Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
The overall vibe is very friendly and relaxed, and the mixed crowd adores the pool, but there is a little anti-American sentiment.
Located inside the Playa Dorada complex, a gated mini-tourist city, the Gran Vantana is a bit cut off from the rest of the D.R. But compared with other all-inclusives in the complex, Gran Ventana exudes the friendliest vibe. It’s a relaxed mix of families, older couples, and young groups. At all hours, the bright, breezy lobby is filled with guests hanging out in comfy chairs playing cards or simply relaxing by the small fountain. There are quiet reading areas in the hallways and raging Ping-Pong games in the kids' sections.
The pool area is extremely crowded -- I saw deeper tans and redder sunburns than at any other resort in our travels. Yet at meals there are paler, older couples and 20-somethings interested in exploring the areas outside the resort (a rarity in the resort-focused Dominican Republic).
But Americans might encounter some international hostility. One night, while a live merengue band played, the lead singer decided to warm up the crowd with shout-outs. "Who here is from my hometown of Toronto?" Loud cheers throughout the theater."Quebec?" More cheers, slightly softer. "Who here is from Scotland?!" The cheers thinned out, but at least 10 people were still clapping. "And do we have anyone from the U.S.A.?" As we exhaled an excited ‘’woo!’’ boos were coming from around the room. No one else was clapping, save the uniformed Dominican entertainment staffer.
In the Playa Dorada gated complex, a 15-minute cab ride from 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 main street at all hours. It’s extremely safe and fine for walking 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 top of the luxury end to a plethora of budget all-inclusives and time-shares geared toward families and young partiers, like Viva Wyndham, Grand Paradise, and (at the bottom of the list) 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 couple of 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.
The beach is large, clean, and popular with snorkelers, but it's a bit crowded.
Gran Ventana seems to have one of the largest beaches of all the resorts in Playa Dorada, though it's also fairly crowded. It shares the space with its sister property, the Victoria Golf Resort. However, most guests were quite pleased with it, particularly its cleanliness as compared with other resorts' beaches. There are a lot of topless bathers, and the shallow, calm water (it's protected by a reef) is popular with snorkelers.
Overall, the standard rooms are clean and bright enough, but nothing spectacular. The orange-striped walls might take color a little too far for some. The embroidered bedspreads, though, as well as the modern marble bathroom and peaceful, quiet balcony are pros. The tube television, though it does get HBO and Cinemax, is not. Other rooms have more up-to-date flat-screens (the hotel is steadily upgrading).
The resort is split among three buildings, the Catalina, Saona, and Beata. It's worth requesting a room in the Beata building. Not only was it more spacious, but it also featured a much newer television. Rooms in the Beata building are also much quieter, but they’re farther from the beach and the main dining area.
In all rooms, the marble bathrooms are clean and modern. However, the toilet runs for about five minutes after each flush. The shower also clogs a little, but eventually it always seems to drain.
The main pool is always crowded. It features a zero-entry shallow end for kids (though there was also a separate kiddie pool). Its clover shape also allows for a volleyball net and a busy swim-up bar. An afternoon water aerobics class fills up the entire shallow end at one point.
The resort also has a quiet pool located at the center of the Beata building. Though boring and rectangular, the pool was blissfully silent.
One of the resort's most unusual features is the free bicycle rentals. Guests can easily cruise around the safe Playa Dorada complex, which also includes great bars, shopping, casinos, and restaurants.
To that end, there is a clay tennis court adjacent to the parking lot. Use of the court and racquets is complimentary and only requires that reservations be made in advance. A friendly pro is also on hand.
Just off the lobby is a little row of shops, including a convenience store, souvenir shop, and hair salon. There’s a tour desk around the corner, where reps organized excursions for all the guests staying at the hotel. You can book a sightseeing trip around Puerto Plata through the tour desk. For the price of a single round-trip cab ride, you get transportation and admission to five different area sights.
Wi-Fi is available, for a fee.
Family-friendly entertainment is popular, but guests must go off-site to find a club.
Evening entertainment is very popular and family-friendly. The open-air theater is packed nightly for different shows, including magic shows and live music. Even the 20-something guys found both a lot of fun. The musicians are talented and their music is danceable, like a really good wedding band. But the playlist includes more American hits and reggae tunes than Dominican merengue and bachata. Nonetheless, the dance floor is consistently packed. It’s worth noting that the audience was primarily Canadian. Like every other resort, they also had a "Michael Jackson" show.
Gran Ventana does not have a disco, so guests have to party at clubs like Coco Bongo, just around the corner. But that does mean it's quieter for guests who are trying to sleep.
Gran Ventana is a great place for families, featuring a kids' club for ages 4 through 12. The main pool has a zero-entry shallow end, and there’s also a separate kids' pool. The gated Playa Dorada complex (with 14 other resorts) is very safe, and includes its own medical center. Before the nightly performances, the resort often shows kids' movies on a projector screen in the theater.
Exceptional housekeeping is fast and thorough.
There are no complaints about the hotel's cleanliness. The common areas and the rooms achieved a good balance of clean and comfortable. Nothing reeked of ammonia, but the resort never felt musty.
Rooms are made up each morning -- a pleasant surprise since most resorts don’t clean the rooms until after 3 p.m.
Good buffet breakfasts, plus three a la carte restaurants with rigid reservation policies.
The buffet restaurant, like many in the D.R., is underwhelming. Las Almejas. offers the ubiquitous pasta selection, a winner because the meats and salad bar are less than appetizing. The ice cream bar (including toppings) is quite popular, though the other desserts looked kind of picked over. Lunch is also offered by the beach at the Beach Club Snack Bar, with standard burgers, fries, and chips and salsa. The best meal at the buffet was breakfast. Highlights include a fresh waffle station and made-to-order smoothies.
The resort has three a la carte restaurants, Octopus (Caribbean), Ocean Grill (seafood and grilled meats), and Sapore di Mare (Italian). It's a tough time securing reservations at the restaurants due to their popularity. In fact, guests are only allowed to dine at each restaurant once per week.
Cheap liquor, Brugal rum, and Presidente beer are available. Bottles of wine at the restaurants cost extra.
For the most part, the resort uses "Classic" brand liquor -- i.e., cheap well drinks -- at its four bars. The only exception to this is higher-quality rum, the national brand Brugal, and the top Dominican beer, Presidente. Other top-shelf liquors are rare. At the a la carte restaurants, a fairly extensive wine list is available, though bottles cost extra. Finally, every bar includes a frozen juice dispenser for making sickly sweet daiquiris, margaritas, and piña coladas.
Located inside the Playa Dorada resort complex, a safe, mini-tourist city, the Gran Vantana is a relaxed, uncommonly friendly resort with clean rooms, excellent service, and a large though slightly crowded beach. Features like free bikes, a zero-entry pool, a kids’ club, and animated movie screenings make it great for families.