Month: February 2012

Puerto Plata, DR

My husband and I finally got to go on our honeymoon! A year and a half after our wedding, FINALLY I went tropical. Lifestyle Tropical Resorts, to be exact. I spent a long time looking around at different resorts, and as we are in the midst of a major kitchen remodel, price was an issue.  I stumbled upon a deal on cheapcaribbean.com for Lifestyle Tropical Resort for $24 pp/pd, all inclusive. If you want to travel later on in the year (May-Sept or something like that) it dropped to $12 pp/pd. That’s right – your eyes are not playing tricks on you! We got 7 nights, round trip airfare from ROC, all drinks, all meals, airport transportation, and entertainment for 2 people for around $1500.

PS – all photos were taken with my iPhone 4.

So I’ll start at the beginning: we felt kind of rushed into this deal – cheapcaribbean offered it as a “hurry, only 4 days left to get this deal” type of promotion. Not the case. Apparently they offer this all the time, within a few dollars (I think currently it’s $29/night). But I thought it was such a good deal that we couldn’t possibly pass it up. Then I started reading reviews on tripadvisor.com and got REALLY nervous. Some of the reviews were awful. Most seemed to focus on the fact that it is a timeshare property (and that the food was bad). Cheapcaribbean makes no mention of this when booking, so if you go – beware. They will try to sell you a timeshare after taking you on a whirlwind tour of the property (which is gorgeous) – but more on that later. We made up our minds that we would go with absolutely no expectations. I thought, if the food is at least Chinese Buffet level food, I’ll be ok with it. It IS only $24 a day. And I can drink enough to forget about what I had for lunch anyway.

The flight was a quick 1 hour to Newark, and then 4 hrs direct to Puerto Plata. We arrived at the resort after a 30 minute van ride. Seeing downtown Puerto Plata was worth it. It’s a very VERY poor city (although fairly safe, they say) and really makes you appreciate everything you have at home – even if you’re not independently wealthy, which I most certainly am NOT. Upon arriving at the resort, we were given a welcome drink (some sort of island punch or something), which was very sweet but yummy. And it made you feel welcomed, truly. They gave us our yellow cheapcaribbean bracelets (more on this later too) and we were whisked off to our room by a bellhop who carried our luggage for us, making pleasant conversation, jokes, and pointing out where things were along the way. We arrived at our room and were pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t the most glamorous room we had ever seen, but was nice. It was clean, spacious, and had the most comfortable bed! Outdated TV (but who goes to DR to watch TV anyway?), and a balcony (all rooms have these) with a view of the ocean:

The fridge was stocked with water, soda, and beer (Presidente!). After kicking back with a beer, unpacking, and relaxing a little after the flight, we ventured out. Walking to the end of the hall (at the far end of the building in the picture above), this was the view – completely un-retouched:

Perfect. So far I was having a hard time understanding what everyone had been complaining about. I suppose if you were expecing a 5 star room, you’re going to be a bit let down. But otherwise – the grounds were incredibly well manicured, and the staff had been very friendly.

So now you meet with your “concierge” who will be arranging your “welcome gift” and helping you with the tour. Do not be fooled, this guy’s job is to get you in front of the sales guy who will take you on a tour of the property and then try to get you to buy in to their “Vacation Club” as they call it – it works a little differently than a timeshare, and I won’t bore you with the details, just know that there’s a sales pitch involved.  They will tell you that the tour will take 20 – 30 minutes – it was actually more like 2 hours, but we were interested in the tour and wanted to see the property, so we enjoyed it). This is where your wristbands come into play. Owners get gold wristbands and have basically an all access pass to all areas of the resort. Guests of owners (or if you book your trip through an owner) get blue wristbands, and have access to a few extra restaurants (including guaranteed reservations) and nicer accommodations. Us cheapies got yellow bands – access to the VIP Beach was included as well as a few other perks, but we were limited restaurant-wise and didn’t have the super slick rooms.  As for the tour itself, you’ll be driven around in a golf cart and shown literally everything!  We did that the day after we arrived, and were left alone after that. I heard a couple in the lobby telling them right off the bat that they weren’t interested in the tour and that was final. They seemed to leave them alone after that. So I guess it’s just your preference as to how much of the property you want to see and if you’re interested in buying in to their vacation club. I will tell you that they will show you the most amazing beaches that aren’t available to non-owners, and they will show you the accommodations that are available to the owners, which will make your room look like crap. But keep all this in mind – you’re spending less than $50 per day for not only your room, but all your food and drinks. And the room you have for that price is MORE than serviceable, with a comfy bed. They’re showing you the nicest stuff they have to make you want to buy in!

