My family had the pleasure of staying at the Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado in Samana at the end of July-beginning of August. We were part of a larger group of 16, and unanimously, we absolutely loved our stay at this exclusive resort.
Let me be clear though, I do not feel the resort is a 5-star in the truest sense. The room furnishings and design are not the most modern, luxurious and elegant. Nor is there an abundance of restaurants. (1 buffet, and 3 a-la-carte restaurants). The food is quite good (for the most part). The beaches are really nice, but not the best I’ve seen.
However, when you combine all of these very good elements with absolutely wonderful service and attentiveness, amidst the gorgeous and lush setting of Cayo Levantado island, collectively it becomes a truly visceral and memorable 5-star experience.
We flew in via WestJet vacations from Toronto to Samana International airport. The ride to get to the dock was over an hour long. We were slowed down a bit, as the bus stopped off first at the Samana Grand Paradise and GBP Cayacoa. At the dock, Gran Bahia has a small indoor reception area and reception desk. While we were waiting for the ferry, we checked in with reception and picked up our wristbands for the week.
One can’t help but feel a rush of excitement as you approach Cayo Levantado by boat. It feels like you’re entering the realm of Fantasy Island (without that little guy Tattoo). Once you walk up from the dock to the main lobby, you are greeted with a cold, fruity and refreshing drink. For check-in, there are only two staff at one time. Hopefully, when you arrive, you don’t come in a large tour group. Gran Bahia Cayo Levantado is a beautiful resort set in a lush tropical paradise. The buildings, property and grounds are immaculately kept. Everywhere you go, you always see staff cleaning, pruning and maintaining something. The whole island is immaculately kept. I am so happy that the island’s natural landscapes were pretty much maintained.
We stayed in a Junior Suite Superior Deluxe. The Deluxe Superior Suites are located in Villas 8, 9, 10, and 16, 17, 18, 19. Each Villa is comprised of three suites. Do not get the suites that end in 102 ie. 18102, 19102. These are the smallest of the Deluxe Junior Suites, and they face the garden and/or do not have ocean views. Suites that end in 101 are slightly larger and have an ocean view (** more on the view). Try and get the suites that end in 103, as these are L-shaped, have the largest floor space, and have an ‘ocean view’.
Now, here’s the truth about the ‘ocean view’. While the Deluxe Junior Suites do indeed face the ocean, the view is partially obscured by trees and foliage. Kudos to Gran Bahia Principe for maintaining the natural heritage of the island, but if you’re expecting breathtaking and sweeping views of the ocean – you may be a bit disappointed. When our family travels south or to a sunny destination, having an ocean view is a must for us. I love waking up in the morning, and watching the waves crash on an empty beach. However, as the week wore on, I didn’t feel compelled to go out and admire the view, because it was so limited. Even though the ocean view wasn’t the best, my wife and I still liked our suite, due to its size and proximity to the main building.
The Deluxe Superior Suites are well appointed and come with a sitting area with a flat screen tv and couches; a well stocked mini-fridge that comes with water, beer, pop/soda, and mini-alcohol bottles; an indoor tub; a glass shower stall; a toilet and bidet. The bedroom has a four-poster queen+ sized bed with an armoire and tv, and ceiling fan. We also had a very large outdoor terrace, with some lounge chairs and a Jacuzzi tub that overlooks the ocean.
While I found the decor and furnishings a bit dated, everything was clean and spotless. Housekeeping did an excellent job every day.
Some of our relatives stayed in the Beach Villas in Villa 31. The Beach Villas are single-story, and are directly in front of the beach. The suites have high, vaulted ceilings which creates a bright and airy space. Similar to the Deluxe Superior Suites, the Beach Villas did not have great water views. Villa 31 was approx. 50 metres from the water, but not directly on it. As well, there was a cart path separating Villa 31 from the beach. Aside from that, these Villas were ideally located by the beach, swimming pool, snack bar, and two a-la-carte restaurants. The only drawback was that it was a good 8-10 minute walk to the main building.
Both the Deluxe Superior Suites and Beach Villas offered butler service. However, it wasn’t a true butler service like the Sandals resorts. You’re not connected to a staff person by cell phone, who will fetch you drinks or run errands. Instead, it’s merely an enhanced housekeeping perk that offers one-time services such as ironing, unpacking etc. It was kind of frivolous, so we didn’t bother utilizing it.
Another cool thing about the Deluxe Superior Suites and Beach Villas is that you are offered a Pillow Menu and Scent Menu, where you can order memory foam pillows, and exotic scents such as mango and papaya to freshen up your suite.
