My wife and I have just recently returned from our Thomson holiday at the Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Don Pablo Collection Hotel, Samana in the Dominican Republic and thought you may be interested to learn of our experiences (good and bad!).
We stayed between the 18th March to the 1st April 2014 for our 33rd wedding anniversary and had chosen the hotel on the basis of the favourable Trip Advisor reviews and that the hotel is now adult only. We'd flown from Manchester having stayed overnight beforehand at the Premier Inn (bad nights sleep due to noise, so would've been better off driving down from home on the day of the flight!!) with an early start at 6a.m. so we could drop the car off at Jet Parks Plus and get to the airport in good time for the 9:30a.m. take off. The inclusive transfer from the car park was good and efficient and there were no problems checking in. The plane we flew out in (and indeed back) was a Boeing 767 (300) but I think it had seen better days as it was a bit shabby and of the seats we'd pre-booked one wouldn't lock into place – not good on a long haul flight! Meals were OK – I think Thomas Cook flight meals by experience are better – but you wouldn't want seconds! I'd recommend taking a drink on board, bought from the duty free shops at the airport, as in flight drinks tended to be few and far apart (and why do they charge for tea/coffee on the flight when you've paid thousands for the holiday?!).
The flight is long (near enough 9 hours there – but quicker on the way back with a tail wind) and flying over the Atlantic is so boring though the in flight film selections were surprisingly good, just a pity being an old plane the screens were correspondingly old and the headphones supplied were the twin prong type thus you can't use your own, no doubt better, single plug 'phones from your iPhone or MP3.
We arrived at Puerto Plata airport at about 2:30p.m. Dominican time (6:30p.m. UK time with the, then, 4 hour time difference) with the outside temperature in the mid 90's or more – now there's a shock to the body!! The coach transfer (air conditioned I'm pleased to say – phew!) is scheduled for between 4 to 5 hours+/- dependant on road conditions and after a long flight this is perhaps what you don't need. However you do get the opportunity to see the country which I think is always good and the road follows the coastline for much of the first half of the journey, passing through a few small towns and villages, before heading into the hillier Samana district – all very interesting. You stop halfway through the journey at a 'rustic' road side bar 'in the middle of no where' for a comfort break so you can stretch your legs, have a drink, etc. The last half hour of the journey was in darkness though, passing through the local town nearest to the resort of Santa Barbara and dropping off guests at the Gran Bahia Principe Cayacoa hotel located there before continuing the journey to the ferry terminal some 20 minutes further on to our island resort at Cayo Levantado. The return journey does allow you to see everything in the daylight though for you keen photographers!
The ferry transfer to the island resort takes about 15 minutes and when we sailed it was quite windy with corresponding 6ft waves which for old sea dogs is fine but for others, well they were looking a bit green 'round the gills! Since it was dark there's not a lot to see on arrival and we were directed to the hotel reception area for a welcome drink and an introduction by the hotel manager before being allocated to our rooms. The resort island's probably about ¾ of a mile long and a ¼ mile wide I'd guess, two thirds of the island is owned exclusively by the hotel and the other third being a public portion of the island that incorporates the 'Baccardi' beach open to locals and visitors until 4pm when the area reverts back to the hotel. As well as the main hotel there are about 25 x 8 room villas and I think 2 x accommodation blocks spread out throughout the hotel's part of the island, all connected by a series of roads and the hotel provides a taxi service for those not wishing to walk from A to B. The islands quite undulating thus you really need a degree of mobility to get around under your own steam! We were in Villa 1 (room 1202 on the 1st floor) and afterwards, when we realised how close to the main hotel we were, we could have easily walked with our cases there from reception but we boarded our taxis to be taken to our respective rooms and villas so got an early (if in the dark) chance to look around some of the island. The hotel take care of your luggage and we were expecting our cases to follow us to our room quite promptly, as other Trip Advisor reports have advised, but this was not so and it took a couple of calls and a visit to reception to chase them up before they were delivered about an hour after we checked into our room(!?). Since we wanted to change clothes to go for something to eat this was not a good start. By the time we sat down for our dinner it was the equivalent of about 1:30a.m. UK time (9:30p.m. Dominican) so it'd been a long days travelling!