But back to the pool. The pools were a refreshingly cool break from the 86 degree tropical sun. One of the benefits of this place is that there is a sister resort literally right next door, and there is a shuttle that runs every 15 minutes or so between the two. You have full access to both places, so if you get tired of the pools at one, you can go to the other. Therefore, there were MANY pools to pick from, each one had a swim-up bar, there was never a problem finding a lounge chair to lay in or an umbrella to shield you from laying out exposed to the sun all day.  Here are some pics of the other pools:

This one with the waterfall was adults-only, which was nice and quiet most of the time. Lovely.

However, the most sought after spot in the entire resort (from what I could tell) was the VIP Beach. Here’s why:

The.Beach.Beds.Were.Divine.

Here is where I spent the first three days:

A double-decker bed. Curtains on all sides for privacy or sun-shielding. Waiters would come around and bring you snacks, sushi, chicken wings, top shelf drinks (this is one of the few places on the resort that offers top shelf liquor unless you are a member) – so you literally never had to leave. One of the tricks was to come down with your towels before the VIP Beach opened (I was down there by 7:40 most mornings) and there was usually a line forming by that time. As soon as they opened up, you pick out your bed, throw your towels on it, and then it’s yours for the day. Go back to bed for a while, go have breakfast, whatever. Nobody would move your stuff. So you could come and go as you pleased. I wish they had enough for everyone, but until then this system seemed to work.

And speaking of breakfast – it was DELICIOUS. Don’t even get me started on the coffee. I haven’t been able to drink American coffee since. We ate at the buffet each morning and they had a wide selection of items. Some people were complaining about how they had to wait in line for their fresh omelet to be made for them – well, duh. This process takes time (but was well worth it). We found that if we just came back 20 minutes later the line had disappeared. They also had a fresh smoothie station, which was awesome. Here’s what I ate almost every morning:

And while we’re on the topic of food, here are a couple other meals:

(that’s Fish Kabobs, Lobster Paella, and a seafood stew)

It was good, for the most part. Not the best gourmet food I’ve ever had, but not as bad as cheap Chinese Buffet (which is what I expected at the price point. I was pleasantly surprised). Some of it was actually fantastic. Wide variety of meats, cheeses, veggies, breads, seafood, salads, side dishes… some of it was better than others. I loved the French Toast, the breakfast sausage, the paella, the ceviche, and the potatoes. The lobster wasn’t that good. But that’s just me, who’s used to Maine Lobster – and Caribbean Rock Lobster has a completely different taste and texture.

I’ve read a bunch of reviews where people say they’ve gotten sick on the food. That’s probably because they go and eat WAYYYYY too much, then follow that up with a TON of booze. I ate more than I usually do, but not to the point of discomfort, and I was fine. And I tried most everything at least once, so it wasn’t like I was only sticking to a few “safe” items. Another complaint was that the buffet got tiresome after a week of eating the same things – I have no idea what this could even mean – every night had a different dinner theme (one night Mediterranean, one BBQ, one Dominican, etc) and although there were a lot of the same ingredients (peppers, tomatoes, onions, rice, potatoes) they were prepared differently. My recommendation is to go to the other buffet at the sister resort if you get tired of what they have where you are!

So after a week of pretty much doing nothing but the above (although I did get a 60 minute massage in a cabana on the beach – it was outstanding), we set off on a snorkeling excursion.  You could rent snorkeling gear from the resort free of charge, but we decided to go on an offsite catamaran excursion to Sosua Bay where we had heard they had amazing snorkeling. It was about $80 pp.

