Topless sunbathing legal in Playa Dorada (a pro for some)
It's one of the most stylish, most luxurious hotels in the Dominican Republic -- but it's surrounded by 14 crowded, all-inclusive mega-resorts in the gated Playa Dorada complex. Rooms are gorgeous -- chic décor, private outdoor tubs, and four-post beds -- but at the beach, the rooftop pool, and on the balconies, guests suffer through their neighbors' poolside megaphones and karaoke nights.
From the start, Casa Colonial is extremely discreet -- there's not even a sign at the turn-off road. It's located within the Playa Dorada complex, a gated community that includes 14 other resorts, two casinos, and a shopping plaza. It’s the only resort within the complex that's further protected by a large wrought-iron gate, reminiscent of a Bel Air estate. Past the cobblestone driveway, bellhops clad in crisp white uniforms and safari hats usher guests into the modern two-story lobby and the check-in area, which is just an ornate concierge's desk. The main building also houses a large bar and the gourmet restaurant Lucia. Cobbled paths take guests out the back of the lobby and through an orchid garden to a second building, which houses the guest rooms, the gym, the pool, the Bagua Spa, and the second restaurant, Veranda. An exhibit of illuminated amber, the local gemstone, lines the marble ground-floor hallway, which is cool, beige, and hushed.
The chic exclusivity seems well appreciated by its honeymoon-heavy clientele. For romance-driven couples, all rooms feature large soaking tubs or Jacuzzis, many with unfettered ocean views. Families sometimes visit, and nannies are available, but the hotel doesn’t offer much for kids to do -- no entertainment, kids' club, or poolside games.
Everything within Casa Colonial’s walls is hushed, discreet, and mellow, but it can be awfully hard to maintain that Zen cool when you can almost feel the bass pumping from the Allegro Playa Dorada next door into the night. Up on the rooftop pool deck, even at midnight, you can still hear the music coming from the disco on the other side, at the Barcelo Premium Puerto Plata. From the guest rooms closest to the Barcelo, you can hear the noise the wee hours -- it's not exactly a relaxing escape, as you can find at the Sanctuary Cap Cana or the Agua Resort (both of which are in Punta Cana).
Casa Colonial is located inside the gated Playa Dorada complex. Playa Dorada (“golden beach”) is located about 15 minutes west of the Puerto Plata airport.
Playa Dorada is a gated complex of 15 hotels, a golf course, a convention center, two casinos, and a shopping mall located just east of downtown Puerto Plata. The neatly manicured mini-city has horse-drawn carriages that promenade up and down the main street at all hours. It’s extremely safe and walkable, even at night -- it sort of feels like a gated golf community in the United States. The hotels in the complex range from Casa Colonial at the peak luxury end to a plethora of budget all-inclusives and time-shares geared toward families and young partiers, like Viva Wyndham Playa Dorada, Grand Paradise Playa Dorada, and the Celuisma Tropical. In the center of the complex is Playa Dorada Plaza, a two-story open-air shopping center that caters heavily to tourists with souvenir stalls, sundry and tobacco shops, a playground, and a few liquor stores. There are also a few ATMs and banks, as well as restaurants and bars including Hemingway’s, Senor Rock’s, Coco Bongo, and even a Pizza Hut. Casa Colonial is the only non-all-inclusive in the complex, a distinction underscored by the giant wrought-iron gate that sets it apart from the other hotels.
Much of the beach is open to the public, only a small section is roped-off for hotel guests.
The beach is kind of underwhelming. Though some publications call it private, Playa Dorada is completely public. Each resort has some sort of vaguely fenced-in section, but guests and locals wander freely along the beach past all of the resorts. Casa Colonial's stretch is extremely well marked, clean, and elegantly furnished. It is easy to marvel at the discreet and efficient security staff, clad casually in polos and chinos. They had only to raise an eyebrow for vendors to move quickly down the beach.
There are plenty of wooden lounge chairs and thatched umbrellas, and even tables for guests who wish to take their lunch or a drink on the beach. It's a pleasant enough setting, but since the water is kind of murky most guests prefer swimming in the pool.
Many guests complain about the beach's proximity to two all-inclusives, as well as the topless sunbathing which is permitted throughout Playa Dorada (though for some guests, it was a pro).
The rooms at Casa Colonial are easily some of the best and most luxurious in the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean-chic decor -- a sisal rug, a plush white linen loveseat and wingback chair, modern artwork, and a mahogany four-post bed topped with Frette sateen linens -- is similar to the rooms at the pricier One & Only Ocean Club in the Bahamas (also one of the best honeymooner hotels in the Caribbean). The only difference: Casa Colonial’s rooms are much larger and have a vastly superior bathroom.
A large window separates the bathroom from the bedroom, allowing guests to watch TV from the massive Jacuzzi. (Blinds can be lowered to give more privacy.) There’s also a separate marble walk-in shower, his and her sinks, a dressing area, and a separate toilet room. Neat bathroom trinkets include a "dental kit," with a mini-tube of Crest and a toothbrush, and a shaving kit, with a razor and small tube of shaving cream. The fluffy Frette robes and slippers that come with the room make it difficult not to simply frolick in the bathroom for the entire stay.