Our room was a Junior Suite – we'd originally booked a Garden Room but looking at them on the hotel website and being a '5 star' hotel they didn't look much, I've got to say, so we upgraded and were pleased that we did. To be honest I can't see that you'd want anything above a Junior Suite as the rooms are massive with a corresponding large balcony and bathroom. The higher spec rooms only seem to benefit from an outside jacuzzi and a few minor features and some such seemed not to be in the best locations. Since we'd booked the holiday some time ago I'd emailed the hotel beforehand to ask if it would be possible to have a room with a sea view on an upper floor room that was quiet – since Villa 1's located adjacent to the entertainment stage I'd say the hotel delivered on 2 out of 3 requests, the room having a sea view and being on the upper floor but it was noisy with the entertainment in flow and after the days journey we just wanted to sleep – fortunately the entertainment stops at 10:30p.m and it's all quiet from thereon! We didn't realise how good the sea view was until the following morning and were very satisfied with the same, pelicans in the trees outside with the odd humming bird around, deep blue sea, fishing boats – all very tropical! The room improvements I'd suggest would be to place some sort of lighting where the room safe is kept - we'd taken a torch which proved essential, the subdued lighting in the rooms tends to be a little too subdued and the shower room could do with a light? I'd say only about half the hotel rooms have sea views so if you're intent on having such a view ask in advance though there's no guarantee you'll get one. The rooms at the back of the main hotel and those villas directly behind are possibly the poorest on the island for location either looking out above the hotel kitchens or adjacent to the storage/utility areas which are noisy and not very scenic shall I say so if you're likely to get one of these rooms check ahead to see what you're getting or you could be disappointed!
We spent the first morning walking around the island to get our bearings and impressions were good, the only disappointments being surprisingly the beaches. Of the two hotel private beaches the 'sheltered' beach was somewhat small/narrow and cramped with the shaded areas crowded with sun loungers and a bingo session in play (Benidorm anyone?!) whilst the 'windy' beach was much less crowded but somewhat deserted as it was very windy (perhaps not surprisingly?!). Venturing onto the public side of the island we had a look around the famous 'Baccardi' beach and this again this was disappointing being not particularly clean, full of shabby sun loungers (that you have to pay for @ $2 each I think) and a gaggle of local trader stores hustling and hassling for attention (think Egypt!) and overall a bit shabby and underwhelming I must say. Since this is a feature of the island and indeed the whole region I'd have thought more would be invested in maintaining and keeping it looking good?
On our first full day at the hotel we'd eaten lunch at the Mediteraneo beach pool restaurant from where things went a 'little wrong'! That evening we went for dinner but before we had a chance to eat I started feeling nauseous and we returned to our room and where I was violently sick followed by severe diarrhoea and sickness throughout the night and following day (my wife fortunately had eaten other foods than me, thus 'survived!). It was only towards the end of the week when I was able to leave our room that we were talking to another (UK) guest from a room in our villa (Villa 1) below us who had also been suffering from the same illness as me and that he was aware that 2 other (UK) guests from our flight had also had the same condition over the same period. I had also overheard a conversation that an American woman had also suffered the same illness at the same time. The common factor with all the guests suffering the same illness was that we'd all eaten at the Mediteraneo beach pool restaurant at the same time on the Wednesday (19/3/14). The Mediteraneo restaurant, unlike the main hotel and Don Pablo restaurants, is not air conditioned and the prevailing heat had raised a concern about the Mediteraneo restaurants ability to control the temperature of the food on offer which seemed to fluctuate on reflection compared with the other restaurants. As a result of the illness I'd been confined to our room for the following 2 days and had been unable to eat other than a few bread rolls and slices of toast and water/sports drink to maintain hydration until the Saturday when I was sufficiently recovered to undertake the all inclusive meals and drinks, with caution, and otherwise enjoy the hotel facilities. Needless to say we didn't dine at the Mediteraneo beach pool restaurant again!
