Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
"Will not return to DR any time soon."
Posted by: David on Jan 1, 2013
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Iberostar Costa Dorada is an ideal escape for everyone. Sports enthusiasts will enjoy a wide variety of land and watersports. Although offered at an additional charge, scuba divers will appreciate beautiful dive sites.
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Brenda on Feb 4, 2010 >
1 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Jan, 2010 | Leisure | With Spouse/Partner
713 people found this review helpful
The weather was hot sunny - humid - windy usually in the afternoons. Only a few spots of rain - didn't last anymore than an half hour
We were greeted with a tropical punch slush drink and our bags were delivered to our room - No lugging up any stars. was totally stressed out and this place was breath taking beautiful and the staff were always wanting to please you - so I completely forgot about all my troubles/worries INSTANTLY. We will always look to book an IBEROSTAR resourt on any future vacations
Very clean and functional - comfy bed - missed having a radio/clock - next time will bring my own
Restaurants and Bars:
Buffet was excellent lots of variety - applause for the CHEFS
Pool and grounds were landscaped beautifuly - lots of loungers never worried about having to reserve - there were some small birds that hang around and made beautiful music early in the morning
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
Lots of activities everyday - did not participate in any as were happy just doing our own thing - NOTHING
Went to the OCEAN WORLD and had the Dolphin encounter - EXCELLENT - I was giddy as a child - the staff there were wonderfull. Thanks to the tip from our NOLITOURS rep about time share people trying to give you a "TOUR" we did not loose 1 hour of our busy day to that.
"Excellent Hotel. It's an older property but very well maintained"
Marc on Nov 1, 2009 >
1 contribution(s) United States of America
Visited on: Nov, 2009
490 people found this review helpful
Excellent Hotel. It's an older property but very well maintained.
Restaurants and Bars:
"Overall, I was very impressed by this property and would definitely stay at an Iberostar again"
Kristin on Oct 1, 2009 >
2 contribution(s) United States of America
Visited on: Oct, 2009
525 people found this review helpful
Arrival: 10/24 - 11/1/09
I should start by saying I was a little nervous about this trip as we have been to Punta Cana 3 times and absolutely love it there. However, I found this great deal thru Continental Vacations and decided to give it a try. We were pleasantly surprised by the hotel, the beaches and the food. Everything was excellent. On this trip were my husband (43), my son (3) and myself (39).
You do need to purchase a "tourist card" at the airport ($10pp) before they let you thru customs. There is a little booth in the corner. Our transfer from the airport was included in our package and we easily found our driver right outside the main doors. The ride took about 20 minutes and we arrived at the hotel around noon. They told us our room would be ready in about an hour so we went and had lunch at the buffet by the pool.
When we returned, we were given keys to a 1st floor room in Bldg 7, facing the pool. It sounded perfect but when we got there, we found that our view was almost completely blocked by the towel hut/actitivies desk. We ended up moving the following day to a 2nd floor room, facing the pool in Bldg 1 which was wonderful. The resort is actually quite small so there are no real "bad" rooms. You can walk from one end of the property to the other in about 5 minutes.
The room itself was nice (and they all seemed to be identical). We had a king bed with a couch, a chair and a coffee table. There was a small fridge stocked with water, soda & beer and a coffee maker. There were only 2 dresser drawers, but multiple shelves in the closet and a drawer in each nightstand. Two things to point out: there is no clock in the room and the hairdryer in the bathroom was virtually useless (same kind as on the cruise ships - mounted to the wall with that hose thing - terrible). The bathroom was fine - all amenities included. And they do supply wash cloths here (they've been absent at some hotels we've stayed at in the DR).
We did not see our maid the entire time we were here. She did a great job sneaking in and out and everything was always clean and well taken care of. We never needed to bother her for anything.