The resort has just 50 rooms and clearly caters to adults. Compared with its all-inclusive neighbors, it’s kind of low on activities and special features. However, what it does have, it does very well.
Casa Colonial has a 24-hour infinity pool. It’s much smaller than the pools at most Caribbean resorts, making it not entirely kid-friendly, but it is hands-down one of the best parts of the resort. The pool sits on the roof, up a small stairway from the spa. It's surrounded by wooden lounge chairs covered in plush white cushions, and the Aqua Bar is off to the side, but it unfortunately closes early. The pool gets great sunlight, but its top-floor location also provides gorgeous views of the beach below and the ocean to the north. Going up again at midnight is worth it for the marvelous view of the stars overhead. Four Jacuzzis run along the edge, facing the beach -- a perfect place for couples.
The resort also has easy access to the Playa Dorada Golf Course, which is just down the street. There are no tennis courts on-site, but guests are able to book the court at the resort’s sister property, the Gran Ventana all-inclusive resort, around the corner. The hotel provides a free golf-cart shuttle to get between properties.
The small, L-shaped gym was a bit cramped but had all the key equipment, including new Cybex ellipticals, treadmills and bikes. Every cardio machine also came with a TV, not to mention an ocean view. Lack of air-conditioning, however, doesn't make for a very pleasant work out. Fortunately, plenty of bottles of ice-cold water are on hand. There are also beachfront yoga or Pilates classes which cost extra and require advance notice through the spa.
On the third and top floor of the resort is the Bagua Spa and Salon. Since everything at the resort is top-quality, the spa is unsurprisingly large, airy, and modern. There is even an adjacent tea bar to encourage the ultimate Zen state, as well as lovely massage beds set in a tranquil garden close to the beach.
Another excellent feature is the resort's lovely orchid garden, located just outside the lobby and beyond the Lucia restaurant. Guests can sit in one of the giant Adirondack chairs surrounded by vines and banana leaves, with no noise except the tiny gurgle of a nearby fountain.
The resort is the most spotless place Oyster has seen in the Dominican Republic. The marble hallways seemed to glisten, and all the white linens and furniture in the rooms room were perfectly pristine.
Casa Colonial has two restaurants. Veranda serves breakfast and lunch, and the upscale Lucia serves French-Caribbean fusion cuisine. Reservations are required for Lucia, it can be a special destination for non-guests itching to ditch the buffets at their all-inclusives.
The food at Lucia is wonderful -- flavorful and inventive, with such menu items as crab on yucca cake tarts, scampi-style Caribbean lobster, and majarete topped with cinnamon (a traditional Dominican dessert similar to rice pudding but made with cornmeal).
Breakfast at Veranda can be taken al fresco, dining under an umbrella on a deck with sweeping views of the ocean. The deck is bordered by lush green trees, and birds chirp overhead to the slight breeze off the water. The menu features standard continental fare as well as Dominican specialties like grilled bananas and strong Dominican coffee.
Delicious food and top-tier service, but the beach is less than exclusive and the prices for food and drinks are especially steep
Wedding Size: Up to 300 people; only one wedding performed daily
Extra Fees and Restrictions: At least 20 rooms need to be booked in order for a wedding to be held; the couple must book a package and one of the set menu options; 20-percent booking deposit required in order to reserve the ceremony and reception space.
Wedding Packages: The standard wedding package, the "all-inclusive package," covers just about everything -- two nights' stay for all guests in a Junior Suite, a wedding on the beach and a five-course dinner reception overlooking the beach, decorations, flowers, transfer to and from the airport for the couple, a breakfast buffet, a minister's fee and wedding certificate, one bottle of champagne for the bridal toast, and a cake; alternative packages range in price.
Ceremony Locations: The garden, the deck, the beach (which is in view of other guests at other resorts, mind you), and the gazebo (the most popular choice)
Reception Locations: The cocktail hour with hors d'oeuvres is typically held at the Veranda Restaurant and the reception is either held at the gazebo (up to 50 people) or on the beach under a white tent (over 50 people, and the tent comes at an additional cost).
Food: If you don't opt for the all-inclusive package: hors d'oeuvres range in price; buffets have a fee per person; three-course dinners and five-course dinners range in cost per person.
Drinks: An open bar with domestic beer and liquor costs a flat fee for the first hour, and then for each additional hour (per person); imported costs more for the first hour and each additional hour (per person).
Photographers and Videographers: Photo packages start at 24 8-by-6 photos and videography starts is also available for a price. Outside photographers and videographers are permitted at no additional cost (unlike at most resorts in the D.R.).
Music: Options range from a DJ, to a pianist, to a jazz band, to a Caribbean guitar trio. Outside bands are not permitted.
Cake: Included in the standard package; choice of caramel, pineapple, vanilla, chocolate, and a host of other flavors
Spa Treatments: Manis/pedis, massages, hair styling, facials, body wraps, and makeup is all available at the on-site spa.
Honeymoon Suite: With the standard package, couples get upgraded to a Deluxe Suite, which includes a king-size bed, an ocean view, and a large living room.
Airport Transportation: About a 15 minute taxi from Puerta Plata International Airport, one-way
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