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We are an easy-going, casual, well-traveled professional couple in our early 50s who enjoy spending our time relaxing on the beach. Originally we had booked a vacation to Cayo Coco, Cuba as a perfect getaway location for my 50th. birthday. This trip was cancelled by Sunquest/Air Transat on very short notice, and so we opted to travel to the Allegro Playa Dorada resort in Puerto Plata instead, because we were able to get an excellent deal through www.escapes.ca. . I use Darren as my agent and made the booking over the phone. We visited this resort for one week- Feb. 19 to 27, 2003, flying from Vancouver to Puerto Plata via Calgary with Air Transat. The flight was long but uneventful both ways and in fact, arrival at destinations was earlier than scheduled.
Resort General Impressions
At 500 rooms, this resort is larger than what we usually prefer and when we arrived, it was at full capacity. Travel brochures give the Allegro a 4 star rating based on the available amenities, which include two pools, three a la carte restaurants, an on-site casino, four gift shops, laundry service and a next day service photo finishing shop. Approximately 80-90 people from our flight were staying at this resort. Check-in did take a while but the front desk staff was polite, multi-lingual and efficient. A refreshing drink was offered as we waited our turn. Upon arrival, you are handed an envelope containing a la carte restaurant reservation cards, as well as general information about the resort. Your assigned room number is written on the front of this envelope and they place those dreaded resort ID bracelets on your wrist.
The resort is approximately 20 years old, being the second resort built at Playa Dorada, but it is generally well maintained and very clean, including the common areas and washrooms. If you are interested, you may see a virtual tour of this resort at www.occidental-hoteles.com/home.html. Click on destinations-DR-Puerto Plata-hotel name.
The resort attracts vacationers from England, Germany, Poland, South America, USA and Canada (both English and French speaking). During our stay, there were large numbers of Germans, British and French speaking Canadians. An in-room safe is located in the closet of the room and the key is available from the front desk at a charge of 270 pesos for one week at check-in. If you wish to watch TV during your stay, a remote control must also be obtained from the front desk and a deposit amount of 200 pesos is required. The resort is well laid out and it's easy to find your way around.
I have also submitted a colour layout map of this resort, which can be found in the resort maps section of www.debbiescaribbeanresortreviews.com. Buildings #5 and 6 are additions to the resort, built approximately 5 years ago near the quiet pool. Not sure how one gets a room in these new buildings as it appeared #5 was reserved almost exclusively for guests from Quebec and #6 had a large contingent from Britain. Only half of the rooms in this resort have balconies, but all have a sliding window or patio type door, which open. I had emailed the reservations manager, a lady named Juana, in advance requesting a room with a balcony, but to no avail. Seems they completely ignore emails. One major frustration was that check-in time is not until 3pm, and our flight arrived at 10 am. Thankfully, I had packed our bathing suits, sun lotion and hats in our carry-on and we changed in the bathroom. The suitcases were kept in a locked room in the meantime. We eventually got our room at 3:30pm. While killing some time, we wandered around to get a "feel" for the resort and also checked to see where our room was located. All amenities are immediately available and we quickly found the eateries and bars before wandering down to the beach. Since we had arrived early in the day, our welcome briefing was scheduled for 1 pm with Freddy, the Air Transat Vacations rep. During the briefing, he described some very important dos and don'ts for a successful vacation in the DR, tips for the casino, which currency works best and how to calculate the exchange quickly and of course, he gave information on excursions which could be booked through him. It is not his job to take you on a tour of the resort and show you where things are. Freddy seemed to be an attentive and "bend over backwards" kind of guy. We only dealt with him to exchange our currency, which he does at a very fair, and better rate than the front desk offers. Freddy was always at his desk during the hours we were told he would be available and my husband arranged with F!
reddy for a surprise birthday cake to be served at the a la carte on my birthday. Freddy works in partnership with Francois, who spends his time almost exclusively in Building #5. We were also very surprised to receive a special gift pack delivered to our room as Air Transat Holidays clients. The gift pack contained a 375ml bottle of Barcelo rum, a ¼ pound pouch of Dominican coffee and a medium size handcrafted clay figurine, all nicely nestled in a woven basket and wrapped in cellophane. Nice touch!