Restaurants and Bars::
We really enjoyed the food here. Lots of variety and very easy to make reservations for dinner at the restaurants that required them. It seemed that the themed-restaurants had 2 seatings: 6:30 & 8:45 and reservations could be made at the guest services desk near the lobby each day from around 10am to 12noon.
"El Mercado" - This is the main buffet restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate breakfast here each day and were pleased with the variety/selection of foods. They offer fresh fruit juices, made to order omelettes, all kinds of meats and potatoes plus a whole lot more. We also ate dinner here several times - they seem to have a different theme each night and again we were impressed by the variety and quality of the food.
"El Bohio" is the restaurant by the pool. We ate lunch here each day (buffet style with lots of options) and then they transform it into a seafood/tropical restaurant for dinner (which requires a reservation). The night we went it was soooo hot, we could barely eat but I don't think it's like that all the time. The food was delicious. They have a small buffet set up with appetizers & salads and then you order your entree off the menu (choice of 5 or 6 things) and dessert.
"La Hacienda" is the mexican restaurant. This was our favorite. Again there is a buffet for starters and salad (which had enough food to fill me up for the entire meal). And then entrees were ordered off the menu. The seafood soup was DELICIOUS and so wss the "Churrasco" steak. The beef in the taco was a little tough as was the skirt steak. Margaritas are automatically served here but you can also order other drinks from the bar.
"El Rodizio" - is a Brazilian style restaurant where they bring skewers of meat (all kinds) from table to table. There is also the buffet here for starters and then you are served a plate with potatoes and a piece of corn on the cob. Then the meats just start coming. Most were very good. Delicious mojitos are served here :) We left totally stuffed.
The Mexican & the Brazilian are the only restaurants that had any air-conditioning (as they were totally enclosed). The rest are all open air with many fans going.
The main bar in the lobby (next to the disco) is BY FAR the best place to get a quality drink. They can make most anything here (try a Caipirana) and seem to have a better selection of top shelf liquors. The beer on tap is Presidente. There is also a bar at the poolside restaurant, one in the theater, one in the main buffet another by the beach and maybe even one more. You never had to walk very far to get a drink.
This is the area where I was most anxious. In Punta Cana, we have stayed at the Melia Caribe Tropical twice (and love it!) and at Breezes once. Both had beautiful grounds with huge pools, pure white, soft sand and aqua blue water. I had read that the beaches in Puerto Plata did not compare to P.C. but what I found was a truly beautiful spot. This particular crescent shaped beach is big and wide with only the Iberostar and one other another resort present. It was easy to take long walks in either direction and there were plenty of loungers, palm trees, shady spots and palapas (which were only down at one end of the property - I actually thought the water was nicer at the other end). The water did have sections where there was a type of seaweed growing in patches in the water but there was plenty of space without it. The water was more aqua green than blue (but crystal clear on most days) and the sand was a more golden color but clean and fine.
There is just 1 huge pool with a free-form shape that kind of divides it into different sections. There is one entrance that deepens very gradually (great for kids) and the rest have wide steps or ladders. There is a volleyball net in one section, one spot where they seemed to do most of the activities and a big jacuzzi-type tub in the very center. It was really nice and never seemed crowded. As others have mentioned, there is no "swim-up" bar but the pool bar is right there. Water temperature was perfect in both the pool & ocean.
As for the grounds, they were beautifully manicured and tropical. Tons of flowers, palm tress, etc. There are flamingos in the lobby pond as well as a separate turtle pond there. Really lovely.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel::
There is a big theater near the main lobby area and there are shows there each night around 9:30pm. They also have a little kid's disco there each night at 8pm. The shows were "entertaining" - something a little different each night. I had read about the "Lion King" show with great anticipation but it seems they only do it every other week and we were on the off week - oh well.
The entertainment staff works very hard, day & night. They have lots going on during the day at the pool plus archery, volleyball, horseshoes, etc. You can do as much or as little as you like - no pressure.
