My wife and I visited the Esmeralda from March 16-23, 2013 and had an amazing vacation. We left our young children at home with their grandparents and had our first holiday with just the two of us in a long time.
Below are some comments on our vacation that we hope will help those planning a vacation at the Esmeralda.
1. Our room was clean and tons of room, my wife loved the large bathroom with separate shower and jet tub. The maid was consistent when she cleaned the room, late afternoon and that worked great and she always stocked the fridge with water and beer, we don't drink pop so just requested extra water. We were also told to bring small gifts for the maids to leave on the pillow, with a tip, every day. We did this and our maid really appreciated it. When we arrived at the Punta Cana hotel on the first day, we got dropped off at the front and were immediately loaded onto a shuttle to take us to the Esmerelda. No issues at all getting there.
2. We Checked in at 9:30PM and the room was waiting and check-in went very smoothly. Because of our late arrival, we also had a late flight out when we departed. The Esmerelda provided us with a courtesy room to shower and get ready, prior to catching our shuttle to the airport. This alleviated a lot of stress getting cleaned up after our last day on the beach/at the pool.
3. Shuttles - we used them a lot and found they worked to go north and south but if you wanted to go to the east/west it took a little longer or required some walking but that was a good thing.
4. The grounds were absolutely beautiful and there were workers always pruning or watering. We brought snacks on our trip (granola bars, almonds etc) and shared them with the workers and they were so happy. Our understanding is most of the men in green uniforms are from Haiti and do not have much, so any little gift/gesture of food or soda was very much appreciated.
5. My wife and I alternated between the main pool and the beach every second day. I love the beach and she loves the pool so we compromised. The pool was nice but I wish there had been more umbrellas as i like the shade. Other than that pool was excellent and the pool side bar was very good as well. The beach was the nicest beach I have ever been on and I am from PEI and have also traveled to Mexico and Bermuda. I loved that there was an abundance of cabanas for shade but still plenty of room for my wife to sun bath. Down close to the water, there was lots of room to walk and the water was amazing. My only disappointment was there was no snorkelling off the beach simply because there was nothing to see and limited visibility due to the waves. I brought my own mask and snorkel and they went un-used after the first day. I was told down the beach there was some things to see but I didn't venture down. The water at the beach was amazing, no seaweed, moderate waves and a great temperature. FYI we only saw towels being removed from the pool cabanas and under the large umbrellas. Even if you got to the beach/pool late, you could always find a spot, it just wouldn't necessarily have any shade. At the beach i never saw towels removed but would have no problem if they did this. At the beach we were offered Drink service each day and had no trouble. The Esmeralda beach section definitely is not as crowed as the rest
6. We saw 3 shows and two were excellent and one was good. The Michael Jackson show was the best and yes you do have to get there a little early to get a seat, especially a good one. The circus show was also excellent though not quite as crowded. The third show we saw was an international dancing show with couples dancing different types of dances. This show was ok/good but we were pretty tired that night. There was another show we heard was very good (Boogie Nights) but we missed it as it was the night we arrived.
7. Drinks were excellent. My advice is take a bubba cup to keep your drinks cold but to get them to make the drinks in their cups and pour the contents in to the Bubba. The bar staff are very generous with the booze and even more in the Bubba cups. Also I always ordered the premium rum off the back bar and had no problem getting it and well worth the special request and always resulted in a tip for them.
8. Restaurants - As recommended, we made our dinner reservations for the a la cartes 2 weeks prior to heading down for our vacation. We ate at a different restaurant (a la carte) every night and did not end up having a buffet supper. Our favourite meal was at Don Pablo, but we really like El Olivio, The Japanese restaurant, and the Garden Grill. Every one of our supper meals was very good to excellent. We had reservations for 6pm every night and we would recommend eating early to ensure fresh food and great service. I don't drink wine but always had a beer or two and didn't have a chance to finish a glass before another one was waiting for me as a refill. My wife always had a glass or two of the house wine and said it was good, similar to other house wines at any restaurant. Enjoyable enough though, that she did not feel the need to upgrade to the other wine. I can't say enough good things about the restaurants and it makes the Esmeralda well worth the extra to be able to have access to them nightly and to treat yourself to the superior service and food.
9. The breakfasts were very good, especially once i found the peanut butter. All i need is toast and peanut butter, fresh fruit and occasionally a fried egg and i am pretty easy to please. We ate at the same place each day and always found breakfast very good. Only thing is we are both tea drinkers and sometimes the tea water wasn't that hot but they always refreshed it if we asked.
10. We ate every lunch at the restaurant between the beach and pool. I would not even call this a complaint but I did get a little tired of the lunch buffet, but I think the same thing would happen if I ate at the same place here every day, you just get tired of eating out. I did always find something to eat. I looked at lunch as gap between a good breakfast and something to tide me over to a great supper.
