $3,500 are understandably disappointed…UK visitors who paid £1,700 and have experienced the poor standards of some Spanish All-Inclusives or the Great Euro Rip-Off are generally delighted and consider that they got a Thief’s Bargain (more on Thefts later). So the moral is my American friends…there is no such thing as a free lunch* If you want a top-dollar vacation – pay top dollar. *(actually there is such a thing as a free lunch – you could easily have lunch twice each day by using both the Buffet and the Snack Bar – judging by what you see waddling around The Marien, many do). Let’s now have a look at the hotel. There are lots of web-sites with details galore, so I will only give you my opinions and what has changed and is changing.

HOTEL GENERAL. A very attractive and well cared for property, maybe not quite as nail-clipper-manicured as with Hilton, but still a pleasure to wander around for a week or two. Seriously high standards of housekeeping and cleanliness in rooms, public areas and dining areas.

Plenty of sun-beds around one of the largest and most varied pools in the area. Attractive beach (which has been boosted in size by millions of tons of sand fed from an off shore sand bank). Lots of shade under the trees at the beach plus now, nifty little marquees here and there. This stretch of coastline varies from very calm to a fair degree of surf, but only really severe weather would stop you swimming. Light fronds of seagrass come ashore constantly and are also constantly cleared away by an army of beach rakers, just be aware that there will be seagrass floating about. This is the last resort property on the Costa/Playa Dorada beach so has Guards on duty 24/7, not that I ever saw anything you might be concerned about.

ROOMS. Most rooms are large (by European standards) Doubles or Twins. Fully En-Suite (Shower-in-bath) with Balconies, 30 odd channel tv (BBC World,CNN,ABC7,HBO plus others in English), Mini-Bar (2 beers,2 soft drinks free each day – anything else extortionate), Safe ($42 for 2 weeks use – NOT included – but essential), Air Conditioning that really works, Ceiling Fan, Ice Machine on Floor 2. I have to say that for a holiday room these are absolutely fine, very comfortable and a nice relaxing haven to escape to.

There are now two new blocks recently completed that have LCD tvs and more luxurious bathrooms, however their location is not as good in the complex. If you can express a preference I would go for blocks 3 or 4, sea view, floors 2 or 3. There are also Junior Suites etc, but these tend to be used by guests who have joined the "Vacation Club".

DINING. Buffet and A La Carte Restaurants -Italian, Mexican, Seafood, Creperie (and the Snack Bar). So there is plenty of choice and there is no limit and no charge to use any restaurant. Getting in can be a bit of a challenge though! When quiet they close some restaurants, but it is a big secret – you have to spot which ones they start setting up about 4.30. Then it is a question of turning up at say, 6.30 to 7.00 and waiting for 30 mins to an hour and a half. We were turned away from some restaurants which were half empty so it is a bit arbitrary and is an area the hotel management need to work on. Perhaps some kind of booking system might be a good idea.

Anyway – the Buffet is huge and varied. The food in the A La Carte is broadly the same in content, just presented prettily and with a few extra signature dishes. If you use the Buffet cleverly you can create the same result – with more choice. (you can of course also just get hold of 2 of the biggest plates and pile everything you see on them into 2 giant pyramids with no regard to flavour combination, presentation or the fact that you are leaving a trail of Guacamole and Gravy all the way back to your table…this is better to watch than the Cabaret!) The food is different – that is why you travelled 6000 miles. But the range in offer is so vast that I challenge anyone not to be able to find what they like. If this still sounds too challenging to you – may I recommend the Bide-a-Wee Guest House in Blackpool.

BARS AND BEHAVIOUR. Well they kind of go hand in hand don’t they. 3 bars, one at the pool, one at the beach and an air-conditioned one with pool tables etc by the entrance lobby. On Show Nights, they open a 4th in the Theatre.

