While on the plane to DR, you will be requested to fill out tourist cards and a customs declaration. Don't waste your time filling everything out accurately. Just scribble something on them. Customs people do not care about them. They only care about the tourist entry fee. They will put the cards in their drawers without looking at them and will just stamp your passports.
You have to pay $10 entry fee per person in cash, so have the money ready when you enter the airport. That will be the first thing they will ask you to do. They do not accept credit.
After going through customs and getting your luggage, go find your transfer company. If you did not pay for the transfer in advance, you have two options. Find a cab which are plenty at the airport. Just make sure not to overpay for the ride. It should not cost more than $30 to get to the hotel. Agree on the price in advance. If they refuse, go to any of the transfer companies (Apple Vacations, Amstar, Expedia, etc) and offer them $30 to take you to your hotel. They will be more than happy to do that. Have a few singles ready for a tip to a porter who's going to take your luggage to the van.
After arriving at the hotel, make sure that they give you towel cards along with the room keys. You will not be able to get a towel at the beach without a card. Also, in-room safe is now free, so if they request that you pay for it, ask them to wave the charges. You still have to pay for wi-fi. The new rates are: one hour - $3.00, 1 day - $10, 3 days - $20, 5 days - $25 and 7 days - $35.
We stayed in the main building, where all rooms start with number 4. There is an elevator there. We stayed on the top floor. This is an old building that has an interesting architecture. It is completely hollow inside: there is a pond with fish in it, some sculptures, a garden and huge palm trees. If you stay in villas, come and look at the building because it looks beautiful from the inside. Go up the stairs and take pictures.
Our room was medium-sized, the furniture and everything else looked kind of old. The pillows were about 2 inches thick. The towels were thin and looked very used. The bathroom is small, and the shower room has a glass wall that covers only half of it. So when you take a shower, the water outflows into the bathroom. You have to block the water with towels. Whoever came up with this design is an idiot. The water pressure is very weak. For a few days we did not have hot water from noon till 6pm, which was inconvenient because we couldn't take a shower after the beach. Also, there is no Jacuzzi or bathtub, which we had in another hotel where we stayed last year.
The minibar contained three cans of Brahma Light - a beer that tastes like lemonade; a few bottles of purified water, Sprite and Coca-Cola. There were no chips or little bottles of hard liquor. The TV was old, from the VCR era. The TV remote, of course, did not work. I used an old trick: I took the batteries out and knocked them against each other and put them back in the remote. It then worked for a few days. Most channels are in Spanish, though we found TBS on channel 44 and watched some sitcoms late at night.
The balcony is large enough for two people to sit there. The view from the balcony is beautiful.
Before coming to the resort I was reading the reviews and was surprised that some people loved the food while other people hated the same food. After visiting the resort, I probably have an explanation for this. Since the food is available 24/7, people eat and have snacks all the time and between snacks they have drinks. As a result, when people go to the buffet, they are not really hungry. When you are not hungry, you are less likely to enjoy the food. I thought the food was good. They never served shrimps or lobsters at the buffet though. They had lobsters once at the beach on Tuesday. There was a huge line and they portioned lobster tails stingingly: one lobster tail (cut in two) per person and a mountain of rice. The lobster was overcooked and very dry. Keep in mind that these are not Atlantic lobsters, but some kind of large crawfish.
The drinks they served at the bars are very watered down. The red wine they served at the buffet and at the restaurants, I swear, has no alcohol at all. I usually feel the effects of alcohol very quickly, but after two glasses of their red wine, I felt nothing. It tasted like sour grape juice. Speaking of the restaurants: you are allowed to reserve only three restaurants. We visited the following restaurants:
1. International (Marinero): not good at all. Its buffet featured cold and overcooked vegetables. We ordered lobster soup and fish soup. Both were very salty and the lobster soup did not have any lobster meat in it. For the entrees, we ordered red snapper and shrimps. Red snapper was served in a tin foil, was overcooked and looked like perch they serve every day at the buffet. As for shrimps, there were exactly nine of them plus rice. For dessert, we had crème Brule which was cold and tasted like watered down rice pudding. My cheesecake was the same they served at the buffet.
