After a very hectic 2011, we were really looking forward to our annual end of the year winter getaway. We have been very fortunate to have visited several Caribbean islands as well as various areas of Mexico on a number of occasions. With our daughter having built up her swimming skills to a pretty amazing level for a 5 year old, we thought a snorkeling trip would be fun. After doing some research, we discovered the Samana area of the Dominican Republic is known for having some excellent snorkeling. We had visited Punta Cana in the D.R. previously, and loved the beaches. But we didn’t know very much about Samana, but liked what we were hearing about it. From a marketing standpoint, the area is still a bit “undiscovered”. There are nowhere near as many resorts in the Samana area compared to Punta Cana or La Romana. As someone who is a real beach/water guy, I was pretty excited after reading some reviews and seeing some pictures of the area.
As mentioned, having visited some very beautiful beaches on islands like Antigua, St. Martin, Aruba, Varadero and Grenada, we were completely blown away by the beaches of Samana! We ended up staying at the resort Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo. We have stayed at other Gran Bahia all inclusive resorts before and had pretty decent experiences. Although the resort is shown as a 5 star on Gran Bahia literature, it receives 4 star ratings on most travel sites. I think this is a more reasonable rating based on the amenities. Don’t get me wrong, the condition of the property and the friendliness of the staff is 5 star all the way (more on this in another post) – but the food, gym, and activities are pretty average. But for the price we paid, the value was definitely there. As usual, we researched our resort options on travel sites like Trip Advisor, Expedia and Redtag. The El Portillo had strong ratings on all of these websites for the most part (especially when you factor in the price). We also checked out the information about the resort on the Gran Bahia corporate website.
Concerning price points – I will give you a little background on our rule of thumb for travel. We love to travel. And we love to travel alot. Having said this, going 5 star accross the board may not always be in the cards (or the budget). And to tell the truth, when it comes to all inclusive resorts, I generally don’t see a huge difference between 5 star resorts and 4 star resorts (and even 3.5 star resorts on more affluent islands). In our experience, some of the top-end Caribbean resorts are huge, sprawling complexes and the service can sometimes be lacking. Sure, the rooms and facilities are generally much nicer and the food is of better quality and offers more variety. But for us, the experience is all about the location. If the staff are helpful and friendly and the resort is clean and well maintained, we’re happy. We don’t like to spend alot of time in our room anyway! Food-wise, we generally try to eat pretty clean at all inclusives (way too easy to over-eat at buffets and come back from vacation with a little extra “padding”). Good fresh fruit and eggs are always available for breakfast and you can usually find good chicken and fish for lunch and dinner. Gotta avoid the pizza, burgers and fries at the beach snack bar or the swim trunks start to get snug pretty fast!
In future posts, I will touch on more specific items concerning our experience at the El Portillo. Overall, we had an excellent vacation. We came back feeling rested and energized, but it was quite painful to leave 30 degree weather for the cold and snow of London, Ontario. For now, back to the cage.