To me the sign of a great holiday is whether you would go back. We stayed at the Gran Bahia Principe in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and we would go back there again in a heartbeat. HOWEVER, while the Esmeralda had some fine things to recommend it, we found there were more things we did NOT like. First, if you are using frequent flier miles to get to the DR, you can't get to Punta Cana so you are forced to fly into Santo Domingo and take a 3 1/2- hour taxi ride to Punta Cana - each way. Since that meant cutting our trip short by a day to take a taxi back the night before our flight in order to make a 7 am departure, I was hoping they would let us check out early (which I called about a week before what would have been our check out date) but was told they charge two nights to check out early. So we would pay $500 to get $250 back - outrageous! We instead stayed at Esmeralda until 7 pm on Saturday, took ANOTHER 3 1/2 hour drive and got a hotel near the Santo Domingo airport at an additional expense to our trip. By the way, I highly recommend Dominican Shuttles for transportation. Dependable and cheaper than the others - $349 round trip - with door to door service. Considering the fact that next to our building (#93) they were adding three more buildings of rooms and another pool - because those new buildings would be much farther from the beach - we had a LOT of construction noise during our entire stay there (we kept laughing at the signs on every floor asking you to speak quietly...wouldn't want to drown out the drills and hammers).
I agree with muppetto's review that this place has NOTHING to do on property except swim and lay in the sun. They have some beach yoga and stretching. I will say that the beach for this resort has the cleanest sand I have seen anywhere - they rake it every morning so NO SEAWEED (it's pristine). You have to get up early to reserve a chair. If you go to the beach cafe be prepared to wait a LONG time for a beverage. We finally got up to serve ourselves and were scolded by the wait staff who STILL didn't bring us even a water. The food at beach cafe and the resort's buffet is OK (some hits and some misses) with not much variety but some weird choices. Lunch meat and salad on all three buffets - breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I guess they have NEVER heard of salad dressing - ketchup and mayo were the only condiments (I saw someone actually put ketchup on their salad). The Don Pablo restaurant at the Anbar resort has great lobster but their desserts were dreadful - one was like a Hostess Ding Dong. But you can only eat out once. We agree that the WORST was the wine - considered putting it on the salad since it was like vinegar (both the white and red). They need to go to Trader Joe's and buy some Two Buck Chuck!
I also agree with Heterodyne's complaint about the Privilege Club harassment as they followed us around to harangue us into coming to their guest appreciation event with free massages and cheap gift watches. (No we don't want to pay $21,000 for a time share and to be able to use the special lounges and beach areas...oh and free Wi-Fi). We would avoid going into the lobby when the Privilege Club desk was open (they also kept calling our room). BTW, the free Wi-Fi in the lobby for all guests is a joke. I tried to connect and went to the Front Desk when I couldn't get on and was told that the signal is really weak and I should pay for the Premium Wi-Fi. Since I couldn't get my email, my husband back in the states called the hotel front desk - they confirmed I was staying there but they don't have voice mail so he asked them to let me know he called (12 times in four days) and of course they never did.
Kudos to housekeeping. They kept our room spotless and filled the fridge with our favorite beverages - we started taking our own drinks to dining room since it's difficult to get them there. This is not to say we didn't tip ($50 a day from my sister and me) for drinks, bell staff, housekeeping and the dining room waiters and grill chefs. So we had hoped they would be more motivated - like the Jamaican staff. Also most of them are not friendly like Jamaica except the Front Desk, the seating hostess and housekeeping...the rest are surly and few speak English. The pools are immaculate BUT the Adults Only pool - which is three Jacuzzis in one large pool - see the large photo for this resort - it had more kids in it than the regular pool. It's not heated but doesn't need to since it's so warm out. The jets run for 15 minutes on then 15 minutes off then repeat. The cabanas there are great and we put our towels in one on our way to breakfast every morning. Since no staff members ever patrol this secluded pool we were forced to reports the kids in the Adults Only pool and incurred the wrath of the parents who wanted to hang out in this pool with their kids in tow since it was obvious we turned them in.
This resort is actually many Gran Bahia resorts on one large property so they DO have golf cart buses to take you from resort to resort. We ended up having to walk a lot (sometimes in the rain) because the drivers would say that the Esmeralda was on their route and it wasn't so after being on for a while they would drop us at the end of the long road that ended at the Esmeralda. We went to the main resort - Punta Cana - were the taxi drops you off since there are only roads for golf carts on the resort property. This is where most of the shops are. They have like a mini mall with kiosks in the center. The kiosks are run by Haitians and they are very much into the hard sell. We literally ended up running away as they wanted to charge us $121 for 3 items. Got them down to $40 (still too much) then they wanted me to pay a $5 tip to the guy who brought me over to their kiosk. Some of their necklaces look like plastic and not turquoise so after they assured me the stones were genuine, I asked if I could hold a match to them since only plastic would burn...no? Needless to say I did not buy the fake necklace. The GB Punta Cana is also where all the "shows" are. If you like lip-syncing, this is the entertainment for you. One night was a salute to the movies with lip-syncing to the Grease sound track, another night was a salute to Grammy winners, another night was a a salute to Michael Jackson - all the dancers are very, very good. One night had a circus theme and they rigged up a trapeze - that was probably the best show. I don't feel like we got to know any of their personalities as no one spoke ever except the the emcee who doesn't speak English.
After a great time at the Gran Bahia in Jamaica, we were very disappointed in this resort and will never return.