Tuesday, January 26, 2010

RESORT REVIEW: NH Real Arena


Trip Date: December 2009
Location: Punta Cana, Domincan Republic

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 4 / Rooms: 5 / Pools: 5 / Snorkeling: N/A

We went to NH Real Arena from December 18-25, 2009. Yes, we saw all the negative reviews but it did not stop us from booking this resort. Prior to us leaving Toronto, we emailed Roberto and asked him for a top floor, ocean view room with a king size bed. We flew with Air Transat (happy that they now serve hot meals) and arrived on time to a beautiful sunny Punta Cana. A good thing about this resort is that it's only a 20 minute ride from the airport.

CHECK IN
Because we had booked a Mirage Deluxe room with Transat Holidays, we were check in privately. Surprisingly at 12:30 pm, our room was ready. We were given a map, keys and coupons, and were told to see the bell boy to bring us to our room. We had asked about a la carte reservations, they showed us where the desk was and since there wasn't a line up, we booked two of our five a la cartes. We were then brought by a golf cart to our building which was a 60 seconds away from the lobby.


ROOM
Our room (#2441) was in building 2 (I think it's the Punta Cana building) on the top (4th) floor. To figure out where your room is located, follow this: 1st number represents which building you are in, 2nd number represents what floor you are on and the last two numbers is which room you are in. The rooms are very spacious. You have a closet with bathrobes, slippers, iron & board and a safe (you program the code yourself). There is a bathroom with a toilet and shower, the doors are made of frosted glass, some toiletries and a jacuzzi tub. There is a big hole in the wall but that didn't bother us. It's where my husband put his luggage. We had a king size bed. The sheets and duvet are comfy, the bed is on the hard side and the pillows were nice and fluffy but we could have used more than three. There is a fridge (stocked with coke, sprite, water and beer), coffee maker and ice bucket. Also in the room is a flat screen TV, a desk (but no paper or pen to be found), a chair, table and a pull out sofa. The balcony is great. If you are in building 2 and the last digit of your room number is an odd number, then you will have a great view of the pool. If you are on the 4th floor, you will also have a view of the ocean. The rooms are immaculately clean. There was a slight odor near the toilet but we just sprayed with febreeze and it was fine.


FOOD
For breakfast, we only ate at the buffet once and ordered room service twice. Room service is much better. I had read in so many reviews about Felix who makes the best eggs. When we went to the buffet, we didn't see him, probably his day off. For lunch we ate at the poolside grill for most days. Some things to eat - salsa, chips & guacamole, rotisserie chicken, pasta, grilled chicken and fish, hot dogs, hamburger, french fries and paella. Each day there was something new to eat. At Festival Buffet (main buffet), there was pizza, pasta, rice, potatoes, the usual but it was much nicer to eat at the grill where you have a view of the ocean and pool. We ate at the main buffet for the Mexican and Spanish themed nights. I wasn't that impressed, their buffet is smaller than other resort buffets. At the Mexican night, we discovered the beef fajitas. They were delicious. It's too bad that we found them after we had already eaten a lot. We ate at all four a la carte restaurants:

Senses (French) - This was our favorite restaurant. We had a gin mojito granita, a tuna carpaccio salad, red snapper/lobster main entree and a chocolate dessert. This is the restaurant decorated in all red. The service was quite fast.

Shore Grill (American/Surf & Turf) - This restaurant looks like a saloon and is more casual than the others. We had an appetizer platter of nachos & cheese and really yummy wings. After was caesar salad on bread (we thought this was odd but it tasted delicious). My husband had the rib-eye and I got the garlic shrimp. I have to say that I was really disappointed with my shrimp dish. All the resorts I have been to in the past have served jumbo shrimp. This is the first time I received small "cocktail" shrimp. For dessert was cheesecake and a brownie.

Cinque Terre (Italian) - This was our least favorite restaurant. I believe we started off with a soup, then an arugula salad, two pastas (the mushroom fettuccine one was amazing and the olive tomato penne was okay). The mains were seafood gratin or beef encrusted in herbs. The service here was extremely slow. So slow that we didn't even wait for our dessert. We just left.

Asian (name speaks for itself) - Teppanyaki is usually a fun meal with the chef entertaining you. Our chef just did his job, he cooked, served us our food and left. Before having our meal of cooked beef, chicken and shrimp with vegetables and fried rice, we had miso soup, tempura and some sushi. All were very good. After we had fried ice cream for dessert.

Christmas Eve Gala at Shore Grill - For Christmas Eve dinner, the resort was serving the same meal at all the a la carte restaurants and I think they had an elaborate buffet at Festival. We chose to eat at Shore Grill (this is before we knew what any of the restaurants looked like). The dinner was six courses and took us over two hours to eat. Our waitress kept the champagne flowing. Our glasses were never empty. We ate liver pate (I will admit that I would never eat pate, let alone liver pate but I tried it and it was delicious. I ate the whole thing), lobster salad, fish in a pastry puff, gin mojito granita, beef fillet and a double chocolate cheesecake for dessert. We were stuffed.

BARS
There are many bars located around the resort - Alisios Bar in the lobby (never went), Arenas Sports Bar (never went), Olas Bar (good to get limonata- frozen limeade), Wet Bar (we are not pool bar people) and Tanhtra Rooftop Bar. When you are in the courtyard watching the show, the resort has makeshift bars around the perimeter but there are servers taking drink orders. We didn't drink much during the day except for beer at lunch. At dinner, it's either a beer or wine. Their red house wine is better than the white. I also like drinking champagne in the evening while watching the shows. Another good drink is the mojito at the pool bar, it's made with the lime slushie.

BEACH
The beach is gorgeous and no seaweed to be found on the shoreline. The beach chairs are quite different from the usual ones you see at the resort. They are plastic wicker-looking chairs. It makes the resort look modern and classy. They are not that comfortable but I am not going to complain about it. There are plenty of palapas with chairs and tables but you will find that the one closer to the water are taken early in the morning. Don't worry, all those taken spots will be evacuated by 2 pm when everyone leaves for lunch. The activities that I have seen are volleyball and aerobics. When you are facing the water, towel and water activities hut is to your right and to the left is the massage hut. Past the massage hut is a quieter area but you do get the yelling from the vendors asking you to come see what they are selling. But don't worry, there is a security guard there and an invisible line they can not cross.


