Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Settling into the bustling, 708-room Ocean Blue & Sand is quite like stepping into a maze. After visiting the front desk to receive their pastel-colored guest bracelet, guests are directed to the concierge, who then talks them through the entire map of the resort, detailed explanations of the meal plan, and information about resort activities. All of which is stated on handy brochures in plain English. After the initial rigmarole, guests are taken to their rooms by bellboys and given a brief tour (minibar, TV, AC: check!). Guests will soon discover that they're right next to the excitement (and clamor) of the daytime pool activities but far from the excitement (and clamor) of the night action -- or vice versa.
Rooms are romantic -- red roses are left on the edge of each bathroom's Jacuzzi -- but the general vibe of the hotel isn't overwhelmingly honeymoon- or couples-oriented. The quiet Spanish couple lounges on the beach next to the multigenerational family of eight from New Jersey; guests of all ages and relations speak several languages and come for all kinds of vacations, so despite the option of a honeymoon suite, this is far from the sophisticated romance of an adults-only place like Catalonia Royal Bavaro.
Ocean Blue & Sand Resort is technically in Bavaro, an area commonly associated with the entire Punta Cana peninsula. It is home to a smattering of restaurants and nightclubs, mostly in and around the town of Friusa, that offer locals and tourists a little life outside the resorts.
Located on Bavaro Beach, the Ocean Blue's beach generally sees much stronger waves and has a steeper drop-off than other resorts futher south in Punta Cana. Seaweed might appear occasionally after a storm or due to strong winds. Still, the beach is undeniably spectacular and ranks among the best in the D.R.
Despite the serene natural setting, the beach is super-crowded, like at most all-inclusives in the area. Guests walk up and down the long stretch of sand in massive herds. The smell of Banana Boat and fresh ocean breeze mingles in the air as 50 Cent's "In Da Club" and Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" erupts over the sound of waves. Toward the edges of the beach, it mellows a bit, but around the chairs and center of the beach, the crowds and music dominate.
A few palms sway in the wind, but there is no real shade from the strong Dominican sun. Vacationers plunked their belongings on the limited number of palapas and beach chairs as relays of friends and family went on drink runs to the beach bar.
Large sunny rooms, renovated in 2012, feature simple decor, and spacious balconies making these rooms a bit of a step up from most all-inclusives. Marble and Jacuzzi-outfitted bathrooms give a tinge of romance.
Most of the rooms are here junior suites, with a limited number of junior deluxe suites and honeymoon suites available. The junior suites are spacious and have a romantic appeal: Bathrooms have large Jacuzzis, with red roses left on the edge to greet guests.
All rooms were renovated in 2012, nixing the bland tans and corals for a lilac, navy, and off-white color scheme and dark wood furniture. Rooms feel clean and brighter and, while not all junior suites still feature a canopy bed, the new look is cheerful and refreshing if not romantic. The mattresses are still thick and comfortable. No pillow-top bedding or down comforter, but for a massive all-inclusive in this price range, the beds are above par.
The spacious, marble bathroom contains a Jacuzzi tub, a stand-up shower, and twin sinks. Though the Jacuzzi is not open to the rest of the room, there is a window between the bathroom and bedroom, with blinds that can be closed from outside the bathroom. A full "Ocean" hotel brand toiletry set is provided, including a comb, sewing kit, and shaving kit, which is a lot more than most all-inclusives provide.
Junior suites have balconies that are just big enough to fit a pair of wicker chairs and small table. They're all pretty exposed, though, so they don't feel private or romantic. Noise can be an issue in some rooms, but it all depends on which building you're assigned and which direction the room faces.
Cans of Presidente beer (the national brand), Pepsi, Sprite, and bottled (potable) water, all free, are included in the minibar. There is also a coffee pot and all the necessary accoutrements, as well as a telephone, safe (free of charge), ironing board and iron, and umbrella. All rooms have now upgraded to a flat-screen TVs.
Room service is available throughout the day.
Two large, clean pools are the heartbeat of this resort -- families and couples intermingle seamlessly, although finding a lounge chair can be difficult. Clusters of bikini-clad moms gather around the resort's parrot, monkey, or iguana for photo ops, and young girls excitedly line up at the henna and hair braid stations. A swim-up bar and regular poolside bar serve free-flowing cocktails and Presidente beer. Despite the pool's buzzing atmosphere, some guests dodge the super-noisy areas and flip through resort reads at a relatively quiet (and not crowded) end of the pool.
Active vacationers will be pleased with the extensive fitness and activity facilities here. A relatively new and well-equipped gym and water-sports center are free for guests, as are the tennis courts and rock climbing wall. Guests also receive a free pass for their first visit to the bowling alley; the only other resort in the D.R. with a bowling alley is NH Real Arena.
Despacio Spa offers a full menu of services and quiet, dim rooms slightly removed from the loud pool and beach scenes. A few massage huts also offer beachfront services, but outdated pop hits blaring over the beach aren't likely to make for a soothing environment.
