Summary: Lifestyle Holidays Vacation Club is typical of all-inclusive timeshare properties outside the US. There is a hierarchy system that provides increasingly better amenities in order of: unaffiliated booking > timeshare booking > owner guest > owner > premium level owner. In addition, there are three levels of ownership, with the best perks obviously reserved for the highest level, AND guests of owners get treated better depending on the owner's level. As a guest of the highest ownership level, we had access to most of the amenities with the exception of the owner's beach, and we were able to get a large house but it wasn't maintained as well as the owner houses. We stayed in the Crown Villas. All-in-all, slightly below expectations because of all the hype, but that's reflected accurately in my score. Read on for the straight-up skinny and tips to make the most of the place.
Pros: Personal housekeeper, nice beaches, good bars and a variety of dining options. Villa was spacious enough to house our entire family (12 people total). Golf cart guaranteed for guests of highest-tier owners (platinum) so it was easy to get around the property. Super accommodating, friendly staff. Food is totally edible, especially with a little experimentation.
Cons: It's WAY way cheaper to fly into Santiago de los Cabelleros than to fly into Puerto Plata, but free resort transportation is only from Puerto Plata. The best that the resort has to offer is a tease to get you to purchase. The villas you'll stay in don't even begin to compare to the housing with the nice furnishings that they'll show you on a tour (if you choose to attend their "it'll only be 30 minutes but really it's 2 hrs" timeshare pitch*). The best beach is for owners only. You really have to work the system to get what you want out of this resort, but if you're willing to put in the effort it's a nice way to spend a week.
Location: Puerto Plata is on the north short, with plenty of eco-tourism opportunities nearby. In addition, the hotel shares the property with Ocean World, which is definitely worth spending a day at (especially given the free tickets).
Room: As mentioned previously, the best rooms are for show, or for highest-tier owners. After initially being given two 3-bedroom villas "near each other", we were able to negotiate* a large villa near the club house that could accommodate all 12 of us. It had a great layout, with 3 bedrooms in the main house, our own pool, a vast veranda with a guest building that had 2 more very spacious bedrooms above and an outdoor kitchen and bar below. We ate breakfasts cooked by our housekeeper at a dining table on the veranda that could have seated 30. We hung out on the comfortable veranda sofas in the evenings and really enjoyed the tranquility. HOWEVER! The furnishings were really old and tired and sparse inside the house, the living room wasn't really comfortable, and the kitchen inside the house wasn't even usable. Don't book this place expecting that you'll ever use the kitchen for anything other than storing drinks. You can close up the house and use the air conditioning, but if you wanted to do that you should have gone to the San Diego Holiday Inn. There was a barely-functioning TV in the living room of the main house, which was good enough to shut up the kids while trying to get ready for going out to dinner, but useless for anything else. But then, why are you watching TV while visiting the Caribbean?? If you can't miss The Big Game, try the VIP World bar instead.
Cleanliness: First off, it's the tropics, so don't expect the sterile environment you're used to back home. Given that, I'd rate this place pretty highly on cleanliness. The housekeeper comes in and cooks breakfast, then cleans the entire villa every day. A pool guy comes and cleans the pool. Towels and linens are replaced daily. BUT! It's open air, there aren't bug screens on windows really, so expect a little native fauna now and then. I think it's pretty cool to see a lizard climb up the wall before I go to bed (especially cos I know he's hunting down the insects that I CAN'T see), but you might not.
Golf Cart: only guaranteed if you're an owner or the guest of a platinum owner, and even then, again: the best stuff goes to owners. A standard cart is gas-powered and a bit noisy, and seats 4. They have "limo" carts with additional seating, but those only go to platinum owners. Still, really nice for quick trips down to the beach or bar. Honestly, even without a golf cart, once you learn your way around it's not too bad, we often didn't take the cart.
Beaches/pools: really nice, with excellent service. We mostly stayed at the VIP beach, which is on a cliff overlooking the sea and has loads of king size beds with sheets!* From the VIP beach, you can walk down to the ocean and there are some souvenir shops where you can negotiate for trinkets.* The VIP beach has "cooling jacuzzis" to hop into and cool off. The villas have a private pool which is GREAT for the kids who want to go swimming the moment they wake up and until the final moments before bed. The main pool near the kid's club and spa is great for socializing and activities, and there's another pool near the VIP World with sand and a bar if you want a slightly more exclusive experience. Definitely something for everyone.
Spa: we did a spa day, with mani-pedis and facials and wraps and massages, pretty much the gamut. Like everything else at this resort, there was something second-rate about the facilities but the people were fabulous.
Children's Club: tried this once, while we were at the spa. Kids didn't like it. All they did was park the kids in front of a movie.
Villas: The housekeeper makes breakfast daily, and if you ask (being able to speak spanish helps here a LOT), she'll make pretty much whatever you want. Standard fare includes cereal, pastries, toast, fruit, meats, and eggs with coffee, tea, milk and juices. We convinced ours to make authentic Dominican breakfast, and got a variety of casabe, mangu, chorizo, and queso frito with salad instead. When in Rome, eh?!
They have people who come in daily and stock drinks and snacks (by request, and the drinks include beer soda and vodka and rum and whatever else*)
"Room" Service: this is the standard menu that you can get anywhere, at the bars, the beaches, the pools, the snackbars. Chips & Salsa, "Ceasar" salad with weird dressing, get the "South Beach" salad instead, basic chicken strips & fries, standard chili cheese dogs, ubiquitous turkey sandwiches served on rolls, beef burgers with everything, garden burgers, and panninis with salad or ham/turkey&cheese.
