No disco and less exciting entertainment than most resorts
No in-room Internet
Not actually eco-friendly -- air conditioners galore!
Built like a giant wooden hunting lodge, the 510-room Natura Park isn't actually the eco-friendly resort it claims to be. But with lush gardens and rampant wildlife, it's one of the D.R.'s most exotic-feeling mega-resorts. A lagoon-shaped pool, great buffets, and a spa means you're not exactly camping, but the rock-hard beds might make you feel like you are.
Families and elderly couples from Canada and Europe looking to get away from it all.
Part of the Blau Hotel chain, the 510-room Natura Park bills itself as an eco-resort ... but it isn't really. There's no LEED certification -- the standard for judging a building's eco-freindliness -- and having an air conditioner in every room is hardly helping the environment. But the main building, built like an oversize hunting lodge, certainly blends in with the surrounding flora and fauna much better than the cement-and-mortar competition. The lobby is particularly breathtaking, with long wooden beams crisscrossing in geometric patterns all the way up to a vaulted ceiling.
When Natura Park claims to be eco-friendly, what it really means is that the resort doesn't struggle to keep nature at bay. With storks, flamingos, and other birds scampering around the lush, thickly vegetated property, it's a far cry from most mega-resorts. But party animals might be disappointed. Out by the pool and the beach, there's a lot of lolling about in the sun and maybe a few rounds of volleyball, but that's it. The karaoke and couples nights at Cohaba Bar can get pretty repetitive, though the Michael Jackson night is supposedly amazing. (What is it with all these D.R. hotels and the Michael Jackson impressions?)
Families with children and middle-aged to elderly couples make up the bulk of the guests, though (Canadian) spring break brings an influx of heavy-drinking college kids.
Awfully remote, with the closest entertainment options 20 minutes away.
At the far end of a long strip of resorts, Natura Park is the most isolated as it is surrounded by an especially dense swath of forest. There's nothing on the other side of the road, and the closest market is 15 to 20 minutes away.
Some former guests on TripAdvisor mentioned that there's a free shuttle to a club inside a cave called Imagine. The upscale Palma Real shopping village, next to the only slightly pricier (but significantly posher) Melia Caribe Tropical resort, is a 20-minute taxi from Natura Park. Featuring designer shops, the Hard Rock Café, and various other dining alternatives (all of which come at pricey, international rates), the shopping complex can be a well-needed break from the buffet and on-site karaoke nights.
Long, broad, and teeming with people as well as activities.
The white sand beach is broad and powdery, as is the norm for resorts in Punta Cana, with clear water and gentle waves. The beach here is unusually packed with youngsters, couples, and grandparents. That said, there's enough space on the broad beach (well, just about) to be able to snag a lounge chair. And while it isn't exactly noisy, there are enough people to be distracting -- if you're looking to read a book in solitude, this is not the place. On the other hand, there are plenty of opportunities for people watching, and even the shyest teenager can get roped into a volleyball game with the amiable staff.
Kayak, catamaran, and scuba enthusiasts can head over to the watersports and dive center at the far end of the beach to get their fix.
The beds are pretty stiff, but the relaxing mood and luxurious bathrooms make up for it.
Natura Park's 510 guest rooms are grouped into 12 three-story square buildings. While each of these buildings has elevators, there's no easy way for anyone in a wheelchair to get there from the lobby through the resort's garden paths.
There's only one type of room, though you can choose whether you want one king bed or two doubles. All rooms have balconies (though the view cannot be guaranteed), and some have pull-out sofas (at no extra charge, but make sure to request them in advance).
Room are large and airy, with warm wood panels running the length of the wall. With safari-esque plainness, it wasn't filled with luxe goodies but was certainly relaxing. The bed is especially firm -- it's basically an already hard mattress on a platform without a box spring.
The large bathrooms feel kind of like a Japanese spa, with their wooden shutters and sliding, translucent screens. The sink and shower worked perfectly, though some guests complained that faulty stoppers kept the tub from filling up. There's a separate room for the toilet at the far end, which also has a frosted-glass window for ventilation ... and a view, perhaps.
For features, the rooms come with only a tube TV (the hotel is in the process of upgrading to flat screens) and a small mini-bar with a bottle of Pepsi, a bottle of 7 Up, and two bottles of Bohemia Especial (a local brew). And that's about it. There's no Internet, so guests will have to check e-mail on the lobby computers.
Since this is an eco-resort, Natura Park tries to control guests' use of electricity with this nifty contraption. It looks like a card reader, but you have to slip the brass fob of your keychain into the slot in order to turn on the room's master switch. Basically, it keeps guests from leaving all the lights on in their rooms while they're away. Pretty neat, but you might have to fiddle around with the keychain a bit, and it means you're not able to run the air conditioner while you're out of the room all day (but that's kinda the point).
