- Well-manicured grounds
- Wi-Fi everywhere for $10/day
- 30-minute taxi ride from Santo Domingo airport
Tourists and Spanish-speaking locals crowd around the lively but noisy pool at this poorly maintained budget resort.
The cheap rates draw as many locals as tourists, but the heavy local mix means that Spanish is the primary language spoken here. Evening entertainment is primarily in Spanish and instructions for organized activities are too. Translation: English is hard to come by.
The rooms and the beach, which is littered with cigarette butts, are among the worst in the D.R., but the grounds and building generally look spiffy. However, the supercheap rates are best evidenced by the filthy, ant-ridden food that tastes like it was cooked in a septic tank. (Multiple guests have reported getting sick from the "cuisine.")
Still, it’s a lively resort, and some guests manage to have a good time. In the small, square pool near the beach, groups of women participate in water aerobics, doing jumping jacks to pop hits from the '80s and '90s, including the Caribbean favorite “Who Let the Dogs Out”. The same tunes can be heard in certain sections of the cigarette-littered beach, where guests play a quiet round of bocce ball, but not in the designated "quiet" pool where children have a ball cruising down the waterslide.
Throughout the day, the entertainment staff arranges various activities, like poolside obstacle courses. This involves sprinting around the pool, running up a set of stairs covered in a wet towel, doing 10 jumping jacks at the top of the stairs, diving into a shallow pool, swimming across, hopping out of the pool to run in place for 10 high steps, jumping into another shallow pool without belly flopping, and getting out and finishing the circuit with 10 push-ups. Fastest guy who doesn’t split his head open wins.
For just a bit more (even closer to Santo Domingo), visitors should check out the Oasis Hamaca, which has significantly cleaner rooms, infinitely better food, and a much cleaner beach.
Barcelo Capella is a 30-minute taxi ride from Santo Domingo airport. It's in Juan Dolio, a small beach town.
There are a few restaurants in town, including three Italian places and a couple of espresso bars, which are a much-needed change from the Barcelo's super-cheap grub.
Unlike the white, powdery Bavaro Beach that seems to stretch on forever in Punta Cana, the Barcelo's beach has hints of turquoise, but is littered with cigarette butts, juice cartons, plastic cups, and bottles of water. There's also seaweed at the waterline and the sand is pockmarked with lots of crushed shells that hurt bare feet.
On the plus side, parents can appreciate the very calm water, thanks to a protective reef.
There's no drink service on the beach, but there are plenty of lounge chairs to go around (very few with umbrellas, though).
The souvenir peddlers get especially annoying here -- at times more so than in Punta Cana. A pseudo-chef, for example, tends to visit the beach -- with buckets of raw chicken, a jar of salsa, and an old bleach can stuffed with utensils-- hoping to sell tourists on an impromptu lunch. One guest reported being offered pot.
There are two pools on the property, but both are incredibly small by Dominican all-inclusive standards. The main pool, adjacent to the main buffet, has a small waterfall and swim-up bar. The other pool is at the back of the property and has a water slide that some local schoolchildren loved. Strangely, this pool is supposed to be the "quiet" pool.
There’s a small, unused fitness center that contains two old treadmills, one elliptical, and a set of weights. The fluorescent lighting is bad, but the lack of air-conditioning is far worse. Outside the gym, there’s a fairly popular pool table.
There is a designated sports center -- though that term is definitely used loosely here. It has two volleyball courts, a basketball court, and a seemingly abandoned minigolf course lined with splintered benches.
There's also a spa on the property that offers basic services like manicures, pedicures, and massages, but not many guests seem to use the facilities.
Fortunately, there is Wi-Fi access throughout the property, and a 24-hour pass is decenly priced (compared to the price-gouging rates at some of the other resorts). There are two computers for guests to use (for a per hour charge), but be careful where you put your fingers -- we saw a peacock perched on one of the keyboards.
The nightly entertainment is above average -- quality live merengue bands and popular (though maybe a bit overeroticized) dance ensembles are the norm. However, the evening’s master of ceremonies speaks only in Spanish.
There’s a small kids' clubhouse without air conditioning; it has a kids' pool, but no kids are to be found there. (The only person is a staff member watching an old TV mounted on the wall.) There are some games on the shelves, an old foosball table, a few deflated balloons hanging from the walls, and several dirty tables – but this is not a lively place.
The beach, while not the cleanest, is calm thanks to a rocky reef located a few hundred feet from shore. However, the beaches in Bayahibe are equally calm -- and cleaner -- but more than an hour away.