On our first Saturday at the resort we'd pre-booked on line a whale watching trip through Whale Samana http://www.whalesamana.com/ with Kim Bedall, since the end of the whale watching season finishes on the 26th April. This is a very professionally run trip and was well worth joining and I'd rate it significantly ahead of the trip offered via the hotel/Thomson's in terms of expertise and value – it's cheaper, more informative and we were well looked after. We only saw one whale but he displayed all the behaviour we hoped for - breaching the water several times, splashing his flippers whilst on his back - such behaviour being very unusual for the time of year we were told. I understand a trip that went out the following day saw a pod of 6 or 7 whales so perhaps you take a chance on what you'll see and being so late in the season we were happy with just the one whale – a great experience if you get a chance to do it!
We went on a further trip the week after we arrived to the Los Haitises National Park which was outstanding – we had a particularly calm day which was good since it involved 14 miles sailing each way and the scenery was spectacular - small limestone islands and inlets - a bit like Thailand - and mangrove swamps and caves with plenty of wildlife - with an entertaining crew and a few rations of local rum (or sensible drinks if you wanted) to follow – an excellent half day out highly recommended!
Back to the hotel – it's an impressive place – so clean with an excellent, usually attentive staff. We dined in the main hotel restaurant and 4 times at the Don Pablo both of which were excellent. Don Pablo's more of a formal restaurant with great food and the steak is outstanding! In) the main hotel restaurant each night there's a dinning buffet theme and choices are very good – there's usually something that'll take your fancy. The staff are usually very attentive and there were only a couple of occasions that I went in search of a drink from the bar – Sunday's seem to be the day they struggle? If there is an issue with service it's more to do with the manger (Maître' de) perhaps who needs to direct the staff more specifically to cover certain sections of the restaurant otherwise the staff tend to ether rush round haphazardly or congregate at one end of the restaurant. Most staff do speak some limited English and are keen to teach you some Spanish as well as learn from you, which is good. I know it's been mentioned before in previous Trip Advisor reports but the hotel continues to provide single serving spoons for various dishes and given some peoples allergies this need perhaps to be attended to – a single spoon in each food dish perhaps? Also previously reported is that sometimes the food temperatures can be a little inconsistent which just requires monitoring? The hotel cocktail bar is very good if you know what to order, though I didn't do it justice I must say, but I understand it closes at 11p.m. (after which the public beach bar continues if you need a drink which reverts to all inclusive but not before 11pm!?).
Special mention must be made of the hotel gardens throughout which are fabulous and the staff who maintain them who do a fantastic job – the odd tip given to them is highly appreciated and deserved since we often saw them still working at 9pm! Our room cleaners also did a great job, thoroughly cleaning the rooms and it was a nice touch for them to come in on an evening to turn the beds down leaving chocolates to enjoy on our return. Each room has a mini bar that's replenished daily and though I didn't perhaps do the bar justice there's sufficient in there to satisfy most people (or just go to the excellent hotel bar). The hotel has 3 pools - the beach side pool, the quiet pool and the jacuzzi pool each with it's own bar. The beach side pool seems the most popular though most people are thereabouts for the beach, the jacuzzi pool is usually deserted – I only saw people in there once! - and the quiet pool is well, quiet – our favourite BUT....
On our first Sunday my wife had been in the hotel 'quiet' main swimming pool and getting out she'd stepped on the plastic drainage grill that encompasses the pool placing just her left foot thereon, a guest having pulled a sun lounger to the edge of the pool which didn't allow her clear egress, upon which the plastic drainage grill collapsed into several pieces. She fell down the drainage channel resulting in a gash to her left leg shin, just below the knee, bruising to her right leg shin and also to her right hand palm. The surrounding plastic drainage grill is periodically marked with small PVC adhesive stickers to warn not to step on the grill which we'd already been aware of, though at the time of the accident there were no such stickers in the immediate vicinity of where the accident occurred. The guest having pulled the sun lounger to the edge of the pool made it impossible not to have to step on the grill in this instance.
Following her fall my wife went to the pool side bar to report that the pool drainage grill had collapsed and was accompanied by a guest who'd witnessed her fall and who told her that she was the 4th person he'd witnessed in the previous 10 days he'd been there to have suffered a fall due to the pool grill collapsing. At the bar my wife reported the accident to the staff member on duty who handed her a 'phone to report the incident to the hotel reception. Whilst doing so the guest who'd accompanied her to the bar noticed that her right leg shin was bleeding profusely. The receptionist advised that they would send someone up. Soon after the hotel medic arrived at the bar and asked my wife to go with him to the medical centre which was adjacent to the main pool. He asked my wife if she had insurance (she did did) and that it would be necessary for antibiotics to be administered. My wife advised that she didn't think this would be necessary and that the wound only needed to be cleaned (with iodine) since she had an adequate medical kit to dress the wound back in our hotel room and which she did after the medic cleaned the wound as requested.
