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Riu Bambu / Sunquest Vacations / Skyservice Airlines
Trip Date: 2007/12/06 to 2007/12/20 (by BobFromCanada)
OK, as most of the regular Debbie's Travel Forums readers know (http://debsdrtravels.proboards47.com/index.cgi), it was supposed to be Colony Bay Resort, but that didn't open in time, so we got reassigned to this resort by Sunquest. It wouldn't have been my first choice, but colour me pleasantly surprised. This was 'supposed' to be an upgrade to a five star resort, so I'm writing this review accordingly. I do expect more than I what I get from our 'normal' three and a half to four star properties.
Some of our Debbie's posters told me that there is no way this the property deserves that five star rating and (caps intended) I HAVE TO AGREE. That said, it's still a very nice property, but it's NOT five star by any stretch of the imagination. In my honest opinion, arguably it's a four star resort and at best it's a four and a half star resort. I'll go into the reasons for that later. Would I return? Yes, definitely. We had a great time and I would not even hesitate for an instant.
Some also suggested that we should have insisted on an upgrade to one of the Riu Palace resorts. I'm glad we didn't. They appeared to be top notch, but just not our kind of place. We were much happier at the Bambu. I guess a good example is to look at the 'traditional' Caribbean style wooden building where we tended to go for lunch every day. We went there for the food, the service and the ambience. It didn't feel at all like a hotel restaurant and felt more like we had stopped in off the beach and into a local restaurant/bar. Without having to pony up the cash of course ..... Oh, and one of the waitresses took some oranges and went to the back room to squeeze fresh juice for us. Talk about service. Gracias Belkis.
Normally I have a long "meet&greet" list of people we have to meet. This time I had a zero length list, and in fact we ran into very few people that had even heard of Debbie's (www.DebbiesDominicanTravel.com). We changed that, so now we have some new friends.
For those that don't want to read the whole review, here's a summary. Overall, the resort was pretty good. There were some things that you would never expect, like using some kind of egg mixture (powdered?) for the omelets, juice drink rather than real juice from the dispensers, coffee machines, bottom shelf liquors, rather basic accommodation, the list goes on ...... However, we did enjoy the stay at one hotel and play at three hotels concept. We had access to the Riu Taino and Naiboa and also could walk around the two Palace properties, but not eat or drink there. The grounds were lovely and nicely maintained. The beach did get stirred up a few days by the strong winds and waves, but otherwise was excellent. The pool was also very nice, but not the meandering freeform pool you see at the newer places. The room was basic but quite acceptable, and as usual I left it in better shape than when I arrived. The food was pretty good, but again not up to 5 star standards. The service was excellent and I would rate it beyond five star. Any more and they would have been hovering. That would have bothered me.
OK, on to the full review.
Skyservice: The flight down was quite pleasant. We were greeted with a smile at check-in, there were no hassles and we were thanked for filling in our A.P.I.S. (Advanced Passenger Information System) forms online. Tourist cards were handed out on the jetway when boarding the plane. The inflight service was fine. The breakfast sandwich was good, and was served with juice (or should I call it a slushy since it was frozen almost solid), yogurt, cheese and crackers, orange flavoured raisins and an apple-cinnamon cookie. They may be learning from the competition since hot towel service was also provided. Another surprise was champagne and fruit juice served as a vacation starter about 1/2 hour before landing. Bonus, there was sufficient leg room for my long legs (B757 aircraft). However, the trip back home was another story entirely. Check-in was a zoo, and they seemed to be having some issue with their computer system and passport reader. When it finally spit out our boarding passes, the first six came out blank followed by two good ones. The inflight service was abysmal and the flight attendants seemed more interested in selling duty free and snacks than anything else. I witnessed the attendant call button being frequently ignored, including the one or two times I needed attention. Unacceptable. On this flight, my knees were jammed against the seat in front of me and I couldn't get comfortable no matter where I positioned myself. (A320 aircraft). Oh yeah, another new wrinkle. Blankets and pillows are no longer provided. You have to purchase a "comfort package" for $7. This package also includes a beach bag (eyes roll). BFC rating - 3 stars and if both flights had been like the return flight, it would have been minus 3 stars.
Sunquest: There were some minor issues with the scheduling of our return flight as they incorrectly informed us of a flight change. After numerous emails this was resolved. The flight time turned out to be as originally scheduled. The Sunquest representative at the hotel, Hollie, was very good and tried her best to resolve issues, even when complaints were unrealistic. We heard some of these when we were waiting to chat with her. It should also be noted that there was some confusion over the departure tax (that we had already prepaid) when we were leaving Punta Cana. The airline check-in people and the Sunquest rep at the airport thought that we were going to have to pay it. We were ready to do battle, but no one tried to double collect it. Nor were there any overweight issues. My bag weighed the expected amount. So no real issues here.
The hotel: No deja vu this year. It's always a tough call trying to decide whether to repeat a place you enjoy or try something new. This year we went for the new. This property wasn't our first choice, but it worked for us and we would happily return. Being our first trip to this resort, we were at the bottom of the learning curve, but we could navigation quite easy. It was easy to find your way around. On arrival our first impression was of a nice place, but rather standard Caribbean construction (stuccoed concrete block) with ceramic tile floors, exactly the same as we are used to.
