Thursday, September 2, 2010

RESORT REVIEW: Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado

Trip Date: June 2010
Location: Samana, DR

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

My husband and I stayed at Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado from June 12 to 19, 2010. We went with another couple and their 19 month old. This was a resort that my husband has always wanted to go to but the price was never right. We thought we were getting a good deal until we found out that we had only paid for a superior room with WestJet Vacations.

Let me point out that WestJet’s taxes a lot lower than other tour operators and their staff are the most friendly bunch you will ever encounter. The flight was good and going through customs and getting our luggage was quick. We met with our Hola Sun representative and to our surprise, our names were not on the list but our friend’s names were. The rep just told us to go ahead on the bus. After an hour and 20 minute bus ride with no A/C, we arrive at the mainland reception.

Check in
At the mainland building, we filled out the paperwork, got our key card and bracelet and then, it was off to the ferry. The transfer time is only about 5 minutes. Once we got to the resort, we were greeted by management and a cocktail. He told us where we can find everything and how to book a la carte dinner reservations. He then directed us to our rooms and told us that we could grab a snack by the pool. I was very impressed how quickly the check in process went.

We got to our room (#217), it’s on the second floor in the main building. We were quite disappointed to open our curtains and find out that we were facing the maintenance building where a lot of employees hang out. The room is a very standard room – closet with electronic safe, hangers, iron and ironing board, bathrobe and slippers; a king bed, tv, desk, sofa, chair and a very large bathroom with a Jacuzzi and separate shower. I have to admit that it’s very dark in the bathroom and room, even with all the lights on but it didn’t bother us. Prior to our arrival, I did email the resort and request villas 2-11 with a king size bed on the top floor, also with an ocean view. I did receive a reply informing me that they could not accommodate my request because it wasn’t the room category we purchased and they also included a price list for upgrades. This is when we realized that we had booked a superior room. Please be careful of this if you plan to go to this resort. After settling into our room and exploring the resort, we came back to the room to find a bottle of champagne, chocolate covered strawberries and crispies (It’s their version of rice krispies with white chocolate). There was a letter from the person I was exchanging emails with. They had been upgraded us to a junior superior suite and they had also made reservations for us that night at the Don Pablo restaurant. Totally unexpected and very thoughtful. Our friends were staying in room #215. They had a superior room. There is not much of a difference except we had a larger window opening from the washroom and bedroom and we had a separate shower and they had a shower head coming out of the wall above their jacuzzi tub. There was no glass or wall anywhere so when they showered, water sprayed everywhere. A few days after our arrival, a glass wall was installed (and they didn’t even file a complaint). The room was cleaned daily and little chocolates were only left once on our pillows. We received towel art every day and the maid lined up all our shoes and fold our clothes into piles that we left on the sofa.

The buffet is located in the main building. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has a terrace which we never ate on because it was just too hot outside. I found that they had a good selection to items to choose from. We fell in love with these mashed carrots and potatoes one evening and never saw them again. They had different themed nights (they are listed at the a la carte reservation desk in the lobby) such as Mexican, Spanish, Gala, Oriental, Italian, Barbeque and Dominican. At breakfast, they had the typical spread - made to order omelettes, french toast, pancakes, bacon, sausages, pastries and these delicious donuts covered in sugar (they are my favorite). What I liked was they had a separate section that had fried eggs (this is what I usually order from the omelette guy), poached eggs and hard boiled eggs. There was also a variety of fresh juices, yogurt, cereals and fruits. Lunch and dinner was your typical fare - you can select your meat to be grilled and a pasta station. There is a vegetarian corner and lots of breads. Each night, they put out a display of appetizers according to what the themed night is. The wait staff is very attentive, also refilling your glass, whether it's wine or water.  I can't remember what night it was, I think it was the Mexican night, a guy with a cart of turkey would come around and carve off a slice for you and pour gravy all over. It was delicious and the best turkey I have ever had in my life. For the a la cartes, there are only three restaurants - Gourmet, Italian and Mediterranean. You can make your reservations at the desk oron the 24 hour computer in the lobby.

Don Pablo (Gourmet)
This restaurant is in the middle of the resort. we had trouble finding it on our first night because we arrived at 5 pm and went to the pool, we never got a chance to walk around. It turns out it's very close to the back of the main building. A maintenance guy was kind enough to walk us there. Instead of choosing what to eat off the menu, we decided on the five course set dinner. Unfortunately, I can't remember the exact names of each course, but I will do my best to describe it.We started off with crackers with some type of jelly on it, then pumpkin and asparagus cold soup, a tomato topped with deep fried cheese, our main entree was beef tenderloin & lobster on a skewer and for dessert, chocolate fantasy and an apple tartin.

Both these restaurants are located by the pool by the beach. You need to take the elevator to get to them. It's quite a far walk and very dark:

We were not really hungry when we ate here but I wish we were because they had so many items on the menu that I wanted to try (especially since I was craving for pizza the whole week). Some of the dishes we ordered were caprese inssalata caprese, trio of bruschetta, mushroom soup, mushroom & lobster penne (a must for this restaurant, so flavourful and filling) beef medallions (didn't look very appetizing) and shrimp pizza and for dessert, tiramisu.

Mediterraneo (Mediterranean)
The house appetizer is a potato and tuna dish. Very tasty considering I don't like tuna. Some of the dishes we ordered were the greek salad, shrimp cocktail appetizer, the lobster entrée (a must if you are going to eat here), chicken entrée, cheesecake and chocolate mousse. It was very hot in this restaurant. The fans were not helping at all.

