Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
One of four mega-size resorts in a nearly 2,000-room complex, the resort is teeming with families, couples, honeymooners, and young partiers.
At the Gran Bahia Principe, getting lost -- and trying not to -- is part of the vacation. This monster-of-a-resort is one of the biggest in the D.R. (and visibly so). It's the cheapest of four resorts that share a massive, close to 2,000-room compound. To get from one location to another, many guests take a shuttle around the resort, especially to the beach, which is about a 10-minute walk from most rooms. To give you a better idea, here's a picture of the overwhelming map.
The entire Gran Bahia resort is broken up into four distinct parts. There are the two moderately priced sections: Gran Bahia Principle Punta Cana and Gran Bahia Principle Bavaro; the Premiere section (which is just closer to the golf course and has its own pool and buffet); and the Ambar section (which has little bungalows tucked away right on the beach).
As a result, the Gran Bahia is not an intimate vacation experience. In the morning, a mass of people walk from their rooms to the buffet breakfast in the lobby. The huge, un-caffeinated crowd is like an early morning herd heading to the subway in Midtown New York City -- except this crowd wears flip-flops.
At two sizable, though surprisingly welcoming, colonial-design lobbies, guests take a break from the beach and pools. Which lobby guests check in to depends on if their room is reserved in the Bavaro or Punta Cana section of the resort. The accommodations are very similar; guests can hang out and eat at the buffet in either lobby, which they do. During the day, guests -- clad in bathing suits with cover-ups -- drink beer, tropical cocktails, or Dominican cappuccinos. By evening, both spaces feel simply grand and elegant, with happy couples and big families drinking, laughing, and smoking up a storm.
The perfectly manicured grounds with mini palms, three- or four-story guest-room buildings, and a shopping square that is a replica of a Dominican village all create the feel of glossy, four-color catalogs for a large university in Florida or California, more so than a vacation resort.
Most guests hail from Canada. Large families, couples, honeymooners, and young partiers are all drawn to this miniature city. Those not bothered by the size appreciate that the nighttime noise is contained to one area. The theater and disco are close to the lobby, far away enough from the guest-house buildings to not disrupt sleep patterns.
The Punta Cana and Bavaro sections of the Grand Bahia resort are off the beach, in the middle of the entire Gran Bahia Principe resort complex. It’s fine for the avid walker (just don’t forget sunscreen), but most guests rely on the shuttle buses to get around.
The entire Gran Bahia resort complex is located in Bavaro, which is theoretically a neighboring village of Punta Cana. Over time -- with the proliferation of resorts in the area -- Bavaro has come to be considered a part of Punta Cana, at least for tourism's sake. Gran Bahia is one of several resorts on the nearly 10-mile stretch of Bavaro Beach, which is one of the most beautiful in the Dominican Republic.
This is an active beach with plenty of kids splashing in the water and couples walking hand-in-hand. The Gran Bahia beach is certainly comparable to other well-trafficked beaches in Bavaro, such as the Iberostar Punta Cana and the Barcelo. With loads of kids, the beach is covered in sand castles.
Beachside, guests are in arms' length of about five bars and smaller snack restaurants with easy finger food such as burgers and fries. This makes it easy to plop down on the beach just after breakfast and stay there the entire day.
Junior suites (which are the basic-level rooms) are large, clean, and cheery rooms with terra-cotta-colored tiles and bedspreads, plus a towel swan. In general, the rooms are more than adequately clean and comfortable. They're certainly comparable to the Iberostar Punta Cana’s recently refreshed rooms.
Old, tube TVs come with the cutest little remote control, clear reception (the best of all the resorts I stayed at in Punta Cana), and by far the most English-language channels. The hotel is in the process of upgrading all rooms to flatscreen.
Bathrooms include a Jacuzzi tub that, for once, actually has great shower pressure.
There are two main pools, conveniently located just outside all the rooms. Both pools have a swim-up bar, a self-service soda bar, plenty of lounge chairs, and ample shady spots. The entertainment staff rounds some guests up for afternoon merengue, but most guests prefer lazing about.
