For a massive, hyperindulgent all-inclusive mega-resort, the Iberostar Costa Dorada is the best in Puerto Plata -- great buffets, activities, entertainment, liquor, and service. Sure, the giant pool can get a little chilly. But to the many guests who come back every year, those are just petty details.
This mega-resort caters to party people (and their children) looking for an excellent pool, big buffets, and a slew of activities.
It’s a family-oriented mega-resort -- sort of. Aiming for Vegas-style luxury (on a budget), the 516-room Iberostar has flamingos in the lobby, an exotic garden streaming with fountains, and Grecian columns in the pool (surrounding the whirlpool). The rooms, lobby, and kids' area were refreshed in 2011, receiving new paint and minor decor upgrades.
Activities abound -- dance classes, Spanish lessons, archery, bingo, and a popular kids' club as well. Nightly stage shows include a beauty pageant, a game show, a wedding band, and a summer-camp talent competition. But they're fun -- especially with a rum slushie in hand.
Most guests, even those with kids, like to party. Drinking starts at about 10 a.m. and ends around 2 a.m. Buffets stay open for late-night sandwich gorging. The Iberostar pumps veteran drinkers from around the world with top-shelf booze, signature cocktails, and even espresso (when the evening looks like it could fade).
Most guests have the time of their lives. But the crowded, inebriated scene doesn't appeal to all. But even the staunchest opponents could only complain about the state of the hotel's other visitors, taking little issue with the rooms or beach, and even agree that the food and service are superb.
A 25-minute taxi ride from Puetro Plata airport, but there's not much to see (except graffiti) within walking distance of the resort.
Next door to the resort is the casino at the Grand Oasis Marien, better known as the closest ATM. The Iberostar is also a short drive from the gated mini-city of Playa Dorada, which has its own golf course, clubs, restaurants, and touristy shops. The area surrounding the Iberostar consists of brightly colored boarded storefronts, concrete hovels, and some threatening graffiti. Beyond the resorts, there's not much to see. A few places rent scooters or dirt bikes (one of the primary modes of transit in the Dominican Republic), but for the most part, these are mostly just locals trying to rent their own vehicles for some extra cash.
Some people may find locals too aggressive with their sales pitches, but they are generally friendly and polite. Young women, however, should be aware that catcalls are common in the D.R.
Most guests of the resort never venture off-site. (Some of them candidly admit that they just don't want to see the poverty.) When guests do venture off-site, it's typically on a trip organized by the resort's tour desk, such as the resort's Outback Safari. This includes a visit to the local school, a coffee grower's farmhouse (labeled a "plantation" in the brochures), and some other less-seen local neighborhoods (even someone's home).
Costa Dorada is a huge public beach with soft sand -- and brownish-green water. Motorboats pull guests on inner tubes through the water; it's loud but well worth the fun.
The beach, with its soft golden sand, is huge, but the water is less thrilling -- brownish-green with only slight visibility (not ideal for snorkeling).
There is some seaweed in the water, but any that washed to shore was diligently raked up every morning by the staff.
The natural waves are minor, but the resort's motorboat rides about 20 to 30 feet from the shore. The boat is there to drag guests through the water on an inner tube. The sound from the boat engine is a bit annoying, but many guests -- especially kids -- happily bear the noise in exchange for the fun rides.
Costa Dorada is a public beach. There's a lot of room to wander for miles, well past the Iberostar property. But the beach is open to anyone, including vendors.
All rooms were refreshed in 2011 and are clean but basic. There's a bed, a tube TV (though a few have flat screens), a bathroom, and a balcony.
All rooms have ceramic-tile floors and some blond- and turquoise-stained wood furnishings -- a TV cabinet, a wicker chair, a bedside table, and some small drawers. The look is more Holiday Inn than luxury chic, disappointing some guests, but many spend little time in the rooms anyway. Every room is a smoking room, but somehow the housekeepers manage to scrub out the cigarette smell.
The beds are comfortable, save the flat-cotton pillows. The beds have a pillow-top mattress and quality sheets. But the comforters are less appealing -- cheap brown blankets beneath pastel-patterned bedspreads. The look is better suited for grade-school bunk beds. The bathroom is also clean, and housekeepers can be seen scrubbing the tub every day. The tub was deep, and the back is slanted to better support a bath. Shower gel and shampoo is dispensed from a pump mounted to the wall, but the resort also offers its own brand of toiletries in mini-bottles.
Comfortable beds with pillow-top mattresses and quality sheets
Free minibar stocked with beer, soda, and water, as well as a coffeemaker and tea
Large balconies with lovely views of the gardens and lake, but some ocean views are obstructed
There are plenty of activities here -- tennis, merengue lessons, and bocce ball, to name a few. A spa offers several services, and a doctor's office is also available.
