Air Canada Vacations – Not an AC fan, but have to say I was impressed. An early booking bonus gave us a junior suite and an included add on return flight from our home to Calgary. The A320 planes used by AC have more elbow and leg room than in past. Flights were on time and reasonably comfortable. Food offered by the airline for purchase was not plentiful. That is, if you happened to be at the back of the plane, you got no choice of meals as the more popular ones always seemed to sell out before they’d even get halfway down the aisle. A note that the Air Canada vacations package is equivalent to Air Transat Gold Club, the only difference being that the Gold Club people got free internet access at the resort.
Samana airport is a new, modern building. It has only one gate, so you are almost guaranteed that your plane will be the only one there at the time of arrival and departure, which is kind of nice. No line-ups. There is a duty free store in the secure area as well as a small café that serves only concession type foods for a pretty steep price. The duty free shop has souvenirs from Puerto Plata. Note that coffee is almost 3X more expensive here than in the supermarket in Las Terrenas. Chocolate is also fairly expensive. Souvenir selection is very limited. Canadian customs...Air Canada Vacations – Not an AC fan, but have to say I was impressed. An early booking bonus gave us a junior suite and an included add on return flight from our home to Calgary. The A320 planes used by AC have more elbow and leg room than in past. Flights were on time and reasonably comfortable. Food offered by the airline for purchase was not plentiful. That is, if you happened to be at the back of the plane, you got no choice of meals as the more popular ones always seemed to sell out before they’d even get halfway down the aisle. A note that the Air Canada vacations package is equivalent to Air Transat Gold Club, the only difference being that the Gold Club people got free internet access at the resort.
Samana airport is a new, modern building. It has only one gate, so you are almost guaranteed that your plane will be the only one there at the time of arrival and departure, which is kind of nice. No line-ups. There is a duty free store in the secure area as well as a small café that serves only concession type foods for a pretty steep price. The duty free shop has souvenirs from Puerto Plata. Note that coffee is almost 3X more expensive here than in the supermarket in Las Terrenas. Chocolate is also fairly expensive. Souvenir selection is very limited. Canadian customs forms are available at the airport, so you can fill these out while you’re waiting for your plane, which was handy.
Transfer – from the airport to the hotel and back, was comfortable. Newer bus with air conditioning. The ride was about 1.5 hours. Roads were paved but narrow and potholey. Having endured about 24 hours in transit by the time I got on the bus, I’ll admit to feeling a bit car sick towards the end of the ride and was really glad we reached the resort when we did. I attributed that more to the fact that I was sleep deprived than the ride itself.
Hotel check in was done on the bus. We were given our wrist bands, orientation packet and room keys on the bus, which was great as it saved a lot of time. At the resort we were greeted by a girl with drinks, but unfortunately, she approached us as we were trying to claim our luggage and our hands were full. Our villa was right next to the lobby and within short order, we were in our rooms and resting after the long trip.
Resort itself is beautiful. We were in one of the newer villas and didn’t have an opportunity to view an older, renovated villa. The junior suite was certainly spacious. There were three in our group in the one room and a cot, as requested, was waiting in our room for us. The room had plenty of space, so we took the opportunity to rearrange things to our liking. The bathrooms in the junior suite were also very spacious. A jet tub and bowl shaped sink on counter were in the main part of the bathroom. In separate cubby holes were the toilet and a shower, both with frosted glass privacy doors. In the room, a mini fridge, iron, coffee maker and hair dryer were provided. The fridge worked great and was restocked daily with beer, pop and water. The bathroom is also fitted with a magnifying mirror, which was great.
We had no maintenance issues other than a plugged toilet the first day, which was resolved quickly. We did have some troubles setting up the safe in the room, but somehow eventually managed to get it working. The TV had a fair selection of channels of various origins. The channels seemed to be spotty, only available at certain times of the day. Normally we wouldn’t care, but the Iceland volcano blew while we were there, so we were interested in news, in particular pertaining to airline traffic. Note that the TV must be turned on at the set itself before you can use the remote. There were a few power outages of 5 minute or less duration. When the power goes out, the water also goes off as one of our group discovered in the shower! There were also a few rooms in other villas, on the bottom floor, that were flooded during a heavy overnight rainstorm. Ours, Villa 3, was fine. Housekeeping, both in the room and in the resort public areas, was excellent. The only issue we had in the room is that we only got facecloths on arrival, and they were taken away 2 days later and not replaced. I had stuffed one facecloth in my toiletry bag, mainly to keep it separate from my two travel buddies, and it was even removed and taken away. So my advice would be to bring your own facecloth and don’t bring a white one or it may be spirited away. Otherwise, towel replacement was daily.
