Hotel Reviews – Gran Bahia Principe Punta Cana Resort
Gran Bahia Principe Punta Cana Resort
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Situated on a large narrow campus with 5 hotels the Gran Bahia Principe Punta Cana on it’s own is an impressive hotel, upgrade to the Golden status and you will have access to its sister resort a mirror image of the Punta Cana the Gran Bahia Principe Bavaro. The Bavaro has it’s own elite status giving access to the Punta Cana section which is called Diamond. Near the Beach to the north is the Gran Bahia Principe Ambar and to the South the Gran Bahia Principe Esmerelda to premier Gran Bahia hotels in their Don Pablo Collection. As a guest of the Punta Cana and Bavaro sections of the resort you do not have access to these two areas, but as a guest at the Ambar or Esmerelda you have access to the entire resort. To the very north of the resort is the final section of the complex the Gran Bahia Principe Bavaro Premier which is farthest from the beach in it’s own area near the main road.
Are you confused yet? This is where the resort fails a little at the start of your vacation. There are 4 resorts and 1 north resort (which I believe is timeshare or condos not really sure we never went there). Most of the guests are guests of the Punta Cana or Bavaro sections and have access to each others services which are Mirror images of the other, both lobbies sit side by side with the main theatre separating the two and they are identical in that they both have a lobby bar, reception, buffet and Japanese restaurant of their own. It takes a bit of time at the start of your vacation to realize which areas of the resort are part of Punta Cana and which are part of the Bavaro, but once you figure this out it is smooth sailing. As Golden Club or Diamond Club guests it does not matter as you can hang out at either side of the resort. Ambar has it’s own section close to the beach which is clearly marked off so outside guests cannot cross as does the Esmerelda.
Arrival at Punta Cana Airport
When we arrived at the airport, there were no signs as to where we were supposed to go and we found our way to customs. We were given both a customs card and a tourist coupon on the Plane. The coupon was collected in the Customs line and the declaration card collected by the custom’s agent when he stamped your passport. There were no questions and no discussion. I got the usual Caribbean custom stair down, where they look at every page in your passport and look up at you. Look at the picture in your passport and look up at you. Then finally stamping it and letting me be on my way.
The luggage carousels were not marked and neither was the priority luggage section where my baggage was supposed to be as I was an Air Transat Options+ traveller. My friend’s luggage was waiting for her and mind was not. I waited over half an hour with slight panic as to why my bag was not in priority as was my friends but finally there it was my Purple Heys bag one of the last bags off the plane. A word of warning there are several men waiting to grab your luggage and take them for you to the bus. They almost don’t give you a choice just start taking your bags. If you do not want their service a firm no thank you seemed to work with most of them and some needed a couple of no thank yous before they went on their way.
We made our way through the last luggage checkpoint and were not stopped to get our bags checked which some people were, they were asked to open their bags as customs officers rifled through them. It seemed pretty random.
As we walked outside I looked for the Transat Holidays representative and he was not easy to find. But once we found him he directed us to the small desk which was labeled Transat Holidays / Nolitours. The person at the desk did not have our information and asked us if we were on the right plane. I don’t know if he was trying to be funny but I was not laughing as I just spent over half an hour panicking about my bag. He looked at our voucher and said no problem we will look at this at the hotel. He told us to go to a bus. We walked towards the busses and again there were no signs and no direction as to where to go. We just kept asking for help to get to the right bus. Our bags were put in the luggage compartment and we sat uneasily on the bus not knowing why they did not have a record of us.
On the bus we watched as several people received their packages and wristbands on the bus and we were ignored in the back. We arrived at the hotel and were not told where to go. We walked over to reception and then were told to go back down to the front where there was a special Golden Club Reception. Inside was the rep from the airport and we both looked at each other and thought why didn’t he tell us to go there from the beginning. We waited in the seating area for someone to help us and one of the ladies came over with packages and started calling out names. None were ours. More mild inside panic. Finally she returned with our package and wristbands were placed on us. No surprise that our room was not ready yet. We told here we wanted a safe and paid her $28 for the week and she took our hotel cards and programed the safe on them. She then took us over to the buffet and told us that the room should be ready when we were done.