Orquidea is the main restaurant which is buffet style. There is a huge array of different entrees, desserts, appetizers, and tapas. Not every single item is great, but because of the wide variety, there is always something good to eat. I was really impressed with the quality of the grilled beef. For the most part, it was usually flavourful and tender. Unlike some cruises and other resorts, the buffet restaurant at GB Cayo Levantado isn’t crazy busy. While there are always people there, one can always find a table, and there was never a huge line up to get food. On our last cruise, there were lengthy line ups to get food. This was never the case here. The breakfast buffet had the standard items, but I also appreciated the large array of freshly squeezed juices. At lunch, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they offered some tasty lamb on occasion. For the seafood lovers, Sunday night is all you can eat rock lobster.
Don Pablo is the premier restaurant on the island. The ambience and service are absolutely top notch. The presentation and execution of the food are also exemplary. You are given the choice of ordering a-la-carte or from its tasting menu. Both of the times we dined there, I ordered a-la-carte and had the Prince and Princessa which was steak and lobster. I don’t know what everyone in our party ordered, but I do know that everyone was happy. Additionally, the staff flambéed some bananas in liqueur (which wasn’t on the menu) and served it as a pre-dessert. On our final night, the head waiter cracked open a new bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and we all toasted.
Mediterraneo is the Mediterranean-themed restaurant (obviously), and is located by the pool area. While not as elegant looking as Don Pablo, it was also upscale with great ambience. Once again, the food did not disappoint. They allowed me to order two entrees, and I was able to enjoy both the veal and lobster.
Portofino is the Italian-themed restaurant, and is adjacent to Mediterraneo. This restaurant was more rustic-chic, but also had its own inherent charm. Both my wife and I had the steak, and it was very tender and delicious. My children had the pizza, and they were satisfied with it.
Mediterraneo and Portofino are open on alternate nights – so you may have to plan accordingly when booking the a-la-carte restaurants.
The a-la-carte restaurants all require reservations. This you must do in the main lobby. I suggest you do so on your first day. Ordinarily, I don’t think booking would be too big of an issue, however, because our group was so large, it was a bit problematic. For a couple of our bookings, they had to stagger our reservation. For a couple or a regular-sized family, I think it would be very easy to do. Please note, you cannot show up without a reservation. When we were dining at Don Pablo, a young couple was turned away, because they had no reservation – even though the restaurant was not at capacity.
There are essentially three beaches at GB Cayo Levantado. The resort has two private beaches, and one private beach. The first beach on the western side is very windy and wavy as the shore is exposed. My kids loved playing in the large waves, but after a while it got too tiring for them, as they were always getting knocked down. The second beach is right beside it, but is a bit more sheltered by some land and rock jutting out. As such, the waves are a lot more mild and manageable. The sand on the beach is soft and powdery, and you can go out quite a way before it gets too deep. On the gentle beach, bathers must be careful when going out to far and approaching the coral as there are sea urchins there. Ouch – my niece stepped on one and required a little bit of medical attention. The private beaches are also very lush with some trees and foliage acting as a natural shade if you cannot find a palapa.
With respect to amenities, the private beaches have a beach bar and are very close to a large swimming pool, and pool buffet. The towel room was usually well stocked. I think there was only one time when there were no clean towels available.
The resort offers free non-motorized watersports. They offer one two-man kayak and a couple of single kayaks. We never really had to wait long, but I suspect it could be a lengthy wait during the busy season. The snorkel gear was often signed out as well. They do offer a catamaran, but I think you have to pay for some lessons first.
In addition to the beach and watersports, there is a small beach volleyball court, a dart board, and bocce ball. Also nearby is the kids play area, which didn’t look too appealing.
The public beach is located on the northeastern side of the island. This beach is absolutely beautiful with a huge stretch of sand wrapping around a corner of Cayo Levantado island. I found the public beach sand to be a bit softer, with fewer rocks, shells, and coral. However, the water goes deep quite dramatically once you go beyond 15 metres from shore. Parents with children should be vigilant. This public beach seems to lack the trees and foliage of the private beaches. As such, the sandy shore seems a lot more expansive. This beach is open to the public. On any given day, you will see a lot of tourists taking a boat to Cayo Levantado just to enjoy this magnificent beach. As such, we only visited once during the week. We went there at 10:00 am to avoid the ‘outsiders’. By 11:00 am, the other boats started arriving, and you could literally see dozens of tourists start populating the beach. There is bar service at the public beach, but it is not free. Drinks were around the $6 USD range. Even though the public beach was amazing, I preferred our own private beach where there less crowds and free drinks.
The public beach also has a row of souvenir shops. The vendors will do their best to try and sell you their wares. Bartering is the norm. We went on a couple of excursions, and the beach shops had basically the same stuff as everywhere else in Samana. So, I suggest you buy your knick knacks from them if you want to save yourself a trip into town. However, if you’re planning on buying Mamajuana (DR’s native drink), I found there was more selection at the airport, at a better price.
