Old Reviews – Gran Bahia

April 2005

My 14 year old daughter and I stayed at the Gran Bahia in Samana at the beginning of march 2005 for a far too short week’s vacation. This was my 7th trip to the DR, my 2nd to the Samana Region. I too was thrilled to see Charter service to Samana from Canadian gateways available once again! Bazaarly our skyservice flight from Halifax was under-booked, so we each had an entire row of seats to ourselves to stretch out on and sleep away our early flight time.

We arrived in Puerto Plata at 10am. This way our 3 1/2 hour drive down the Dominican north coast to Samana was during daylight hours. Fantastic! We had the entire van to ourselves! In my opinion it was like getting a free, private excursion! We passed through all the north coast towns, got to see dailey Dominican life unfolding, past farms, beautiful beaches, barber shops, sidewalk domino games and then wove our way around the lush mountains of the Samana peninsula.

The Hotel
My last three visits to the Dominican have been spent in mega resorts, which were brand new and beautiful with lots of restaurants and end endless activities to choose from…all good…but…the Gran Bahia was like coming home!

The Gran Bahia is perched on the edge of the Samana Bay, on a steep, lush hillside. It’s a spectacular setting for an absolutely adorable hotel. The placement of antiques here and there throughout the hotel’s public areas, fresh flowers and linen on the terrace tables, a selection of liquers to add to your coffee, a wide veranda with cozy wicker furniture where you can relax, take in the view of the bay and feel the breeze or shoot some pool…the friendliest staff EVER and two hotel cats all lend an air of home, not hotel.

The Hotel is older, british colonial style, peachy pink with miles of white gingerbread trim…which was constantly being painted during our visit…I don’t envy that job! There are places here and there throughout the hotel showing a bit of wear and tear… (making it all the more like home 😉 but the hotel is spotlessly clean and very charming.

On arrival we were assigned a room on the backside of the hotel facing the road, but requested to be moved to an ocean facing room. The majority of rooms are ocean facing at this hotel, so by all means put in your request for an oceanview room, as your chances of getting one are very good. We were moved to our 3rd floor ocean facing room (#326) by around 3:00pm the following day. It was bright and clean. Our TV had audio problems the for first couple of days, but was remedied as soon as a part was obtained. Shower water pressure was great… but hot water was sometimes available, sometimes not. These two glitches didn’t bother us in the least. We understand that the DR is a developing country without the infastructure that we’re used to at home, we didn’t come to the DR to watch TV and cool showers feel better in a humid climate anyway. In all honesty…the view from our balcony was nothing short of stunning. Panoramic views of Samana bay, the island of Cayo Levantado, and other islands, dolphins jumping, hazy mountians on the opposite shore…you could easily have thrown a stone into the bay from our balcony…like the view from a cruise ship stateroom…WOW! From our balcony in the mornings we had a bird’s eye view of local fishermen casting their nets …in the evening we could watch the Dominican kids playing catch on a beach to the right, and watch the sunset over the hills Los Haitises National Park. The balcony view alone was worth the trip! There were equally stunning vistas from the many landings and stairways of the hotel.

The buffet has 4 dining areas to choose from…2 indoor dining rooms, a roofed terrace that opens to a beautiful bay view, and a open air dining patio that overlooks the bay and pool area. There wasn’t a huge variety at the buffet, but the food was excellent and there was certainly enough of a choice that you wouldn’t go hungry. This hotel is not big on american style pizza and french fries type food. But there was always a good selection of delicious chicken, pork, beef, rice, beans, potatoes, pastas, salads, cooked vegatables and yummy deserts and ice cream. The white house wine was great and the coffee too! The dining room table and drink service was excellent. The a la carte’ Italian dining (which you need reservations for) is seated on a veranda overlooking the pool and bay…very nice atmosphere…unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try it out. You can expect meal time visits from the two hotel cats…one of the cats in particular is a pro at mooching…and is getting very round! 😉

There are two bars, one by the pool that serves both as beach and pool bar, and a lobby bar. The pool bar staff are lots of fun. The lobby bartenders are excellent…we were sitting in the lobby one evening and one of the bartenders brought my daughter and I our favourite drinks without us even asking!

Because the hotel is smaller I found the staff get to know you better and you get to know them better…they are truly wonderful people…from the front desk staff, porters, housekeepers , animation crew, waiters and bar staff…some of the friendliest and most helpful staff I’ve encountered in all of my visits to the Dominican. Bring big tips! A good word for our Air Transat tour rep. too, Gershon.