The lawns are clean and well-cared for, but that's about it.
Rows of tiny ants crawl along the baseboards of rooms, around the sink in the bathroom, and even inside the beds. The inside of the toilets need a serious scrubbing and disinfecting, as did the grout in the shower.
As a result of a broken air conditioner, dampness in the room can make it feel even dirtier than it looked. Between the moldy lampshades, the brown-tinged bath towels, and the smell of cigarette smoke drifting up to the balcony, it's worth it to spend as much time as necessary outside of the rooms.
The bathroom adjacent to the main buffet smelled of dirty diapers, and some surface-level investigating turned up just that. On the other side of the resort, one of the public bathrooms was overflowing with toilet paper, some clogging the toilet, some soggy and draped over the toilet seat. Neither of the bathrooms is ventilated, so that smell just lingers.
This is to say nothing of the cigarette butts and washed-up juice cartons littering the beach, or the clumped seaweed around the waterline. Or the two ants that crawled up my plate and into my pineapple at the main buffet.
The Barcelo resorts have worse food than any other Dominican resort, and the food here is no different -- as every guest agrees. Common complaints include: "Same thing every day," "poor food," and "nothing's ever hot." Guests at the El Batey buffet subsist largely on fruit, which includes a decent selection of pineapple, papaya, mango, guanabana, oranges, and grapefruit. The salad bar has a bowl of cucumbers, another of cabbage, and a third of tomatoes more green than red. There’s only one container of olive oil and vinegar to be shared among everyone in the entire dining hall, plus the two cats that roam freely throughout the buffet. Other salads include one made with hot dogs and sour cream, and another with pasta and warm mayo.
Kid-friendly options like burgers and fries are available, but the burgers are typically swimming in a pool of tomato sauce. Individual pizza slices are piled up in a tray, but they look like the frozen kind, as if they were popped into the oven for about a half-hour too long.
For dinner, a decent standby is the made-to-order pasta station, which includes four kinds of pasta and four sauces, plus an assortment of toppings such as ham, onions, tomatoes, and (sometimes moldy) Parmesan cheese. For most guests, the pasta bar is the go-to choice -- there is always a line of at least five people waiting to be served.
Beware of cheese, dairy and meat dishes, which seem to never be put on ice or kept under the heat when necessary. Even the seafood dishes are served at room temperature!
There are also three a la cartes. Chez Fontaine, a French restaurant, is not a part of the all-inclusive package and offers a slightly improved menu, but not by much. Many of its menu items end up in the buffet the next day. El Bohio serves Dominican fare while Las Olas serves dishes beachside. The views are nice, but the same can't usually be said about the food.
The all-inclusive cocktails at Barcelo Capella are some of the worst in the D.R. Premade mixes stand in for fresh juices and the only liquor included in the price of the room comes from generic brands otherwise not available in stores. The industrial jug of fruit-juice concentrate is regularly hauled out and poured into the slushy machines, which churned out a syrupy-sweet pina colada. A bar menu with a wide selection of cocktails rests on every table, but it would be better to keep the orders simple. Fortunately, the always cold Presidente draft never disappoints. Or pay a couple more bucks for top-shelf liquor: Dewar's, Tanqueray, Absolut, Stoli, and Smirnoff are offered at any of the five bars for an extra charge. After-dinner liqueurs like Bailey's and Kahlua are also available.
In-room ant colonies and barely cleaned surfaces make these rooms thoroughly unpleasant. The hallways may be clean and the thick wooden door frames are a nice touch, but not a single guest was satisfied with his or her room. Oyster's hot, damp room had a significant number of ants living in the corner. At the end of the night, they were found crawling on the laptop, on the TV, and all over one of the double beds -- the only safe zone was the other double bed (and just barely).
Beds are covered with thin, teal comforters. The dust ruffles are frayed at the seams and edged in dirt. The half-lamps plastered on the cantaloupe-colored wall are molding around the edges. It's possible the lampshade on the dresser had already been replaced -- it still had plastic wrapping on it. Classy.
The Daewoo television, which had a few English stations like CNN and ESPN, is covered in handprints from either greasy foods or greasy sunscreen.
Housekeeping must've been asked to ration the sodas and water in the free minibar -- only two Cokes and two bottles of much-needed water.
The hotel provides few toiletries, just some soaps double-sealed in plastic and a wall-mounted dispenser of no-name shampoo in the shower.
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