 POOL
There is a large pool where all the activities take place and the pool bar, and a smaller pool where most people go to relax and read. The water in the pool looks green because the tiles are green, not the usual blue. We like this look of the pool, it makes for a unique quality that the other resorts don't have. The same type of wicker furniture surrounds the pool. I must say that this is the first resort that provides tables beside every two chairs.

NIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
Most shows take place at NH Plaza or in Tanhtra Bar. Both the circus show and the white party are fantastic. Be sure to catch these when they are on. You can check the activities board by the main buffet to see what the nightly entertainment is. Before the main show in the plaza square, there will be some musical act or a giant inflatable screen playing a music concert. On the 24th, a booklet describing their Christmas program was left in our room (along with a little Christmas gift). They had a great program for the holidays (Dec 24-Jan 5) but unfortunately it started on our last day at the resort.

STAFF
The staff are great and very hard working especially when on our last day there was a torrential downpour. All hotel staff were either mopping up water, towelling down the 1st floor rooms, evaluating the pool, etc. Yes, many of them only speak Spanish, but I find that if you try to speak Spanish, they will try and speak English. Please be respectful and learn a few key phrases before you head down. It will impress them. Some of our favorite staff are Ronaldo at the Mirage Concierge, Mirabel at Shore Grill, Henry at Shore Grill/main buffet and Ronald from Senses/Shore Grill. Another person who was extremely helpful was Roberto, who fulfilled our room request. Danny, our rep from Air Transat doesn't work for the resort but he lives there, has to be hands-down the best rep we have ever had.

CHECK OUT
Check out was simple as ever. We checked out at the front desk and then hung out at Mirage Concierge to enjoy the TV and free wifi, along with those delicious mini donuts and Dasani water.

OVERALL
I would definitely recommend this resort to others. I would like to try staying at NH Royal one day (but only if there is another operator offering it besides Sunwing), although I like the pools better at Real Arena. Guests at NH Royal have access to everything at Real Arena. I don't know why people complain about this resort. There is honestly nothing to complain about. I love the modern look of the entire resort and the staff are fantastic. You won't be disappointed. Click here to check out more photos we took at the resort.

Still not convinced?  See what others think here

Monday, January 25, 2010

MUSIC MONDAY: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, John Mayer

I like to nap on the beach and I found that this song is perfect to listen to. There's just something about the guitar rifts and the ocean breeze that puts you to sleep.

John Mayer - Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by SemRedeas

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

ADVICE: Late flight = late check out



With chartered flights, chances are you're departing either late morning or late in the evening. If you have a morning flight home, you have nothing to worry about. Just check out and wait for the bus to pick you up. However, if you have an evening flight, let's say 9:55 pm, the bus is going to pick you up around 6:00 pm. Sure, you can still enjoy everything the resort has to offer until you board the bus but do you really want to step on the plane smelling of sweat and sun?

You have two solutions: #1 - enjoy your day on the beach or pool and ask for a courtesy room to shower or #2 - ask for late check out. I would go with #2. There is no harm in asking. You will probably have to pay somewhere between $40-$60 for a 4 pm checkout but believe me, it's worth it. On your departure date, wake up early and check with the front desk. If they have availability, they will re-program your card and then you can enjoy your day and be all refreshed for your return home. If you choose to go with #1, no problem. Check out at the designated check out time, store your luggage with the bell boy (remember to lock your luggage and keep your sunscreen & valuables with you), check with the front desk about a courtesy room and see if you can reserve a time to use it and then head off to the beach.

Personally, we like morning flights and we aim to get those flights. We have in the past had some evening flights and we have done everything from storing our luggage and freshening up in our friend's room (they were leaving a week later) to actaully sitting in the lobby all afternoon after checking out to getting late check out. I highly suggest getting late check out, it just makes life so much easier!

Monday, January 18, 2010

MUSIC MONDAY: Paolo Nutini

It's an essential part of your experience.  It helps you relax, get into the mood and it keeps you entertained while you are out staring at nothing.  This is music.

Leesh and I thought that we would recommend some great songs and albums to add to your vacation playlist.  My first recommendation is Paolo Nutini's first album, These Streets.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

ADVICE: How to get rid of that musty smell in your room



A big complaint that I always see on reviews is a musty smell when they enter the room at the resort. Most of the time there will be that musty smell because of the air conditioning. One great tip we learned from Kathleen & Nancy (Royal Hideaway Ensenachos) is to turn on the ceiling fan (provided you have one in your room). This will circulate the air and hopefully remove the smell.

Other ways to banish the musty smell is to light a scented candle or febreeze your room (yes, I actually pack these with me).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

ADVICE: The Perfect Tan!!

miQ tanning on Bavaro Beach

We all want it! From the second we arrive at the beach, the first thing we think of is a tan!  We need the tan to prove that we had gone away and enjoyed the sun, we need the tan to look good and most importantly, we need that tan to look good lol!

Lets face it, most of us roast ourselves to the point where we get burned and from experience, sunburn is NOT comfortable.  Your skin hurts all the time.  In the heat, in the cold, in the pool, in your shirt, in the blanket, it just HURTS!  I had one bad case of sunburn and I never want another one EVER!

this is what you call sunburn

I see a lot of people roasting themselves on the beach.  Everyone has their own system and strategy.  Some turn on a timely basis, kind of like a rotisserie.  Others just lie there and grab every second of the sun at all costs, even if they do look purple.  That my friends is NOT a prefect tan.  That is skin cancer waiting to happen!!

We have gone many times and I think we have finally perfected how to get the perfect tan.  Keep in mind though, this piece of advice works for OUR skin type.  It may not work for others.  The 3 things you should consider before you head out to vacation is Before, During and After.