We did the Outback Safari Tour as we had also done it in Punta Cana and loved it. We had a great time here as well. It's a superb organization that really cares about the people, culture and conservation here. It's a full day tour (including lunch that was delicious) and is really worth it if you want to see a little more of the island. We also took a cab into the downtown one day for some quick cigar shopping and a free tour of the Brugal Rum bottling plant (pretty cool). The cable car trip up the mountain was also very cool. We met several people who went to Ocean World and all said it was well worth it.
A few notes... there were not many Americans here during our stay - lots of lovely Brits, some Canadians, etc. It is also helpful (and appreciated) if you try and speak a little bit of Spanish. Tips are appreciated but not required to receive great service.
There is an open air market down the beach to the right. Unless you need "trinkets", I would skip it. The vendors are extremely pushy and the prices (even with heavy bargaining) were absurd. I know the economy has really hurt the tourism industry here, but the people at this market were really tough to work with. The same goes for the vendors the hotel brings in one night - VERY pushy. It really takes all the fun out of browsing and shopping. There are 2 gift shops at the hotel that offered a pretty well rounded selection of thing at semi-resonable prices.
Overall, I was very impressed by this property and would definitely stay at an Iberostar again in the future. Everyone on and off the resort were very friendly and helpful. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to e-mail me. This web site is INVALUABLE to me when I plan my trips so I'm more than happy to return the favor. The Dominican Republic has become my 1st choice Caribbean destination - you can't beat it! firstname.lastname@example.org
"I love the resort, especially the people"
Morgan on Jul 1, 2009 >
1 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Jul, 2009
289 people found this review helpful
Arrival: Feburary 2009
Arrived on time. Was greeted with staff and a drink.
Very clean, washroom was very nice and always replenished. Spacious and bright
Restaurants and Bars:
Excellent-went to all the speciality restaurants. Brazilian was the best, food was fantastic. The bartenders were very friendly and helpful,escpecially Ricardo, he is so nice and a great bartender.He had drinks made before the others could think about making them. Can't wait to see him in November 2009.
All manicured and lush. Very clean. Lots of chairs and cushions. All staff very friendly.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
No tours. Visited some people that we met.
I love the resort, especially the people.
"Ratings for the Iberostar Costa Dorada state it's a 4 ½ star hotel"
Rose on Mar 1, 2009 >
3 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Mar, 2009
316 people found this review helpful
Our AI holiday was with Air Transat Holidays as we flew out of Vancouver, non-stop flight, direct to Puerta Plata. About an hour away from our destination, the pilot comes over the loud-speaker to say "the PP airport was shut-down due to very bad weather and that we were going to fly into the Punta Cana airport! We deplaned and waited there for 5 1/2 hours. Our arrival at the PP airport was fine. Checked thru immigration smoothly and picked up our luggage and headed outside to immediately find a booth that had the Air Transat logo. The rep pointed us to a little old mini-van that sat 7 persons. We were on our way to the hotel in no time. The Iberostar is only about a 20 min drive from the hotel. We were the first stop to unload. Check in was quick & efficient as well.
Because of the flight being detoured, we arrived at 11 pm instead of 5 pm so we dumped our bags in the room and headed to the buffet as we were starving. Rooms are clean, large and there was no smell. Our first room was in building one and had a view of the fence/wall of the next door hotel. Went straight back to the reception desk and requested a room facing the pool. We were then put in building three on the second floor. Nice view, better location, very spacious. No clock though. The A/C worked fine and wasn't too loud, rooms come with a hairdryer and a small coffeemaker and the coffee/condiments are provided. Mini fridge was handy and stocked every day with beer, water and pop. We had a few ants around the bathroom sink. I told the front desk and they came and sprayed with insect repellant right away.