There are four bars in the resort, Daiquiri (lobby), Flamboyan (quiet pool), Hibyscus (main pool by the beach) and a bar by the jacuzzi. The bar by the pool makes a very refreshing non-alcohol drink called Very Well. Also, by this pool, they come around very 20 minutes to see if you want a drink. The lobby bar serves a delicious cappuccino. I am not a regular coffee drinker but I had to have a cappuccino every night before retiring to our room. On this trip, we didn't try any of the cocktails, we drank beer (El Presidente) for most of the trip. I did see a cocktail menu on each of the tables and at the bar.

The beach on Cayo Levantado are broken up into 2 beaches.  There is the calm side and the wavy side.  Both have its pros and cons.  I'll start with the calm side.  The water here is very swimmable and the scenery is AMAZING! You can watch a flock of Pelicans fish all day. The only problem we had with the beach was that it was really narrow.  Most of the beach is filled up with trees and you can't really get "personal" space due to the size of the beach.  You're pretty much side by side with strangers.  Since it is also filled up with trees, which amount to an abundance of bugs, leaves and dead fruit falling on you.  Getting a good spot to catch some sun is nearly impossible unless you decide to hang out on the ends of the beach.  The wavy beach is the perfect beach! The water is fun to play in and there is plenty of space for you to get comfortable in.  It is wide and there is a perfect sun/shade ratio.  The problem with this beach is that it is REALLY WINDY. If this doesn't bother you, it is the perfect place, as it was for my husband.  For me however, it was difficult to get comfortable with the wind howling in your ear.  Now if we had to pick the perfect spot on the beach, it would be on the right side of the calm beach near the water sports center.  There is also a public beach which is huge but we never wandered over there since you have to pay for chairs to lounge in.  It is after all an island so you can't really be that picky with the wideness and length of the beach.

There are two pools, a quiet pool that is close to the main building and the main pool by the beach. Both pool close at 7 pm and have plenty of loungers and palapas around them. The quiet pool has beds with draping over them which provide some shade.  At each pool, there is an activities hut where you can pick up some towels, books or board games. At the beginning of our trip, after eating lunch, we would come back to the pool or beach only to find nowhere to sit, because every chair had a towel on it. Later in the week we realized that you didn't have to keep your towels or exchange it at the end of the day. You can just leave it there and it will be picked up later in the evening. You can also pick up new towels whenever you would like a fresh one and you can even get more than one. I am not sure if this is a great system but I must say, there was never a shortage of towels, the huts were always being replenished throughout the day. There wasn't too many pool activities in the main pool, most of the activities took place beside the pool but on the beach. I would highly suggest staying by the quieter pool. If you want to chill out, stay close to the gym as they have some speakers hidden in the grass that plays very relaxing, spa-type music.

This is the one thing I have to complain about. There is a little poster board on top of the piano outside of the main buffet, it lists all the activities throughout the day. I wanted to try participating in the painting or arts & crafts but it did not say where it was taking place.  We all wanted to go to the Sunday ice cream party but again, we didn't know where it was happening.  In the evening, the animation team and manager go around the terrace and lobby to tell guests that the nightly entertainment would be happening at the public beach. We never went to see one show. On our last night, we received a letter saying there was going to be a "white party" by the quiet pool at 8:30 pm. Around 9:00 pm, we went to check it out but only saw it all set up but no guests or staff there.

All were very nice. I really appreciate the letter for our upgrade and a la carte reservation we received upon our arrival. Our maid was always happy to see us in the morning. The waiters at the buffet became good buddies with the little boy who was with us.

Check out
We were given an option for express checkout the night before our departure date but we checked out at 9:30 am and waited for our 10 am boat. When we arrived to the mainland, we had to wait another hour for our bus to arrive. The bus arrived half an hour early but two people were missing when the rep did his count so we had to wait half an hour before leaving, luckily this bus had A/C. We got to the airport and we were the only ones at the airport. The check in counter still issues manual boarding passes and luggage tags so it took some time to for them to write everything down. It was quite annoying but it made for less waiting time at the gate. There is a huge duty free shop and one restaurant that charges $20 for a hamburger and fries. Make sure you eat at the resort before you leave.

This is a beautiful resort but I feel like we didn't fully take advantage of what the resort has to offer because our room was in the main building. The entire resort is well-maintained and runs perfectly. I don't think that we would go back but if we did, we would make sure that we were staying in a villa instead of the main building. In my opinion, the transfer time is too long for me - the 90 minute bus ride and then the boat ride plus all the time in between handling the luggage. It was an experience being on a remote island but since we were not too impressed with the narrow beach, we are crossing this resort off of our to-go list and will probably stick to our favorite, Punta Cana, instead. Click here to check out more photos we took at the resort.

Still not convinced?  See what others think here


Marz said...

I love all the details your provided in your review. I have never stayed at a resort. Anytime I have traveled I've stayed with friends or gone on a cruise. It's interesting to read about all the things you liked or disliked. So helpful :) I love the photos!!! They look like postcards :) The food sounds SO delicious! I savoured reading about all the dishes :) It's wonderful that the customer service was top notch, the letter and reservation upon arrival is such a nice touch :) I'm glad you guys enjoyed yourselves! :)

Steph I said...

At last, your review! So very detailed, as usual, and your pictures are gorgeous. I can't wait for your next review on your most recent trip to Jamaica.