The rooms are standard size- not overly large or small-, each with 2 ¾ size beds (don't believe they have king or queen size beds at this resort), a six drawer dresser, small table with 2 comfy chairs, night table, lamps, generous sized clothes closet with very few clothes hangers (bring some from home), a ceiling fan, TV and telephone. Bring your own alarm clock! Air conditioner was powerful and worked well. The rooms did not smell musty but I came prepared with some air freshener just in case. The bathroom is all tiled (floor & walls) with a tub/shower, toilet, large vanity counter with a single sink, a large mirror and hairdryer. There was no bidet. Bring your own face cloth and a box of facial tissues! Small bottles of shampoo and tiny bars of soap are provided, but again I suggest you bring your own. An ice bucket is also provided and the ice machines are located in the hallways. The tap water is not safe to drink, but no bottled water is provided. You can either bring your own bottle from home or buy one at the resort shop and then have it refilled with safe drinking water from any of the bars or in the buffet. Water pressure in the shower was very good and we experienced no lack of hot water although one day, the water turned off completely at around 6:30pm and thankfully, we had both finished showering. Two bath, two hand towels and a bath mat are provided and changed daily even if you decide to re-hang the towels to use twice which a small sign in the bathroom says you can do to be environmentally friendly. Our maid ignored this! The maid also insisted on turning the air conditioning back on after she finished cleaning the room. We personally find it unnecessary and environmentally unfriendly to waste energy keeping an empty room cold. The beds are very comfy and the bed linens are changed regularly as well. The bedspreads however looked a bit worn and should be replaced. The maids did a good job of keeping the room clean and the tiles were swept, then washed down everyday. Gifts for the maid s!
hould be left on the pillow. Rooms with a balcony have a small plastic patio table and two chairs available.
Upon arrival we were assigned room #4231, which is located in building #4. We did manage to get a peek into the room before official check-in time and immediately realized that it did not have a balcony, which I had specifically requested. We tried to change to another room right away but were told at the front desk that the resort was full, come back tomorrow. We spend the first night in this room, but didn't sleep a wink. Turns out the odd numbered rooms in building #4 face the back of the resort and outside, below our room, stood 9 air conditioning units from the rooms around ours. What a noise, even with the window closed at night! The next morning, we insisted on speaking with the roomsmanager and asked to be changed to another room- any room. Again the answer was no, but we persisted and pointed out our email request three weeks prior to arrival. Very reluctantly, we were granted our wish and were moved across the hallway to room #4214 within the hour. Lovely room it was with a small balcony facing the putting green and the beach. Tall palm trees prevented a full oceanview, but we didn't really care. At night, we were able to open the patio door and hear the waves as well as have the air conditioning turned off and only the ceiling fan going to be more than comfortable.
The Allegro, due to its age, is located on one of the nicest sections of Playa Dorada beach. Being beach people, this was the best feature of the resort! The beach is wide with soft beige sand and mature vegetation to provide shade. Palapas (shade huts) are available but to get one, you had to get up at the crack of dawn since guests "reserved" lounges with their towels, shoes, shirts, books- whatever they wished to use to mark their territory. Geez, I really hate people who do that, especially when they don't come back until hours later. Same nonsense at both swimming pools so be forewarned. We opted to set up our lounges near the beach volleyball area under some palm trees where it was much quieter, away from the "action". You could safely walk along the beach for several miles, which we did every day. The sand was firm near the water line and also excellent for jogging. There are showers available at the beach for rinsing off after a swim in the ocean.
There is a roped off area for swimming in the ocean and if you value your life, I highly recommend you only swim in this area. Unfortunately- in our opinion- there is an over abundance of motorized water sports at Playa Dorada. With all the jetskis ($22US/15 minutes), motorboats for parasailing, water skiing, etc., the water is churned up constantly and therefore is always murky. Sadly, the reefs are also now dead due to the pollution. There is a small reef for snorkeling near the Gran Ventana resort, about 5 minutes walk down the beach to the left, but it's in rather sad shape. Since we are avid snorkelers, we were initially very disappointed. We did however discover an area with several great reefs about a 30 minute walk from the resort and went there every day, sometimes twice a day. Awesome!! The resort offers kayaks (singles and doubles), Hobie cats, snorkeling equipment (we bring our own) and windsurfers for guest use. Limit is one hour per day. The equipment is in good condition, including the lifejackets. Another annoyance at the beach was the constant airplane noise which we quickly got used to. Playa Dorada is directly on the flight landing path for Puerto Plata airport and between 8-12 jets from all over the world fly over each day.