Of the nine 3-storey buildings, I'd recommend building 7 or building 8 (request to face the pool). These are centrally located between the beach, main buffet and lobby area. They are also close to the snack buffet and easy walking distance to the lobby bar. Building 1 & 5 are nearest to the ocean but are only good if you actually get a room facing the ocean. The view ain't bad but its also not the greatest as the palm trees block your view. Otherwise, bring comfortable walking shoes as it's a jaunt to get anywhere except the beach.
Restaurants and Bars:
There are 5 bars. The lobby bar is where they serve the best drinks with premium alcohol. They have 3 a la carte restaurants that you must make a reservation for (but you can go back to these as much as you want, no limit): (1) The Brazilian restaurant - they come to your table with apprx 6 types of meat on a large skewer and cut a piece off for your plate, (2) The Mexican restaurant -you choose your type of taco here and (3) The Seafood restaurant. Men are required to wear long pants for these 3 places. We found the meat everywhere to be on the tough/overcooked side. The main buffet is ok. It changes the them every night so there is some variety in the selections but its kinda true what other write in the fact that it does get repetitive and boring by the end of the week. Breakfast and lunch buffets are pretty much the same everyday.
Grounds were kept tidy and it looks pretty with lush plants, palm trees and maincured cut grass. Nice open lobby area with a tiny lagoon with 7 flamingos in it. Staff were friendly and the pool was clean. Too bad there wasn't a swim-up pool bar. Grounds are lush and well-kept. The area of beach directly in front of the hotel was kept clean with the staff removing the seaweed constantly. When facing the ocean, walk to your right for about 10 minutes and cross over a pale green bridge to find The Orange Flea Market. Typical souvenirs sold here. Watch as they'll try to rip you off.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
There's an "Entertainment Team" that organize and run several daily activities. This team also performs in the theatre/stage area at night. Don't worry about noise as the shows were done and the music stops by 11:30 pm. Then the Route 66 night club opens and that club has good insulation as you can't here the music from outside. The shows are different every night, as there are 21 different shows that they rotate through. Shows are ok, some better than others.
Just so you know, the hotel is about 12 km east of downtown Puerto Plata. There's not much around except the neighboring hotel, the Grand Oasis, which has a casino (we didn't make it there). Be aware that there are no shops or restaurants on the streets nearby.
The Iberostar is on the main highway and you can easily get local transportation (see Other Comments section) if you want to venture out of the complex. Go west about 1-2 km (8 min walk) to reach the Brugal Factory. Note that it says Brugal Rum Tour on all the excursions and brochures - not quite! Its actually a bottling factory and the admission is free. You watch a 5 min video, view the workers and assembly line machines and then you exit the bldg and sample one of the rums. There's a factory rum store. Prices here aren't bad: white rum was $7 US, Anejo (amber rum) was $8 US, and the Extra Anejo (aged rum) was $9 US.
For tours, we decided to travel on our own. We didn't pay for any excursions with the exception of dirt-bike riding. My boyfriend rented and rode a KTM for apprx 200 US, guide included. He had a great time, 5 Â½ hours riding around the jungle and countryside. Just look up Cabarete Enduro Tours on the internet as Rudy runs this excursion out of house.
Friends we met at the hotel took the Paradise Island excursion. They said it was too long of a bus ride (2 hrs) to get you to a spot where you board a very uncomfortable speed-boat that takes another 30 minutes to get to the sandbar (aka Island) that is really out in the middle of nowhere. They did admit once you get there, it was beautiful.