With the AC package, beach towels were provided in the room when we arrived. You could then replace them at the towel shack as many times a day as you wanted. There was never a shortage of beach towels.
Villas 1, 3 and 5 would be the choice villas as they are closest to the beach, pool and restaurants. Gardens and grounds throughout the resort were gorgeous and well tended.
Pools – the main pool was not huge, but certainly large enough for the people that were there. There are shallower ends and deeper ends (none really deep, so diving not allowed), a kid’s pool on the side and plenty of loungers both in the sun and shade. The Relax Pool, out by Villas 10-12 was almost as big, very quiet (no animation activity there), hardly used (probably because it’s a good walk away from the beach) and had a bar. The Jacuzzi pool, on the beach, between the snack bar and the main pool has a surrounding deck with a few loungers. All pools were kept clean and were very comfortable. Topless is not allowed at the pools and only a small handful of women were topless on the beach.
Food – the buffet had a large selection of foods each night. There were always bread, cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, salads. Almost every night there would be a carving station with beef (good but slightly gamey taste), lamb (excellent), pork (tough), turkey and fish. Every night there’s a pasta station where you can pick the meats and vegetables and the sauce you want on your pasta. There was always some type of chicken on the buffet, and it was always good. Theme nights each day varied the food a bit, but not a huge amount. The fish on the buffet was almost always excellent – fish varied from salmon, mahi mahi, bass, other local white fishes, prawns, mussels, squid, lobster. Always one or two choices of soup. Always wonderful desserts – flan, cheesecake, layered cakes, cookies, squares, puddings, jello, etc. Always ice cream at lunch and dinner – rum raisin, caramel crunch, chocolate, passion fruit sorbet, choc chip, vanilla, lemon sorbet – 4 choices every day. The breakfast buffet had a good selection of wonderful pastries, fruit, salads, cold cuts and cheeses, an omelet station, donuts (you pick your own topping), hard boiled eggs, sausages (excellent), ham, scrambled eggs (always soupy), poached eggs, cereals, bread (either fresh or could be toasted), pancakes, French toast, and more. Bacon was served only about 1-2X per week. The snack bar was excellent. It was really more of a mini buffet and only had a few less choices than the main buffet at lunch. The snack bar was open from around 10am-5pm. Again, salads, fruits, breads. Also hot dogs, pizza, tortilla chips (the homemade ones were wonderful), hamburgers, roast chicken, pasta, often a paella of some sort. Also a grill where you could get grilled burgers, hot dogs, chicken, beef, etc. Water is not potable from the tap, but all the bars provided cold, bottled water with ice. The snack bar also provided ice tea and sangria (yes, with booze) in their fountain machines. There was also a cappuccino machine, where you could get the cuppa of your choice. There were four a la carte restaurants – El Pescadero (seafood), Orchidea (French/Gourmet), Porto Fino (Italian) and an oriental one. We only went to the seafood and gourmet restaurants. I had excellent salmon in orange sauce with blue cheese rice at the seafood restaurant. Seafood cocktail appetizer was a handful of fresh seafood served in a red cabbage leaf. Be forewarned that the “Mediterranean Tomato” appetizer was a tiny cherry tomato with perhaps some sort of dressing, so not very satisfying. I also had a passion fruit mousse there that was excellent. Service at the a la cartes was superb, more formal, although no less attentive than in the buffet. At Orchidea, I had the duck breast and found it excellent. Tender and tasty, served with apples and another fruit. Dessert there I had a triple chocolate mousse with a strawberry sauce. For appetizer I had onion soup (not French onion soup). All was good. My travel buddies were a little less enamoured with their entrees, but we agreed it was worth the try. After the two a la cartes, we decided just to stick with the buffet. Every night, in the lobby bar, you could get cappuccinos (spiked with your favourite fire water). And every afternoon, you could get your choice of tea or coffee. The resort seems to pride itself on its selection of teas, so if you are a tea granny, don’t be afraid to try some.
Staff – I cannot possibly say enough about the staff. It floors me that people would complain that they don’t speak English. First of all, you are in a Spanish speaking country at a Spanish owned hotel. English is a minority language at this resort, so they don’t get a lot of practice. However, they certainly knew enough English to be able to bring what you ask for. Note that while they may not speak a lot of English, they ALSO spoke French, Spanish, and German. The wait staff in the buffet seemed always happy to see you and remembered you from day to day. And the most amazing thing was that they seemed to genuinely like their jobs. The Animation Team was also phenomenal. I’m not one to take part in a lot of the typical pool-side stuff, but I certainly enjoyed watching and again, they seemed to really enjoy their jobs. Both wait staff and animation team seemed to work at least 12 hours, being there in the morning and until late into the evening. Every evening, at the lobby bar, the bartenders would be kept busy serving up the drinks of your choice. Most liquors were included, but note that there were surcharges on some brands of booze. When we woke a couple of mornings to rain (which cleared up by 10-12)the animation staff were great at hauling out things for people to do. They played movies for the kids and had a wide selection of board games.