The beach & Cayo Levantado
The hotel beach is down 2 flights of stairs from the pool deck. (It’s a good idea to grab your drinks on the way down as the bar is at the top of the stairs). Please don’t expect the endless white sands of Punta Cana. The beach is small with brown sand, but pretty. It’s backed by a stone retaining wall and lots of lush vegetation for shade. There was a lack of loungers though, so if you’re not an early riser expect to lounge on your towel, or you can usually nab a chair when the early lunch crowd leaves. On Sunday nights the hotel hosts a fun beach party and bonfire with drinks and dancing in the sand. The sea bottom is nice and sandy, no rocks or coral to stub your toes on. There is a nice view of Cayo Laventado from the beach, and on a bluff at the far end of the beach there is a pretty canary yellow villa which is privately owned. At certain times of the day there is enough surf for some mild but fun boogie boarding (you have to bring your own though). The hotel provides snorkelling gear and you can see a few fish around the bluff at the end of beach, but there are better reefs out off the island.

So… if you must have white sand and better snorkelling then the hotel offers 3 free daily boat transfers to Cayo Laventado island. It’s about a 10 to 15 minute boat trip one way. The island is beautiful! Here you’ll find a big beach of soft creamy,white sand and more spectacular views of the bay. There is a tent market on the island where you can buy crafts and all kinds of food and drink. Try a pina colada from the Amigo bar…they serve it in a scooped out pineapple and you get to eat the scoopings too! Expect to be approached by beach vendors here…if you’re not interested in their offerings they will leave you be after a friendly but frim "no gracias." We enjoyed talking with them and practicing our spanish…one young vendor impressed us with knowing bits and pieces of english, german, italian and french and of course spanish!

Other Hotel Amenities
Some other hotel amenities worth mentioning… internet service is available in the lobby in the evenings. There are one-armed bandits just below the lobby bar. There are nightly shows pool-side by the animation team that largely involve audience participation. As mentioned a beach party on Sunday’s, and there was also a cocktail party/hotel management meet & greet in the lobby one evening which was a nice touch. Some evenings there were a pair spanish guitarists roaming the dining area, and live piano playing in the lobby. There’s small lobby gift shop and massage tent overlooking the bay.

Turn right through the hotel gates and cross the road to find another whole area owned by the hotel. Its’ here you’ll find the tennis courts, a small golf course, the hotel riding stables, and miles of lush, mountainous, ecological reserve to ride or trek through (free organized trekking excursions can be arranged at reception as well as horseback riding). Also at the top of a very steep stone road you’ll find the hotel’s villas. All hotel guests are welcome at the villas (you can stay up there if you don’t mind the climb). The bay view is twice as stunning from the villas because of it’s elevation. It’s here you’ll find the second swimming pool. There is also a lovely relaxing club house with comfy lounging area, public washroom and self serve bar,including water,ice,softdrinks,assorted liqour and beer on tap…mix em how you like em!

Attractions The Samana area has a lot to offer in itself. We purposely booked to be there during whale season. Samana bay has one of the world’s densest humpback whale populations between January and mid March. If you’re there during this time you must go see the whales.

In one small area we saw at least ten different whales, mother’s with calves, breaching males…it was amazing! Other attractions in the region worth visiting are: Los Haitises National Park, which is the Caribbreans’ largest mangrove and has lots of cool caves and islands to explore. Playa Rincon… rated one of the world’s top ten most beautiful beaches, El Limon waterfall in the heart of Samana’s lush mountians. The French town of Las Terrenas with it’s beautiful beach and funky french boutiques, and the town of Samana with it’s pretty waterfront and crazy marketpl! ace.

In conclusion…I can’t wait to get back to beautiful Samana Bay and will definitely be staying at the very charming Gran Bahia Hotel!

I have lots of photos of the hotel and area at this web address… http://groups.msn.com/sandysoceanplayground/granbahiasamanadr.msnw?Page=1

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Occidental Gran Bahia Bonnie ~ Toronto

April 2005

My husband and I with two of our friends first discovered this resort in 1994. We fell in love with the charm of the hotel and the fabulous ocean view at first sight. My husband and I returned here for the next four consecutive years and then sadly it was not offered by any of the Canadian charters. This year the four of us planned to vacation together again and were thrilled to find that Air Transat was again offering Gran Bahia again.
Flying with Air Transat was a pleasant change from Skyservice. The seats are more spacious and are leather covered so that you don’t have to be a contortionist to climb into the window seat. They served a warm lunch and offered the headsets for only a dollar.

We arrived at Puerto Plata airport at 10 p.m. and found our bus for the 4 hour bus ride to the hotel. We asked the bus driver to stop three times along the route to either have a cigarette, find a washroom, or buy a beverage. He was most obliging and we gave him a $10 US for his trouble.