Transportation & Sightseeing: Go and see Sosua. Its about a 25 min car ride, heading east, from the Iberostar. It's a larger tourist town with many streets filled with souvenir shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, etc. There's also the public beach that has numberous souvenir shops and tiny bars. In Sosua you can transfer into another caro publico (see below) to get to Cabarete, which is about a 15 min car ride from Sosua. This is a small town, only one city block long known for windsurfing. Lots of shops and money exchange booths and hostel/suite for the night accommodations. Best prices for rum, coffee and cigars are in Cabarete at Janets Supermarket. Its at the far east side of the main drag, north side. For cheapie souvenirs and t-shirts, we found the best prices here in Cabarete at the Liquidation Store. Its on the south side of the main drag, in the center of the strip. We also took a caro publico heading west from the hotel to old Downtown Puerto Plata. Here you'll find a large public flea market, the amber museum, the old fort, the pier and this is all within walking distance. PP is about 15 minutes away and you see it's a large city (90,000 population). We enjoyed getting around on our own and felt it was safe. No problems. Of course, the tour rep will suggest you take their tours rather than going out on your own. Be warned, the drivers in the caro publico are aggressive and may not necessarily stay in the proper lanes as they do a lot of passing, some of which might not be for the faint of heart. One time we took the Guagua. This is like an old Volkswagen minivan. Don't recommend this one so much as they pile everyone and anything into these vehicles. We squished in and counted 24 people! Plus its stop and go constantly as people get on and off whereas with the caro public, once the maximum load of 6 passengers is acheved, the driver can pretty much get a good speed going.
You can take a taxi but they charge outrageous amounts. On the main hwy, there are 2 ways of getting around, the Caro Publico and the Guagua. We tried both and recommend the caro publico. It's a small car, like an older Toyota Tercel that will hold 7 people. There's the driver, 2 passengers sit in the front and 4 passengers squeeze in the back. On the roof of the car, you'll see a red sign Puerto Plata/Sosua. These cars travel back and forth between these two cities. Cost is 30 35 Dominican Peso's. Verbally set your rate before you get in. Of course, with your hotel wristband on, they see a sucker tourist and will want to charge you a lot more! Stand your ground, or wait for the next car to pull to the curb and if you can, cover up the wrist band! Cars with a greenish/blueish sign Sosua/Rio San Jan on top of the roof travel between these two cities. Take this car in Sosua to get to Cabarete which will cost 25 Dominican Peso's.
Ratings for the Iberostar Costa Dorada state it's a 4 ½ star hotel. I'd say that's pretty accurate - maybe give it a four star rating if you compare it to similar hotels in Cuba and Mexico. But keep in mind that its not a 4 ½ star hotel by Canadian standards My boyfriend and I our in our early forties, from Vancouver, BC, Canada and we'd have no problem recommending this hotel.
Sorry this is so long and wordy, but I know when I was scouting around reading other peoples reviews & comments, that it was helpful and well appreciated. I hope this helps with your traveling plans.
"Nice resort, great staff!!!"
Tammy on Feb 1, 2009 >
5 contribution(s) Canada
Visited on: Feb, 2009
304 people found this review helpful
Arrival: Feb 3 - 10
Arrival at airport, customs and transfer to hotel went smoothly. Signature rep on bus was friendly however not very outgoing or talkative, he gladly answered all our question en route to the resort but that was it.
Rooms very clean and nice decor. After about 2-3 days in we started to see small ants in the bathroom around the faucet BUT that did not bother us, we just kept toothbrushes and such in ziplock bags so the ants could crawl over that stuff. We stayed at a 5* in Punta Cana last year and small ants on the counters, gotta keep in mind where you are and gotta expect some bugs...
Restaurants and Bars
Wished they had a swim up bar, we really missed that. There is a lobby bar, a bar where they have the nightly shows (opened during that time), a bar by the pool and beach bar. All the wait staff and bar staff where SPECTACULAR!!! Wonderful service whether you tipped or not!!!
There is NO 24 hour bar at this resort, contrary to information we received from our travel companions travel agent, the internet AND responses directly from the resort. They do state that the resort is 24 hours all-inclusive but apparently the little snacks available in once of the restaurants and the 4 bottles of beer/pop in the bar fridge in your room is what they consider 24 hours all-inclusive. If you don't want a 24 hour bar then this won't bother you.