Before: If you are fair skinned and get sun burnt easily, maybe tanning isn't the best thing for you.  Just accept it and loathe on that 70 SPF and let your pictures do the talking.  Another thing you can do is go to a tanning salon to get a base so that you don't get roasted the minute you get there.  It worked on me when I first started to visit down south, and I know it has worked for other people as well.

You should also buy all your sunblock before hand.  Sunblock is expensive at all resorts because they know you need it and have no other choice but to pay if you run out.  Get a variety of SPF's when you do.  We normally get a bottle of 45, 30 and 15 preferably waterproof.  Make sure you do your research as to which one to get.  Some are very hard to apply and some wipe of right after you sweat!  The brands we go for usually are Hawaiian Tropic and Neutrogena.  You should also buy some after sun care as well as one bottle of spray block.  It's good to use on your feet and legs when you don't want to rub the sand thats stuck onto them.

Leesh hydrating in the shade during peak hours

During: The best piece of advice I can give you is stay away from the sun from 12:00 pm-2:00 pm!  This is where most people get burnt!  The assumption is that you will tan faster this way, which is true, but you will also get BURNT faster!  Try to stay in the shade or in the water.  Basically, keep your skin cool during these times.  You still tan while you are in the shade.  The sand and ocean act like a mirror and bounce the rays off to your skin so you can get some decent gradual sun.

If you want to tan faster, my best advice is to be in the water for as long as you can.  You can get an awesome tan that way.  You still however need to apply sunblock too and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep yourself hydrated all the time with WATER not beer or alcohol!



After:  After a nice shower, apply a deep conditioning lotion.  I use Vaseline Cocoa Butter.  It's AWESOME!  Only use the Aloe if you are burnt in some areas.  This helps cool the skin down but it does NOT act as a moisturizer.  You still need something to prevent the peeling.  If you are burnt, wear long sleeves to sleep and try to keep your room at a comfortable warm temperature.  I find the cold stabs into your skin when it's burnt.

When you get there, people watch.  Compare the people that sit in the sun all the time to the ones that do it all in moderation.  One normally looks like a nice bronzed healthy person and the other looks like a boiled lobster in the buffet.  Take your pick to which tan you prefer.

Here is a rule of thumb...if you think it's too hot for your skin, chances are IT IS!

Happy Tanning!

DID YOU KNOW...Air Transat serves hot meals



As of December 1, 2009, Air Transat will offer up hot meal service to sun destinations plus, a glass of champagne or a mimosa. Click here to view their announcement. Keep this in mind when you are choosing which tour operator to go with for your all-inclusive vacation.

We have had excellent experiences when travelling with Transat Holidays/Air Transat and now they are improving their service. On our recent trip to Punta Cana, our morning flight offered a choice of a spanish omelette or eggs florentine (we passed on the food because we were sleeping) and on our afternoon flight back home, it was shepherd's pie or veggie pasta. It also included cranberry wild rice salad, bun, fudge and a lindt chocolate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

RESORT REVIEW: Royal Hideaway Cayo Ensenachos

Trip Date: June 2009
Location: Santa Clara, Cuba

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5+ / Food: 4 / Rooms: 4 / Pools: 5 / Snorkeling: 4



Playa Megano in the morning

With this having been my 13th trip down to the Caribbean, I would say that this would've been the best beach I've seen yet!

Playa Megano - BEAUTIFUL!! When people say that pictures cannot describe it, they are absolutely right. You can ooh and ahhh about the beach pictures but being there and experiencing it yourself is another thing.

Playa Ensenachos - It was low season when I went so none of the bars or snack bars at that beach was open. We did visit for a bit and the water there is just crystal clear! The beach isn't as wide as the Megano beach but for low season if you want a quiet time with you and your significant other, this is the perfect place to do it. There are no beach loungers though.

Starfish found in Playa Megano

Snorkeling - Great snorkeling at this resort. Best time to go I'd say is in the morning when the tide is still high and I'd say the best snorkeling is to the left of the resort. They do not have any snorkel gear to rent so please bring your own. If you are snorkeling, bring water shoes as I saw an immense amount of urchins near the rocks. 

Shrimp Ceviche

Food - I go to Cuba with no standards or expectations. I think once you do, you set yourself up with disappointment. Lunch at the pool snack bar was the best, followed by the buffet then if you are lazy (like me) and don't feel like leaving the beach, they will serve you snacks on the beach. My only recommendation would be to add french fries to the beach.

Room/Concierge - The rooms are HUGE. At least in building 42 they were. It pretty much had everything you needed. Our concierge was not helpful at all. The resort also offered us a $50 certificate per person but she did not give it to us until Thursday (we flew from Sat to Sat) so we didn't have time to use it up. We also checked up on our dinner reservations at least twice a day and she never had it and one time we came back at 6pm to find that our dinner was at 7pm. I think it was just her though. The rest of the people I met at the resort had no problems with their concierge and their dinner reservations were given to them much earlier as well as their $50 credit. They also make it difficult for you to make group reservations. If you guys are doing that, pick the best concierge between your group and book it with them. Ours was honestly totally useless.

If you are flying a night flight like we did, get the late check out. Trust me it's worth it!

This was my 3rd trip to Cuba (Holguin, Varadero) and this was the best trip yet. If you ever want to go to Cuba for the first time, go here. You'll be spoiled for life!!!!

Just want to say a big HELLO to Chris and Karen from BC and Dave and Evelyn from Toronto!! These people made our trip a BLAST!!!

Still not convinced?  See what others think here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

ADVICE: Tipping at all-inclusive resorts



I have been asked many times, how much money should I bring (and to this I always say, bring lots of $1 bills) and how do you tip? This is our scale (mind you, we love tipping)...

