Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Non-stop activities for kids and adults alike -- bachata, water aerobics, water polo, beach volleyball, quiz games, you name it. This place is definitely fun, but it can be hard to relax with upbeat Dominican merengue music always playing somewhere in the distance. Still, Hacienda Dominicus feels a little more subdued and manageable than the giant Iberostars in Punta Cana (Dominicus has 498 rooms, while the entire Iberostar complex in Punta Cana has 1,202 rooms). Another big plus: The Hacienda Dominicus has a nicer beach than Punta Cana. The water here isn't quite as turquoise, but the sand looks and feels like flour, and the water is much calmer because a natural reef is a few hundred feet from the shore.
Hacienda Dominicus is one of six Iberostars in the Dominican Republic, all of which are extremely popular. It attracts a broad range of guests, mostly European families who come back to the resort year after year. However, Dreams La Romana, which is roughly the same price and just a few minutes down the road, has significantly nicer, newly renovated rooms, and better food. Scuba diving is a major draw here, and though it’s not free, families are always training in the pool and working on their breathing techniques before an afternoon dive.
A 30-minute taxi ride from La Romana airport, and 10 minutes from the Chavon River. There's not much in the small town except other all-inclusives.
The Iberostar is on the beaches of Bayahibe, a former fishing village close to La Romana in the southeast D.R., and is one of a handful of all-inclusives along the resort-laden street of Dominicus Americanus.
Until the 1990s, Bayahibe was just a little fishing town where locals from La Romana and nearby villages caught crabs on the beach. Since then, a deluge of development has hit the area, with six mega-resorts cropping up in recent years. Still, its small-scale nature is the draw: It's not as insanely jam-packed with tourists as Punta Cana. There's a few restaurants dotting the waterfront, but not much else.
However, a 30-minute drive from the resort is the beautiful Altos de Chavon, an exact replica of a 16th century Italian village with beautiful views over the Chavon River.
Most guests fly into La Romana airport, which is 30 minutes away (even though it doesn’t have direct international flights). But the resort is 90 minutes from Punta Cana International Airport and about two hours from Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo. For the price of the taxi ride, however, it might be worth paying for the connecting flight.
By and large the beach is clean. However, there is some garbage (I stumbled upon a few plastic cups and some leftover food, but surprisingly few cigarette butts).
The Caribbean Sea is calmer than the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Punta Cana, and a natural reef protects this stretch of coastline from getting too rough or windy, so the beach is a bit safer for families with small children.
One downside is there's only one bar. It's built to resemble a lighthouse. Some guests complain that there aren't enough bartenders when the beach gets packed, but I didn’t find this to be the case.
Resort security guards are posted at both ends of its beach, but guests can walk further down the beach in both directions. Though the stretch in La Romana isn’t as long as Punta Cana, runners could still manage a decent out-and-back trip of a couple miles or so.
Rooms have seen better days. With old beds, outdated décor, lukewarm water, and maintenance problems, they are a far cry from luxury. Though a king bed, couch, chair and dresser fit comfortably enough, the Iberostar’s rooms are relatively small by Caribbean standards. The sliding glass doors make the rooms plenty bright during the day but, come nightfall, it's depressingly dark. There are five lamps in the room, two of which can be out-watted by a keychain flashlight.
The king-size mattresses are among the D.R.’s worst -- they feel more like trampolines than beds. Fortunately, the sheets are clean and the pillows firm, but look at nearby Dreams La Romana for a better bed (and an overall better resort) at the same price.
There are three pools on the property (one very large), plus a tiny kids pool at the kids club, and the atmosphere is lively. A whirlpool sits on an island in the middle of the main pool, but like all Iberostars, the water is as chilly as in the pool. The pools are largely in good condition, save for some grime around water level at the main pool, and some missing tiles.
The scuba diving on the southern coast is superb -- the resort offers to arrange dives (not included in all-inclusive), as well as an entire array of lessons and packaged dives.
There's a dark, outdated gym on the property with no air-conditioning. Equipment includes treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, several weight machines, and a very rusty set of free weights, but most of the equipment is still useable.
The spa isn't fancy -- the rooms are basic, just a table and a sink, and the products look pretty generic. There are a handful of rooms with several massage beds on the beach that get the job done. However, the services are overpriced.
The business center features four PCs and is open throughout the day. The lobby and main area is Wi-Fi accessible -- guests can purchase a one-day pass from the front desk.
There may not be water slides in the pool, but the Iberostar is a great resort for kids. The biggest draw is the beach, which has much calmer waters than most of the D.R., so parents don’t need to worry about aggressive waves or currents.
At Lucy's Kids Club, open daily, the counselors speak decent English. The club accepts children as young as 5, and teens ages 13 to 16 are also welcome during the high-season from July 1 to Sept. 15. But unlike the Grand Palladium in Punta Cana, there are no separate facilities for older kids. The club is fairly small, but has a huge jungle gym, a very shallow kids pool, a game room with foosball, mini-pool and ping pong tables, and even a nap room (though the counselors say this room is never used). Activities include a "fun dance," free throw contest, volleyball, and a nightly “mini-disco."
The buffet is packed with plenty of kid-friendly options like vats of French fries, pizza, and burgers, and there are also plenty of bite-size pieces of fruit to sneak on their plates. High chairs are available at all the restaurants.
The resort is over 10 years old, so some of the infrastructure is starting to show signs of wear. A few tiles are missing on the pool’s walls, and there’s a bit of grime in the grout. However, the lobby area looks newly renovated. The upholstery is immaculate and the ashtrays, which tend to pile up with cigarette butts and other nastiness at many all-inclusives, are routinely cleaned. Likewise, rooms are perfectly clean, despite the maintenance issues.
Somewhat related to cleanliness, several people slip on the slick tiles inside the lobby as well as the walkways around the pool. Staff mops regularly, but even the faintest drips can bring the steady-footed to the ground.
The omelet, pasta (three different kinds of sauces and pastas, plus an assortment of toppings), and fruit (pineapple, watermelon, papaya, mango, among others) stations are consistently high quality at El Ingenio, the main buffet. The bread selection is superior, with more than 10 different kinds to choose from, including a few whole-grain choices. In the morning, there's a fresh juice bar (though the orange drink is definitely concentrate). There’s even a high-quality (and well-covered) cheese selection during dinner with cheddar, blue and Gouda.
But El Ingenio is half the size at Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus than it is at Iberostar Dominicana in Punta Cana. The limited options especially show at lunch, when carrots, cabbage, and beets are all there is at the salad bar.
For kids, lunch and dinner both feature a selection of delicious pizzas (wood-fire oven!), a selection of antipasto salads, and the usual burgers and fries.
There are four à la carte restaurants, including La Hacienda (Spanish), La Goleta (steakhouse), El Colonial (French), and La Geisha (Japanese), where they cook your food in front of you Benihana-style. They have the same menus as the other Iberostar resorts the world over. Quality ranges from bad to good, never great.
Located on the D.R.’s softest and calmest stretch of beach, the highly active Iberostar Hacienda Dominicus is a pretty solid family option -- three clean pools, attentive service, and excellent scuba diving (though for a cost). But because the rooms are dated and poorly maintained, and the food is only good (not great), the newly renovated Dreams La Romana is a better option for the same price.