We just returned from an eight day trip to the Coral Costa Caribe on Juan Dolio beach. Our stay was from Friday, March 22nd to Friday, March 29th.
After reading many, many reviews from other travelers, our expectations for this hotel were very low. We expected:
- a nice beach with various vendors occasionally trying to sell us stuff
- a room that needed updating/refreshing and possibly some repairs
- occasional loss of running water
- our bathroom towels taken but not replaced
- mediocre food, with some buffet dishes not replenished in a timely manner (if at all)
- weak drinks
- friendly staff members
- other issues related to being in a third world country and not staying in a hotel operated
by an international company such as Hilton or Marriott
What we got:
- all of the above.
Let me expand on specific points.
THE BEACH - The beach is nice, with standard reclining chairs and a fair amount of shade from palm trees on the back half of the beach. The sand is mostly free of trash, but it could be cleaner. The vendors will walk up and down the beach and will try to sell you things, especially if you are not reading or actively engaged in a conversation. Most of them will leave you alone pretty quickly if you tell them, "No thank you" in a firm but friendly voice. Some may ask more than once, but that didn't seem to be the rule. They play music from about 10:30 to 2:00 and it can be (and usually is) pretty loud. Most of the music is Merengue, Bachata or dance/pop music. We chose a spot on the beach as far to the edge of the trees as possible to escape the high volume music. Many of the chairs were broken and/or in need of repair, but we were always able to find functional chairs. Many sagged, however. Overall, the beach was an enjoyable experience compared to winter in Minnesota, but not nearly as nice as at other resorts I've stayed at in Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, or Barbados.
ROOM EXPERIENCE - Our room was mostly functional. The sliding glass doors were broken but could still be operated with some muscle power. A rep called us the first morning after we skipped the vacation club info session (you should too) and asked how our check-in had gone and if our room was OK. I told her that our TV did not work and neither did our wireless internet. Neither issue was addressed while we were there. From other reviews we read before we left the States that is what we expected. Many reviewers had problems with not having towels. We brought our travel/backpacking towels expecting this. We also decided to leave a $1.00 US tip on the bed every day in hopes that we would get favorable treatment from the maids. Only once during our stay did they take our towels and not return any, but by the time we had returned from dinner there were fresh towels. Our towels were changed only once during our trip. The air conditioner in our room was very loud. If you have trouble sleeping in loud conditions and choose to stay here, you may want to consider ear plugs. Also, if you go to sleep early (before 11:00) expect there to be loud music coming from the courtyard and the stage. Our bed linens were changed four times during our stay. I don't know if this is normal or because we were tipping the maid. She swept once during the week.
We paid the additional $100 to upgrade to an ocean view room. We could in fact see the ocean from our room on the sixth floor, but it wasn't spectacular. I think it was probably worth it given our room location and hearing what some of the other travelers said but this one is iffy.
LOSS OF WATER - Our water worked in the morning every day. Our water would stop running in the early evening every day but Monday and Tuesday. I kept track of the timing (you should hear how my girlfriend made fun of my for this) but I wanted to share actual numbers on my review. Here is the lowdown: if we showered after 6:00 PM, we would have water for 3-4 minutes, then lose water for 3-4 minutes. I was caught with shampoo in my hair the first time and was not happy. We quickly adapted after that and took showers in short, quick bursts. If we showered between 5:00 and 5:45 (like we did on Monday and Tuesday), instead of losing the water altogether the pressure dropped to a trickle but it was still enough to rinse off (barely). From talking to people at other resorts and out in the rest of the DR in general, it sounds like the water stops working all of the time. In fact, outside of the hotel you will see black water storage tanks on top of buildings because of this issue.
DRINKING WATER - We brought our UV water purifier that we use for backpacking expecting trouble. We did not need it. We filled our Nalgene bottles at the bar downstairs (there's an ice water dispenser there) and received two or more (due to our tipping?) water bottles per day from the maid. We were never without, and we drink a lot of water.
ELECTRICITY - We lost electricity almost every day, but it was usually only for 5-10 seconds. On the first day we lost it for about 15 minutes. On the last night (Thursday night) we lost it after dinner for about an hour, got it back for a while, then lost it for another couple of minutes. The elevator in the lobby did not work during the outage, just FYI. People used their iPhones for lights during the long outage to keep the bartenders working. It actually turned into quite the party atmosphere.
BARTENDERS AND DRINKS - The bartenders were great if you got to know them and tipped them once in a while, but the drinks generally sucked. The alcohol was low quality and seemed watered down. We tried the white wine with dinner one night and were disgusted. The red wine is even worse. If you stay here you should try it (it's free so no harm there) just to experience how bad wine can be. I watched a bartender pour red wine from a large plastic jug into a wine bottle that was so used the label was worn off. Many of the locals (more on that in a bit) brought their own bottles of alcohol. We also witnessed guests paying bartenders cash to get whole unopened bottles. I'm not sure how much they paid.