Maids - $2 a day
Bartenders - $1 almost each time we get a drink but if there is butler service on the beach or by the pool and if you find that one server comes to you frequently, tip them $5 in the beginning and you should be set. They will probably take care of you for that day and some of the other days that they are working
Servers at buffet restaurants - $1 for breakfast, $2 for lunch and $3 for dinner
Servers at a la carte restaurants - $5
Bell boy -  for when they pick up your luggage at the beginning and end of your stay - $5

Sunday, January 10, 2010

ADVICE: Winter morning flights


Leesh straight off the plane

After speaking to our friends tonight about what they should wear on their flight to their island destination, I thought posting a list would come in handy. When traveling from a cold city to a hot destination, you want to make sure that you are dress accordingly for both.
  1. Swimwear - Girls, throw your bikini on under your clothes (if you don't want to be sitting in your bikini on the plane, make sure to pack it in your carry-on) and guys, make sure to pack your board shorts in your carry-on. Your resort will most likely have a courtesy room for you to change in but do you really want to be fumbling around in your luggage looking for your swimwear? You want to make sure you don't waste any time when you arrive at resort.
  2. Flip flops and sunscreen - Pack them in one of the outside zipper compartments or right at the top side of your luggage for easy access.
  3. Sunglasses - Keep them on your head or in your carry on. You can use them to hide your tired eyes (from the lack of sleep due to the excitement of your vacation) and to put on right away when you step off the plane.
  4. Layer your clothes - Ideally, you don't need to bring your winter coat with you if you are getting dropped off and picked up. If you are driving to the airport and leaving your car in the park and fly, you should just leave your jacket in the car. Wear a tank top, then a long sleeve shirt and a hoodie. You can peel off each layer when you start to feel warm. Also, bring a toque, gloves and a scarf (a pashmina can double up as a blanket on the plane and a wrap/shawl on chilly nights). This should keep you warm when you return and need to wait for a cab.

Friday, January 8, 2010

RESORT REVIEW: Occidental Grand Flamenco Punta Cana

Trip Date: July 2004
Location: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 5 / Rooms: 3 / Pools: 4 / Snorkeling: n/a

miQ and Leesh on Bavaro Beach

There were four of us that went to Occidental Grand Flamenco around the ages of 25-27.  We booked a month and a half ahead with Bel Air Travel and got a great price. The one thing that disappointed me before we even left Toronto was that our flight time was changed from 7:15 am to 1:45 pm and also our airline changed from Air Transat to West Jet.  I was happy that we would be arriving early in the day to start off our vacation, but instead, we got there at night, arrived late at the Punta Cana airport and had no movie to watch on the plane.  No biggie…our vacation was just about to start.

ARRIVING AT PUNTA CANA AIRPORT
Since we were arriving around 6 pm, we were landing during rush hour, so there was a bit of a line up because when you arrive at the airport, they take your picture.  Customs was quick but a bit of a wait to get our luggage.

CHECK IN
There were only 4 couples that got off our bus to check into the resort.  Check in was a breeze, and of course, we were welcomed with a drink.  I had emailed the resort a week before to requested a king size bed and 3rd floor ocean view room.  Originally they booked us in a 3rd floor room (they have high ceilings) but it wasn’t ready upon our arrival.  We sent our luggage to our room and walked to the building we were staying at.

Grand Flamenco buildings

ROOM
We did get a king size bed on the second floor, facing the next resort. Not a disappointment because I heard the rooms that are facing the pool and walkway was extremely hot coming in the evening because the room is facing the sun.  Since we were facing the back, some sun came into our room and the room was always cool even with the A/C off.  We were in Building 12, Room 218.  The rooms are very spacious and are equipped with all that is needed (there is even a luggage rack, it’s a good idea to keep your luggage on it so bugs can’t get in your clothes).  The safety deposit box is handy, $15 paid upon check out.  The fridge is filled with pop, beer and a large water jug.  Apparently you are not supposed to brush your teeth with tap water. There is hair dryer, iron and an alarm clock.  You use your key card that opens the room to keep the power on in the room.  In any case, you can always use another type of card or a folded up coaster from your room.  It’s not a good idea to always keep the power on all day; this method is used so that power is not being wasted.  It is always nice to leave your maid a tip or a small gift on the pillow because these woman work from very early in the morning to the evening.  We also found that in some rooms, perhaps the rooms that face the other resort, when you go onto the balcony, the sliding door locks automatically.  Be careful.

FOOD
I was impressed with the food at the buffet.  I always don’t expect much at the buffet restaurants but this one had a large variety of different kinds of food.  It mostly changed each night. The waiter Domingo was very good to us and always helped us find a table during the busy breakfast and lunch rush. We tried the Steakhouse, La Reses, and had the best meal.  We tried the Lamb chops, Veal Tenderloin and Pork Fillet (this is the closest thing to a steak), it was so delicious that we ate there twice!  We also tried the Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda.  Not too impressed with the meal because the portion were too small.  The appetizer platter was very good.  The snack bar, Home Rum is good when you are craving some greasy food (hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon, fries and onion rings) as a late afternoon bite.  Joaquin, the bartender is really friendly and is willing to make special drinks.  The only problem is if you are hungry after 10:30 pm, there is no place to get some food.  If you are a late night snacker like me, I would bring some chips and cookies from home.

BAR
The lobby bar has the best bartenders, they are fast and entertaining.  There is a beach bar (left side of the beach), a bar by the theatre, a bar in the Royal Club restaurant (right side of the beach), the swim up bar and the bar in Home Rum.  The Tiki Tiki drink was the best one I tasted but I always like Lime daiquiris.

one of the free form pools

POOL
The pool is a very large free form pool.  There are busy, crowded sections, but also quiet sections closer to the beach.  There is a pool in the Royal Club area that is used for scuba lessons.  While we were there, the pool was going under renovations.  There were about 8-10 workers drilling and hammering at the pool bottom to fix it.  Our friends brought them beers since they were working so hard.  There are plenty of chairs around the pool but it’s a bit difficult to find an area with shade.

