Grand Paradise Samana Rating: 2.5 Pearls

The resort's two pools -- one on each end of the property -- are great for kids. Guests can partake in a free half-hour of aerobics and scuba diving lessons.

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Best Value Hotels in the Dominican Republic (30 of 30)

 The resort's two pools -- one on each end of the property -- are great for kids. Guests can partake in a free half-hour of aerobics and scuba diving lessons.
For a massive, hyper-indulgent, all-inclusive mega-resort, the Iberostar Costa Dorada is among the best in Puerto Plata -- great buffets, activities, entertainment, liquor, and service. Sure, there's no gym, and the giant pool can get a little chilly. But to the many guests who come back every year, those are just petty details. It's also cheaper to reach Puerto Plata than La Romana or Punta Cana; flights to the Puerto Plata airport tend to cost less, and the 25-min taxi ride from the airport averages $35. Big and booming, the pool features water-aerobics classes that children will adore. With recognizable liquor like Jim Beam, J&B, Tanqueray, and Stoli available, the bar at the Iberostar is a cut above most resorts in the Caribbean, and helps attract the resort's party-hearty crowd. The bartenders know their stuff, and most guests befriend their favorite barman. Throughout the day and during dinner, the resort also has live music performances. Caballero-style performers wear cowboy hats and play solid acoustic renditions of local hits, along with the occasional "Macarena." At the theater, a live band plays more lively cover songs, drawing crowds to practice their salsa moves (no doubt picked up during the daily dance lessons). For an all-inclusive resort, the food is about as good as it gets. A buffet is almost always available, and there are also three restaurants -- Brazilian, Mexican, and seafood -- to choose from for dinner. On Sundays the resort holds outdoor barbecues. Food at Viva Wyndham is head and shoulders above the quality found at most D.R. resorts, with a phenomenal selection of dishes made fresh whenever possible -- from the donuts fried every morning to the just-grilled fish to the from-scratch pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven. Food at Viva Wyndham is head and shoulders above the quality found at most D.R. resorts, with a phenomenal selection of dishes made fresh whenever possible -- from the donuts fried every morning to the just-grilled fish to the from-scratch pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven. Food at Viva Wyndham is head and shoulders above the quality found at most D.R. resorts, with a phenomenal selection of dishes made fresh whenever possible -- from the donuts fried every morning to the just-grilled fish to the from-scratch pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven. Food at Viva Wyndham is head and shoulders above the quality found at most D.R. resorts, with a phenomenal selection of dishes made fresh whenever possible -- from the donuts fried every morning to the just-grilled fish to the from-scratch pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven. Food at Viva Wyndham is head and shoulders above the quality found at most D.R. resorts, with a phenomenal selection of dishes made fresh whenever possible -- from the donuts fried every morning to the just-grilled fish to the from-scratch pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven. Offering eco-friendly bungalows in a lush, friendly setting, Natura Cabanas is a taste of serene, northern-coast luxury for a remarkably fair price. Guests enjoy delicious, fresh food, a clean, crowd-free private beach, daily yoga and Pilates classes, and a fabulous spa. It's quiet -- and a bit rustic without TV or AC in the rooms -- but that's the point. With no crowds, plenty of chairs, clear water, and soft sand, this is the best beach on the north coast. The resort's 11 spacious, eco-friendly bungalows are full of rustic charm, with stone walls, thatched roofs, and large porches with a hammock or swing. Guests find the amazing stone bathrooms strewn with flower petals upon arrival. Fresh fruit crepe topped with chocolate sauce at Natura Restaurant. The resort's two beachside restaurants serve fresh food that is a big step up from the D.R.'s many awful all-inclusive buffets. Located in the safe, touristy mini-city of Playa Dorada, this family-friendly all-inclusive resort has an excellent buffet, some of the newest, cleanest rooms in the D.R., and one of the best beaches on the north coast. It's an incredible bargain, if you ignore the cheap booze, the lingering service kinks, and a pool that's less awe-inspiring than others. Grand Paradise has a larger, more open beachfront than any other resort in Playa Dorada -- and it has stunning views of Mount Isabel de Torres to boot. The large, stylish disco is conveniently located across the hall from a bar area. The fresh and varied Hibiscus Buffet has made-to-order omelets, freshly baked bread, and rib-eye steaks to order. An 877-room all-inclusive, the Occidental draws mostly young families with its massive, lagoon-shaped pool (one of Punta Cana's best), as well as its popular beachside activities, lively entertainment, many restaurants, and all-night pizzeria. Reasonably priced, this all-inclusive has bang for the buck! Very pretty rooms come with decent balconies, fluffy bathrobes, flat-screen TVs and comfortable beds. The broad white-sand beach is packed with activities, from dance aerobics to volleyball. Costumed staffers regale the crowd with dance routines at the resort's large theater. The playful waiters at the pizzeria serve up fresh slices all night long. Modern rooms (half of them renovated in late 2008 with marble, Jacuzzi-equipped bathrooms) amp up this otherwise ho-hum all-inclusive. An enormous pool, a nice spa, name-brand liquor, and reservation-free restaurants are the property's other perks, but the crowded, less pristine beach isn't ideal, and the buffet and entertainment are mediocre. Still, for Puerto Plata, it's a great value. The large zero-entry pool is like a village unto itself, with bridges, waterfalls, and a separate volleyball area. The resort's liquor selection is impressive for a midrange all-inclusive, and includes name brands like Stoli, Absolut, Johnnie Walker Red, Tanqueray gin, and Dewar's scotch. Because the Grand Paradise Samana is located on one of the D.R.'s best beaches, the 2.5-hour, $95 taxi from the closest airport is well worth it. But the bungalows and guest rooms are extremely worn and dingy, and the resort lacks luxe features like a gym or spa. Still, with a quality buffet and, again, a spectacular beach, most guests don't ask for more. The El Aserradero buffet serves some outstanding items, including fresh potatoes and juicy chicken. The resort's two pools -- one on each end of the property -- are great for kids. Guests can partake in a free half-hour of aerobics and scuba diving lessons.
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