We completed a wonderful week of vacation at the Bahia Principe Luxury Esmeralda Don Pablo Collection ("the Esmeralda" or "Esmeralda") on April 13. The Esmeralda is a beautiful property on beautiful Bavaro beach. If you have booked a vacation there I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy your vacation. If you are considering booking there, here are some things you may want to consider, particularly in terms of expectations setting.
I (we) have been very fortunate in that we have had, through business travel, the opportunity to stay in some of the finest hotels and experience some of the best restaurants in the US. I have also had the opportunity to travel through Western Europe as both a student and most recently for business. I provide this background so my review can be taken in context. I am not a complainer, quite the contrary, I tend to pursue opportunities to try new things; however, we do have high standards for hospitality providers delivering what they promise.
The Esmeralda is a part of a "mega resort" 2,528 rooms including the other "villages" on the property: Bavaro, Bavaro Premier, Punta Cana, and Ambar. The resort is very much an international resort; at the Esmeralda the majority of the guests were probably European, with the balance North American, slightly favoring Canadians. The Esmeralda and Ambar are both "luxury" villages and are on the oceanfront and offer varying degrees of exclusivity at a higher per room rate. If the resort's beachfront is "wide", then the resort is about three times as "tall' as it is wide- there is a relatively small amount of beachfront for the overall size of the resort.
The Esmeralda presents itself as a "five-star" luxury resort. When we booked, it was ranked #3 of 99 resorts in Punta Cana on Trip Advisor. The Esmeralda could very well be a five-star luxury resort; but that, in my view, would be according to Dominican Republic resort standards. In a discussion with someone close to the resort, he confided that "we (as in Dominican Republic) have not been at this that long and we have a ways to go." That comment about nails it with regards to the standards being applied. Rather than talk about stars, it is easier for me to revert to "A to F" letter grades.
Property: The property is beautiful and very well maintained. The grounds are pretty much immaculate. The rooms are clean and maintained but not first class. The bed was firm and an assortment of pillows was available including lavender scented. The television service could be improved (at least in our room) as the reception on all channels was a minor snow fall- admittedly, we did not pursue this with housekeeping, it may have been isolated to our room and a bad connection. There was an assortment of channels familiar to the US including premium. [A-]
Beach and Pools: The beach is beautiful and sand is very fine. The water is clear and the temperature comfortable but refreshing in the Dominican heat. The beach is very crowded, and you may like that in a beach scene. The beach and strolling the beach is like Central Park in NYC on a summer day and New York's Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday. Rather than Easter Bonnets though, it is "Bare as Much as You Dare". Signs indicated that topless is prohibited but the limited toplessness was ignored by the beach patrol- personally I am indifferent. The Esmeralda, Bravo, and Punta Cana beaches had palapas. Their beach chairs are packed in very tight for at least ten rows up from the beach- I am sure some people are fine with the spacing. The chairs on the Ambar beach were spaced much more comfortably for me. The Ambar beach and pools can only be accessed by Ambar and Esmeralda guests.
The Esmeralda and Ambar pools were comfortably populated. Both pools and beaches sported some "party crowds" but they were generally well behaved and not overly raucous though appearing to consume copious quantities of beverage. Rarely, the pool music and boom boxes were obnoxious and quiet would have been appreciated. The Esmeralda pool is child friendly and the Ambar pool is adults only.
Now, my serious rub with the beach and pools: towels "owning" chairs in the shade. It was not unusual for fully half the chairs with shade to be “reserved” with a towel (OK, perhaps a third belonged to people in the pools or ocean). The chairs in the shade would be covered with a towel for hours, literally hours, with no one returning to use the chairs. On occasion we would move the chairs with the towels out of the shade only to have someone show up two to three hours later and want to make a stink because we moved their chairs so we could sit in the shade. I have no problem with someone leaving a towel for fifteen minutes while they go to the bathroom or to get a drink but holding chairs hostage for hours when there are other paying guests who want to use the shade is rude and inconsiderate. I hold the resort accountable for letting this situation get out of hand.
Because of the beauty of the beach we start with an A. I knock that down to A- because of the crowded chair spacing on the beach. Further reduced to a B+ because of the reserving chairs with towels. Beach and Pools: [B+]
Food: The food is prepared and presented in the European style.
I will start with the buffets. The buffets are particularly Eurocentric in preparation and presentation. There is certainly plenty of variety to choose from and it is not hard to identify what will become favorite "go to" choices. The breads are good. The fruits, strangely enough, were somewhat limited with pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, orange or grapefruit and papaya (oddly no avacado) although there were many exotic fruit juices. The "green salad" bar selection was strong with juicy ripe tomatoes. There was always a good and tasty selection of assorted salads such as palm salad, artichoke salad, ceviche, and roasted marinated veggies. There was always an assortment of very tasty cheeses although occasionally they would look dried out around the edges. The ice cream and dessert section was acceptable although some cupcakes, yes, cupcakes would have been welcome. On occasion the shrimp and lobster were good.
The cook on the grill seemed to take certain pleasure in flipping and beating the made to order omelet to tastelessness. I stuck with the lukewarm scrambled eggs. From here things go downhill, starting with food temperature. At best, the "hot" food on the buffet was warm, not close to hot. I find this particularly curious because in the US most food establishments are required to keep buffet foods at a certain minimum temperature for food safety purposes. I did notice halfway through the week there was a microwave in the buffet area and it was not hard to figure out why. The hamburger patties were not fresh ground beef and I'll leave it at that on the buffets.