The wind picks up by mid afternoon and can be quite strong until around early evening when things calm down again. This would be a good time to move over to the quiet pool, which is very sheltered. We had no problems with sand flea bites, something other reviewers have mentioned. The beach was cleaned very regularly, either by resort staff or general Playa Dorada staff who raked and removed debris at the high tide line. There are very few shells or other sharp objects in the sand so aqua socks are not required.
The beach is just overwhelmed with beach vendors! The vendors are government licensed and carry ID tags. Personally, I don't enjoy shopping and having to barter is just not my cup of tea, although many guests just thrived on it. The vendors move on quickly after hearing a polite no gracias, but a few can be persistent.
The Allegro has two swimming pools, open from 9:00am to 7:00pm daily. The pools were constantly being cleaned. The main pool faces the beach, has plenty of loungers available and an area set aside for children. A lifeguard is posted at this pool. There is also a swim up bar where you can get beer or slushies, but no other alcoholic drinks, so forget the idea of enjoying a pina colada laced with a bit of rum at the swim up bar. Two other bars are located close to the pool. We also appreciated the fact that the pool has a deeper end and in-pool scuba lessons can be arranged. A large adults only whirlpool is located next to the swim-up bar.
The second "quiet" pool is located in front of Building #6. This is a free form style pool with some palapas around it as well as showers. Plenty of lounge chairs here also. In the afternoon, when the wind picks up at the beach, this pool is a great place to go. Bar, washrooms and snack area is also close by. Towel service was free with our all-inclusive package and the towels can be picked up at the little shack behind the outdoor stage. If you lose your towel, you will be charged $20.00US per towel.
The animation staff at the Allegro was very active. It seemed that some activity or organized event was happening all day long, either at the beach or by the main pool. A bulletin board showing all daily activities is located at the end of the main hallway, just before you get to the pool terrace area. There was never any pressure to join in and the winners' certificates were handed out before the evening show began. Depending on the activity, a small bottle of rum was also included with the certificate. The evening entertainment was done on an outdoor stage at the far end of the main pool deck. Lots of chairs and tables available on the terrace, but because there were so many guests, you had to get a seat early. The evening show started at 9:30 and ran for about an hour, sometimes a bit longer. Yes, they had the usual all inclusive audience participation type of entertainment- good for a few laughs at best, but there were also other excellent stage shows throughout the week. A word of caution! Make sure you apply some insect repellant to your lower legs and feet before heading to the show area. There were lots of bites from no-see-ums and other nasty little blood-thirsty insects in the evening. Also bring some After-Bite to apply immediately once you feel the bite. We found this really helped to reduce the swelling and itching.
There were also pool tables set up in the main hallway close to the terrace. Table tennis and foosball, as well as board games and other children's toys were available in a covered building near the Kid's Club located behind the main stage area.
Although our children are now adults and we didn't travel with young children, I would like to add a few comments about children's activities at the Allegro based on personal observations and discussions with families. There were many children at the resort and what immediately struck us was how happy and occupied they all seemed to be. Didn't see a tear or pout all week! This resort appears to be great for those with children, especially ages 3-10. The Kid's Club runs from 10:00am to noon and again from 2:00 to 5:00pm. The staff are multi-lingual- so were the little guests. The highlight for the little ones (and their parents) was the Kid's Disco on the main stage every evening at 8 pm. They were all quite happy to sing and dance regardless of their spoken language and everyone loved the resort Mascot and activities staff members who dressed up as clowns. If the world could learn to get along as well as these kids did, it would be a better place for everyone. Getting the kiddies to leave the stage was quite another matter! The only suggestion for improvement to the Kid's Club was to have some way of signing your child out when you picked them up, since a few kids liked to wander off with their new friends before the parents arrived to pick them up.
If you love soft drinks, this resort is for you! Self-serve pop dispensing machines were available in all the bars and eateries except the a la cartes. Coke was available even at breakfast in the buffet and we noticed many guests started their day with a glass of Coke or Pepsi. We don't drink the stuff!!! My husband enjoyed the El Presidente beer and I'll take his word on it, since I don't drink beer. The Allegro has an exclusive contract to serve only Barcelo brand rum, so Brugal was not available except for purchase in the gift shops. Rum was very good and used generously in all drinks. Some alcohol was considered to be premium and subject to surcharge. My husband asked for a scotch and soda and was told it would cost extra. Dominican coffee is full flavoured, dark roast, strong and robust. We loved it!
