Visit two of Viva Wyndham's most popular all-inclusive resorts on the DR's north shore and learn what great value and hospitality really mean.
If you are looking for a tropical paradise, the Dominican Republic should rank high on your shortlist. If you draw a line east 740 miles from Miami, you will hit the DR, a country the size of West Virginia blessed with a rather varied topography. Here you will find wide sandy beaches, valleys filled with vegetation, deserts, and mountain ranges topped by Pico Duarte, over 10,000-feet-high. This country, which has a population of over 8,000,000 people, also produces most things that it consumes and, as a result, the food tastes fresh, because it is fresh. Coupled with diverse and friendly citizens, it is among the top Caribbean vacation destinations.
In a country this size, the north shore and the south shore are each quite unique. The south includes the capital city, Santo Domingo, in a strip that extends eastward to La Romana over 100 miles that includes many wonderful beach resorts, all in a very level part of the country. The north, which encompasses Puerto Plata, has many mountains within view of the coast.
But all this does not necessarily a vacation make. Perhaps the most intriguing part is trying to pick a resort location within the country that will work for your family. We visited two different resorts in two different settings, and the criteria for selecting one might be its childcare, all manner of activities that are fun for different ages, which ones are on-site and included in rates and, perhaps, the selection of excursions “off-campus” — both educational and worth remembering — that interest your group.
What Makes This Place Special
The Playa Dorada or Golden Beach resort is about a 25-minute ride from Puerto Plata International Airport, and about 20 minutes from downtown Puerto Plata. Within a few minutes walk of the resort, there are small shopping malls, restaurants, and a golf course that is the envy of the Caribbean.
Viva Wyndham’s Playa Dorado is their seventh all-inclusive resort, one of five in the DR. A pre-existing resort complex that was re-opened in early 2005, it was augmented and refurbished to bring it up to corporate standards. With a total count of just over 200 rooms, a majority of which are Junior Suites, this family resort is just the perfect size for a wonderful vacation. All the rooms offer a wet bar, small refrigerator and balcony for relaxing, along with A/C, hair dryer, iron and ironing board, telephone and in-room safe. And that is just the room!
Activities for all abound. The large, free-form pool is a few hundred feet down a picturesque boardwalk from the beach. On your way there, you pass the headquarters of the Viva Wyndham Kid’s Club (for 4 to 12-year-olds) and the Viva Wyndham Junior Club (for 12 to 16-year-olds) where planned activities engage kids and teens from 10am to 5pm. Adjacent to the Club’s building is its own pool (about 1½-feet-deep), perfect for those budding Olympians. The beach also offers all sorts of non-motorized beach craft for those excursions that you have always wanted to take. The beach itself is sandy and beautiful, with water at the perfect bathing temperature. And, of course, tennis is available for everyone.
But sports and rooms do not entirely a resort make. At the Playa Dorada, you have a choice of dining venues. Las Palmas, the main restaurant offers a buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with many choices (including some delicious local specialties.) The Ibiza Beach Restaurant offers the usual snack fare (hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza) for lunch, and turns into a beach-side bistro with cooling breezes and excellent prepared to order hot dishes at dinner. For another dinner choice, Bambu offers traditional Asian Cuisine (yes, you did read that right). Both Ibiza Beach and Bambu are by reservation only. For quick refreshment, the poolside bar La Cueva, is next to the pool, below the Jacuzzi.
Oh, did I mention that room service is available also? Nothing beats sitting on your balcony at breakfast time, sipping the hot strong Dominican coffee while looking out at the tropical beauty.
If walking the beach beneath the stars, or trying your hand at “lady luck” at the nearby casino, isn’t enough, all the Viva Wyndham hotels offer entertainment on property virtually every night of the year. While the names in the cast may not be totally familiar to the theatre critics of the world, you will know most of them as the staff at the pool, in the kitchen, at the front desk, or virtually anywhere else at the resort. You will be most surprised at the performances by all. While not everything is always up to Broadway or West End standards, it is most entertaining and enjoyed by everyone. After the last bow, a disco opens up next door.
Now for the best part–virtually all (except hard liquor, some wine, nighttime baby-sitting, gratuities, motorized beach equipment and spa treatments) is included in the all-inclusive fees. That’s it. Your wallet almost goes on vacation as well.
Location, Location, Location
Amidst all this tropical splendor, you may want to view some of the local attractions, which are easy and fun to do and help you get to know the island a bit. You can rent a car, take a taxi, or join an escorted tour to do some exploring nearby. Our group went to a few places worth a visit.
