Review of Barceló, Bávaro Beach, Punta Cana
(So-So, though, and a bottle of Rum)
The good, the bad, the indifferent. So, you’re planning a vacation. And you’re looking at reviews, trying to sort out the raves from the wrecks, and deciding which ones are just useless venom.
We are not great world travelers. Our recent trip to Barceló Bávaro Beach marks our second vacation out of the country ever, and our first time in Punta Cana. Also, this was only our second luxury beach resort experience. And we have to save our pennies all year to do it. So, we are not jaded globetrotters, nor are we upper echelon executives accustomed to having our every need met speedily. We came to Barceló with unrehearsed expectations, and brought our wide-eyed optimism with us. We were very ready to be as enthralled as we were by our trip to Riviera Maya last year. Perhaps you are like us, and trying to squeeze every bit of vacation out of your hard earned dollars. If so, read on.
We booked this 6 night vacation on Cyber Monday, and got a really superior deal on the rooms; so much so that we were able add an extra day, upgrade to the Premium Club with an ocean-view room and stay under budget. Premium Club guests get their own check in, check out and concierge service, which is very nice, very classy, and comes with a glass of champagne when you arrive. Good stuff! More on the Premium Club later.
We can only compare this resort to the experience we had at Riviera Maya last year, so I apologize if this is not apples to apples. The first thing we noticed, though at first we tried to shrug it off, was the language barrier. Now, before you judge, believe me, we actually enjoy being in another culture, and learning new things, in other languages. But it needs to be a two way dialogue. There were definitely some shining stars at Barceló who smiled, spoke English (and French) quite well, and worked hard to resolve conflicts, answer questions, and provide excellent service. But when we hit the main areas, we encountered a pesky number of front line employees who didn’t understand simple requests, and really didn’t make an effort to work through the communication gap. They’d shrug and walk away. At first we thought they were going to get someone who spoke English, but no one ever came and we were left with a question unanswered, or a conflict unresolved. For example, after dinner at one of the resort’s restaurants, a waiter offered us coffee, and brought it to us. (By the way, Dominican coffee is just wonderful!) We asked for cream and sugar. He shrugged and shook his head. We said “milk and sugar?” Still nothing. We tried charades, miming stirring things into our coffee. He nodded and left. And never returned. Certainly, this was not the first time a waiter ever heard the English words “milk” and “sugar” after serving coffee. Same thing at the buffet omelet station. The cook at the stovetop had only 6 ingredients from which to craft a custom omelet. I said “Bacon, cheese, tomatoes, por favor.” He shook his head and started pointing at the containers until I nodded at the correct ones. A small thing, I know, but there are only 6 things there, and certainly, he would have heard the word “bacon” a few times before I got there, one would think. Do yourself a favor, learn the words “leche” and “azucar” if you like milk and sugar.
There were several small things like this, and one bigger thing that, after a while, we just kept letting slide because trying to resolve them was more frustrating than the conflicts themselves. They seem very small, but after 4 or 5 each day, you have to choose to take a deep cleansing breath and let them go for the sake of tranquility, or you can choose to gnash your teeth all day long. Neither choice is really why we go on vacation at a resort. I work 359 days a year resolving other people’s problems. For these 6 days, I want someone to take care of all of mine. And, we really demand very little. Understand, there were many individuals who would ask “How is everything?”; “How was your meal?” or “Did you enjoy your stay?” But how do you communicate nuances like these when you couldn’t even communicate “bacon and tomato”?
“Everything was great, thank you.”
Our room was clean, tidy, but uninspired. Except for the outstanding ocean view from our 2nd floor balcony, we’d have spent very little time in it. The king sized bed was very comfortable, as were the pillows, which is no small thing. There’s a huge flat screen TV in the room, but the available programming was mostly in Spanish, and the really interesting channels cost extra. No TV for us. Just as well, what with the gorgeous ocean view out on the balcony. The bathroom is very small, and the shower is not in any way conducive for two very friendly people who like to conserve water and, well, conserve water. Ahem. Housekeeping is efficient, does a very nice job of staying on top of things, but does seem to be omnipresent. There always seemed to be a cart within 4 doors of us anytime we came or went. Just wondering if the facility is too big for the staff. The facility IS big, and set up like long flat apartment buildings, making maximum use of “ocean view” rooms, but losing something in architectural charm in the process. The grounds are well groomed; green and colorful, but not lush. There were a lot of very pretty areas at night created with water and lights that made for lovely evening strolls after sunset. Our Premium Club room came with a complementary bottle of Ron Barceló Rum (which was very good, though hard to mix with the fruit juice they kept stocked in the complimentary mini-fridge. Juice boxes are hard to pour in a tumbler). We also got a plate of fruit, which we didn’t eat, only because the buffet restaurants kept us pushing our belts out most of the time. After day two, we realized the faintly urine-like smell in our room was not my sneakers, but one of the pieces of fruit. A small yellow thing that I didn’t identify. We put the plate on the balcony. One conflict solved.