Drinks are served in small plastic cups throughout the day, so bring your own thermal mugs to use at the beach. In our opinion, the wine, either white or red, was terrible. Wine is a matter of personal taste and while we are by no means connoisseurs, we found it undrinkable and very harsh. That brings me to the cocktails. This is where the Allegro resort falls flat on its face! We are not drinkers per se, but when on vacation we do look forward to enjoying some nice refreshing tropical drinks. There was not a drop of real or fresh juice to be found at Allegro. All drinks are made with yucky, overly sweet, artificial syrups or powdered mixes such as Tang and Hawaiian Punch. The slushie machines also contained these syrup mixes and more often than not, were less than half frozen. The pina coladas and banana mamas were gross! The only cocktail I found worth drinking was called Tropicana- rum, amaretto, orange drink mix (Tang) and a bit of pina colada slushie mix. My other option was gin and tonic but the gin is very strong so I always asked the overly generous bartenders to go easy on the gin. The bartenders were all excellent! Tipping was not necessary although we did tip occasionally. Even with the resort at full capacity, we never waited longer than two minutes to be served. They do have a policy of limiting guests to two drinks per order at peak times. Another thing I really missed was the lack of cappuccinos as my after dinner treat. I did get around this by bringing a cup of coffee from the buffet to the bar and asking for a shot of amaretto. To be honest, we really missed the fresh squeezed orange juice at breakfast, the fresh juice cocktails and cappuccinos, which we have enjoyed at all-inclusive resorts in Cuba for the past few years.
Buffet- La Palma is open for breakfast from 7-10:30am, lunch from 1-3pm and dinner from 7-10:30pm. Shirt and shoes are required. The buffet is very large with several food and drink stations to ease the flow of guests. Everything is self-serve. There is a separate smoking section. The tables and chairs are however crammed in very tightly. Walking back to your table with your plate of food was like making your way through a maze. If you went to the buffet for dinner at 7 pm, it was packed with people and got hot and stuffy very quickly. No ceiling fans or air conditioning. Breakfast was less crowded and a bit more pleasant. We only ate lunch here once. The efficient bussing staff cleared and reset the tables quickly. The buffet was also very noisy with the clatter of dishes- it reminded us of an industrial cafeteria. Definitely it lacked atmosphere and some Dominican musicians playing during dinner would have made the experience much more pleasant.
There were many food choices and I can't imagine even the pickiest eater going hungry. We loved the fresh fruit and salad greens bar! The hot food selection was excellent. Great roasted potatoes, pastas or paella; vegetables were not overcooked, and the meats included items such as Beef Wellington, roast leg of lamb, turkey, salmon, and my favourite, which was the grilled chicken. As is the case with most all-inclusive resorts, there was a great deal of "recycling" and food offerings from previous meals reappeared disguised as something new for the next meal. At this resort, it was more blatant than we have noticed on past vacations and the over use of salt did little to enhance the food. The sauces and gravy tasted very artificial, obviously prepared from mixes or out of a can and the salad dressings were the typical mass production Kraft type- Thousand Island, Ranch or Italian- probably scooped out of huge industrial size buckets The dessert stations included yummy ice cream, but we found the Jello and overly sweet mousse not to our taste. The cake selection was at first glance extensive, but being a dessert lover, I quickly realized that just about every kind of cake had a custard type filling- jellyroll with custard, flan cake with custard topped with roast almonds, custard tarts, etc. Guess this was an efficient way for the resort to use up leftover hot milk. We gave up on the dinner buffet after the third day!
Las Olas Pizzeria (7-10:30pm) is located next to the main pool, at the far end by the putting green. It is a "make your own pizza" restaurant. Pizza is not exactly our favourite food item, but we absolutely loved the outdoor venue and Jeremiah, the young fellow who worked here was one of the nicest resort employees we encountered. We were also able to linger here after finishing our pizza and enjoy an after dinner coffee with a shot of amaretto, which Jeremiah was more than happy to bring for us. The assortment of pizza toppings was extensive and included bacon (left over from breakfast), cut up hotdogs(obviously from lunch), corn, tuna salad(lunch revisited), peppers, olives, shredded chicken (lunch again), shredded pepperoni and other cold cuts, etc. Las Olas was perfect for us- uncrowded, outdoors with a gentle breeze off the ocean and great service. Another bonus was that from our table, we could see the stage in the distance, listen to the music and watch the kids having a great time during their disco time. We ate here for three dinners in a row, and I think we've had our fill of pizza for the next few months!