A mixed bag, with a raucous pool and abundant game room but lousy Internet service. The outdoors trails are the real selling point.
After the beach, the large, lagoon-shaped pool gets the most attention -- about the size of the pool at the Bavaro Princess but much more active. On the pool's deck, there's dance classes and other fun (and noisy) activities held throughout the day. In the water itself is a cocktail of water polo players, kids in flippers, rowdy teens, and casual floaters. There's also a swim-up bar, a perennial favorite at any resort. But if you just want to lounge in the sun, get to the pool early and reserve a seat. Otherwise, lounge chairs are hard to come by.
If you need to shadow that sunburn, head to the reading room or the game room perched right over the lobby. The reading room definitely has a lot of places to sit, but the collection of magazines and mystery thrillers is small enough to fit on top of this one small table. The game room has a lot more to offer, with table tennis, chess, and board games galore.
There's no Wi-Fi or wired Internet in any of the rooms, so guests have to buy a pass at the Internet Center to go online. But the facility closes in the evening and only has a few computers, which are invariably filled, so give yourself enough time.
The popular Metamorphosis Spa -- part of a chain that operates a much larger facility at the Princess Bavaro -- is right by the lobby. Apart from its various treatment rooms, the spa also contains a small gym with a fairly up-to-date spread of cardio and weight-training equipment.
But really, what's the point of being at an eco-resort if you're not taking in the surroundings? Natura Park's serpentine paths wind their way through a lush, tropical garden with more birds and fish than at even some of the larger resorts. Being so used to humans, the birds were completely unfazed by guests' presences, which meant that you could get really close. Be careful, though! A couple of guests mentioned being chased by some ill-tempered geese!
Like most resorts in the Dominican Republic, it has a small medical center in the main building. It doesn't seem well stocked, however, since the attendant responded with a dismissive shrug when asked if she had Cipro -- a fairly common drug for stomach upsets. "You can find it at the pharmacy," she said. Where was the pharmacy? "I don't know," she said, motioning vaguely. "Somewhere in town."
Last but not least, Natura Park has a large, well-stocked convenience store with a range of brand-name toiletries, cigars, handicrafts, and even some local designer duds. But be ready for the markup!
The themed nights can wear thin pretty quick, and there's really nothing else to do.
Evening entertainment is limited to the Cohaba Bar, which hosts a series of themed nights -- couples dance, Michael Jackson, karaoke -- throughout the week. But after the initial thrill, several guests said the entertainment became boring and repetitive, occassionally comparing it to "Groundhog Day." There's no disco, or anything to do late at night.
Kids seem to love the pool, and there are also good dining options and a passable kids' club.
There were plenty of families with young children, and the lagoon-shaped pool seemed to be their favorite hangout. Inflatable tires and flippers are available for purchase in the on-site store, and there's plenty of space to splash in the shallow end. Rooms are also large enough to fit a crib or a rollaway bed (both are complimentary). But with a maximum occupancy of four people per room, larger families will have to book more than one room.
There's a kids' club for 2- to 12-year-olds where children can color and play with toys in an air-conditioned, supervised lounge. Baby-sitting services are also available at an hourly rate.
The pool has a special shallow section just for kids.
No complaints at all, thanks to the hardworking crew.
What with the birds, the plants, the beach, and the pool, Natura Park could have quickly fallen apart if not for the diligent cleaning crew that seen sweeping and mopping up after guests at all times of the day. No sign of dirt anywhere in the rooms or in any of the common areas.
Decent buffet in terms of both quantity and quality, but the three a la cartes are hit-or-miss.
La Cana, the resort's buffet restaurant, is open most hours of the day -- a welcome change from other hotels where one cannot find any food for hours between meals. Spanning three rooms, the buffet spread is pretty impressive and includes a huge dessert table. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables for healthy eating and enough variety to satisfy picky eaters. Since many stomach upsets are caused by food lying out for too long, it was pleasant to find that you could get omelets and pasta made to order at several counters around the buffet.
Tables have to be reserved in advance at Natura Park's three a la carte restaurants, all of which are open for dinner. The steak house, Media Luna, is an overwhelming favorite. Still, it's an all-inclusive, so expectations need to be adjusted. While the ribeye might be good, the tenderloin might be too fatty.
La Perla, the seafood restaurant by the pool, comes in second place, but guests have noted that the lobster isn't always available, regardless of the menu. And note that this is Caribbean lobster, which doesn't really rival the giant-tailed specimens found up in Maine.
La Gondola, the resort's Italian restaurant, comes in third, but several guests liked it nevertheless. One Italian guest, however, wasn't buying it. "This," he sniffed, "is not Italian cooking."
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