Our room: When we first checked in, the room seemed basic, but in pretty good shape. When reception phoned to ask about the room, we hadn't discovered the flaws yet. There turned out to be a few, like the running tap in the bath tub that could not be stopped. As a matter of fact, despite the fact that it was running at a good rate when shut off, it was so tight that my wife could not turn it on. There was also two defective light switches. The tap was quickly fixed after I reported it, but they only replaced one of the defective switches, so the problem was better but not fixed. They also tried unsuccessfully to repair the toilet that ran on. I fixed that and a few other minor problems myself. It's not a holiday unless I fix something .... The room itself contained two beds which seemed to be an unusual size. They were narrower than a double but wider than a standard twin. They also seemed longer. My thought is that they were what is referred to as a Super Single (48 × 84 in or 1.22 × 2.13 m). There were two end tables, a large closet, a luggage rack, table/drawers holding the TV, a table, two chairs and a floor lamp. There was a mini bar (rum, vodka, brandy and gin, the cheap domestic stuff, Normandy), a mini fridge with two Pepsi, two diet Pepsi, two 7-Up and two beer (Brahma). There was also a safe in the closet. The safe key was provided at no charge. There was a small balcony with a screen door that worked. Note that there was no porch light which rules out reading at night. There was also a clock radio which interestingly enough was wired into the room master switch, so I finally gave up resetting it. Sheets, towels and bath mats were changed daily. The sheets were good quality, high thread count, but very thin. The mattress was a Simmons Orthopedic Maxpedic Classic, and was VERY firm. The word fluffy could never be applied to the pillows; they worked, but they were pretty small. There was no mattress protector. However, the mattress was clean (I checked). There were NO washcloths provided. There were very few electrical outlets in the room and those were inconveniently located. Note that the outlets were the two pin type and were recessed. I'm glad I brought my modified cord. There were also a few cracks in the stucco. BFC rating - 4 stars at best.
The restaurants: There was the one main buffet (Colonial) and the second "near the beach" buffet (Mamajuana). There was nothing right on the beach. The Mamajuana was split into two specialty restaurants in the evening (Italian and Steak House). We also had access to the Caribe Grill (part of Palace Macao) as a third specialty restaurant in the evening. Reservations were required for these, but were not all that difficult to get. The Caribe Grill was the hardest and you usually had to be early to get a reservation. They've done away with assigned seating and times for the buffet, even though the hotel services guide still mentions it. One thing we really liked was the outdoor terrace area for the Colonial Buffet. You could eat outside breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our vacation package allowed us to eat breakfast and lunch and to use the bars at the Taino and the Naiboa. We didn't eat much at any of them, but did stop occasionally for drinks. We especially liked what they referred to as the Pizzeria on Caribbean St. We ended up eating most of our lunches there. It was a traditional Caribbean style wooden building located right on the beach. They served pizza, soup, baked chicken, burgers, hot dogs, fries, rice, pasta and had a nice salad and desert bar. BFC rating - 4.5 stars with the exception of the "pizzeria" which I have to give 5 stars for the traditional ambience, the food and the service. Our waitress even took oranges to the back room and hand squeezed them so we could have natural orange juice.
Food: The food was good, but despite the fact that I gained 4 kg, I had some issues. In the morning, the omelets were not made with real eggs. It was either powdered egg or 'egg beaters' or some other premix stuff. Whatever, they were pretty gross. I had the omelet guy make me a few with real eggs a few days. Funny that he could make two omelets with the artificial stuff in the time it took to cook real eggs. The juices from the dispensers were not real fruit juice but some kind of fruit drink that we didn't especially care for. The fresh made fruit smoothies kind of made up for this, but I was craving real orange juice. At breakfast there was always lots of bacon, ham, sausage, potato, buns, cheeses, sweet rolls, fresh fruit. The temperature controls seemed good and the hot food was hot and the cold food was cold. Trays were replenished regularly. We ate most lunches at the 'pizzeria' and they had great chicken. Not quite up to my reference standard, but close. At dinner, along with the meats, there was a lot of seafood offered, which pleased my wife. However, we never saw lobster and the beef served was invariably 'chewy'. They had several theme nights (Dominican, Chinese, Mexican, BBQ). These were generally good, but I was especially disappointed in the BBQ night since all the meat had apparently been cooked on the BBQ, but taken off and put in the hot trays with a sauce poured on it to keep it from drying out. Next year I'll try to be early and catch the meat coming off the grill. IMHO, BBQ doesn't need any sauce .... BFC rating - 4 stars.
Service: There is obviously a good relationship between management and the staff here. Everyone seemed to be happy doing their job. We found the service excellent in all the restaurants and bars. There was usually someone from upper management to great you at the restaurant entrance at dinner time. Usually this was sub-director Manuela and we found her exceptionally outgoing and friendly. The waiters, waitresses and bus boys were all quite attentive and friendly. Quite often you were also greeted from the reception desk as you walked by on your way to the dining room. BFC rating - 5 stars (or better).