Food was good, the buffet and the pool side restuarant (buffet during the daytime, al la carte at night) all had good food and many choices, we are NOT picky eaters by any means however we did find by end of week that the food was getting pretty repetitive. ALL tasty and lots of choice, but just repeated...
Brazilian restaurant was great, the staff was excellent and we returned a 2nd time cause the dinner was really good.
Mexican restaurant was also very good and the staff very good but of the 32 times we went they screwed some of our orders up both times. STILL food was tasty and a different.
We did NOT make our reservation for the Seafood restaurant. We decided to miss it cause most of our group (5 of 8 people) were wanting a lobster dinner, the only lobster on the menu was some lobster in a pasta dish. We really missed having a lobster dinner this year, we have never had trouble filling this request at other resort previous years.
Over all ALL WAIT/BAR STAFF excellent!!!!!!!!!!!! FOOD VERY GOOD (even though a bit repetitive).
Again the only thigs we really missed at tis resort was the swim up bar, the 24 hour bar and the lobster dinners!!!
Grounds beatutiful! Nice beach, pool was cold BUT because of the rainy weather. They did their best to keep everything neat, groomed and CLEAN a very tough task considering it rained for 6 days straight while we were there...
ONLY compalint I have at all on this topic is against Mother Nature and no fault to the resort!!!
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
Animation staff was absolutely WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!! Always happy, energized and FUN FUN FUN...We laughed so much and even though they were always on the go they ALWAYS managed to make you laugh, smile and play!!!
Weather was very bad, 6 days of rain and most tours were cancelled over and over the entire time we were there. We ended up going to the font desk and ordering a cab for a day tour, they snuck a guide in on use for tips BUT we were VERY happy to have him when we were touring Puerto plata down town. Approached by children and adults begging and many people trying to sell toy ou on the streets, we were so glad to have him there. Found the city very dirty, garbage everywhere. BUT still an amazing experience!!!!!!!!!! Toured the rum factory also WOOHOO CHEAPY CHEAPY ont he rum!!!
SMALL resort, activities very structured, so there were not MANY things going on at one time making it a bit boring cause we had to follow those daily routines every day because we could not venture out due to the RAIN RAIN RAIN!!!
Nice resort, great staff!!! I'd class this between a 4 and a 4.5 star except for the staff which deserve a 6* rating!!!!!
Would go back if there was a GOOD SALE but over all we will likely return to Punta Cana next year, to the white sand, the crystal blue water, to a bigger resort with more a la carte restaurants, more activities, a swim up bar and a 24 hour resort...
"It isn't four star, but as a good three star family hotel"
Sheila on Jan 1, 2009 >
2 contribution(s) United Kingdom
Visited on: Jan, 2009
315 people found this review helpful
Arrival: 5th to 19th January
We travelled with First Choice, excellent service, even the food on the flight was good. Our room keys and info were handed to us on the coach to the hotel so we could go straight to our rooms
We were on the top floor of Block one facing the sea.
Although the sea view was initially blocked by the palm trees, during our first full day the bottom palm fronds were all cut off. I 'm sure that this was probably for horticultural reasons but it had the added bonus of giving us, and future guests, a much better view.
The room was typical AI in decor, a fair size with a king size bed (which we found really comfy), sofa, chair and table, fridge, ordinary television (about 6 English speaking channels) ironing board and iron. The balcony had a table, two chairs and a handy pull out clothes drier. However, we found that, because of the humidity, clothes can take a couple of days to dry. The bathroom was compact, had a hairdryer, shampoo, body lotion etc, and there were also shower gel and shampoo dispensers in the shower, which was always hot and had a great water pressure. However, there is no conditioner and you may want to bring some with you. Also, as there is no clock, we were grateful that we'd brought a travel alarm clock. Both the room and bathroom were fine and kept beautifully clean.
Restaurants and Bars:
One persons culinary delight is anothers nightmare so this is just our opinion, Buffet There was not one occasion when we didn 't have a great meal in the buffet. The food was beautifully presented and with a wide choice. Like luvmytrip2 Santos was also our waiter and looked after us extremely well.