Restaurants: There are quite a few to choose from, but you'll need to be tricky about reserving them* well in advance. We tried several in the time we were there--
Casablanca buffet: exactly what you'd expect for the cheap/lowest-tier dining option at an all-inclusive. Mediocre food, but if you're careful you can find something worthwhile. Never had breakfast here since we had it prepared in our villa. Everything was slightly Americanized, but the "American" food (pasta, burgers, etc) was solid. Pizza is a strange experience in the Caribbean anywhere, so just skip it.
Indochine: was a bit white-washed, but ok. Family-style table service.
Trapiche: Basically El Torito style Mexican fare, but still better than the buffet at Casablanca. We're from California, so our standard for Mexican food is pretty high. If you're from Iowa, you'll probably love this place.
Bellini: Had really great service here, and the menu food service was palatable. Better wines than other restaurants.
VIP Gourmet: was really surprising, one of the few places to exceed expectations. Very nice food, exceptional service. Good wine.
Tower Bars: aren't really public bars, just fancy places they take you to when you do a timeshare presentation. We tried going there at other times and they were always packed with timeshare agents making their pitch.
VIP World Bar: great place to watch the game, and the VIP World Pool is great for kids
VIP Sports Bar: is a little sliver of a spot that seats maybe 6. Still, good for grabbing a drink on your way to somewhere else.
VIP Disco: where it's at when you wanna get down with your bad self, and a lot of fat, sweaty American tourists trying to pretend they're in their 20s instead of their 40s. There are enough staff on hand to make sure it's still fun.
Service: just outstanding, especially if you tip* well. Remember their names, and treat them with respect, and they'll do pretty much anything they can for you.
Getting there: Bypass the free transportation and fly into Santiago. Book a transportation service that'll take you to/from Puerto Plata. Don't rent a car, you'll never use it and the roads are crap anyway. We were very happy with Isaira Tours, who charged us about $15pp each way (for 12 ppl). You won't get the helicopter pickup from POP unless you're a platinum owner anyway.
Pool: pack some floaty things for the pool. They're small, and good to have
VIP beach beds: SO comfortable! But no reservations :( You have to get there VERY EARLY to stake your claim, and don't just leave a towel or shoes that are easily moved. Best to leave a family member who'd prefer napping to breakfast and a shower. There are double-decker beds that are great for kids & shade. Sit up top when you want to tan, and below when you want the shade. THey even have curtains you can close completely if it gets windy or you just want some peace.
Tipping: tip generously and often. You're not paying for your food & drinks, so throw some love at the servers and they'll make sure you never run dry. I know, it says "tipping included" but that's not how it works in the rest of the world.
Food, reservations: if you've done the tipping properly, you'll have made friends with the staff who can help you get into the restaurants you want. We ate at a different sit-down place every night, at the time we wanted, with all 12 of us. Sometimes we had to be flexible on which restaurant we wanted which night, but we still managed to eat at each. Best to book the entire week as soon as you arrive if possible, but same-day reservations ARE possible with sufficient per$uation.
Drinks: If you ask nicely and are a platinum member or guest, they'll stock your villa fridge with rum, vodka, tequila, and "Mamajuana" (+ mixers). Try the mamajuana, it's awesome. If you aren't lucky, you can still purchase those things at the little grocery across from VIP World.
Timeshare pitches: if you want to see the entire resort, book your presentation towards the beginning of your stay and enjoy and when you've heard enough, tell them you need to go. If you're allergic to timeshare pitches like my husband is, then politely decline and be firm. They won't keep hounding you unless you sound like you'll ultimately relent.
Negotiating: don't be a jerk, but DO ask for what will make you happy. We were able to reject the two-villa solution in favor of a nice big villa that fit everyone because we were polite but insistent and provided reasons why two villas simply would work. We didn't threaten to leave or sue, we just asked nicely. Likewise, if you're buying a lot of souvenirs, don't hesitate to negotiate a better price but don't be a jerk about it. Think about paying roughly what you would if you bought something similar at Cost Plus rather than Pier One, but don't expect to pay much less than that. The time has long since passed when tourists could go abroad and find treasures for a penny.
Animals: cats and dogs roam freely, and they're largely feral. Even if they aren't, pets don't have the strict controls there that they do in the US. Don't pet the animals, even if they look cute. Don't let them into your villa/room. If you notice a cat or dog mess on your patio or veranda, call someone to clean it up for you. Unvaccinated cats and dogs, even more so than wild animals, carry pests and disease and should be avoided. I'm generally pretty good at going with the local flow, but this is one item I don't budge on.
In General: realize you're not staying at a five-star resort in Pebble Beach, and that life in the tropics is less whitewashed and more real. Insects are a fact of life. Although this resort does a pretty good job of keeping them at bay you'll still want to start off your day with a good dose of your favorite mosquito repellent, and you'll likely find some critters indoors. Anything that bothers you will be cleaned up the moment you alert the staff. As for the rest, well, this resort does tend to over-promise and under-deliver in terms of the amenities, but as long as you're just here to relax and you're able to go with the flow, you'll enjoy yourself
ONLY Platinum Members (&guests) get the best
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.