FOOD - OK, here is where I will get less positive. We expected mediocre food. It is an all-inclusive, after all, and not an expensive one. Breakfast was generally OK. Not good, but OK. Lunch was hit and miss. There is a grill on the edge of El Ambar (where you eat breakfast and lunch) that generally had OK food. If you miss lunch at El Ambar, there is a place called Mango's that serves snacks like hot dogs and hamburgers. If you just barely missed lunch WAIT! Wait for others to eat the cold food at Mango's then eat the hot/fresh food they prepare to replenish their stocks after the first wave. It will only cost you 10 minutes and you'll be happy you waited.
Let's talk dinner.
El Ambar is just mediocre. This is the buffet only place. The food was boring, It was bland. It provided some calories. They sometimes had ice cream (near the grill along the back wall) that wasn't bad, but it ran out fairly quickly.
El Fogon (the local food place) is the nicest place here. The fish here is actually worth eating after you've been eating at the other places. Some of the side dishes suffer from the same blandness as everywhere else.
Sante Fe is the Tex-Mex place. The taco bar along the edge is actually OK. Some of the dishes are OK as well, but the cheese sauce they pour over stuff is awful. It tastes like (and probably is) that nacho cheese sauce you get on nachos at a movie theater or baseball game watered down with that fake butter oil used on movie theater popcorn and some water. If you order the quesadilla, ask for it without the cheese sauce because it ruins what is actually a totally edible food item.
Rigoletto is the "Italian" place. This place is so bad that we joked that Italy, as a matter of national pride, should send an Italian special forces unit in to take this place over and replace the cooks (I can't call them chefs) with people who have actually tasted Italian food before and restore their tarnished honor. Holy cow this place was bad. Just skip it.
In general, a lot of the food was actually presented well (for a cheap all-inclusive resort) but the look of the food just got your hopes up before you actually tasted it. We both got sick during the week, but we don't know from what exactly. We got sick on different days from different places. We dealt with it, took some Imodium, and took it easy on the beach.
WHEN CHECKING IN - If they sit you down and tell you all about the vacation club and how it "isn't a timeshare--it's better," listen politely and take their card. They will ask you to come down the next morning at 8:00 AM or so. Then, just skip it. Your time is worth more than this. Even if they offer you an incentive (they offered us 2000 pesos in credit), don't waste your first morning on this. If you want to be mean, tell them that you'd like to experience the place for a few days first before hearing anything and that if the water works every day and the food is good, you'll consider coming to the presentation.
THE LOCALS - A lot of Dominicans come to this resort on the weekends. They seem to like the place quite a bit and many are probably part of the vacation club. Friday and Saturday nights will be loud. The weeknights will be lower key.
THE SHOWS - There is a stage near the beach that has bad variety shows every night at 9:45. Before the shows kids get on the stage and dance to children's pop/dance music. We tried watching the shows but decided out time was much better spent elsewhere. Most of the variety shows are dancing. One of the staff members can do a very good Michael Jackson, however. He was actually fun to watch. Otherwise, see it only if you have nothing better to do.
NIGHTLIFE - Besides the variety shows, there is only the Boom Disco that opens at 11:00. This resort is badly in need of a better nightlife scene. The Boom Disco (my girlfriend calls it the "Boom Boom Room") is mostly merengue and bachata and the locals love it. Compared to more international dance clubs, I found this one lacking pretty badly.
OTHER RESORTS / HOTELS - On our tour of Santo Domingo, we talked to people from other hotels. They all told horror stories. We were actually glad we were staying at our place after hearing what they had to say.
OVERALL - Read the reviews. If you want to stay at Juan Dolio for some reason, this may be the best choice among some really bad choices. The beach was sufficiently nice as to not disappoint and we enjoyed our time relaxing and getting some sun.
I would recommend that you re-think this area altogether and spend the money to stay at a nice resort on the north side of the island. If you choose the Dominican Republic, don't miss Los Haitises National Park. It was absolutely the best part of our trip. I recommend Explora! Ecotour. Read their reviews and look at the pictures on their site and you'll know why.
Come to Coral Costa Caribe with low expectations and your eyes open and you can still have a fun vacation.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Overlooking the warm ocean waters of the Caribbean, enjoy a limitless family-oriented vacation experience. There are fun-filled activities under the sun for all. Our activities program includes water sports and one of the best white sand and boundless turquoise water beaches. Savor an outburst of flavors with a signature Caribbean flavor. These are just some of the ways in which you will keep busy during your stay at Coral Costa Caribe. The warmth of our staff is best expressed by the careful attention given to every small detail. Cradle yourself in the midst of its lush vegetation covered by impeccable tropical gardens surrounded by tropical flowers and trees. Seek refuge in one of our comfortable guest rooms; the heart and soul of the destination is embodied in its decor. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Coral Costa Caribe Hotel Juan Dolio
- Coral Costa Caribe Resort, Spa And Casino
- Hilton International Juan Dolio
- Costa Caribe Coral Hilton