Mexican Ate there twice. The second occasion, our last night, I had the beef and bacon kebabs which were sadly so tough as to be inedible. Although I managed to complain nicely in Spanish about the food there was no offer of an alternative dish. (But perhaps it was my Spanish !!!) A big disappointment as the shrimp dish which I had on the first occasion at this restaurant was wonderful.
Fabulous. Ate there four times and would have happily done so every night. Great choice and wonderful food.
There is no choice here. After the starters (buffet service) everyone has the same range of meat which is delivered to your table on massive kebabs, a portion is cut off and the servers move on to the next table. Without exception all the meat we were given was inedible, tough, dry and overcooked. Probably the worst meal I have had in any AI. However we were at the later sitting and I wonder if the meat is kept warm from the first sitting which would account for the state of the food. We did complain to Guest services, hopefully again nicely, and were allocated an extra a la carte meal at the Fish Restaurant.
To echo the opinions of other reviewers the alcohol in the hotel seemed to have a different % strength than drinks at home.
Thanks to previous reviews, we bought a couple of duty free litres on the plane so we could have a proper drink. The rest of the time it was fine drinking the lower alcohol drinks in the bars. My only gripe was the ˜fruit juice ' from the machines at the beach and pool bars which were very sweet and sickly.
The pool area was a bit too noisy for us. It would be good if the hotel provided a quieter adults only area, but, as they don 't, we spent the time on the beach. Plenty of loungers and some lovely shady areas under the trees at the back of the beach. Very quiet and relaxing. There are some activities taking place but if they ever got a bit loud at lunch time we went and ate.
The Beach was immaculate, clean and with very little seaweed.
Another good thing about it was the lack of beach traders. There are a few people selling tours, but just stand there waiting for people to approach them rather than the â€˜in your face ' selling that goes on at some resorts.
The grounds are lovely and well maintained.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
Loads on offer. Everything from rifle shooting, football, archery, aerobics, stretch classes, dancing classes, games etc, and bingo at 4 o 'clock every afternoon. No pressure to join in and lots of competitions with prize giving every evening.
The night time entertainment was very typical AI. Most of it was the same routines just with different costumes. Watch out for one of the girl dancers who had obviously just joined the group as she spent most routines looking at the others and trying to work out what to do next. In fairness, if you want first class professional shows then there are other places, after all these are not professional performers.
A number of the shows were just miming. The worst of these was The Lion King which involved the entertainers (and some young guests) all wearing animal print leotards and miming to extracts from the English sound track of the cartoon. Don 't know what the non English speaking guests made of this.
The non miming shows included a Black light show with fluorescent painted costumes against a black background, rather like a sequence in a pantomime, and a magic show with a tightrope walker who was exceptional.
The House Band was good and sometimes played in the courtyard so guests could either dance or listen.
The most entertaining show was Mister and Mrs - for a nominal prize four couples had to compete and perform a number of tasks. Although I 'm not usually into guests having to make fools of themselves it was really funny.
As I don 't feel comfortable about peoples ' private homes being seen as tourist attractions I avoided any trips which included visiting â€˜a typical Dominican home '. In any case how can a home be typical if it is visited by tourists every day! As we have been to Seaworld type centres and don 't enjoy fishing we didn 't do those either. Our best trips out were both to the main cites on the Island.
Although these involved a fair bit of travelling time, there were always stops en route and driving along gave us a fabulous overview of the island and its people.
The capital city Santo Domingo dates back to the 15th century and is beautiful with amazing streets, three lane highways, historic buildings and lovely areas such as the Cultural Zone. (There are also lots of shops, including a massive mall, but I opted not to use the time there.)
About ten minutes walk down the beach is the Orange Market.