BEACH
The beach is absolutely beautiful.  The sand is white and the water is always a rich turquoise colour.  I did notice that there are people who wake up at 6 am to place their towels to the beach chairs under the palapas but if you go in the afternoon, you will still be able to find some chairs.  I find that many people just leave their cups, cigarette butts and garbage lying around, so please be considerate, pick up after yourself and keep the beach clean.  There are many activities at the beach.  To the far right, you will find the water sports and the beach towel hut.  In the middle, you will find the volleyball and soccer courts, and the aerobics.  It tends to be crowded here.  This is where you can find the henna tattoos and massage hut.  To the left of the beach, near the Royal Club private beach, you will find lots of room.  It’s quieter and you are right by the bar, another massage hut and the guy that makes the rice necklaces. 

RESORT
There are nightly shows that start at 10 pm.  I find that you can sit by the pool and watch the show, it’s not the best view but it is cooler with a nice breeze.  On Saturday nights, there is a beach party after the nightly show.  They bring out a bar, cook some burgers and just play music on the beach.  There is also the disco, Mangu, which really doesn’t get started until almost 1 am.  You should check it out because the top floor has low couches and tables, even swings on the dance floor.  We attended a Manager’s Cocktail reception one night; they set up in the lobby.  They were serving champagne and sushi and had a little dance number with the managers.  You will find a photographer that takes pictures of you with the dancers, a monkey or parrots; you can then purchase the photos at the lobby for $6 US.  This resort is in a great area because it’s close to the market that is located on the beach, maybe a 15 minute walk; and another market just outside of the resort.

CHECK OUT
We checked out of our room at noon.  The bad thing was that the bus wasn’t picking us up until 3:15 pm.  Along with the 3 other couples, we sat in the lobby for 3 hours, drinking and eating in the heat.  Not fun at all.  Our bus arrived on time and took us to the airport.  I was impressed with the new enclosed air conditioned section at the Punta Cana airport (there’s even a Baskin-Robbins), it was much nicer to sit in this area rather than the open air section.

OVERALL
Before this trip, I only heard good things about the resort and everyone was right.  It caters to both families, couples and singles, and each person can find something that they can enjoy, whether it be activities, drinks, even food.  The grounds, rooms, pool and beach are well kept.  Just remember to say Hola and Gracias, and the staff will return with a big smile because they are impressed that you are trying to speak their language.  They work hard all day to make your vacation a memorable one.  And also, tipping doesn’t hurt; a dollar out of your pocket won’t break your bank account.  It’s just a simple gesture of thanks to those who want you make your stay pleasant so that you will return.  And certainly, I will go back and will even recommend the Grand Flamenco to my friends and family. Click here for some of our photos of the resort.

Still not convinced?  See what others think here.

RESORT REVIEW: Bavaro Princess

Trip Date: June 2003
Location: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 4 / Rooms: 4 / Pools: 3 / Snorkeling: n/a

Bavaro Beach

We went to Bavaro Princess Suites from June 9-16th, 2003.  We went to Cancun Mexico in 2000 with 15 other friends, so this was our first trip with just the two of us.  We booked a week before we left with Bel Air Travel and got a great deal through Sunquest.  We were offered the VIP package for $100 more but opted not to take it.  In the end, we weren’t sorry that we didn’t take it because we didn’t care for the massage, the robes, the dinner at Licey or the aerial view souvenir picture that comes with the package.

TORONTO AIRPORT and FLIGHT
Our flight was at 4 pm so we got to Pearson 3 hours beforehand to pick up our tickets and check in.  It’s a good idea to go early so that you can request the seats on the plane that would make your ride more comfortable.  The roomier seats the first row and the seats by the emergency exits.  We flew with SkyService and just to forewarn you, as your in flight meal consists of a small sandwich, salad, a trail mix and a cookie, so I suggest you eat before or bring small snacks on the flight. 

ARRIVING AT PUNTA CANA AIRPORT
Going through Customs/Immigration was a breeze.  We got our luggage and boarded the bus within minutes of our arrival. We meet a couple (Pat & Danny) that was close to our age and they were also from Toronto while putting our luggage on the bus. The bus ride to the resort is a very bumpy ride and since we arrived at 8 pm, the roads were dark.  It’s true what others have said…it is an experience.

CHECK IN
We arrived at the hotel and there is a guy at the lobby who watches your luggage while you go and check in.  While waiting in line, they bring you a cold glass of fruit punch.  The guy at check in offered us to check in after and go and eat at the buffet since it was closing in 10 mins. We weren’t that hungry so we got our hotel room.  I had requested a suite close to the beach, with a balcony and a king size bed.  I also remembered to ask for the remote and lock for the safety deposit box, but he said to come back in the morning because they were out.  After we went back to the guy watching our luggage and they brought our luggage to our room within the hour. 

Princess Suites

ROOM
We noticed that our room was a bit of a walk from the lobby, so we took the tram to Building #10.  And to my surprise, our request was fulfilled, we were 4 building away from the beach and pool and we also got the suite with a balcony (Suite #103).  And coincidentally, the couple that we met on the bus was in the suite below us.  The one thing that upset me was that we had to twin beds in our suite.  Not a big deal, we just pushed them together, but for next time, I will stress more on the king size bed.  The room was spacious and well kept.  All the other reviews described the rooms so there is no need for me to.  One thing that somewhat bothered me was the smell on the sheets, almost a musty smell.  For some reason, I brought Bounce fabric softener and rubbed them all over the sheets.  We got our room cleaned every other day, and left a $2 tip along with little packages that I created before I left on vacation.  We went to the Dollar store and bought nail polishes, lipsticks, candles and soaps and arranged them in cute little boxes for the maids. Even if we didn’t request for our room to be cleaned, the maid (Carmen) left fresh towels and toilet paper for us.  The idea of leaving one of your room cards in the slot that turns everything on (A/C and lights) is a smart idea when you go out during the day, because it is nice to come back to a cold room.  I really liked the suites because they is a lot of room with the little dinette and living room area, and also their bathroom is clean and roomy.  There are also shelves and a big closet to put all your stuff.