There is a small fitness center adjacent to the Punta Cana lobby, though it seems out of scale with the rest of the resort. Still, the room was perfectly functional. Other sports facilities include a soccer field (or ‘’football’’ field, depending on where the guest hails from), two tennis courts in fairly good shape, a basketball court, and a miniature golf course that got some traffic in the evening.
For shopping, Pueblo Principe Village is a replica of Dominican village, at the center of the resort. It features vendors selling artisan crafts, plenty of shops, along with a , , and a large stage where the house band plays each night at 11. There are other shops in both lobbies, selling fashionable designer clothing and swimwear, sunglasses, and other knickknacks.
The lovely, full-service Bahia Principe Spa is tucked away beside the resort entrance. The care, attention, and quality of the service is very impressive. Couples hang out in terry cloth robes in the pretty courtyard and sip ice tea between treatments. The facility also includes a sauna, steam room, Whirlpool, cold baths, and showers, all outfitted in mellow blue tiling. Guests have unlimited access to these facilities with any treatment.
Like most all-inclusives in the area, the Gran Bahia has an evening show -- Caribbean-themed pageantry, or a resurrection of pop icons like Michael Jackson or Madonna, or a 1970s-themed disco show complete with dancers in Afro-wigs and bell-bottoms. A little cheesy, but plenty of guests join in (especially after a margarita at the Merengue Bar).
The Pueblo Principe Village, along with a . However, all the late-night entertainment is far removed from the rooms. So the revelry did not disturb those who wished to retire early., for late-night fun, is in the
Food options -- burgers, fries, and ice cream -- are bound to keep the little ones happy.
With its huge staff, the Gran Bahia stays clean. But there's a lot of second-hand smoke in the lobby.
It takes 2,400 staff members to keep the Gran Bahia in proper order -- that rivals the biggest staff anywhere in the D.R. The grounds are impressively well-manicured, the lobby’sare always artfully spilling with flowers, and the shrubs and mini-palms were perfectly clipped.
But guests can expect a lot of second-hand smoke in the lobby.
Huge variety -- that’s the buffet’s strength. For breakfast, you can choose between crepes and regular pancakes, several different prepared egg specialties and Dominican-style dishes, four different kinds of breads to make toast, numerous different fillings at the omelet station, fresh fruit, several kinds of juices, and the list goes on. Lunch has local selections at the hot bar, a pasta bar, burgers, and even a salad bar with plenty of fresh-looking vegetables (this is rare among most Dominican resorts). The place is huge, so mealtime doesn’t feel very intimate -- especially at the main buffet, Orquidea, in the Punta Cana lobby. When guests arrive, they are given a squirt of hand sanitizer, or usually forced to take one. A manager explained that it's a policy at the buffet restaurants because there are no bathrooms in the dining halls.
In the à la carte department, guests can choose from more than six kinds of cuisine, including Japanese, French, Mediterranean, Italian, Mexican, and a steak house. The lobby (guest services has three different desks to handle the volume).has the highest demand for seating, and most guests agree that it’s the best food around. À la carte restaurants are spread throughout the Gran Bahia, Punta Cana, and Bavaro grounds, and must be booked before 3 p.m. at the guest services office located in the
However, like many of the Dominican resorts, guests have been known to get sick from the food. Typically, this is because of the water.
From the Blue Hawaii to the Merengue, guests can easily spend their vacation making their way through the various specialty cocktails. There are more than half a dozen bars -- in the lobbies, on the beach, in and at the pool, by the theater -- and guests sample all of them. But cheap booze is the norm.
Equipped with a beautiful beach, great pools, and large rooms with Jacuzzi tubs and pull-out sofas, the Gran Bahia Punta Cana is a family-friendly come-one-come-all version of its adults-only sister Gran Bahia Principe Ambar. But this overwhelmingly huge resort has spotty service and is plagued by frequent complaints of guests falling ill from the food, making it a less ideal pick.