The weather was warm, but windy. We went in mid-March. Our room was right up on the beach, so we could walk out onto the sand in 45 seconds. This was ideal, and the beach chairs were plentiful, comfortable, and located under lots of palm trees so you could choose shade, sun, or filtered sun if you liked. Bávaro Beach is “among the top 10 beaches in the world”, they say, and again, not being a world traveler, I was not sure what puts it in the top ten. The sand is beautiful, very fine, with a reddish tint to it. The surf is shallow and you can wade out for a very long way before your feet leave the bottom. As windy as it was, the sand never lifted off and blew around. All that being said, there was a great abundance of sea grass in the surf, hugging the shoreline in dense floating masses, and washed up on the beach in row after row from the night’s higher tide. The hotel crew cleaned it up, but they didn’t get to it all right away, and their efforts to clean it could be a bit obtrusive at times. Trucks and rakes and wheelbarrows. They worked hard, and credit is due for their efforts. Just not sure what puts this beach in the “top ten”.
The first three days we were there, there were non-stop party boats starting at sunrise, it seemed. Party boats are large flat boats, double-deckers dressed up like a pirate ship, or a schooner, that cram people on board, play loud (really, really loud) thumping music, serve booze and try to get the crowd onboard as rowdy and enthusiastic as they can while they criss-cross the area about 25 feet from the shore directly in front of the hotels along the beach. And as they passed our beach, they seemed to double their efforts to get their customers to scream and shout and dance to the music, as if to show us what a great time we could be having if only we would sign up and pay their fee. What they actually did, for us, was ruin the ocean view, destroy the natural sound of surf and wind in the palms, and make it impossible to take a nap in our room before dinner and a show later on.
After three days, we were granted a pardon, but at a price. The higher winds and aggressive surf that prevailed for the rest of our stay kept the party boats at bay (pun intended) but resulted in the cancellation of the snorkeling trip we’d booked earlier. We never did get to snorkel. But we did finally get to nap. So, there’s that.
We booked two excursions directly through Barceló. There are two other companies that sit in the same room with the Barceló agent, so make sure you know who you’re sitting down with. The Barceló agent will also arrange your departure transfer back to the airport. We enjoyed our time with the two agents we met with there. Both spoke decent English, both had personally been on the excursions we planned, and both showed genuine interest in our trips, asking us to come back and tell them what we thought. We took little dune buggies out in the brush, stopping at a secluded beach area that was crystal blue, clean, devoid of sea grass (maybe that’s the top ten spot), and then to a spectacular cave with a 31 foot deep pool in it. I recommend the Adventure Buggy (they call them “Boogies”) excursion. When the snorkeling was 86’d, we quickly booked a zip-line tour. Same park as the buggies, but different crew, and we had an absolute blast. Everyone there spoke English, laughed with us, joked with each other (and not in that way that makes you think they’re laughing at you in Spanish, you know?) and made the whole experience relaxing and fun. Well, as relaxing as hanging over a rocky chasm on a 1200 foot long cable by a couple of nylon straps can be. If you go on the excursions, bring $50 American. Trust me. You can say you won’t want the photos and the video they take of you along the way, but they do a really top notch job of editing it all together, and really capturing the highlights of your trip. You’re going to want the CD. And if you don’t have the money, the driver who returns you to your hotel will wait for you to run to your room to get it, but that’s a long run, and you will return to a bus full of unhappy people who want to get back to their hotels too. Bring the $50.
There’s a weird “reservations only” thing at this resort that was cumbersome to say the least. Between this Adults Only resort, and the sister Family Resort (the Palace Deluxe, right next door, where most of the amenities seem to be) there are 9 restaurants. Except for the buffet restaurants, you need to make a reservation at least 2 days ahead to get a decent dinner seating. At least three of our reservations were only available to us because someone else had cancelled. But when you get there, the place is 1/3 full. And we took our time, sat and watched for a while, but the empty tables never filled up. One night we swung by a place that was all but deserted, in the hopes of getting a simple cup of coffee, maybe even milk and sugar. They turned us away saying “reservation only”. Again, a conflict it was just easier to ignore, than to attempt an argument in two different languages. Another thing you’ll encounter is, there’s a lot they don’t tell you. For instance, at every restaurant, we were seated, and presented with a wine list. The wine on this list is additional to any “inclusive” amenities for which you’ve already paid. A lot additional. What they don’t mention unless you know to ask is, you can order house wine, or beer, or a mixed drink from the bar, and those ARE included. But if you don’t know that, they don’t offer the information. On our second to last day there, we decided we’d like to take out one of the “included” catamaran sailboats. Except what we didn’t know was, it costs $50 for a lesson, and you have to book at least one day in advance. That would have been good to know before we were almost leaving. So, we didn’t get to take advantage of the complementary sail boats.