Pasta Station

FOOD
We were too lazy to walk to the lobby each morning to make reservations for dinner, so we ate at Hispaniola every night with the other couple expect for our last night because the couple we met were on their honeymoon and had a gala dinner to attend so we joined them.  The main buffet has a wide selection of food, and it changed nightly.  I have a sensitive stomach so I mostly ate buns (which tastes so good, they are addicting) and potatoes.  My boyfriend and the other couple ate everything and anything.  Some nights we got an upset stomach but that is because of stomach are not use to their style of cooking.  I hear many good things the a la carte dinners so, I highly suggest that you make the reservations in the morning for them.  At lunch, all the restaurants by the beach/pool serve great food, and they is something different on the buffet, you can even pile up your plate and eat it by the pool.  One tip, find the Chopin restaurant, it’s in the middle of the resort and it’s hidden, it serves breakfast too and is not as busy as the main buffet.  At night, the water and the tropical forest surrounding it is all lit up and there is a boat with a guy playing the piano that goes around the whole restaurant.  It’s beautiful!

BAR
I didn’t drink that much because the first day we were by the beach, one bartender asked if we wanted rum in our strawberry daiquiris and we said “sure” because we thought that we were getting alcohol in it all the time.  Well, the ones that we got with alcohol were so strong that we fell asleep by the pool.  The service is fast, and it’s always good to leave a small tip. 

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

EXCURSIONS
There were 2 excursions that my boyfriend and I went on.  We booked with the couple that we met through Sunquest.  On Thursday, we went on Bavaro Trackers.  The tour guide met us at the lobby at 8:05 am and we rode in an open truck, and once again, the ride was an experience.  After half an hour, we got to the destination and began to get instructions on how to operate the ATV; everyone drove in pairs, one driving, the other one riding on the back.  This was the most fun that I had on my trip to Punta Cana.  The guide takes you along the beach (the water is so clear, you can see the rocks), and then you go horseback riding, stop by for a dip in the water and have lunch.  I won’t go into details about the whole scenic route; you have to see for yourself.  One word of advice, make sure you bring sunscreen, sunglasses (there is lots of dust/dirty), baby wipes (I got horse turd all over me and the other riders got it too), a towel and your bathing suit.  And make sure that you were grubby clothes because you do get all dirty.

The other excursion that we went on was to Santo Domingo, please be aware that the city is 3 hours away from Punta Cana and is a very bumpy ride (take gravol with you).  We met the tour guide in the lobby at 6:30 am.  It was a long day and we didn’t get back until 8 pm.  If you want to learn about the culture and history of the Dominican Republic, this excursion is for you.  You get to go to the underground water caves, the light house, the house wear Christopher Columbus’ son’s house, an authentic lunch, some churches and then some shopping.  I wouldn’t suggest this unless you don’t mind being on a bus for 6 hours, when you could be on the beach, lying in the sun.

CHECK OUT
The day that we were suppose to leave; we checked out at 11 am, and there was no problem at all. Since the couple that we met were staying for another week, we left our luggage in their room and stay on the beach all day.  We got ready in their room, and called an hour before we were suppose to meet the tour operator to go to the airport.  We waited and waited, and ended up bringing our luggage ourselves to the lobby.  We got to the airport and there was no problems at customs, just remember to have your $10 US.  Our flight actually arrived at Pearson 25 mins early.

OVERALL
I would definitely recommend this resort to anyone planning to go to Punta Cana.  It is a 5 star hotel and I believe the resort lives up to it.  The staff is well mannered and always willing to help you out, without expecting a tip and even with the language barrier.  As we took the tram, I noticed that they are building more suites.  So, this resort is going to be able to accommodate more visitors.  If my friends decide that they want to go back to Punta Cana, I will probably go back and stay at this resort.

Still not convinced?  See what others think here.

RESORT REVIEW: Blue Bay Villas Doradas

Trip Date: September 2008
Location: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 3 / Food: 5 / Rooms: 4 / Pools: 3 / Snorkeling: n/a

Playa Dorada

My buddy and I stayed at the Blue Bay Villas Doradas from Sept 20-27, 2008.  Long story short, we were suppose to go there for a stag, but plans got screwed up so we just made it into a surf trip.

I never had a desire to go to Puerto Plata but at this time, the price was so reasonable we couldn't refuse.  It also was the one place where we can get some surf lessons without paying an arm and a leg so we decided to give it a shot.

Blue Bay Lobby

The first impressions of this place is really good.  You walk into a nice fresh white balcony with modern furnishing, it kind of reminds you of a Miami style hotel.  This hotel also has free wi-fi in the lobby so I saw a bunch of people sitting there just doing their own thing.  The hotel also supplies 2 laptops for the guests to use.

The overall feel of this hotel is comfortable.  I didn't mind staying at a small resort.  It's nice to be able to walk somewhere from time to time and it's a good way to meet people.  The animation team were very nice and worked really hard at keeping everyone entertained.

The shows however were a disaster.  A real disaster!  They were soooo bad that I felt embarassed for them as I watched it.

Peking Duck

Food here was great!  It was at least 2 years since I had visited the Dominican Republic and let me tell you, when I took that first bite, I felt like I was home again!  For a small resort this place had EXCELLENT food!  We didn't try any of the a la cartes but we did try the asian one and opted for a peking duck which was $20.  This was an UNBELIVEABLE meal!!  They gave you the whole duck and basically prepared it for you 3 different ways.  Needless to say I was FULL by the time I came out of this restaurant.

The one thing that alot of people didn't like was the amount of vendors walking the beach.  Honestly I didn't care.  In fact I found alot of them to be entertaining!  They really don't bother you.  All you got to do is say no NICELY and they will go away politely.

If it wasn't for the beach I would've had this resort up there, but since I'm a big beach person I'm a bit partial to it.  The resort itself however was AWESOME and I'd recommend this place to anyone that is thinking of going to Puerto Plata.

Still not convinced?  See what other people think here.

RESORT REVIEW: El Dorado Seaside Suites

Trip Date: June 2008
Location: Puerto Aventuras (Mayan Riviera), Mexico

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 5 / Rooms: 5 / Pools: 4 / Snorkeling: 5


El Dorado beach - north side of the resort

My wife and I stayed at the EDSS from June 14-21. This was our 9th All Inclusive resort and first Adults Only.