Beach – what can I say. One of the best beaches I’d ever been to. The sand was soft and white and the beach was kept clean by a myriad of workers. Absolutely no complaints. I note that some people have complained about rocks and I have no idea where they were, but certainly not at this resort! Of course, there are coral reefs not far from shore, but those are a lot of the reason why we chose this resort. And if one doesn’t like encountering a coral reef when you’re swimming, then you merely have to move a few feet left or right to get a pristine sandy swimming area. There was no lack of swimming area or snorkeling area here. The beach is very long and beautiful. There are armed guards posted at either end of the beach. Our tour rep warned us that walking east of the hotel was a dicey thing to do and didn’t recommend it. However walking west to the point where the kiteboarders were, was perfectly safe. This side of the beach was lined with some private homes. You may have to sign out with the guards so that they know how many people are off hotel property, but this isn’t a big issue. The resort does allow a few vendors onto the beach. These are licensed vendors that are not allowed to harass you. If you have any problems with them, you can report their number (worn on their shirts) and their license will be pulled. Be aware however that you are taking your chances with their merchandise. One vendor who sold jewelry had the standard plastic bead and magnetite jewelry and he wanted $100US for 3 necklaces.
Snorkeling – awesome. I have been to places that have had more numbers of fish and maybe a higher variety of fish, but I really found nothing to complain about. One thing that bothered me were the number of people feeding bread to the fish. There had to have been 3-4 dozen buns taken out and fed to one little section (most accessible to shore) of the reef. Yes, the fish like the bread. We like booze, but is too much booze good for us? No. Imagine the havoc being wreaked on the fish in this area eating stuff that is not anywhere close to their natural food. Please avoid feeding the fish bread. A better thing to do would be to bring a small container of fish food from your pet store. As for species that we saw: sergeant majors, tangs, grunts, damselfish, angel fish, half-beaks, mullets, jacks, needlenoses, puffer, scorpionfish, stingray, moray eel, cleaner shrimp, sea cucumbers and more.
Bugs – we had no huge number of bugs. No problems in our rooms at all. Didn’t need mosquito repellent at all. The grounds were sprayed once while we were there. I did get a few bothersome bites (likely mosquito) on my lower legs, but these seemed to happen only right after a rain, when I was on the beach.
Las Terrenas – we took a taxi in to Las Terrenas the one morning to do some shopping. The tour rep recommended stopping at Fort Knox (just as you get into town) and exchanging your money there for the highest rate. Then get your taxi driver to take you to the Supermercado where you can buy, if you want, coffee, cigars, etc. for the cheapest price. Then walk back along the street to Fort Knox, where the driver would be waiting for you. We decided that we didn’t want to walk the 1 km in the heat, so we had the driver take us to the Supermercado where we spent about 40 minutes looking around. That was interesting seeing Pringoools potato chips! Pretty much similar brands and items as we have in our markets. Then we had the driver take us back to Fort Knox where there were some touristy type shops in the mall there and on the streets. A miscommunication with our driver meant that we ended up exchanging our money at the Scotiabank near the Supermercado, but that was fine. The taxi was $30 for up to 8 people for two hours, which is really all you need there, as there aren’t a lot of shops. You can share your taxi with others from the resort, but we figured for the 3 of us, $10 each wasn’t bad.
Tours – 4 tours are offered with AC Vacations. One tour was not recommended (the catamaran tour). The others were a National Park tour ($89 full day), a waterfall tour ($59 long half day), and a jeep safari ($69 long half day). One of our group took the waterfall tour, which involved a 40 minute horseback ride and a short, but steep hike to the waterfall. She didn’t really enjoy the tour and thought it wasn’t really worth the effort. We decided against the National Park tour because it sounded like a full day in a boat with no shade. We talked to others that took this tour and they weren’t impressed. The jeep safari goes over the mountains between the resort and the town of Samana and stops at a market at Samana for shopping, and then stops at a different beach near the resort. This didn’t interest us at all.
All in all, I highly recommend this resort. It’s a bit off the beaten track but worth the effort to get there. The staff is A+ in my mind and the facilities and buildings are top notch. The only complaint that I had, and it’s not really the resort’s fault, is the high number of French speaking tourists. While normally this wouldn’t bother me, I found that here, they seemed not to be as friendly, butted in front of me several times in lineups and at the buffet and also because of this, there were a high number of smokers. It was difficult some days on the beach being surrounded by smokers. However, this would not stop me from going back or recommending this resort to a friend.More
- Free Wifi
- Free Parking