El Bohio (11:30-6:00pm) is a snack bar located next to the quiet pool. We ate lunch here once, on the day of arrival. This venue is heaven for those who love fast food type lunches and snacks- fries, burgers, hot dogs. This type of food doesn't appeal to us.
Beach Club (12:30-3:00pm) is a semi open-air lunch bar located near the main pool and beach. In the evening it becomes the Italian a la carte. For lunch it features a great salad bar and limited hot foods including BBQ meats such as fish and chicken. If you want to eat wearing only beachwear, you can also sit in the shaded arbor area, which becomes the Pizzeria in the evening.
A la Carte restaurants (two sittings 7 or 9 pm)
The resort features three a la cartes- Italian, Mexican and Grill. Reservations are made at a table set up close to the Grill from 9-noon daily. Our all-inclusive package entitled us to eat once per week at each of the three restaurants. The long pants dress code for men was not strictly enforced. We read in other reviews that the Italian was the better choice and made reservations for dinner here on Sunday evening, first sitting. Sunday was also my birthday. If you wish to sit in the open area facing the main pool, arrive early!
Shortly after being seated, water and wine (same undrinkable wine), as well as a basket of bread sticks, flat breads and rolls with a tray of antipasto (suspiciously recycled items from lunch buffets) are brought to your table along with menus. Good menu selection. I enjoyed the pumpkin (squash) soup even though it was pureed and recycled from the squash served in the lunch buffet. My husband ordered minestrone soup, which didn't taste at all like minestrone. For our entrée, I ordered the veal with mushroom sauce and my husband ordered the beef tenderloin which turned out not to be tenderloin and it was just a thin piece of beef, breaded and crumb coated. Under the beef was a pool of red sauce, which looked and tasted like tomato sauce out of a jar (Prego brand?). The waiter definitely messed up the order because my plate was the same as my husbands. Since the service was a bit slow, I didn't say anything and ate what was brought. Our empty plates sat for a long time. No dessert or coffee was offered by our waiter. Unknown to me at the time, my husband was waiting for them to bring out my surprise birthday cake, which never came. Finally we just left and headed to the buffet to get a cup of coffee. We understood that a trio of musicians play in the a la cartes, but Sunday is their day off. The issue of the birthday cake bothered my husband, so we decided to go back and inquire about it shortly before the 9pm sitting. Turns out that yes indeed, they had a cake prepared, but due to disorganization they don't keep track of where people are seated and they also had the sitting time mixed up. In the end, we were asked to sit down, the waiter unceremoniously brought out the cake, plunked it down and begrudgingly brought two plates and forks. There was little doubt in our minds that he wanted us to hurry up since the table needed to be reset for the next dinner sitting. After this experience, we decided to cancel the reservation for the Mexican a la carte later in the week.
Excursions & other activities:
Your vacation rep. will give information and prices of available excursions at the briefing. Make sure you attend! Among the offerings were guided tours of Puerto Plata and Sosua, Outback Safari Tour, and catamaran cruises. We didn't partake in any tours. The resort offers one hour of horseback riding per week for free as part of the all-inclusive package. Playa Dorada Shopping Complex is a short walk away. There are internet cafes, small grocery stores, fine jewelry shops, souvenier shops, a Pizza Hut, a cinema and banking facilities. The golf course is very close by, and some of the greens border the resort property. A putting green is contained within the resort property.
We enjoyed our week in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and loved the Playa Dorada beach. The relaxed and casual atmosphere at this resort appealed to us. Except for a brief rain shower in the late afternoon on the first two days, the weather was great and we returned tanned and relaxed. We would definitely be interested in trying some of the other beachfront resorts at Playa Dorada, but to be totally honest, we much prefer vacationing in Cuba. We found the Dominican people to be much more similar to the Mexicans, and if you have enjoyed vacations in Mexico, I'm certain you will enjoy the Dominican Republic. We haven't yet decided whether we would ever return to the Occidental Allegro, but if we do, I'll definitely bring along my own supply of juice. We paid $1,124.00 per person, taxes not included, for our one week vacation package from Vancouver Canada and feel we got a good deal. The Allegro offers something for everyone!
Should you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with us. Our email is YVRcuba@hotmail.com. Our photos of the resort and beach can be found at http://community.webshots.com/user/yvrcuba
Thanks to Vancouver Couple for this trip report ...