Words cannot describe how beautiful this hotel is. I would recommend that you look up the Occidental sight on the internet and take the virtual tour of this hotel. From the marble floors to the mahogany staircase it is superb. The rooms are large and bright and from a good sized balcony you have a breath taking view of the ocean and islands. You are so close to the water that I think you could probably throw a ball and have it land in the water. Our rooms were on the third floor so at night we would leave the doors open and listen to the waves breaking over a small outcrop of rocks.

The food at the buffet restaurant was good and often excellent. The tables are in a lattice sided room that overlooks the water. Quite wonderful!

The beach is excellent. It is long enough to go for a pleasant stroll, lots of deep sand and plenty of shade. It is easy to walk in and out of the water as there are none of those deep troughs at the water’s edge. The only problem was that there aren’t enough lounge chairs. I counted only 30. I know that they experienced a bad hurricane last year and perhaps they lost a lot of their chairs.

The pool is directly in front of the hotel and overlooks the ocean as well. There is next to no shade around the pool and the hotel has constructed a stage platform for the entertainment at the only side of the pool that is shaded by trees. This stage has been painted black and I can only imagine how hot it must be on bare feet at high noon. The last time that we were there there were umbrellas around the pool and I can only guess that they also were lost to the hurricane.

We took two excursions while we were there, the first of which was a day long "safari" to a beach and a banana plantation at the north end of the peninsula. Getting there was definitely the best part. They stock the 4 wheel drive truck with a large cooler filled with soft drinks and a huge bottle of rum. Our husbands asked to stop at the first "convenience store" and filled the cooler with Presidente beer instead. We had nine fun loving youth on board and this was an inspired move. I can’t imagine what the trip might have been like had they consumed a gallon of rum before lunch. We travelled a road that I would have thought only a billy goat could manage and a couple of times we forded streams. Often, very young children would come out of their houses and wave and we wished that we had brought something to give to them. We finally stopped at a refreshment station where they sold coffee beans, vanilla, rum etc. They also sold bags of lollipops so we bought a few bags to give to the children on our return trip. We didn’t wonder why they would be selling something like lollipops. Silly us. On our return trip, children would come running when they heard the truck and we ran out of lollipops half way back.
The second trip was a boat ride across to the mangrove forests on the far side of the bay. It was a bright, calm day and the boat ride was excellent.

All four of us are already planning to return to Gran Bahia next year and I can’t wait

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Occidental Gran Bahia Linda and Wayne ~ Canada

January 2005

My husband and I just returned from the Occidental Gran Bahia in Samana for New Years from December 27th to January 3rd.

The ocean views were the most beautiful we’ve seen in our ten years of Caribbean travel. Everywhere you looked the view was amazing. Around the end of January to middle of March, you can see lots of Hump Back whales right from the hotel. This would be a great time to go to Samana to see the whales.

The rooms were kept very clean. We always had warm water as well as a good air conditioner. We were on the third floor (superior room) with an amazing view. We couldn’t stop looking out the patio door the whole week we were there as the view was beautiful.

The food was better than we expected (don’t expect five star food). We never had a problem finding something to eat. We ate at the Italian Restaurant, which was good. There is only one a la carte here.

The beach is rather small, but very nice. Plus you can take a boat each day to Cayo Levendo, which is beautiful. This transfer is included in your all-inclusive. Cayo Levendo is also called Bacardi Island, as Bacardi rum used this island for their commercial and bottle label.

The hotel put on a beautiful New Years Eve gala, lobster and shrimp buffet, salsa band in the lobby, and fireworks at midnight. They even served soup around 1am to sober people up.

The staff was amazing, very helpful and very friendly. One of the nicest staff we’ve ever seen and we have stayed at five star resorts.

Our Air Transat Representative, Greshin, was excellent. He really cared about you having a great vacation.

The resort itself is very clean, however, it is becoming a bit worn and needs a renovation, especially the rooms. We did take the malaria drug (Chiloquin), but did not see one mosquito. We even had rain for a full day and about three nights, and no mosquitoes.

The town of Samana is so beautiful. The ocean is visible from the town, which makes it so nice. You have to see it to believe it. We would have liked to spend more time in the town, but one week goes so fast. We will be back.

The only downfall to this trip is the bus ride (van), three long hours with no bathroom. We didn’t see much on our arrival as it was dark, however, on our departure (in the daylight), there was much to see. The first hour of the return trip from Samana to Puerta Plata is beautiful, then you go through Cabarete and Sosua, which are nice, but in between is very long. They are building a new international airport in Samana, as well as new resorts. This will definitely be the next hot spot for the Dominican Republic. It was nice to see Samana before it becomes too touristy.

Conclusion, we would definitely recommend this resort due to the amazing views, however, keep in mind you are going to a 3 1/2 star resort that needs a renovation, and you get what you pay for.

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