Having not stayed at an adults only resort before, we were surprised how quiet it was! It was amazing. Since we had a morning flight and got there before our rooms were ready, we quickly got changed and headed to the beach where we found a top floor beach bed and slept there till our room was ready.

Some people complained that the pager that they were given wasn't even used when their room was ready, but come on people, it's a small resort! Take some initiative and see if your room is ready. If they said 3pm, go back at 3pm and check with them. It's a resort, not a slave ship!

We were in building 41, and the room was beautiful. We did not get a swim up since the pool really isn't our thing, but from what I heard, all the rooms were pretty much the same (in the new buildings). If you want a renovated room, simply email the resort a week before you go and request it but keep in mind, just because you request it, doesn't mean that you'll get it.


duck taco's with fresh guacamole

The food at this resort is EXCELLENT! We did get a case of TD (Travel Diarreah) but really, you can get that anywhere!! It's also not food poisoning! I've had food poisoning before and trust me, this wasn't it. If you were to wikipedia Travel Diarrhea, you'll see how common this is when visiting places like the caribbean.

The Beach is excellent! If you want a good spot, wake up early and if you want a beach bed, they usually open back up around 3pm and later, so just find a place that you can relax at till 3, then move to a beach bed. The majority of guests at this resort are British, so they are up early and reserving their spots only because their clock is 6 hours ahead of us. If your clock was 6 hours ahead, I'd save my spot too and sit there. The shore gets rocky towards the Dive Center, but if you go towards the crumbling rock wall, the sand is so much softer and thats where most people enter to swim. Really though it's fine anywhere.


snorkeling at the El Dorado beach

Complaining about a rocky beach is like complaining that someone didn't mow the jungle for you, it's nature people! Snorkeling is great as well, but bring your mask and snorkel so you can go as long as you can. There are lots of activities at this resort. Just find the schedule and theres something to do every hour. We didn't do any of them, we just wanted to relax.

There were some shows at night, we didn't watch any of them since it seemed that this resort tends to be a quiet one at night so if your looking for an active night scene, this isn't it.

Overall this was an amazing trip. I think our of all the trips I've gone on, this was the most relaxing. It was well worth it.

Still not convinced?  See what other people think here.

RESORT REVIEW: Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya

Trip Date: June 2007
Location: Akumal (Mayan Riviera), Mexico

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 5 / Rooms: 5 / Pools: 5 / Snorkeling: 5


Grand Sirenis Beach - Maya side

Stayed at the Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya from June 16-23, 2007. Overall this had to be the best resort my wife and I have stayed at in terms of the quality of service and food that we received the week we stayed.

If you can overlook the coarse sand and the rocky water (which we did) you will absolutely have a great time. Bring water shoes as it helped us walk into the ocean with ease. I would suggest buying your own snorkeling equipment so you aren't pressed for time. The resort only allows you to rent it for an hour and the dive shop is on the other side of the beach from where you snorkel and I've seen some people running back just to return it on time.


cruising the lazy river

The pools are amazing and theres lots of loungers available. The lazy river is really nice and exciting but we found the spring float loungers we brought were too big for it so save yourself the money and just buy a cheap noodle or lifesaver. They are easier to carry as well.


standard room in the Maya side of the resort

The rooms are incredible! Yes there is a hole in the wall but keep in mind that the shower and the toilets are both covered with frosted glass doors. You still have your privacy and in reality if the person you're rooming with wants to look at you go to the washroom or take a shower, maybe you shouldn't be rooming with them in the first place if you're uncomfortable with that concept.

We didn't bother watching the shows but from what we saw they seemed entertaining. We preferred hanging out at the coffee shop after dinner every night. We found it more peaceful and relaxing.

As far as the restaurants go we found the best one was the Japanese Steakhouse followed by the Lobster Gala they hold on Friday nights. We didn't get to try the Mexican restaurant but they do have themed nights at the buffet which lets you experience the restaurants you didn't book.

Like I said, overall this was the best resort we've visited in the Caribbean and this is the 8th one we've stayed at. I always say that if you give the staff respect, you will get it back in return. Go with that mindset and you will see how much more enjoyable your vacation will be. Click here to view our photos of the resort.

Viva la Vida

Still not convinced?  See what other people think here.

RESORT REVIEW: Ocean Blue by H10

Trip Date: June 2005
Location: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 4 / Rooms: 3 / Pools: 5 / Snorkeling: n/a
Bavaro Beach

We stayed at Ocean Blue in Villa 9 from June 26 – July 3, 2005. Our group was 6 people, all couples. We booked with Air Transat and have no complaints. The flight arrived early, customs was a breeze and the bus ride was quick even though we had three stops before us. Check in at the hotel was fast when we arrived at the resort at 6:00 pm.

ROOMS: A few days before we left Toronto, we emailed the resort and requested that we have 3 rooms in the same villa (we originally requested Villa 8), top floor with a king size bed. I was impressed because when we checked in our request was filled. Only one couple in our group had double beds. We requested Villa 8 after reading some of the reviews but Villa 9 is great. We all had pool view rooms and our room, Room 9302 was right at the top of the stairs and had an extremely huge balcony. We managed to fit all 6 of us on the balcony with our chairs. The rooms are large and same with the bathroom. The maids kept it clean and always refilled our fridge with pop and water. Don’t forget when you check in to ask for the remote control if it matters to you. And the safe deposit box is included and it’s a cool little gadget. You set the code up yourself instead of having to carry a key. One thing to not get frazzled over is the water pressure in the washroom; you may find the water pressure low at times for the shower, sink and toilet. And lastly, remember to brush your teeth with bottled water.
view from Villa 9 room 9302

POOL: There are 2 huge pools. Both of them have a swim up bar but the pool closer to the beach is where all the activities happen. Later in the day, it becomes harder to find chairs under an umbrella. The pool closes at 7 pm but at times there are still people swimming. Towels are not hard to come across; we were even able to change them several times a day.

view from Villa 9 room 9302

BEACH: The beach of course is immaculate. From Villa 9, we were close to the pool and also the beach. There are so many chairs on the beach that our group was able to make a shelter to block the sun since the make shift huts do not provide much shade. What I like is that there is even a lady that will come and serve you drinks on the beach even though there are two beach bars located on the left and right side of the beach. As most resorts, there are plenty of water sports you can do. My only small complaint but it doesn’t really matter because in Toronto we can’t even go in the water, is that there was a lot of seaweed in the ocean and on the beach. I know the workers try their best to remove most of it but it didn’t matter to us, we still went in the ocean and coped with it. On the left side when you are facing the ocean is the grill restaurant (you can pick up your food there and eat on the beach) and washrooms and to the right is the towel and sports center.