They were! We were put onto little carts with our luggage and sent to our rooms in building 21 the second closest to the beach. Both keys did not work. The bellman let us into our room with a master key and told us he would get new keys for us (we were certainly not making our way all the way back to reception). In about 15 minutes he returned with a new set of keys, of which only one worked in the door and the other did not. We waited again and were given a new set of keys both worked in the door. Using the room key and following the instructions on the safe we tried to program the safe so we could put our valuable in and hit the beach for the last few hours of the afternoon. It did not work. We called reception and they said we had to purchase the safe and we explained that we did this already when we checked in. They sent a technician and he could not program the safe either. The technician asked us the same questions and I showed him the receipt for the safe. He called receptions and another set of keys were sent. Long story short we were pissed now and not very pleasant with reception. It took over 4 hours for them to sort out the keys to the room and safe in order for us to get the safe programmed so we could leave our rooms. We basically lost the first day of our vacation, as it was now after 6:00 and there was no point in sitting on the beach.
We did take a short walk along the beach but had to cut it short because it was getting dark fast. We hit the buffet for dinner, which for me was pointless as I wasn’t really hungry since we had such a late lunch. It was not the best start to our vacation. But I was eager to put all this behind me and start relaxing.
The only other hiccup to start our vacation was that our air conditioner conked out the first night making a terrible generator sound. We both woke up at 5:00AM and called the Service desk to wake up some poor sole. I wasn’t wasting anymore time in the room especially since it was so hot, so we went to the beach and watched the most amazing sunrise. We grabbed a trolly went to reception and they were happy to help us out, told us they would send someone to fix it ASAP this was around 7:30 AM. We had breakfast and went back to the beach around 9:30Am I went into the room for something and it was purring quietly and the room was cool.
The Golden Section Room
2 Queen size beds (pretty comfortable compared to other places we’ve been in the Caribbean)
Sitting area – glass table, 2 chairs and a day bed.
Main Dresser – sits in front of the beds has a large mirror, a mall outdated television, the refrigerator is in the base on the right side and on the left are four drawers for clothes.
Refridgerator was stocked daily with beer, pop and water. The houskeeper clued in quickly that we really only drank the diet pepsi and water so she just restocked those.
Coffee Maker on dresser as well. We started just taking the coffee pouches and putting in our luggage and were pleasantly surprised that she gave us two new pouches of coffee each day. Wish we clued in on this earlier.
Large Closet – two main areas one for hanging clothes (usual minimal hangers available) and one where the safe was located with some more shelves for clothes. Between two of us we had more than enough room for our clothes.
Bathroom included a shower/tub (it was a dated jucuzzi style – we did not start it up doubt it works like a tub. One sink. Towels replaced daily. We received faceclothes on 3 days of the week and the rest of the time just regular towels. However we also had turn down service a couple of the nights where our towels were refreshed. Turndown service was not every night we didn’t care really.
Over all comments about the rooms – they were very clean and often decorated with towel art and flowers. We noticed the housekeepers walked through the resort picking flowers in on their way to work. While it was a nice touch in the room, it was unfortunate that all the flowers around the resort were picked off. The rooms were very dark at night, even with all the lights turned on. There was no door handle on the back of the balcony door so it was hard to close and open the door if you were sitting on the balcony, we also had some issues trying to lock the balcony door from the inside. We had no issues with hot water in the shower it was fine, the shower head was however old and there was not much water stream or pressure.
Our room was located on the second floor in the second building from the beach. A perfect location as it was seconds to the main trolly line and a short walk to the beach. I calculated 0.9 km walk to the main lobby area from our room it took about 15 minutes in a casual stroll up the walkway. The window in our room faced the street with one of the less popular Trolly roads and we did not hear anything while in the room. We actually hear the hotel maintenance trucks more because they had squeaky breaks.
Yes the beach area is narrower than the beaches of the neighbouring resorts Majestic and RIU which have been brought up on TripAdvisor reviews. Personally I preferred it. We were sitting under a hut very close to the water and we like that. The rumours of reserving chairs early at the resort (again, from TripAdvisor) are absolutely true. Especially on the weekend when the resort appeared to be at capacity. By 7:30 after the sunrise we noticed most of the chairs under the huts were taken but there were still alot of chairs under the palm treed area. We noticed at around 7:00Am the Bahia staff were putting towels on some of the hut chairs not sure if people paid them to do it or they were on to the fact that they could sell this service? We didn’t ask because we were early risers and loved the sunrise every day. A lot of the chairs were broken so be sure to check yours before you put the towel on it.