The Dominican staff leads activities throughout the day and puts on an enthusiastic if somewhat cheesy nightly show in the resort's theater. A full schedule of daily activities like Spanish lessons, volleyball, and poolside dance classes is led by the friendly, flirty Dominican staff. Night shows include lip-synched dance performances that imitate American pop concerts, albeit with a Dominican one-two step.
Wi-Fi is available throughout the resort, charged per day. Access codes are available at the business center, which also offers access on its own computers and printing services. It's located in a small complex near the lobby that also houses a few shops stocked with drugstore essentials and souvenirs.
Shuttles circulate the property to move guests from one end to the other -- a great perk for tired families. They do come infrequently, so it's not necessarily a faster way to move around the resort than walking, just an easier one.
There's a large Kids Club and a teen club based in Strike Bowling alley, plenty of activities to occupy children -- but unlike Holiday Village, this place hardly feels like Disneyland.
This resort is well suited for families, but there's no overwhelming cartoon décor or completely family-oriented entertainment.
A large Kids Club offers staff-led activities for children as well as its own play area. The beach has several kid-friendly activities. The hotel also offers a teen club (available for teens 13 to 17) in the Strike bowling alley, where older children can play video games, watch movies and receive non-alcoholic drinks and snacks from the bar.
Cribs are available free of charge, and guests can request rooms with double beds to accommodate larger families. The resort can be loud near the pool and theater, so families who require quiet should ask for rooms away from these areas.
Though there are plenty of kid-friendly dining options like burgers, fries, and pasta, there is no separate "kids' corner" of the buffet. The a la carte restaurants may be slightly more difficult for children to dine at, given the set menus.
In the rooms, bugs and lizards occassionaly reared their heads (like at any resort), but thanks to a renovation in 2012 other issues are minor, often signs of the local climate. This property is otherwise kept very clean.
Dining rooms are clear of lingering dirty dishes or empty cups, and groundskeepers scrubbed and hosed the pathways each morning. Despite being crowded with guests throughout the day, the pool and beach were kept very tidy.
The food selection here is large, and while the quality doesn't blow guests away, it is better than other resorts in this price range. Better dining option can be found at places like Majestic Colonial or Dreams Punta Cana.
The hotel's buffet restaurants, Restaurant El Carey and La Tortuga, serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The two names account for two separate dining rooms that share a common buffet serving area. Choices were extensive at all meals, with at least two or three cooking stations preparing (somewhat) fresh options like freshly griddled pancakes, grilled meats, pastas, churros, and hot chocolate. Though the food is good, the lack of music and light in the dining areas themselves make them a little drearier than most Caribbean resorts.
Come nighttime, there's an impressive lineup of a la carte restaurants with neon-lit signs and heavily themed decor. La Casa de Mi Abuela (Dominican), Route 66 (American), Margarita (Mexican), I Mascherati Di Venezia (Italian), El Bodegon (Spanish tapas), Mike's Coffee & Tea, and Caribbean restaurant La Brasa Daiquiri Lounge are conveniently located next to one another, just behind the lobby, making it easy to compare menus and forgo the wait if a restaurant is busy. Bucanero also serves snacks by the beach.
The downside of this conveniently clumped batch of restaurants is that they all seem to share the same kitchen. Lasagna at I Mascherati Di Venezia tastes (and looks) like nachos: taco meat and orange and white cheeses piled between scarce noodles. Our "minestrone" tasted like phooey. The biggest difference between our dishes and those at the buffet was the long wait for a table and a smattering of parsley on the edge of our plates.
The only a la carte restaurants that require reservations are El Bodegon's "Master Chef" dining and Bucanero's seafood on the beach, which also charge for their meals beyond the all-inclusive package cost. I Mascherati Di Venezia and La Casa de Mi Abuela require men to wear long pants and actually take the dress code quite seriously.
Mike's Coffee & Tea, a sort of mock Starbucks, is an especially popular spot throughout the day. Coffee, tea, and mini-frappucino-esque blended drinks are nice nonalcoholic options. Cookies and pastries are also available to satisfy a sweet tooth throughout the afternoon.
Name-brand liquor at no extra charge, and Presidente beer throughout the property.
Along with the generic-brand cocktails, the resort serves name-brand liquor like Jose Cuervo and Jack Daniels at the 10 bars throughout the property. All drinks, no matter the brand, are included in the all-inclusive package, but you have to request the better booze. Strong drinks and good Dominican Presidente beer on tap keeps most guests happy. As is typical of all-inclusive resorts, though, the plastic cups are very small. Seasoned guests bring their own large plastic mugs to save the trouble of frequent trips to the bar.
Drawing as many couples as families, the 708-room Ocean Blue boasts a pristine beach, big pools, and decent food. It's packed with activities -- even bowling -- and all for a fair price. Plus, all rooms were renovated in 2012.
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