11. We walked to the market down the beach and it was interesting. You certainly have to have thick skin and be able to walk away but there are some good things at prices that were much less than on the resort. Now having said that, there was a market that set up on the Punta Cana property (i think) one night with outside vendors. We were told they do this every15 days and you can barter with these guys, which had similar stuff as the market down the beach. I would still go down the beach to visit that market but ask if they will be setting up on resort during your stay. We checked out the shops and vendors by the casino but did not find the selection and the prices were much higher than down the beach the special market. At the market on the resort i got a beautiful painting (not print) and everyone at my office who has seen it loves it. Very colourful painting of a group of small boats tied up together at sea, a wonderful souvenier and memory of our trip. My wife picked up a ton on jewelry.
12. I played 3 rounds of golf at the Punta Blanca course and had a great time. I am an avid golfer and the course was in great shape. It had pretty wide open fairways with little water or trouble but i expected that from a tourist course. Plus after not playing since October the forgiving fairways probably helped me. As part of the green fee you were provided water, pop, coffee and a sandwich. Because I played 3 times they also included lunch afterwards but i only used it once because I would rather go back to the resort and eat with my wife. They would not reduce the fee even though I didn't want or eat the food. Only other thing was i played with a great guy from Connecticut USA all three rounds. The tour companies from the US get a special deal that they can play for half of what I payed from Canada which I did not think was fair. He was given so many rounds for each night stayed and because his wife did not play he could use hers. So those two rounds he paid only for the cart which was half my average round cost. For the 3rd round he had to pay more but still less than what I paid. I guess they know the Canadians will come regardless but have to work a little harder to get Americans there. Overall it was great and still worth the money and the shuttle to and from the lobby was always on time for pick-up early in the morning and ready as soon as we wanted after the round.
13. Sports - my wife and I played tennis a few times, nice courts and lots of choice for court times, other than between 7am-10am< when it was coolest. We played later in the morning and didn't mind the heat, that was why we were there. I also tried the archery which was only ok and the kayaks at the beach were fun in the waves. I have kayaked a lot and had a good time but strongly advise if you are a novice, do not go too far especially if you have a child with you who doesn't paddle that hard. I saw quite a few parents really struggling and worried that they should not have been out as far as they were. The boats are made for fun and pleasure and do require a lot of effort. they do have boogie boards at the beach to use but only a few and you need a $20 deposit which I understand. I think they should have more, there were only 4-5 adult size ones and they did not offer the use of fins with the boogie boards which was disappointing.
14. I looked for bikes to ride around the resort but was unsuccessful. I did find the ones that are like large scooters that you can rent but not plain bikes, maybe i missed them.
15. Bring lots of sunscreen, when yo think you have enough pack an extra 2 bottles. The sun is hot and their bottles are very expensive and you don't want to run out.
16. We booked with Air Canada Vacations and the transportation was great both ways. Only issue was they were supposed to have a small welcome reception/information meeting but we were not able to find them. We left after waiting 25 minutes.
17. Bank Machine - it blew our minds that there was not a bank machine in the lobby of the Esmeralda. My wife had to go looking around the resort and when she found the first one it did not work and interac didn't work so she had to take an advance on her credit card. Also it dispensed pesos and not US dollars just in case you were wanting dollars. I can understand the pesos but not having a bank machine in the lobby seemed a bit strange for a high end resort who wants you to spend money.
18. We loved the size of the resort, large enough for me to wander and sightsee and small enough on the Esmeralda to feel secluded. I witnessed the security at the beach insist on a bunch of people from one of the other sister resorts remove themselves from the Esmeralda beach. It was kind of funny because the people were being so rude but security stuck to the position and eventually the people were escorted. The staff do want to ensure that you have a superior vacation.
19. I checked out the kids play area and spoke to a family with two sons, who said they felt the options for kids were vast and the facilities were very well run. There was a kids' club, a water slide park, mini golf - where the kids all appeared to be having a great time. Next time we will definitely take our kids with us, especially now that we have been there and know how things work, we feel very comfortable taking our kids next time.
20. Beds - we found the beds a little hard but nothing that caused us to not be able to sleep, just harder than most hotels I stay at.
Overall we had a amazing trip, loved the resort and will definitely be back. I had a few comments above for some things they can improve on but nothing that would prevent me from coming back or recommending it to friends, which I already have done. I always found the staff great, my wife speaks French so even if the staff could not speak English, though tried really hard, we often were able to communicate in French or the staff would go find another staff member who could speak English or French. It is their country and we were happy to be their guests.
Hope this helps you plan you trip. I haven't ever written a recommendation on Trip Advisor before but spent so much time reading about resorts before our trip that I had to reciprocate.