One note, the beach is located on the Atlantic Ocean, I’m not sure if this affects it all year round, but we noticed it was very breezy and the water was rough. There is also seeweed in the water and all along the beach it varies where each day. The current is strong and the waves bring in batches of seeweek each day. RIU and Majestic beaches also had areas with it. There is a tractor that goes by each morning with staff raking up the seeweed and putting into the truck but more just comes in. It is rather icky at first when you go in but once you are into the water you pass the seeweed and are in clear blue water.
I really don’t understand how anyone can complain about service in this resort. It didn’t matter where we went, buffet, lobby bar even the trolly/tram drivers were smiling and happy to see us. We got coffee almost the instant we sat down, plates were taken in the right time. It didn’t matter if we tipped or not always smiles and happy to help. I was very impressed and except for one waiter in the Meditteranean restaurant I thought everyone was awesome!
Photographers on site – The hotel has several photographers going around the resort with a monkey, snake, parots or an iguana. They put the animals on the tourists and then take a picture. They also walked around with two models dressed as Dominican Natives who were really fun and flirty with the tourists. It is a nice touch. Just a note about the photographers which in the Dominican which they call the papparazzi. Excursions also have photographers taking pictures and video of your experiences you will be asked everywhere even when you exit the Dominican Republic at the airport to check out the pictures that were taken, but it is your option to buy or not to buy.
I had a rough time finding a drink that wasn’t super sweet or too strong to drink. Especially at the beach bars. I poured almost everyone out. At one point I filled up my thermal cup with diet pepsi and just told them to put a little rum leaving them very little room. That was the only way I could handle it.
I found the lobby bar was more professional they made the drinks well, daquari was nice, Spanish coffee was amazing we had one every day. Every night there was a special drink served at a bar off to the right of the Lobby bar and my favourite was Coco Loco night where the drink was served in coconuts. I really enjoyed that one.
Lobby Area Bars & Entertainment
Shows in Theatre
These ran at 9:00 and 10:15 nightly there were a variety of shows very professionally run, with professional dancers and performers. The Michael Jackson show was a real treat as was the circus night. The theatre fills up rather quickly so I suggest you hit it early to get a good seat.
Lobby Bar also had nightly entertainment – some nights it was loud and echoed through the open area. I think it would have been nice to have local bands performing there but that is just me. Each night had a theme with music and special drinks.
There are 2 more bars located in the Pablo Principe shopping mall but we did not hang out there, mostly younger crowd. Apparently there was a disco there as well but again we did not hit it. The shopping mall also had an open theatre and they had some local bands playing there when we went which was also a nice change.
The Peoblo Principe Shops
This a small outdoor shopping mall located in the front of the resort just a 1 minute walk from either the Punta Cana or Bavaro lobbies. It is set up in a square, with small boutique like shops there is not much bartering in the stores although their prices were quite reasonable and we found them to be better than the vendors on the beach or the vendors in the mall. The vendors are all located inside the square in small carts, they all have pretty much the same souvenirs and are crazy with their first price offers. They will hound you and drive you nuts about giving them a price so if you like playing their game you will enjoy the barter buying souvenir carts. I prefer a price that is the best deal. Note a lot of the vendors were selling their “silver” laramar jewlery but they were not silver. Buyer beware.
The Lobby Shops
There is one lobby store in Punta Cana side of the lobby and one in the Bavaro side, they are very similar and I found they had the best prices all around. I bought coffee and a mask in the lobby shop cheaper then anywhere else. The coffee in the hotel lobby stores were also cheaper than at the airport Duty free so I was glad i bought it there. These shops have snacks, rum, coffee, souvenirs, some clothing and travel necessities, like sunscreen, feminane hygeine products, toothpast etc.
Hotel Merchant Night
There was one night where the merchant vendors were on the hotel site in front of the theatre, they were spread along both the Bavaro and Punta cana sides of the resort. They were annoying, pushy and I found out after the fact expensive with their bartering. I bought a painting for $60. I’m not upset about it because I was not able to find another one like it, but there were similar paintings in the shopping mall for $50 and at the Airport Duty Free there were also paintings available for $35-$50. Again the best prices are in the Hotel Lobby shops and the actual shops in the shopping malls the vendors will rip you off. If you are going to barter with them be sure you know what the items are worth in the shops before you play.
Merchant bartering technique - The first price they gave was crazy like $300 for a painting. Of course you will start to walk away and then they say no no, I can give you a deal for like $120 then they start asking if you buy two i’ll give them both for $80 and so on. When you have had enough they give you the calculator and say put your best price. They all do this the same way no matter what they sell. So know your prices that is all I can tell you.
