All-inclusive — ish

We just returned from a one-week vacation in breath-taking Samana, Dominican Republic. It seems many people aren’t familiar with Samana, which is testimony to the fact that unlike Punta Cana or Puerto Plata (both of which are nonetheless beautiful), it is not overpacked with resorts. Rather, resorts are spread out few and far between along the coast in the countryside. Samana is nearly an hour and a half away from the airport, on long and winding country roads boasting unspoiled mountains, small communities and glimpses of sparkling ocean.

We stayed at the Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo, a secluded resort in Samana, near the small town of Las Terrenas. A true scenic treat: beaches covered in soft white sand, coral reefs to tempt snorkeling enthusiasts, and picturesque sunsets and sunrises.

Sunset on the beach

Sunset on the beach

Sunrise on the beach

Sunrise on the beach

The resort itself is quite exquisite – from the carefully landscaped terrain to beautifully assorted tropical gardens to sidewalks lined with flowering shrubs and hibiscus. There were large open dining areas right on the beach.

Tropical garden

Tropical garden

The buffet was decent. The variety of meals was good, and the fruits were always fresh and plentiful. I did, however, get weary of the same sliced ham, salami and mystery cheese present at each meal. I say mystery cheese because aside from colour, it was difficult to tell the rectangular, humid slices apart. The à la carte restaurants were good for the most part. The variety and quality were enjoyable. And regardless of where you ate or drank, the restaurant staff was consistently friendly, and came by frequently to refill your water/wine/coffee.

The resort’s main services and areas earned their 4 1/2-star rating. The rooms did not. Oh, the accommodations had their charm: warm, colourful rooms adorned with paintings; curtains that matched the bed covers and sitting area; pretty wicker table and chairs near the patio room to the balcony; and bathrooms equipped with jacuzzi tubs and large ceramic-tiled stand-up showers.

But owning a sports car won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to drive. It’s like they woke up one morning and decided, “I wanna be a high-end resort today”, but didn’t quite know how.

The pretty matching beds contained old, uncomfortable mattresses. Never mind the fact that they were double beds, when they clearly advertised Queen beds. A sore back is the gift that keeps on giving.

The room was equipped with a mini bar – not to be confused with a mini-fridge. This device was non-electric: a brown upright cooler with a fridge-type door, for extra confusion. Nothing like a nice warm beer or Coke on a hot day.

The shower almost warrants its own blog entry. In a nutshell: there was no temperature control – the water continuously fluctuated from uncomfortably hot to offensively cold. As mature adults, we can deal with that; but 3- and 5-year-old kids aren’t nearly as reasonable. Ick factor: the shower wouldn’t drain!! The water level would rise to a good 2 inches in the shower stall, and would take up to 5 minutes to drain once the water was turned off. Note to self: introduce staff to Drano. We also ran completely out of water, not once but twice. Every room of every hotel on the resort. Thankfully we had already showered when it happened.

But hey, at least we were surrounded with pretty colours and ceramic, and after waking up, our girls got to enjoy a few of their favourite shows dubbed en Espagnol on a 19-inch screen TV. Did you know Curious George was fluent in Spanish?

See what I mean? No follow-through. There’s definite potential, but until they go that extra mile (or ten) , they’re still only playing pretend. Their accommodations get a whopping 3 stars from me, on a good day.

I ended my week on a great note – with a visit to the Bahia Spa. I enjoyed a package that involved exfoliation with coconut milk and corn meal, a pure coconut butter wrap, followed by a coconut and mango oil massage. That was a supremely welcome treat. The spa is clean and pretty, and the services were friendly and professional. Chef recommends.

Although we love the unspoiled beauty of Samana, Chris and I have agreed that our next all-inclusive vacation will likely be at a Riu resort. We stayed at the Riu Bambu in Punta Cana for our honeymoon in 2003: now they know what a 5-star resort should look like. It’s all about attention to detail. If you do it right, you’ll have your guests wanting to book their next vacation with you before they’re even done this one.


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