After a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Panama and a jaunt around Portugal, Adam and I decided we wanted to do something a little more relaxing on our next vacation. Enter the ever-popular all-inclusive vacation. Having been on quite a few of these types of vacations with my family and friend Nicole. I also have some experience when it comes to browsing and navigating through the many resorts and price points, mainly through a Canadian website called Trip Central, which hasn’t failed me yet. The site allows you to enter your maximum price, trip type, destinations, duration and month and provides an overview of all the resorts that are available at that time. This time, we decided to try a new country and booked a vacation with Sunwing and the VH Gran Ventana in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
I’ve never had any big issues with Sunwing, and getting from the Puerto Plata airport to the resort was a breeze. It was a short, easy ride and we were among the first to be dropped off. Checking into the resort was also easy, and we were greeted with a cocktail and quickly whisked away to our room.
We were in the renovated Soana building. I had emailed the resort ahead of time with a few requests after reading something about bugs being in rooms on the first floor. To avoid these issues, I requested a 2nd floor or higher room. I also requested a room that didn’t face the pool (to avoid noise at night) and a king sized bed. The VH Gran delivered on all fronts!
I thought the room was almost perfect for us – simple, clean, and really everything we needed in a hotel room for a week…except for one little con. The bed/pillows! I’ve never slept on a harder bed, something seemingly impossible after a visit to Spain. And the pillows were indeed as lumpy as the reviews had warned. I didn’t pack to my full capacity on this trip, so I could have easily brought some kind of rolled up foam or a pillow.
The main buffet area was a nice surprise design-wise. The food was laid out in a way that made navigating the bustling crowds more tolerable, with high ceilings and dazzling chandeliers. The staff cooking were beyond great, while the wait staff were pleasant but possibly overrun with work as getting drinks before finishing eating was nearly impossible.
The buffet food was….good. There was a ton of variety and plenty of local dishes to try, but of course, if you’re a major foodie, no, this isn’t gourmet and you won’t be satisfied. However there were some dishes that made a lasting impression. A few weeks after we came home, Adam texted me saying he was craving the jalapeno cheese pizza. Ha! But like most buffets, they play to the lowest common denominator so none of the dishes seemed seasoned enough. With that being said, this buffet had way more variety than any other I’ve tried at a resort. There were plenty of vegetarian dishes, but some that appeared to be veg-friendly were not (for example, biting cautiously into a cheese ball only to find out there was of course bacon). I’d recommend the resort mark clearly which dishes are vegetarian and which are not.
During our stay, we tried all three al-a-carte restaurants but ended up only really enjoying one – the Beach Grill. It was lovely to sit along the beach and enjoy a well-cooked meal in the sea breeze. The Italian and Caribbean restaurants were unfortunately disappointments – but I wouldn’t say they were terrible either.
And like most people who go to an all-inclusive, we wanted to enjoy a beverage or two. We definitely aren’t the types to drink all day and night but there were a few days we decided to wander over to the bar. Bartender Jackie took care of us at the quiet pool. I had read about her outstanding service in the reviews prior to the trip, and I have to say, she was great! She had the whole bar laughing. The drinks themselves were not fantastic. If you go to the Dominican, perhaps it is wise to only drink the local rum or beer. Everything else is a bottom-shelf brand (unless you upgrade of course) and has the distinct taste of hairspray. Oh, and do not drink the wine.
Pool and Beach
After reading way too many tales of the dreaded chair-savers, we woke up at a reasonable time (8 am) on the first day to make sure we had a spot for the day. No, we didn’t just drop our towels and go back to the room to sleep some more (a move that, in my opinion, should be punishable by law), we actually occupied our chairs for the day and took our towels with us if we were gone for more than 45 minutes at a time. We decided to sit by the main pool, a mistake we definitely would not make again. As much as I like the relaxation aspect of all-inclusives, I am not a fan of the partying, loud speakers, fall-in-the-pool-with-drink side of things. And that’s what the main pool is. It’s crowded, there’s a swim up bar (*shivers*) and it’s loud.
By the second day, we learned that we absolutely had to get a spot at the quiet adults pool, which was absolutely serene and luxurious in comparison (even if there were parents who thought bringing their crying babies there was a great idea). This was easy the first few days, but on one particular rainy day we saw the worst of pool-savers. We rose at 8:00 am again and after seeing it was raining, decided we still wanted to be outside and might even go for a swim in the rain (because it’s fun). We headed down to the pool only to see every single chair reserved by a towel. By 11 am, the towels remained yet only 4 people were around the pool. At this point I was prepared to knock the towel off each and every chair but when 2 chairs finally opened up for us, Adam talked me out of it. Still, I wish the staff at VH Gran Ventana would take chair-saving more seriously, or get more chairs. It’s against policy yet we never saw a single member of staff doing anything about it. Reading the reviews, they ought to set up a system (I recommend no reserving chairs at all before 9 am, sit or have your towel taken) as many guests are citing this issue as a main reason they would not go back to this particular resort.
The beach was the best on the strip, with nice blue/turquoise water that was semi-clear, depending on the wind. I love calm water while Adam prefers waves, so I won this time. Again, chair-savers are an issue on the beach but there’s an area past the bridge to the right that seldom know about. There are chairs here but you might have to go through ~20 broken ones before finding one that works. We saw some people complaining about the vendors but personally when were in this area, we were barely approached by vendors, which is another reason to not sit directly in front of the resort.
I can’t speak much to activities or entertainment, as our main purposes on this vacation was to swim, relax and eat – and that we did! For the price we paid for 1 week (including food, drinks, transportation and hotel), I thought the hotel was exactly up to my expectations. Of course there were cons, but it was to be expected as it’s not a 5-star resort. This is a 3 or 3.5 star resort, but perfectly comfortable to spend a week at. When it comes to demographic, it is mostly families or older couples. We may have been the youngest (other than children) at the resort so we don’t recommend it to young adults looking to meet others their age.
When we went: Beginning of April
Duration: 1 week
How much: $1150 each + tipping money