Service is pretty slick, even when busy, the bar staff are the heroes of the Marien- but a little Spanish (Dos Presidente por favor), a smile and, at times a $1 bill, helps. Drinks are local, Rum is obviously good, Beer great, Vodka fine, Gin a bit oily, but they will serve Tanqueray on request. Due to a history of high levels of Scottish guests the Dominican "scotch" (ye’re nae gonnae put tha muck in ma glass are ye?) is not in evidence but JB Rare, Johnny Walker Red Label and perfectly decent Dewars Scotch are…phew! Lots and lots of fruit based cocktails and a great choice of soft drinks including…chilled water. Drunk folk? Not really. A few party groups form, intent on collecting every empty glass in the resort. First-nighters I have seen just get a bit carried away by "free booze" (funny – you don’t see them at Breakfast at 7 next morning), but it is all very civilised. If you want a posh drink – the Sports Bar uses glass glasses and is nice for a pre-prandial, even if the cleaning fluid they use in there has a very distinctive aroma.

FACILITIES. There is a water Sports Centre who offer snorkelling (not really a location for this), Kayaks, Sailing and others. They can also arrange Scuba, Para sailing and belting you around the place on a big inflatable doughnut (please – no!) for a fee.

A kiddies crèche – which looked really fine, but they do not allow 53 year olds to attend. A small shopping mall (well 5 shops) who obviously are oblivious to the Global Financial Situation and think that charging $7 for a packet of peanuts is just fine. Unsurprisingly I hardly ever saw anyone go anywhere near them. This is just wasted space – Marien, get rid of these franchise holders, reduce the rents and get some entrepreneurs in who can provide a service to your guests.

An Internet "Cafe" (without the Cafe). This is OK, 7 or so pretty new PCs, $4 for 15 minutes, I would guess about 1.5Mb actual connection speed. I machine has Skype on it so if you bring a handset you can call home for free. The guys running it have trouble remembering what day it is though, too much surfing www.oddsubstances I think. They advertise Wi-Fi so I dragged my laptop on a 12,000 mile round trip. the Wi-Fi is there but they have apparently "lost" the key and they also plan to sell it in 24 hour continuous sessions for $24 – someone has really thought this through! So I used my laptop as a handy tray to carry drinks on. Again Marien , get Masa out of here and bring in a professional organisation to provide this essential service.

There is an “Animacion” Team. Based mostly by the pool, they offer a day long programme of activities but do not go round trying to get you to join in. this is good and actually the guest involvement was as high as those places where they do drum up business. In the evenings the team put on shows in The Theatre. As their audience is multi-lingual these tend to be dance and music based with a flavour of Eurovision thrown in. If you want London West End or New York Broadway go there…not here. But it is actually all well done and they put their heart and soul into it. The Oasis website has a press release from their Vice President announcing the opening of the new casino at the start of September. Would have been a good idea to place a call to the hotel before you you made the Press Release Mr VP! Unless you can use a cement mixer as a roulette wheel I reckon you are 8 weeks off opening minimum. When complete this will be a handy and fun facility.

TOURS AND EXCURSIONS. You don’t want to stay in the complex for 2 weeks so get out and about. Some tours are great, some are a bit "manufactured". Cable Car and Catamaran are my favourites, I am a bit wary of “School Visits” – tacky pseudo charity, also not sure if swimming with Dolphins is really what we should be doing these days, but ignore me, I am just a tree-hugger. For all of them there is one golden rule. DO NOT BUY FROM YOUR REP. They will simply send you on the tours they make most money from – trust me – I was that rep!. There are tour touts on the beach but actually the Dominican Republics most respected tour operator – Isaira Tours – Martin Espinal has their Head Office across the road. Just Google Isaira to find their comprehensive website which lists everything available plus a good selection of their own specials. Martin, Jami, Hose and the team will ensure you have good time at the right price – you can also pay safely by Paypal from home before you go. If you go round these review sites you will see Isaira Tours cropping up everywhere with glowing reports. Strangely enough the hotel and the reps have combined forces to exclude Isaira from speaking to you directly at the hotel – odd that isn’t it?

GOOD IDEAS. Here are some of things that work for us – and some we see other people doing.