For a nominal sum, and perhaps a little wait, a 7-minute aerial tramway whisks you up 2,500 feet to Loma Isabel de Torres. Here, the Isabel de Torres Scientific Reserve greets you with temperatures than can be about 30 degrees cooler than the beach you just left!
The trails invite exploration, flora and fauna abound, and vistas reaching many miles are yours from this lofty perch. Speaking of perches, while you are on the tramway, many birds can be spotted above and below.
Downtown Puerto Plata is not your usual sleepy little port. Graced by lovely Victorian architecture (retained through local law) and narrow streets, it is unlike other Caribbean destinations. Yes, there are souvenir stores, but there is also a seaside boulevard (El Malecon) that ends at San Felipe Fort, completed in 1577, that you can tour for a small fee. There are interesting exhibits, and a great view of the harbor from its ramparts. Nearby is the statue of General Luperon, a Dominican Patriot from the 19th century who made Puerto Plata the capital of the Dominican Republic for a short time.
Also in this area is the Amber Museum (809/586-2848), which presents exhibits of amber and information on its production, as well as the manufacture of tobacco and rum. Speaking of rum, you can visit the Brugal Rum Distillery, where you and your family can watch an informative short film about the production process, then watch rum getting bottled. Not the usual family activity, but as a factory tour, it is short… and sweet.
But, there is more. Take 200,000 gallons of sea water, over 100 different species of birds, scores of buses, hundreds of tourists, mix carefully and you have Ocean World. The newest attraction on the north coast of the DR is a few miles west of Puerto Plata and offers a clean, safe, and educational environment focusing on tropical fish and birds. While it is not cheap (from $40 to $145 per person, depending on age and activity selected), it can be up close and personal with some pretty special creatures.
Our group was lucky enough to be chosen for the Dolphin Encounter. We joined with others from age 4 to about 70, along with a trainer and two rascally dolphins. Our group of about 20 danced, fed, massaged and petted them. This encounter plus park admission would run about $100 for adults, $80 for children, and free for 3’s and under. Even if you elect not to do any of the encounters, there are many activities, including an aquarium swim, a sea lion show, a few small pools to swim in, a shark encounter to watch, and a buffet lunch, and transportation is also included. You might want to allow most of a day for this, so be sure to bring your swimsuit!
Viva Wyndham Tangerine! And Beyond
No, this isn’t a campaign slogan. We were also able to inspect the Viva Wyndham Tangerine resort which is about a 45-minute drive from the Playa Dorada. It’s on the Costa Verde near Caberete, an area popular for windsurfing. This resort is a bit larger (222 rooms and suites) than its sister property down the coast, and the layout is a little different.
The picturesque beach is right next to the swimming pool, and very near most of the rooms. Tangerine offers a buffet restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a Cafe, and an Italian restaurant overlooking the long, sandy beach, where the view and the food seem to have a running argument as to which is the better element — definitely a tie in my book. And an evening 73-degree temperature and the strong breezes make nighttime strolling a very special and pleasant activity.
Many of the features are similar at both of these Viva Wyndham brand all-inclusive properties. When we dined at Tangerine, the evening show was a Caribbean Review, featuring some great music and incredible choreography, again performed by hotel staff.
However, the Tangerine resort’s location in a less varied part of the island may make it a better choice for active families that prefer to stay on and around the premises. There is not the variety of cultural activities available as daytrips from the Playa Dorada. Yet, a 10-minute ride to Cabarete, a town that has the flavor of a small beach resort — not unlike some towns on Hawaii’s island of Kauai — is enough to break up the stay a little for any beach-loving family. Knowing that it is somewhat limited in its nearby excursions, the Viva Wyndham Tangerine would make a fine choice for any family wanting outdoor activity, especially those interested in mastering windsurfing skills.
Although we didn’t get there this time, Viva Wyndham chain also includes the Samana Resort, an eco-friendly property about a three-hour drive from Santo Domingo, where beaches, national parks, and whale watching (between January-March) make for a diverse mix of active family pursuits.
Maybe next time…
Resort Report Card
|Name:||Viva Wyndham Playa Dorada|
|Address:||Playa Dorada Complex
|Seasonal Rates:||$$ – $$$|
|Choice of Activities:||B+|
|Quality of Amenities:||A|
|Bonus:||The Staff was phenomenal – five-star service. Food was exceptional for an all-inclusive. The shows were added value for all family members|
|Note:||Rooms were clean and spacious but needed more storage for clothes. Bathrooms were spotless and well-appointed. Another dining choice would be welcome.|
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