On my wife’s return to the pool I went to the hotel reception to report the incident so it could be formally recorded and to ask to speak to the manger. I was advised that the incident should be reported to the Thomson representative on her return to duty (the accident had occurred on the Sunday thus the Thomson representative, Jessica, would not be back on duty until the Monday) and that the duty manager was at the time resting but would contact us that evening or the following morning. The following morning Alexis Estruga Gimeno, the Hotel Assistant Manager, came to see us in our room and we explained to him what had occurred the previous day. He advised that he had been aware that my wife's accident had been the third such instance at the main pool involving the drainage grill in the previous 10 days or so. He advised that the hotel would pay any necessary medical costs. My wife noticed that her graze wound had become slightly infected the following day and arranged for some anti-biotic cream to be obtained through Jessica, the Thomson representative, to treat the wound which was duly provided. Jessica advised that my wife should keep the wound uncovered since if otherwise covered it would likely continue to remain infected due to the heat and humidity in her experience. As such it was necessary for my wife to remain in the shade (and out of the pool!) for the following 4-5 days to allow the healing process.
Alexis advised that there had been PVC stickers warning guests not to step on the grills but since they were adhesive these were prone to come off. We advised that there had been no such stickers in the immediate vicinity of the accident and that we were aware of the warning but that the location of the guests sun lounger, which had been pulled to the edge of the pool, had made it necessary to step on the grill and which reasonably should not have given way in the manner that it did.
The collapse of the grill had occurred on the bend of the drainage channel at the shallow part of the pool allowing access and egress there from. At the bends of the grill channel the constituent parts of the plastic grill are separated into small sections to allow the plastic grill to be placed around the bend, however in doing so the strength and structure of the plastic grill is compromised and the stability reduced. The plastic grill is intended to sit within a concrete channel, the shoulders of which support the grill. On the straight sections of the main pool the shoulders extend to some 3 to 4cm to support the plastic grill spars however around the bends this is significantly reduced to some 1 to 2cm or even less thus providing far less support for the plastic grill spars. In addition since the grill spars that go around the bends of the drainage channel are separated into small sections, unlike the straight channels where the grill spars are interlocked together, the strength of the grill spars around the drainage channel bends are significantly compromised with often a single plastic drainage spar being in place and not interconnected, so contributing to the collapse.
Alexis, the Hotel Assistant Manager, had advised that the drainage grill had been an issue and the fact that the grill was much the same colour as the surrounding concrete had made it difficult for guests to distinguish between the grill and surround and that he'd put in a request to his managers for a red border to be painted around the grill to distinguish the same but had yet to receive approval from his head office to proceed. It was also accepted that there were areas of the concrete drainage channel shoulders that were not of sufficient width to support the plastic drainage spar grills and that it would be necessary to extend the concrete shoulders in places to provide the necessary consistent support but that again this required approval and authorisation from head office to carry out the appropriate remedial action. Alexis also advised that he was concerned about guests pulling their sun beds out to the edge of the pool thus restricting access and egress and on his daily patrols around the pool he would direct that sun loungers be removed from the pool edge back to their rightful places since as manager he had the authority to do so but that the pool staff were not in a similar position to do so themselves. We had been made aware that the main pool had been the first to have been constructed in the hotel complex but that the two other subsequent pools had had their drainage grills concreted in to prevent movement.
During our subsequent stay at the hotel we witnessed 2 other guests suffer falls due to the main pool drainage grill collapsing and one such fall occurred in exactly the same place as my wife's accident with the guest suffering a cut to his foot. I mention this incident as there remains the likelihood of a similar or indeed more serious accident occurring to other guests until such time as robust remedial action is taken to secure the drainage grill in place at the main pool!