Airport Duty Free
Stores included Perfume, alcohol, jewellery, paintings, Dominican souvenirs, snacks and cosmetics. Since we had a 4 hour wait for the plane at the airport (more on this later) it was nice to have a lot of stores to browse through to kill some time. The Airport also had a small food court which included Wendy’s, Baskin&Robbins and a bunch of other options.
Gran Bahia Principe Resort Restaurants
By far my favourite restaurant on the resort was the most casual and most convenient. The Olas Beach B.B.Q. Located right on the beach the restaurant is split into two sides which mirror each other. They are both the same and for some reason everyone seemed to gather more at the Punta Cana side of the restaurant, while we tended to go to the side facing the Ambar which was exactly the same and less crowded. Each of these has its own bar as well with Pepsi machine, bartenders and water. They also have a breakfast buffet from 8:00AM – 10:00Am and a lunch buffet follows. I believe this place is open at night as well if you are looking for snacks although we were not late night eaters.
Mikado Japanese Restaurant or Maiko Japanese Restaurant – A la Carte
The Mikado resides in the Punta Cana side of the resort and the Maiko is part of the Bavaro. Since most a la cartes seems available to all guests of either resort the duplication seems rather unnecessary to me. We went to the Mikado which has 4 Tepanyaki stations that seat 10-12 people. The seating at the station is about an hour and then you are moved into the main dining area for dessert. The menu is pretty set, each station has a Tepanyaki chef and server. You start with some sushi while the chef started cooking. She started with eggs, rice and veggies to make a fried rice. While that cooked she made chicken, salmon, shrimp and beef teriyaki. For dessert I had the fried ice cream. Overall the meal was ok. The food was a bit salty and lacked flavour. The saki was bitter and horrible, we couldn’t drink it. The Tepanyaki chef was not very overwhelming for what you would expect from this type of experience, but we had a nice night regardless.
Il Capriccio Italian Restaurant - A la Carte
We had a nice night at this restaurant but it was mediocre at best. There is an appetizer buffet which was very good and included prosciutto, breads with various types of olive oils and a few interesting amuse bouches. The service at the restaurant was excellent and there was good timing between meals. My friend had the seafood spaghetti, which was a light tomato sauce with lots of shrimp and calamari. I had the Pasta Bolognese which was a meat pasta fettuchini. Nothing to write home about in my opinion. The desserts were buffet style, I had a slice of Opera cake and fruit profitrolls.
Le Gourmet French Restaurant - A la Carte
We were greeted as always with smiles and a welcome drink, which for me was the first drinkable drink I was able to stomach. There was a service survey going on in the restaurant which means you are in for extra special treatment by the staff that know that they are being evaluated by their bosses. We found the menu was hard to understand. They were trying to hard to present a fancy meal with fancy names that didn’t translate well in English and I’m not sure if they translated in other languages either. I ordered the Salmon and Shrimp appetizer which was a cylinder of salmon, fruit, tomatos, pineapple and shrimp it was really nice. One thing I loved about this restaurant was the pace between courses. Things seemed to flow very smoothly. For a main I had the lamb medallions which was very tasty, my friend had the lobster pieces in a cream sauce. For dessert she ordered the cheesecake which she said was nothing special and I ordered a Marble cylinder and got a fantastic white chocolate cylinder filled with an almond/chocolate mouse with delicate chocolate pieces sticking out.
Santa Fe Tex-Mex Restaurant - A la Carte
We did not visit this restaurant, but the smells coming out of it smelled delicious. I’m wishing now we had chosen this one over the Mediterranean, maybe next time.
El Pescador Mediterranean Restaurant - A la Carte
Looks like from the decor this used to be a seafood restaurant, lots of blue, fish and shells decorating the restaurant. There is a buffet appetizer section, one main dish and then desserts at the buffet. The service here was horrible, our head waiter did not even want to talk to us (maybe because we were two women at the table with no man?) we couldn’t figure it out, he kept sending the guys clearing the tables to deal with us. The buffet items were cold, the lobster casserole was a fishy stew and the desserts were not special. We ended up leaving the restaurant very disappointed and quite irritated by the head waiter.
Garden Grill Restaurant - A la Carte
I don’t even know where this one was! I didn’t hear much about it either.
El Meson Spanish Restaurant - A la Carte
Didn’t get to visit this one either and when we walked by it was empty which was not a good sign.