The beach: In a word, the beach was 'beautiful' (almost spectacular). I've been to nicer, but not many. Nice white powder sand, turquoise water, a little seaweed, palm trees and hazard free swimming. Well, the waves did stir things up and liked to eat sunglasses and diving masks. My sunglasses are probably half way to Puerto Rico by now .... Note to self, use your glasses tie on strap next time. There were sufficient loungers available and we never had a time when wee couldn't find free ones. The towel game didn't seem to be big here. Part of the reason was that there are no palapas on the beach itself and the shade is provided by the palm trees. People don't seem as possessive about these ..... BFC rating - 4.5 stars.
The pool: The pool was very nice. The temperature was quite comfortable by my standards. We spent most of our time at the beach, but made a point of trying the pool, pool bar and jaccuzzi so I could report on it. It should be called the non-jaccuzzi since I never saw it operating. It was just a small circular grotto area, surrounded by rocks (fake) with a small waterfall, but I never saw the jets in operation. If there was a switch to turn it on, it was not obvious. BFC rating - 4 stars.
General comments (in no particular order):
- A previous reviewer referred to what she called a retarded arrangement in the main buffet. I have to agree, especially in the morning. Because of the placement of the empty plates, people coming from the egg station met the people coming the other way from the bacon and sausage stations. I felt like a salmon trying to swim upstream.
- Make sure you take an adapter or a 'modified' extension cord if you plan on plugging in one of those camera battery charger transformer boxes.
- Take your own washcloths.
- The room key has your room number engraved on it. I saw people with their safe key clipped to the room key. If lost, when someone finds it, they have ALL they need to clean out the safe.
- Presidente beer was not served in the bars or restaurants, nor was it in the mini fridge. I believe Presidente is served in the Palace resorts.
- They seem to have to mosquito control thing down pat. As a matter of fact, there was hardly any living creatures around. I saw a few very small geckos, two mosquitoes, two cats, some centipedes, a few birds and some annoying flies. They didn't bite, but they sure were 'friendly'.
WHAT WE LIKED:
- the stay at one hotel and play at three hotels concept.
- property was beachfront.
- all the common facilities are in one spot.
- food was acceptable (I had some issues).
- room was basic but acceptable.
- nice pool.
- very nice beach.
- nice facilities (bars, restaurants, lobby, pool, grounds).
- no time share / vacation club salesmen.
- very few vendors on the beach.
- no armbands (unless you are staying at one of the Palaces).
- red wine was quite potable, white wasn't (my opinion only, others liked the white). We didn't try the rose.
- hardly saw a mosquito or for that matter, a bug.
WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE:
- Brahma (Brazilian) beer in the mini fridge. Presidente would be nice.
- Rubia Barril (Brazilian) draft beer served at the bars.
- Normandy/Classic liquors in the mini bar
- Normandy/Classic liquors in the bars. You could get Brugal Anejo and Barcello Anejo if you insisted (and watched the bartender). I also saw Jose Cuervo tequila and a name brand gin (I don't recall the brand).
- most prices in the on-site shops are very high, but some seemed reasonable.
- drinks in disco are not included.
- the disco smells bad.
- At dinner, candles on the table every night would have been nice. They did have candles on theme nights. Our solution was to take our own.
- no face cloths. This is not unusual for the DR.
- no soap trays in the shower.
- you can't get a liqueur with your evening coffee in the restaurant. You have to go to one of the bars. (one exception - the Caribe Grill).
- There seemed to be a lack of public washrooms. There were some in the lobby and some in the Mamajuana restaurant, but that was about it.
- there are no oceanview rooms at the resort.
- I definitely took exception to the egg mix used for the omelets in the morning. I look forward to my 'Dominican' omelets. When it wasn't busy at the egg station, I did ask for and get real eggs, and the oelet was excellent. But the cooking time seemed about twice as long, so by the time it was cooked, it was usually busy (by definition).
- No real fruit juice, with the exception of the smoothies. These have a lot of sugar added and they didn't have orange. I really craved real orange juice in the morning.
SUMMARY: Great place. Nice property. Friendly. Good food, super service and nice accommodations. Not gourmet. A few warts, not 5 star, but a good solid 4 to 4.5 star. We would go back without hesitation. It is a great place to meet people and chat. Overall, we liked it. Unless you are truly looking for 5 star accommodation, we recommend it. There were things wrong that shouldn't have been.
An animated slide show (with sound) is on my website see http://www.bobfromcanada.com/
The same review is on Debbie's site at http://www.debbiesdominicantravel.com/
The slide show requires the Photodex presenter application which is a free download from Photodex.com corporation. There is a link provided.
Note: the slide show may lag the review by a few weeks. If it's not there, try again later ......
EMAIL: I'll be glad to answer any questions I can. There is a link on my website (antispam - you will be challenged to read and enter numbers that are not machine readable).
article published 1/2/2008