I must say after our 'incidents' the rest of our holiday at the resort was pretty much idyllic and it's a definite chill out hotel – if you enjoy late night life then perhaps this isn't for you and the age range of guests tend to be middle age+ (there's the usual long married couples sitting forlornly in front of each other in the restaurants – you know who you are!) but we found really nice people at the resort to talk to and there's a good mix of nationalities. Though the Americans we found usually to be very nice there were some who were typically loud and inconsiderate - smoking in the pool, having loud obnoxious conversations and do they know how to hold a knife and fork never mind use them!?
I have to commend Alexis the Assistant Hotel Manager and very much the hotel's front man. He's great and a delight to talk to. I feel he's sometimes between a rock and a hard place in that decisions he should be able to make have to be approved higher up (in Spain?). He told us that when he started at the hotel 2 years ago most of the staff didn't speak any English but he'd helped the staff to learn the basics and which he rightly should feel proud of! He's a real credit to the hotel and should you have a problem he's the man to go to – he's excellent! Our Thomson rep Jessica was also excellent, thanks! The entertainment staff work hard and although the shows were sometimes a bit cheesy you just go with the flow. Otherwise if you want to join in with activities or otherwise decline there's no pressure put upon you. All the staff we found to be very polite and keen to make your holiday as good as possible and are a credit to the hotel – as Alexis said the staff within the hotel work as a family!
I think Expedia got it right classing the hotel as a four star. A hotel where you've got to put your loo paper into a basket can't call itself five star - how when the hotel was built not that long ago didn't it install a decent drainage system since there seemed to be a few 'sewer type' smells at particular parts of the island!? Perhaps with suitable improvements and a few details attended to it will justify 5 stars?
We were sad to leave the hotel and although it's unlikely we'd return - when we travel that sort of distance we like a new experience each time - I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting their own chill out holiday (or even to get married there?!). I understand that from June this year Thomson will be flying by Dreamliner to the local Santa Barbara airport instead of Puerto Plata with a 40 minute transfer which is good but that the hotel is building more villas on the Island – construction had stopped whilst we were there but it could get noisy when it starts again soon. The additional accommodation I think may spoil the island as more people will be there, crowding out the already small private sheltered beach and placing greater demand on the other facilities but that remains to be seen. In all we had a great holiday! My apologies for the length of the review but the more you're told, the better you can expect.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Facilities and services 2 pools 3 Jacuzzis with bar Large sun terrace and gardens with loungers and sun umbrellas Pool and beach towel service BAHIA SPA (additional charge) Sports facilities: gym, 1 tennis court Motorised water sports (additional charge) Store Heliport WiFi access in the lobby and in rooms (free of charge) Main buffet-style restaurant and 3 speciality restaurants 4 Bars Cocktail Lounge Snack-bar Wedding gazebo Rooms 268 rooms including 5 types Superior, Junior Suite, Superior Junior Suite, Deluxe Junior Suite and Beach Villas. Superior Junior Suites, Deluxe Junior Suites and Beach Villas are larger than the Junior Suite and Superior. Room facilities: King size four poster bed Air conditioning Ceiling fan Sitting area with desk Balcony or terrace Fully-equipped marble bathroom with hydromassage bath tub, separate shower, bidet, hair dryer and magnifying mirror Telephone in bathroom Don Pablo Collection amenities Bathrobe and slippers Radio alarm clock with iPod docking station Direct phone line (additional charge for external calls) Flat screen satellite TV Safe Mini-bar with alcoholic drinks Wifi Coffee-making facilities Ironing set 24 hour room service Evening downturn service Outdoor Jacuzzi (Deluxe Junior Suites) Butler service Pillow menu Aroma menu Beach Villas: Seafront location with outdoor Jacuzzi, pillow menu available on request, baggage unpacking and ironing service, laundry service (optional) Other services Medical and pharmacy service (additional charge for both) Stores in the hotel Heliport and private boat (available on request for an additional charge) Mainland reception and transfer by boat (included in the booking fee) Specialised service for organising weddings, events and anniversaries. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Hotel
- Cayo Levantado Samana
- Cayo Levantado Dominican Republic
- Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado
- Cayo Levantado Hotel Samana
- Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Don Pablo Collection Dominican Republic/Samana