Once you walk on the beach away from the hotel you are likely to be approached by some very â€˜friendly ' people who want you to come and look at their shop. They can be very pushy but we found the best approach was, as soon as we saw them coming up to us, to speak first and say we had no money on us.
The Orange Market has the same range of souvenirs that we saw everywhere and prices which, even after extensive haggling, were sometimes more expensive than the cheaper shops in the Costa Dora mall. By the way, if very pushy traders are not your thing then you might want to avoid the Orange Market.
The shopping Mall in Costa Dora is over two floors and has a range of shops including a small supermarket, a dive shop and an art gallery. On the second floor (in the corner by the stairs) there is a very good tour operator - their prices were excellent and they offered some different trips to those offered at the hotel and on the beach.
The hotel shop is expensive if you have any space in your cases bring out tubes of Pringles / bags of crisps & munchies. The hotel doesn 't include them and they are about four times the UK price in the shop. Also remember sun cream and toiletries as they are also very expensive in the shop. There are also English newspapers but they work out at about 5 pounds each!
The hotel has an internet room available from 7.00am to midnight. The cost of this or WiFi connection on a lap top is 160 DRP for an half an hour. Sadly there are no local cheaper alternatives. We found the connection very fast and, even though it was always busy, there was usually an available computer.
I don 't expect all staff to speak English and managed to get by with my limited Spanish and a pocket Spanish / English dictionary.
No one pushed us for tips or cigarettes. The staff were all unfailingly polite and helpful. However, although they smiled I found that a lot of the time it was very automatic and they didn 't â€˜smile with their eyes '. But this could just be a cultural thing
I 'm not certain what the hotel can do to stop this, but I was very surprised to see it being tolerated in what is fundamentally a family hotel.
I have to agree with someone who described visitors to the Dominican Republic as being viewed as â€˜walking wallets '.
This starts as soon as you enter the country when you pay $10 for a tourist card which, abut five yards down the immigration hall, is taken off you. Other examples include - The porter at the airport supervising loading the luggage into the hotel coach will expect a tip. On the return trip porters will barge in front of guests so that they can take their cases from the coach to the check in which is about 10 yards away.
Guides at all the visitor attractions will tell you that they are unpaid/lowly paid/ a volunteer / a student etc and rely on tips to support their family. Children ask tourists for sweets and pens and then sell them on to tourists to give to children who then sell them to tourists to give to children etc. etc.
At coach stops as tourists leave the coach for a break someone hands them an opened bottle of cold beer. Thinking that this is included in the trip the tourist takes the bottle, then having drunk from it is asked for payment. (Luckily our guide warned us of this practice although we saw this happening to other coach parties).
Puerto Plata has an orphanage and I bought over for them some pens, new clothes (children 's socks and underwear from Primark), and over the counter ' children 's medicine. Medicine is incredibly expensive in DR. Also Tony, the First Choice Rep, was involved with another charity and asked for any items which we could spare and didn 't want to take back home. He was happy to take half full bottles of anything as he said when you have nothing half a can of deodorant is very welcome. We also left him items from our medical kits.
The problem with star ratings is that they seem to vary from country to country and although the hotel may compare well with other Dominican Republic Hotels, I didn 't feel it had the facilities that I would normally associate with a four star AI hotel.
It is a largish hotel over 500 rooms and this means that it is, by its very size, somewhat impersonal.
But I knew all this when I booked and at the price we paid it offers excellent value for money and gave us a cheap and much welcomed break from the English weather.
One guest we spoke to described the hotel as being like an upmarket Butlins. Although I haven 't been to a holiday camp, I think I understand what he meant. Everything is provided for you and for some guests that will be just what they want, but others may want to try something a bit different.
However, because of its location unless you are prepared to travel there is no other choice. For me the hotel is not romantic, luxurious or very personal, but not everyone wants that. It isn't four star, but as a good three star family hotel offers incredible value for money. So, if you need a cheap break then look no further.