Here’s our boat:

If you’re ever in Puerto Plata and want to go snorkeling with some really over the top amazing guides, look up FreeStyle Catamarans. They were super entertaining and great fun to hang out with all day! We were picked up from our hotel, making a couple stops along the way to gather people from other resorts, and ended up with a group of roughly 50 people – Canadians, Americans, French, Dominicans, etc. Included in the price was not only the snorkeling, but open bar, lunch, and entertainment (they played steel drums, danced, had everyone singing, etc). The boat ride was worth it even if nothing else! The scenery was amazing:

The water kept changing colors too! In some places it was this rich deep blue color, and in others, much more turquoise. But it was super clear and you could see straight down to the bottom.

I could have spent all day on that boat.

The following day, Sunday, was our last full day on the island. Each Sunday the resort throws a huge party – every restaurant is closed, all the workers come down to the beach, and they put on quite a spread. Here’s what I had for dinner:

The salesman that took us on the tour earlier in the week told us that they spend over $30,000 on this party – and they do it every week!! There was seating for about 5,000 people, and huge tents with more food under them than I have ever seen. Lots of variety here as well (including a whole pig on a spit!).  Also, top shelf liquor as far as the eye can see. We tipped our waiter $20 and he just kept bringing the drinks before we had even finished the last round! At one point I had three or four full drinks in front of me (Pina Colada made with Baileys instead of rum – try it!! Amazing!!):

 There is a giant stage with a great Dominican band, complete with a full horn section, playing many different types of music. Some pop music (Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO, etc) but also playing some Dominican music. Some of the songs were cheesy 80s love songs (and the dreaded Celine Dion), but they would sing half in Spanish and half in English, so it kept it interesting. Then the dancers would come out, dressed in the tiniest costumes you can imagine, dancing the merengue. There was a guy juggling fire. There was a huge conga line. It was really over the top, but kind of a fun way to close the week. At the end of the night they had a ton of fireworks (see pic below) that went off literally over your head. This particular week, Whitney Houston had passed away the day before, so they did a little dedication to her at the end.

It was sprinkling at this point (the first drops of rain we’d seen all week) so it was easier to head home for the night. When we woke up the next morning, everything was still soaked, and it looked like it had rained all night long.

After breakfast we went back to the room, packed up, and headed to the Puerto Plata Airport. So sad to go, really looking forward to going back.

So if you’re looking for a very affordable all-inclusive and you’re ok with not having 5 star accommodations and gourmet meals at every turn, this is the place for you. There was a lot to do, service was great, food was decent, pools were spectacular, scenery was awesome, weather was perfect, and man oh man was the price right.  It wuld be perfect for a couple, a family, a group of friends, or a big family traveling together. Really there’s something for everyone! I can’t wait to go back for a girls trip!

I have recently befriended a woman named Vicki who is a member of the Vacation Club, who rents out her accommodations when she’s not using them. It’s more expensive than CheapCaribbean to do it this way (although not really terribly so, starting at $399/wk for the room and roughly $50 pp/pd for the all inclusive), but this is still SUPER affordable and would get you a handful of perks that would probably eliminate any of the shortcomings of the cheapcaribbean deal (including not being hassled about the tour).  You can read more about her specials on her website HERE. She also has access to accommodations worldwide (and is a super nice person who will go out of her way to help you with any questions or concerns that you may have). I found her by asking around on tripadvisor.com, and she sent me super lengthy and detailed responses to every question I could think of. My husband and I have decided that next time we go, we will be booking through Vicki just to see what the major differences are, and perhaps in the future we will buy into the Club ourselves.

This is just a review of one particular resort – the Dominican Republic hosts a wide variety of resorts, ranging significantly in price. If you want my opinion on the island as a whole, I loved it. Can’t say enough about it. It’s fabulously lush and tropical. Very economically depressed (which is quite moving as you’re flying in or driving to your resort from the airport), which is why the economy can really benefit from the dollars spent there. Venture off the resort, eat at a family owned restaurant. Buy some souvenirs from the folks on the beach instead of at the shops at the resort. Go find a local bar to have a drink or a snack. It’s amazing how far your foreign dollar will go.

Advertisements