RESTAURANTS: We followed what most people said on the reviews and avoided the Italian restaurant. We tried the Grill – La Brasa, Dominican – La Casa and Mexican - Margarita. All were wonderful. The Mexican restaurant was so lively with singing and dancing. We booked our time for dinner around 9 pm to avoid the rush. Our group took turns each day to wake up at 8 am to make the reservation. Even though we were in Villa 9, we had to walk over to Villa 8. Not a big deal, it was good exercise since all we do is eat. Mike’s CafĂ© is pretty good. The cheesecake is all right, just remember to get the chocolate one, it’s better than the strawberry one. I am not a coffee drinker but the mochaccino is amazing. And lastly, the Over Time Sports bar, which is open 24 hours, serves the best fries and also a variety of cocktails. It was our favorite spot to hang out at night.

BARS: There are many bars all over the resort and all the bartenders are very friendly. The lobby bar is the busiest one at night. There is a bar at the disco, at Over Time, one at the buffet, 2 beach bars, two pool bars…you will never go thirsty. And for those that like Malibu Rum, don’t be afraid to ask for it with orange or pineapple juice because it’s included. One night, our group wanted to hang out in our balcony so we asked the bar for a bottle of champagne and they gave it to us! Their signature drink is Ocean Blue.

OVERALL: For those that complained about a language barrier at the resort, I don’t speak Spanish but I try when I am there. Be patient and try to explain what you need, the people at the resort will take the time to find out what you are trying to say. Dominicans are a happy bunch and are always smiling and greeting you, you can at least do the same. They are there to make your vacation worthwhile. They all go by Dominican time (slow time) so get use to it and enjoy yourself. When you see a photographer with various animals, do get your picture taken with them, it’s a nice memorabilia to take home. You can pick up the pictures at the photo shop near the lobby. We really did not find use for the little tram that goes around the resort, yes, the resort is big but you can walk to the lobby in 5 mins. I have read a lot of negative reviews about this resort but I must say, I enjoyed myself. I have no complaints because I went there thinking that I get to lie on the beach, eat and drink all day and that I am away from the hustle and bustle of a smoggy Toronto city. What more can you ask for? Click here to view our photos of the resort.

Still not convinced? See what other people think here.

RESORT REVIEW: Sol Luna y Mares

Trip Date: September 2007
Location: Holguin, Cuba

Beach Junkies Rating: (based on 5 stars)
Beach: 5 / Food: 3 / Rooms: 3 / Pools: 2 / Snorkeling: 5


The beach at Sol Luna y Mares

Let me start off by saying that the first 3 days of my vacation at this resort, I had a problem with my bathtub and sink not draining, the AC in my room was leaking and one night I came back at 11pm to my room only to find that there was no power in it. Did I get pissed off? No, you're on vacation. All it took was a phone call or a visit to the front desk and it was fixed in a hurry.

So with that being said, I have every reason to trash this hotel with the experiences I had with my room but I won't do that. I don't know about you, but when I go on holiday, I pick a resort for it's beach, not the room. The one thing I can say is that the bathroom fixtures really need a cleaning.

I must admit that this resort is smaller than what I usually visit when I go down to the Caribbean so you can say I've been spoiled. From what I can tell the Mares side is the better of the two in this resort but that was under construction, which I never heard the whole week I was there btw. The rooms are in a definate need of an upgrade but that will of course take time. Once both sides have been renovated this will be a 4 star in my eyes.


lunch at the beach snack bar

The food was good for Cuba. I didn't try any of the a la cartes so going to the buffet got boring every night for dinner. The beach restaurant has some good food for lunch and breakfast was fine as well at the buffet. Really no complaints about the food besides the fact that it got boring. Again, my fault since I didn't book the a la carte restaurants available for you to break up your meals during the week. Make sure you try the fried banana at the buffet with ice cream!

The beach is wonderful! Soft sugar white sand, clear turquoise blue waters, palapas everywhere! It was just magnificent. There wasn't one complaint. They even had the regular beach loungers and not the hard white plastic ones you usually see in pictures.

The place to snorkel is more of the east side of the beach towards the Paradisius. If you want bigger coral and fish, just diagonal from the wedding gazebo at the Paradisius is where you will find this. Make sure you try to go in the morning so the tide is low and calm. If you don't want to venture out that far, there is some rocks right in front of the Paradisius beach you can go to. I would suggest bringing your own snorkel kit. I did and I was glad I did. My friend had to walk all the way to the other side of the beach just to get fins and basically walk back and forth everyday. It can be tiring in the heat.



Really nothing to do here at night ,like nothing at all! Good thing they had excellent tv channels to keep you entertained if you want to stay in your room at night.

If you're looking for a resort that will fill your basic needs, this is it. If you are looking for more luxury, stay at the Paradisius next door.

Still not convinced?  See what other people think here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What you want to see in this travel blog...

As part of my market research for this blog, I asked my regular blog readers what they would like to see in a travel blog. Here are the results:

All-inclusive resort reviews 87%
Travel tips 87%
Photos of resorts 75%
Photos of food 62%
Deal 62%
Resort suggestions 62%
Top 10 lists 50%
Packing list suggestions 37%
Info on city travel rather than island travel 37%
Links to other travel sites 37%

We will post up all our resort reviews and will try to get some of our friends to guest blog and write a review. We will also post up some of our travel tips to let you know how we make all of our vacations a memorable one.