2. Gourmet restaurant in Sibila: good. There is no buffet, so you order everything from the menu. For appetizers, they served chicken and crab salad and grilled vegetables with provolone cheese. For entrees - beef, which was very good and half a lobster tail which was hard to chew. For dessert, they had cream puffs and apply pie which were the same they serve at the buffet. We were still hungry after the restaurant, so we headed straight to the buffet afterwards.
3. Oriental (Pagoda): good. It has a buffet which is 80% different from the main buffet. Do not order entrees because you will be full after the buffet. We made that mistake and entrees were so-so. Chicken was the same as they serve at the buffet and salmon was overcooked and too dry. Desserts were very good.
The beach and snorkeling:
We enjoyed the beach and the ocean a lot. There is a place where you can do some snorkeling. To find it, you have to stand on the beach between the lifeguard's chair and the building where they have bathrooms. Then walk or swim (depending on low or high tide) about 50 feet into the ocean. You will see dark shadows in the water. These are rock formations behind which there is small and big fish. Bring some bread and the fish will come swirling around. They will take bread out of your hands and even nibble on your fingers. That was lots of fun. Just pick a day when it is sunny and the ocean is calm.
The pools are big and clean and I like the fact that there was no swim-up bar in them. Last year at another hotel, there was a swim-up bar in the pool and people stood there for hours having beers and drinks and never getting out of the pool to go to the bathroom. I wonder how they could hold it in them (I guess we all know the answer to that ;-D).
You have to make an reservation to use jacuzzi! LOL, I've never seen this before. The appointments are made in the lobby of the fitness building.
We took long walks around the property. There are pink flamingos, storks, turtles, geese, chicken and other birds walking and flying around. There is a beautiful pond with lots of fish and ducks at the Bavaro hotel. To find it, you have to walk past the villas and the fountain into Bavaro property. The pond has boardwalks all around it from which you can feed the fish and the birds. You can look at my videos here https://www.youtube.com/user/SerendipitousStars/videos?sort=p&flow=grid&view=0
Shopping for larimar jewelry, rum, cigars and other stuff.
Local shops (outside the hotel) sell lots of fake larimar stones. To find if the stones are genuine, bring a lighter with you and ask the seller to light it under the stone. The plastic will melt, but nothing will happen to a real larimar. If a seller refuses, walk away. Even if a stone is genuine, make sure they don't switch it when they put it in your shopping bag.
Beware when buying cigars in outside shops. They let people smoke a real cigar and then sell them a box full of fake cigars made of banana leaves. Do yourself a favor and buy them in the hotel shop.
The rum is much cheaper at the hotel. At the duty free shop at the airport, it costs twice a much. For example, Rum Barcelo Viejo (a narrow bottle wrapped in a net) costs about $13 in a hotel supermarket and $30 at the airport. Keep in mind that when you pay in dollars, they give you change in local pesos (!)
English: Very few employees speak English. They wave their heads and say "Si, senor" and then you realize they did not understand anything. I was proudly told that DR is a Spanish-speaking country. While this is true, Iberostar is in international hotel chain that caters to tourists from all over the world. My note to management: if you want our dollars and euros, please train your personnel and teach them English.
We also found personnel at the lobby kind of gloomy. We arrived late, very tired, and when I looked at the receptionist he looked annoyed. I could almost read in his face: "Oh great, here comes another guest." While I understand that they are overworked and, probably, underpaid, we saved and paid a lot money for this vacation. So at least pretend that you are happy to see us. A fake smile is better than no smile at all!
While I mentioned many negative things about the resort, we still enjoyed our stay. However, we'll return only if there is a good deal. We paid just under $3000 for 8 nights with air which, I think, was kind of expensive for this hotel.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful vacation. Please email me if you have any questions.
If you are staying in the main building (rooms start with number 4***) pick a top floor. Rooms there...
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.