The following does not apply to the Don Pablo and Maiko. The a’ la cartes restaurants were not really- not really a’ la cartes. A’ la carte implies cooked to order. For starters, the starters were buffet and more of the same buffet. The a’ la carte entrees were clearly not cooked to order and in fact had the texture and taste of sitting in the warming bin for hours. Fish and meats were dry and hard and drowning in sauce. Several entrees at different themed restaurants were served over the same style of barely warm potatoes. This includes the theme restaurants, Sante Fe, Bella Italia, El Pescador and El Olivo.
The Don Pablo Gourmet is the resort's showcase restaurant and it was worth the effort. The food was cooked to order and very good. The appetizers were ordered off the menu and delivered to the table. The steak was prepared as exactly as requested.
The Maiko was Japanese cooked on the hibachi-style, sizzling grill surface in front of the guest. The appetizers, show and food were very good.
Overall, I would say the food services staff was in over their heads. I would suggest they hire some pros from the cruise lines to whip their kitchens into shape. We've done the Norwegian Cruise lines "Freestyle" a’ la carte dining on a couple of cruises and it was far superior with pretty much the same challenges for the food preparers, if not greater, being on a ship. Food gets a [C].
Bars and Drinks: Starting with the beer, Presidente, it is an excellent beer although it was not consistently served cold to traditional American taste. The house wine was a very decent table wine of the quality found at middle class tables in France and Spain. The red variety most served, while quite acceptable, was short on character. The white and rose were about the same with the rose drier than I expected. Beer and wine [B].
Mixed drinks were not good. I can't believe the bartenders had any serious mixology training. The daiquiri/margarita mix was kept in a slushy-type machine. The mix must have been from a powder base because the daiquiris and margaritas left a grainy film on your teeth. The amount of alcohol added to the mix was inconsistent so when you ordered a drink it was like a box of chocolates. Now apparently some people liked the stuff because they were certainly drinking it up. My wife was OK with the Pina Coladas and I was generally OK with the Mojito (with a little less sugar and extra rum). A safe bet was gin and tonic and rum and tonic and ask for a little extra alcohol. Also tip the bartenders. Mixed Drinks [D]
Service: First, I should say this is their country and as an American I shouldn't go to the DR expecting everybody to speak English because we are the Americans and god's gift to the world. However, if you want to develop an economy based on tourism and the US is a major potential market then you need to know English (and other major languages) so you can provide excellent service to your guest.
I think there is a tremendous human resources development opportunity here. The majority of the people were very warm and friendly. The housekeeping staff in particular was a delight. The customer service staff was helpful but lacking in enthusiasm and cheer. We joked about the guy in charge of dealing out towels as being the "towel Nazi".
In the dining rooms, at times even when the staff seemed motivated to serve there was a lack of organization. With a good deal more hospitality and English language training you could begin to build a world-class resort. As guest service models, look to the Norwegian Cruise Lines and Disney Resorts; places that have a culture where delighting the guest brings pride for associates. Developing that attitude requires indoctrination. Now this last comment is particularly directed at some of the bartenders and some of the younger male waiters who seemed to have no hospitality training and clearly did not appreciate the guest or serving. Maybe they need to implement universal tipping? The cruise lines don't have tipping. They probably need leadership and training. Service: [B-]
I would pay a little more and book the Ambar over Esmeralda if you don't have children.
This sounds like a lot of complaints but this place is billing itself as a "five-star" and that is a high standard. Hopefully they'll take these reviews to heart. Overall grade [B].
And that is a generous B based mostly on the fact we had a great time!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Facilities and services 2 Pools Sun terrace 4 Jacuzzis Sun umbrellas and loungers Beach and pool towel service BAHIA SPA (additional charge) Sports facilities: gym, 3 tennis courts, 1 padel tennis court (additional charge), multi-sports court Water activity centre Motorised water sports (additional charge) WiFi access in the lobby (free) and in rooms (free of charge) Entertainment amphitheatre 2 buffet restaurants 3 speciality restaurants 3 Bars 1 Snack- bar Wedding gazebo Punta Blanca Golf Club: 18 hole Punta Blanca Golf Club, designed by Nick Price (additional charge) Pueblo Principe: Shopping and Leisure Mall with local craft stores, live music, shows, stores, bars, karaoke, disco and casino. Rooms, 570 Deluxe Junior Suite Room facilities: King size bed or two full size beds Air conditioning Ceiling fan Sitting area with sofa Terrace Fully-equipped bathroom with hydromassage bath tub and separate shower, hair dryer and magnifying mirror Bathrobe and slippers VIP amenities Radio-alarm clock Flat screen satellite TV Coffee-making facilities Ironing set Pillow menu Umbrella 24 hour room service Minibar WiFi (free of charge) Other services Medical service (additional charge) Pharmacy (additional charge) Specialised service for organising weddings, incentive trips, events and anniversaries Personalised menus (for celiacs, diabetics, etc.) Available on request ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Gran Bahia Principe Esmeralda Hotel Punta Cana