Service and Tipping
Our family has visited many Caribbean destinations. However, it was our very first time in the Dominican Republic. As such, I can unequivocally say that the courtesy, professionalism, and friendliness of the GBP Cayo Levantado staff is probably at or near the top of what our family has experienced to date. I’m not sure if this is true for every resort in DR, or if it’s a reflection of the Gran Bahia Principe chain of resorts, but we were duly impressed. The staff seemed genuinely eager to please, and every time you walked by a staff person, you were almost guaranteed to receive an ‘hola’ or similar greeting.
I know tipping is a divisive issue, but I wholly recommend that you leave tips for the wait staff, bartenders, housekeeping and drivers. If you can afford to go to GPB Cayo Levantado, surely you can set aside a couple of more dollars to tip the staff. Sure, all of the tips add up by the end of the week, but what’s a couple of extra bucks out of your pocket? It might not be a lot to you, but it really makes a difference to these impoverished workers. In addition, once they know you’re a tipper, the staff are even more attentive to your needs. It’s definitely a win-win.
The GBP Cayo Levantado is a very relaxing resort. If you’re single and you’re looking to hook up – look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a party atmosphere, this isn’t the right place for you.
Everything in my estimation closes a bit early. In fact, the main lobby bar closes at 11:00 pm.
If you’re a night owl and are looking for something to do, the GBP Cayo Levantado takes over the public beach after 10:00 pm, and there you can listen to music, drink and dance. Some nights there is a dj. Some nights there is live music. It is not well attended every night. I think Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest nights. Otherwise, it’s a pretty low key affair.
With respect to alcohol, they have a pretty good overall selection, and have some good brand labels. The ‘Banana Mama’ and ‘Coco Loco’ are the popular beach drinks. However, make sure you get yours blended for that slushy taste. When you’re at the beach bar, you can also ask to have them in a pineapple or coconut. My only disappointment was that they didn’t have Corona. Their only beer offering was ‘President’ - a domestic label.
On Friday, they do a free boat tour of the island, which you have to sign up beforehand in the main lobby. It’s nothing too exciting, but it’s nice to take pictures of the island from the water. They go counter-clockwise around the island, so I suggest you sit on the port (left) side of the boat for the unobstructed view. We got some amazing shots of the public beach from the boat. Those made the whole boat tour worthwhile.
In conclusion, our week at the GBP Cayo Levantado was definitely one of our best vacations ever. Because you are on your own private island, you can't help but feel exclusive - like you're somewhere truly special. That's how it felt staying there. Sometimes you may fall in love with an area, but you may want to try a different hotel/resort. Not in this case. Once you go here, you will never ever want to go to another resort in DR. It is that wondrous and memorable.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Facilities and services 2 pools 3 Jacuzzis with bar Large sun terrace and gardens with loungers and sun umbrellas Pool and beach towel service BAHIA SPA (additional charge) Sports facilities: gym, 1 tennis court Motorised water sports (additional charge) Store Heliport WiFi access in the lobby (free of charge) and in rooms (additional charge) Main buffet-style restaurant and 3 speciality restaurants 6 Bars Cocktail Lounge Snack-bar Wedding gazebo Rooms 209 rooms including 5 types Superior, Junior Suite, Superior Junior Suite, Deluxe Junior Suite and Beach Villas. Superior Junior Suites, Deluxe Junior Suites and Beach Villas are larger than the Junior Suite and Superior. Room facilities: King size four poster bed Air conditioning Ceiling fan Sitting area with desk Balcony or terrace Fully-equipped marble bathroom with hydromassage bath tub, separate shower, bidet, hair dryer and magnifying mirror Telephone in bathroom Don Pablo Collection amenities Bathrobe and slippers Radio alarm clock with iPod docking station Direct phone line (additional charge for external calls) Flat screen satellite TV Safe Mini-bar with alcoholic drinks Wifi Coffee-making facilities Ironing set 24 hour room service Evening downturn service Outdoor Jacuzzi (Deluxe Junior Suites) Butler service Pillow menu Aroma menu Beach Villas: Seafront location with outdoor Jacuzzi, pillow menu available on request, baggage unpacking and ironing service, laundry service (optional) Other services Medical and pharmacy service (additional charge for both) Stores in the hotel Heliport and private boat (available on request for an additional charge) Mainland reception and transfer by boat (included in the booking fee) Specialised service for organising weddings, events and anniversaries. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Hotel
- Cayo Levantado Samana
- Cayo Levantado Dominican Republic
- Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado
- Cayo Levantado Hotel Samana