As Premium Club guests(which is the only way to get an ocean view room) one of the upgraded amenities we were offered was a free 20 minute massage, per person. We tried to book this with the masseuse whom we saw every day, almost always sitting idly by the pool next to her massage table. She shook her head and sent us to the Premium club front desk to make a proper reservation. Our concierge made a phone call, and told us we had a spot, both of us, for 11am. We showed up at 11am, and the same masseuse, alone and decidedly surly now, shook her head again. We told her we did, in fact, have a reservation now. She marched to the office, and returned to tell us she’d massage one of us, then the other which, of course, was not what we’d wanted when we booked a double session, side by side. Another conflict we walked away from, perhaps wisely, as a rub down from an angry masseuse did not sound at all relaxing. We never went back.
The pool on the Adults Only side is functional, clean and refreshing (read: cold!). It’s kinda small, and in our 6 days there, we saw maybe ten people in it. There’s very little real estate around it and so, not many lounge chairs. No, you won’t get one. The pool chair prospectors come out at night while the sea grass is storming the beach, and plant yellow towels on all the chairs, claiming them in the name of France. And speaking of France, since you are reading this, I assume you speak English. You will be in the minority. The staff and many guests speak Spanish, the other 40% of the guests speak French, German, or another European language and we’re the odd men out. Any announcements or instructions are given in three languages; Spanish, then English, then French, one right after the other. By the time you realize you’re hearing English, you missed it, and they’re on to French. You have to admire the people who speak all three fluently, though. It’s quite a talent. The real pool action is on the Palace Deluxe side. It’s huge, and beautiful, and full of families and children. Lots and lots of children. Be my guest. We’ll be on the Bávaro Beach, in our beach chairs, waving at the pirate ships full of piña colada drinking tourists trying to learn the Danza Kuduro (google it). And it seemed anywhere there were two or more seats gathered; there was someone there ready to go get you a drink (except on the beach). Otherwise, no matter where you plopped your butt down within the resort, there was a waiter or waitress asking if you’d like a drink. Now, THAT’S what I’m talking about.
Ultimately, we spent 6 days facing the ocean in Punta Cana. We ate, we drank, we did have some wonderful experiences, and met some very nice Dominicans. We came in within budget. The food was good, not exceptional, but good and plentiful. The resort was not crowed, in fact, at many of the shows offered at both resorts, it was painful to turn around in our seats to see how empty the houses were. We assumed they were all out claiming pool chairs for the next day.
See the Michael Jackson Show. See the magic show. Drink the all-inclusive drinks, and insist they be made “con mucho Barceló Rum, por favor!” Try a shot of mama juana. I insist. Go to La Dolce Vita, the Italian restaurant on an empty stomach. Wear an elastic waistband. Don’t look for any wildlife, there isn’t any. We saw a ghost fiddler crab standing under a walkway light one night, and you’d have thought we’d seen a unicorn, we were so excited to see any local fauna. Learn to say “Gracias!” fluently and sincerely. Bring about $150 in ones and fives, and never leave your room without some of each in your pocket. Tip lightly, but constantly. Put it in your trip budget.
If you want to get somewhere tropical, exotic and beautiful at a great price, and don’t have too many stamps in your passport yet; if you want to live for a week without cooking, cleaning, or paying for drinks - give Barceló Bávaro Beach a shot. It has a good beat, and we could dance to it. We give it a 7.5.
Cameron and Doreen, Pennsylvania, USA
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Barcelo Bavaro Beach - Adults Only*****hotel is located on one of the 10 best beaches in the world, in the Punta Cana area of the Dominican Republic. This dreamy hotel has reinvented itself after a complete renovation to become an exclusive hotel for adults only. The hotel offers first class rooms 80% of which are located right on the beachfront. This makes it the most perfect place for a romantic getaway. Enjoy the exquisite range of cuisine on offer at the hotel through the Barcelo All Inclusive Programme with its Caribbean Buffet, Chez Gourmet and La Brisa restaurants; 9 a-la-carte restaurant options: Chez Gourmet (international), La Brisa (Mediterranean), El Coral (fish and seafood), Santa Fe (meat), La Dolce Vita (Italian), Mexico Lindo (Mexican), La Fuente (Spanish), Kyoto (Japanese) and La Comedie (Gourmet - additional charge except for Club Premium guests). Visit the facilities where you can find different options to fill your days: football pitch, tennis court, swimming pool, golf course, water sports, wellness centre, theatre and casino. This exclusive resort set on a virgin beach welcomes you with a cocktail, spoils you with drinks by the pool and offers you a 45 minute hydrothermal circuit, per person once during your stay. There are also 2 massage beds in the pool area (at an additional charge). Staying at this hotel also grants guests access to the facilities of the Barcelo Bavaro Palace Deluxe, a hotel which shares some of its services and facilities. This hotel is one of the very few in the country that boasts the international BLUE FLAG for compliance with the standards required by the non-profit non-governmental organisation the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). Come and rediscover the marvels the Barcelo Bavaro Beach - Adults Only***** hotel has to offer! ... more less
- Reservation Options:
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- Also Known As:
- Barcelo Bavaro Beach Hotel
- Barcelo Bavaro Punta Cana
- Barcelo Bavaro Beach Punta Cana
- Bavaro Beach Hotel
- Bavaro Beach Resort
- Barcelo Punta Cana Resort
- Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort Punta Cana