After travelling and being go-go-go throughout Europe in the summer, we decided to relax in the sun at the Grand Bahia Principe for New Years, an all inclusive resort in Rio San Juan Dominican Republic
While the people were friendly, the food delicious and the country beautiful – the resort was average at best. Issues began when we got to the resort in the early morning. The front staff was rude (not in the “Get lost way” but in the “one second sir” that becomes “10 minutes” – repeatedly). For example, we paid for a suite, but they gave us a downgraded room.
In these situations, remember to always speak up! The last thing you want is to have your vacation ruined or have some sort of cloud over you because you didn’t bother asking for something, especially when you’ve gone ahead and paid for it in advance. We also had a few other issues (i.e. room refills, lack of towels, etc…) and these were only resolved after we got the manager involved. Front desk issues aside, the rest of the staff was wonderful, as they were both courteous and friendly.
The bartenders had some issues with basic drinks – like a rum and coke, or a pina colada (which here was “Welch’s Pineapple Juice” with rum). However, soon I realized that the issue lied with my inability to communicate in Spanish, and after learning a few key words and phrases to the point where I could ask for the precise amounts of alcohol and mix into our drinks, things got better.
Always look for what’s on the wall for liquor brands! By default they will give you the cheaper brands, but you can ask for the more expensive stuff like BRUGAL (it’s included – at least at this resort).
The food was amazing and better than what we had last year at our Cuban resort. There is a regular buffet that you can go for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which serves everything from customized omelettes to interesting and different pastries to try each evening. The only downside for early risers (may be different after New Year’s) is that breakfast time isn’t until about 7:30am. As a 4-star resort, it at least lived up to its star rating for “food”.
The A la carte restaurants at this resort were exceptional. There were three – Italian, Japanese, and Caribbean. All were very good – so good in fact, that you should be BOOKING your spot upon your arrival (as soon as you’ve gotten your room and checked-in). While their computer system is quite slow, they write down the reservation and give you a slip to present on the night of your special dinner.
There was also a special 4th A la carte for New Year’s Eve, but it had to be pre-booked.
That night was well presented, as you can see below, and we wished it had been this way every night (although I don’t think our bodies could have taken all that food and calories!!!).
The location of the resort was O.K. The sun faced away from the beach so to get a tan you have to position your chair away from the water. Which is good – because the water is murky. It’s the type of murky that when you’re there you tell yourself it’s not that bad, and it looks nice, but the reality is that it had a dark shade of misty-blue that was murky enough that we couldn’t see our feet even in the shallow areas. With the exposure of sand fleas and constant rain, it left us feeling disappointed.
The resort itself had some very nice pools however, and the grounds were very clean.
Below is a video from Grand Bahia Principe Hotel and Resorts with an overview of the grounds.
Making the most of the resort, we found ourselves playing basketball and mini-golf a few times, and relaxed at the spa (we were given a free 30-minute massage for our room issues).
Every night there was a fairly entertaining show followed by activities on the main strip leading to the resort (our own little downtown strip so to speak). This strip was one of the cooler things about Grand Bahia Principe San Juan. The main strip outside of the resort was actually part of it, and featured colorful shops, a disco, a casino (more of a room with a couple of slot machines and a blackjack table), and more.
All of this was part of the resort’s grounds. It really made you feel like you were off the resort. The nights overall were lively, and there was always something to do.
We decided to do two excursions.
The first was to take a day-trip to visit Puerto Plata. We joined a European tour because none of the North American guests wanted to do this trip. We spent the day visiting the city, took a lift to sight see it, visited some eccentric museums, had a nice lunch, and even ended up grabbing some alcohol at a local superstore.
If you ever want to buy CHEAP bottles to take home, grocery stores are the way to go!
The second excursion was an active adventure day planned, but we weren’t really sure what that meant until we arrived and found a group of people getting into a truck.
We were then told that our day would include the following:
- Horseback riding in the morning
- A trip to San Juan downtown with a lunch break
- A boat ride in the Mangrove Swamp
- Free time at the beach
I had to get the wild horse that seemed to bolt off every two seconds! AS this was my first time on a horse, I found it both terrifying and exhilarating. I would do it again, but maybe on a safer horse! Throughout the day, our guide made sure we had lots of Mama Juana shots – a mix of wine, honey and rum soaked in a bottle of tree bark and herbs. It’s fantastic stuff!
Despite some poor weather (given it rained 4 out of 7 days), and our resort being average, we still made the most of it.
In fact, one of the best nights we had was at the resort’s New Years party.
It was pouring rain all night, but we had one of the best nights ever – we made tons of friends, drank in the rain, sang, danced and had a blast!
While the Grand Bahia Principe all inclusive resort in Rio San Juan Dominican Republic was o.k. as far as resorts go, we will have to make another trip to the Dominican Republic. There’s so much more of this beautiful island we still want to explore!
Hi, I’m Jason Wingate and I caught the travel bug a few years ago with my wife Sophia Bello. Together, we’ve been travelling the world and sharing our experiences here on our blog, hoping to inspire and help you on your own journey!