The pool is massive. It winds into various pockets, through a Grecian column -- housing a lukewarm spa tub -- and around a central garden. It's a single body of water, but it actually feels like three to four separate pools. Some paint was peeling from the pool floor, but on the whole, the pool was very clean. It was a bit chillier than the average pool in the Caribbean, however.
The hotel hosts a series of nightly entertainment shows at the theater -- all on par with most other all-inclusives. Though not up to the Vegas standard, the shows are at least amusing. They feature a great deal of audience participation. All are hosted by the highly praised Star Friends, an energetic batch of young men and women who spontaneously grab guests to dance. Route 66, the on-site disco, is bumping through the night. Many enjoy it, and the DJ is actually pretty good (far better than at most resorts). Live performances also take place throughout the day.
The spa offers massage, manicures and pedicures, and full hair-salon services. It also has some small Jacuzzi tubs (be wary of stumbling upon kissing couples in this area).
A small fitness center with cardio machines and weights opened since Oyster's last visit.
Throughout the day, the staff rally folks for various activities, like merengue lessons or bocce ball -- all great opportunities to meet people.
No in-room Internet or Wi-Fi, however there is access in public spaces and in the business center, which is equipped with computer stations with videoconference cameras -- ideal for cheap phoning abroad. But the cost of Internet is outrageous (among the highest rates in the Caribbean).
At the 24-hour doctor's office (staffed by a steady M.D.), guests get treated for a variety of ailments.
From swimming to sand castles, pageants to pool tables, the resort has tons of activities for kids. A kids' club keeps them busy, and the Star Team cooks up events.
The Iberostar is a great place for kids. Even during the school year, loads of kids can be seen splashing in the pool, on the beach, building sand castles, and waddling down the hallways while other guests made cutie faces and greeted them in six different baby languages.
The mini-club (a daily kids' club) has a playground, miniature pool tables, and loads of games. Most kids, however, prefer the pool where the Star Team keeps them active throughout the day. They also organize evening entertainment like the Little Miss Iberostar competition.
The entire resort is kept remarkably clean. Though there were some overstuffed ashtrays and empty cocktail cups strewn around the resort, someone was always on the prowl to clean them up.
Rooms are especially clean, and several housekeepers can be seen on their knees, scrubbing the tubs.
At the beach, the staff raked seaweed each morning, gathered cigarette butts, and cleared daiquiri-stained plastic cups. It was one of the cleanest beaches in the Caribbean -- for a mega-resort, that is.
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. No room service, though.
Most guests like the food and find ample international variety. Put simply, the food is as good as it gets at an all-inclusive mega-resort. It is produced in bulk and a far cry from four-star dining -- tough meat and seasoning so bland it makes British cuisine look adventurous. There is no room service.
Buffets are available throughout the day. The central, international buffet, "El Marcado" (the Market), is actually pretty good. It serves a variety of local rice, beans, and fried pork combinations, along with fresh shrimp, fruit, and bakery bread. A serrated knife is provided for guests to cut their own chunk of bread from the flowered loaf.
Breakfast, served only at the buffet, has an omelet station, waffle station, lunch meat, and liver paté (satisfying the European crowd). There are a few local mainstays like fried rice and beans, but like most Dominican resorts, the Iberostar doesn't feature the D.R.’s amazing local fare; fried plantains are nowhere to be found. There is also a variety of fruits, juices (from concentrate), yogurt, and cereal. An extended continental breakfast is also served at the snack bar by the pool.
Lunch at the poolside snack bar includes some fried fish, pizza, nachos, salads, hot dogs, and burgers. Lunch is also available at the buffet, but it is remarkably similar to the dinner menu, minus the pasta stations and roast chicken on the carving board.
For dinner, there are three a la carte restaurants -- a tropical seafood restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, and a Brazilian restaurant. While the Brazilian and Mexican restaurants are often well-liked, the Tropical Restaurant, also known as the "seafood restaurant" because of its fish-focused menu, is fairly bland and a far cry from traditional Caribbean cuisine. The fish, however, is fresh and certainly tasty, even if the raw coconut is too hard to chew through and the sauce atop the grouper is basically just keeping the meat wet.
The liquor is name-brand -- not generic -- and the bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly. They make a mean signature drink. (Hint: It's fruity.)
With recognizable liquor like J&B, Tanqueray, and Stoli available, the bar at the Iberostar is a cut above most resorts in the Caribbean. Most resorts, even those that are comparably priced, serve generic brands that come in bulk crates.
The bartenders know their stuff, and most guests befriend their favorite barman. Though the margarita and pina colada slushie machines are on-site -- and generally swarmed with bees -- the bartenders can also make a mean batch of fruity cocktails. Try the Iberostar's signature drink: brandy, amaretto, triple sec, banana liqueur, and pineapple juice. They can also make martinis, manhattans, black russians, and fairly bland bloody marys.
Espresso is also available at the lobby bar -- a much-needed pickup before hitting the club.
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