Gran Ventana Beach Resort in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (Photo Tour)
My Impulse Vacation
In January 2009, I decided to take my real first vacation as an adult. Being recently divorced and uncertain of where to go, I popped into the local travel agent to explore options. I decided on a fair priced all-inclusive pack to the Dominican Republic that covered airfare, fees, taxes, 7 day/6 night resort stay, all meals and drinks. Booking the trip during their "off season" (aka their winter months) helped bring down the cost and assured that the temperatures were more to my comfort level at 22-24 °C (approximately 71-75 °F).
I wasn't thrilled with the 4 AM departure from Ottawa (with check in two hours in advance ... plus a 2 hour drive to the airport from my place). A friendly family who was familiar with resort vacationing, assured me this was normal; the resort wants to make sure guests arrive at a decent hour, so we can enjoy our first day.
The flight was comfortable and, being part of a package trip, I didn't have to worry about red-tape upon arrival. (Whew!) The only paper work we had to fill out was a customs declaration which was fairly easy to handle.
Satellite View of the Dominican Republic
From the airport, we were transported by bus to the resort. The Gran Ventana was bright, colourful, and very well kept. I expected beautiful scenery, but the simple splendour of the 506-room resort itself was a pleasant surprise.
Arrival was probably the thing I disliked most about the whole experience. We arrived at noon. I was exhausted and eager to get to my room. Staff greeted us warmly with complimentary drinks, but our rooms would not be ready until 2 PM and we could not check in until then.
Our luggage was placed on the front steps of the resort and we were invited to make ourselves comfortable by the pool-side or at the beach until our rooms were available. Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting comfortable. More experienced guests had dressed in layers or traveled from Canada in summer clothes, so they were ready to get to the pool, bar, beach, and/or cafeteria. I, however, was still dressed for a Canadian winter, because I thought I'd be able to change the moment I arrived.
Plus, I disliked the thought of walking away from my luggage, even with security keeping an eye on it. They didn't know who owned what, so any one could have opened my suitcase and walked off with things. In the end, I pawed through my luggage on the front steps to find a more appropriate outfit, changed in the public washroom, and spent 2 hours sitting in the lobby, watching my luggage.
Gran Ventana Map
Finally 2 PM arrived and we were able to check in. It was long process because there were so many people, but eventually it was my turn. I got my room card-key, welcome package with map, and resort bracelet to identify me as a current guest.
I was dismayed to discover that my room was in the Beata Building to the left of the main building (see map). Tired, hungry and frustrated, I dragged my luggage down the road to the Beata and then nearly cried when I had to haul it up 3 flights of stairs by myself. Thankfully, I'd packed light, but I was so exhausted by this point that I didn't even see how lovely everything was or how nicely decorated the room was.
Once alone in my room, I collapsed on the bed and slept until hunger woke me a few hours later.
Lobby of the Beata Building
My room was spacious, comfortable, and clean. The bed was large and inviting. The staff provided plenty of towels, usually made up as swans and hearts around the room.
I appreciated the air conditioning which turned itself off when the balcony door opens (how cool is that?) and made use of the ceiling fan at night. I was thrilled to discover that the staff placed a 1 gallon (sealed) jug of bottled water in my room each day, and because I drink a lot of water, was extremely grateful that I could have a second jug whenever I wanted.
There were the expected basics; hair dryer, a terrace or balcony, telephone with voice mail, and cable television. The rooms also have a minibar (restocked daily) and in-room safes that could be rented. Although they offered the typical wake-up service, I had no need of it as I will explain in a moment.
The View from My Room
I didn't spend a lot of time on the balcony of my room, because it faced the Playa Dorada Commercial Center about a block away and overlooked the staff parking lot. This was a detriment at 6 AM when the staff arrived in groups, clapping and singing at the top of their lungs. While it's nice that they're pleased to work at the resort, it was earlier than I liked to be woken up on my vacation.
The buildings on the other side have views of the peaceful grounds or ocean ...
Staff and Service
Room service was fast and friendly.
The staff was amazing, friendly, and accommodating - even when I asked them to pose with my "travel moose" for funny holiday pics :-)
Fun and Friendly Staff
When I had questions, there was always someone to help. When I needed something, there was someone with what I needed - and a little extra to make sure I was comfortable. For example. I needed a pool towel. They made sure I had two.
Tag and Release
Keep the Tip
I was told by the travel agent that tipping isn't welcome at the resort, but gifting is acceptable. She suggested small Dollar Store items that can easily packed are best. Because the Dominican Republic is mostly lower income (read as: exceedingly poor), there are things we take for granted that they consider a luxury:
- Clothing: pantyhose, socks (especially for children);
- Toiletries: soap, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, bobby pins, elastics and other hair decorations;
- Educational Tools: Children's books (especially with lots of pictures), colours, shapes, and numbers learning books;
- Writing Tools: pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, notebooks;
- Child Related: stickers, toy cars, balls, colouring books, crayons, colouring pencils;
- Pastime Items: playing cards, puzzles;
- Baby/Child Items: bibs, socks, sun hats
While I was there, the most popular item gifted to staff was a light-up coaster given to a bartender. It entertained everyone for hours!
I wasn't really clear on the etiquette of gifting. Since I almost never saw the cleaning staff, I left the gifts for them on the foot of my bed with a note that read:
Gracias por su buen trabajo!
(Thank you for your good work!)
And, for the wonderful hostess that looked out for me at meal times in the cafeteria, I personally handed her a beautiful scarf and thanked her.
The food ... What word tops "amazing"??? Their all you can eat restaurant for every day meals featured some of the most delicious foods I've eaten, including some of my favourites that I rarely see; such as rabbit, lamb, and goat. Despite my restrictive diet (due to food allergies), I was able to find plenty to eat.
The themed restaurants, which needed to be booked in advance, were classy with a menu selection that was just right. Even the little beach side snack shack had fabulous casual food.
So Much to Do!
There was the option to leave the resort for day excursions or to go to the market. While I did go for a horseback ride (see photos to the right) and visited the market with new friends, I could have happily spent the entire time within the boundaries of the resort without getting bored.
Everywhere I went, the scenery was beautiful and the elegant architecture drew the eye.
Activities: On Location
I LOVE the fact that this place is family-friendly!! They had games and activities for the kids, fun shows in the evening and 2 pools; a "quiet" one where I could lounge and a "family one" where things could get rowdy.
Here are some tips to remember:
- Travel dressed in layers, so you can adjust your wardrobe according to the weather between departure and arrival points.
- While the staff is very good at making sure your water is pure, there is always the chance when you're on vacation in another country of getting ill. To reduce this chance, make sure you get your HEP A and B shots before travelling.
- Drink only bottled water and always make sure the seal is unbroken.
- Don't leave valuables in your room.
- Try to avoid rooms with a window facing the parking lot. The staff arrives VERY early and they're always singing and happy!
- Some countries experience civil unrest that doesn't make it into mainstream media. These places often have a high poverty rate and unsuspecting tourists can sometimes get caught in the middle of local disputes. Don't go off the resort alone, even with a staff member to "see the sights" unless it's part of an approved tour.
I went alone in 2009, because I was single and wanted to do something special for me. Now that I'm married and have kids, I want to take the whole family back to enjoy the "fun" with me.
© 2016 Rosa Marchisella