Thermos Mugs – great for keeping the drinks cold and the bugs out. You can buy them out there but eBay before you go is about 25% of the price. Digital Camera card reader. You can take your card to the Internet centre and view/email your pics. $1 bills. Get some currency in $1 and $5 before you go. Great for tips etc. (Remember to have $10 to get into the DR and $20 to get out! -The people who collect this at the Airport are dressed as Dick Turpin). Goodies. We buy perfume samples and Argos-type pens before we go to use as thank-you and just friendship gifts. A tub of Celebrations or Heroes works as well. $2 and a a perfume sample left each day ensures your maid will work magic with your towels and ensure you have plenty bottled water in the room. Sticky Alarm – you can buy these self adhesive contact-breaker alarms for buttons. Put one INSIDE the safe and one on the balcony doors. Switch them on at night – it is not really necessary but there have been incidents of Safe thefts. You do NOT need to bring a travel iron or hair dryer with you. There are perfectly good ones in each room (plus a mini ironing board). Mozzie killers. 2 good plug in ones (1 bathroom, 1 main room). They do skoosh stuff about, but as we all know, it only takes one to make you look like a victim of Bubonic Plague. Non US people – remember to take adaptors, the plugs are US type 2 flat pin (with round pin earth option – any US plug will do) Voltage is 120/60 but most killers are multi voltage. Jungle Formula spray. Hi-Deet (yes I know it is acknowledged carcinogenic, but that is really about people who use it 365 days a year. Europeans – you can risk it for 2 weeks a year (sub-note – Scottish People have to use it for about 4 months in addition due to the dreaded Scottish Midge at home, but hey …have you ever seen as healthy a Nation as the Scots? Can’t be doing us any harm! (sub sub note. It’s not the Deet it’s the Deep fried Pizzas). A Walther PPK automatic pistol to deal with the ladies trying to sell you hair-braiding on the beach. (only kidding…they eventually left me alone towards the end of week 2 when I pointed out that I was completely bald} Swimmy Thingy – there is a name for them, those little waterproof screw-shut plastic cylinders that you wear round your neck or tied to your trunks. Handy for the Safe key (no – the bad guys know you hide it on the top of the wardrobe).

SAFETY AND SECURITY. Despite my slight jibes, mostly directed at the over enthusiastic entrepreneurial activities of traders in the Dominican Republic, I have to emphasise that this is a SAFE country in which to travel and explore. I know of instances of drunk incapable tourist teenagers being encountered in Puerto Plata at 3.00 am by local youths – who took them straight to the local police station. There is an acceptance by everyone in the DR, not just tourist industry employees, that this is now the No2 earner for the country, so the form now is a "hola" a smile and let you enjoy your exploring. It’s not quite Barbados yet in terms of tourist overall care, but it certainly is not, or ever has been, Jamaica. Also the DR is now seeing economic stability (lucky them!) and folk have TVs, I pods, PSPs, Washing Machines, Digital Cameras, Mobiles (I saw a really young kid in ragged shorts run across the beach to dive into the sea, fortunately remembering at the last minute to pause and leave his Motorola Razr on a handy rock before plunging in).So although there is still poverty, the divide between locals and tourists is shrinking and it shows.

HOWEVER. You will be short-changed wherever possible. A simple taxi ride will involve a detour to meet up with someone speaking slick English who will try and sell you a days taxi tour (which is good value, but by selling so aggressively they put you off).

BIG BEWARE. Unless you have combination padlocks/twistwire/striplocks on your case you stand a high chance of having it robbed by the baggage handlers at Puerto Plata Airport as you leave and even if you do have all these you stand a moderate chance of being robbed. I am sorry, but this is simply not acceptable and is something the Tourist Industry and the DR Government need to stop -now. If the last memory you have of staying here is losing your camera/after-shave/knickers (yup!) I just don’t think you will be back. Which is a shame.

So enjoy your trip – for my money the Grand Oasis Marien is totally the best value for money going at present. Feel free to contact me if you want any more information.

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