I spent some time in the Dominican Republic and had a stay at the Bahia Principe San Juan resort in Puerto Plata. The Bahia Principe San Juan is almost 20 years old, has a problematic past, but for the last few years has been cleaning up it’s act through investment in the property and working to improve the experience. The location is about an hour away from the airport, so when you arrive buckle in for another trek. The overall experience there was a positive one, but they certainly need some outside investment (or reinvestment of funds) to bring this place up to a higher level. They consider themselves a 5-star all inclusive resort, however, I believe it’s closer to a 4-star (maybe even a half star less).
1. Property at Bahia Principe San Juan
The Bahia Principe San Juan is a very good sized resort that sits on a 370 acre property. The main resort area is surrounded by deep tropical forests, ensuring the property is quite private and safe. The beach of the resort runs 1.5km from one end to the other and offers an incredible opportunity to watch the sunset at night (though sunrises are hidden by the dense forest). The property itself is incredibly well maintained, perhaps overly maintained as crews were often working with weed wackers cutting grass as early as 6AM. They clearly need some real lawn mowers for their maintenance crews. The winding paths run through the entire resort that can be overwhelming on your first and second day – but after that, you get used to the layout. The main lobby is airy and there are many areas that are smoke-free – a welcome and uncommon surprise!
The resort is spread into two wings with the lobby, main pool and entertainment offered directly in the middle. On both wings there is a smaller pool, both of which are much quieter than the main pools. There are other benefits of each wing: Going left while facing the ocean at the lobby will lead you to the beach restaurant, while going right will take you to the Gym, Spa, Mini Golf, Tennis Courts, Soccer Field and the locals small shopping huts. Overall, the property does show signs of age, but is still quite serviceable and enjoyable.
The outdoor sports area are fairly well maintained. The mini golf is in especially good condition – though they lack putters and golf balls (But they have plenty of 7 irons. Yep.) The tennis courts are in great condition, but again lack supplies. There are two tennis courts, but only two tennis rackets and two squash rackets. They also only have 4 tennis balls. Highly recommend bringing your own equipment if you intend to play! The one tennis court doubles as a basketball court, but the nets and backboards are not well maintained. Lastly, there is a place to play soccer behind that and the grass is thick, but manageable.
The Spa and Gym are both located in the same area and are certainly quite dated. The spa especially seemed to be rather behind the times in what you might expect – and prices were absurdly high. The gym is decently equipped with free weights and some basic machines – however the main sell was the open air windows. There was also a nice sound system and a television in the gym.
You will often have people come up to you asking you if you’re interested in buying things – at which point they take you on the long walk to the edge of the resort where ‘pop up’ shops are set up. Naturally the high pressure/negotiations start immediately and they all want to be your friend, shake your hand, find out how much money you have etc. The experience is never positive there and they’ll treat you rudely if you don’t buy. If you want to buy little trinkets/souvenirs, be weary. A decorative drum we bought at the local vendors had some bugs in it that ate through the bottom before we left – thank god it happened there. We ditched all the stuff we bought after that.
2. Staff at Bahia Principe San Juan
The staff at the Bahia Principe San Juan were a mix of great and not so much. The front desk staff were polite and helpful, but seemed a little too casual with how they handled problems. The staff in the restaurants were by and large, fantastic. Very polite, friendly, upbeat and smiling. The buffet especially where many of the staff understood English quite well – sit closest to the pool and we had the best staff in Juan, Marco, and Raul. The restaurants offered nice service, however their English was significantly less developed.
The animation team were high energy and entertaining to watch, however, their attention focused mainly on the 18-19 year old girls, having them engage the team in increasingly sexual situations – kissing, grinding and having them simulate oral – keep in mind, this is a family resort.
3. Beach at Bahia Principe San Juan
The beach at the Bahia Principe San Juan was quite nice, and clearly well maintained. There are plenty of chairs to lounge in the sun, and plenty of space to find an area of your own. This resort has 5KM of private beach – protected by a coral reef, and wave barriers further south. There were a few activities that could be done including renting jet skis, kayaks and other water activities.
Now, it should also be noted that this beach is not the white sand/clear water that many people love about the Caribbean. Instead, the sand is a more golden colour, and the water is pretty tossed up and cloudy. There are also some concerns about jellyfish, so if you had planned to do snorkeling, you should sign up for one of the tours that will take you to a better area for it. However, if you’re there for the sun, you’ll love the beach.
4. Rooms at Bahia Principe San Juan
The rooms at the Bahia Principe San Juan are spacious, but dated. The ground floor rooms features two Twin beds (or one King), a bar fridge, dresser, closet space, a couple chairs and side tables. The bathrooms look to have been recently updated. The beds are more firm than we would have liked, but that’s common in the Dominican. The televisions are disappointing – a small 17″ bulb style television with snowy cable – granted we didn’t spend much time using them. We highly recommend getting a second floor room where the rooms are brighter and fresher. Also, don’t count on hot water or strong water pressure.
The wiring in this resort is awful – many of the outlets did not work, and others looked ready to start a fire. Fortunately, we brought a power bar with us and were able to plug it into the one decent outlet in the bathroom to power all our devices in the main room. Speaking of out-of-date, this resort has keys. Literal keys that have the room number printed on them. If you lose your key, anyone could just head to your room. There is an in-room safe, and enough traffic in the area that theft is unlikely. The rooms also have a little patio area with a couple chairs and a small table.
The units do have air conditioning, which works okay when it’s running – but the AC units look old and worn down. The first night our AC worked perfectly, but our friends did not. We told front desk and they sent someone who fixed it – however, our neighbours lost their AC as a result. They complained, and our friends place lost air conditioning. I’m not sure if it’s possible or not, but it seemed like for 20 rooms, they could only offer coverage for 19 (or less?) rooms. Your mini fridge will be refilled with whatever soda and beer you drank the day prior, and a bottle of water. Tip the guy a few bucks on the first day and he’ll make sure to fill you up with more water and more beer – or leave a little note requesting ‘agua + cerveza’ with your tip in the fridge.
5. Food at Bahia Principe San Juan
First off, let’s deal with the water – you can drink the water and the ice they provide. It is well sourced and fully treated water! Do not drink from the taps, but washing your hands/showering is fine. None of us had a single problem with the water.
The food in the main buffet was actually quite good. There was a lot options, and some specials from time to time. We were hoping bacon would make an appearance but weren’t holding our breath – until our last two days, and sure enough bacon for breakfast! There’s food for every pallet – hot dogs, burgers, chicken, fish, seafood, tons of vegetables, fruit, desserts, rice, pasta, etc. While the quality was not what you might find at a Sobeys, you would only notice it in a side by side taste test comparison.
The wine is wine – “What is the red wine?” “It’s red.” The taste will also change day by day depending on the amount of water added to it – it’s possible it comes concentrated and is diluted down to consumable levels. Instead, stick to the Presidente beer with dinners. It comes ice cold, and is delicious. You can also get fruit juices, water, milk, and sodas – or if you head to a bar, you can easily grabbed a mixed drink. Speaking of, the alcohol is very a low alcohol percentage, so drink up if you want the buzz! Rum and Coke probably the best option, but everything drinks well when the temperatures are in the 30s.
The restaurants offer a decent alternative to buffet dining, however don’t expect it to be radically different. All of the restaurants require a reservation (you can make 3 reservations for a week stay), and feature a buffet style ‘appetizer’ option – generally with staple selections that you also see at the buffets, followed by a main appetizer and a main course, ending with a dessert. The items on the menu are not often found in the buffet – although some crossover did occur. There are kids menus as well. The quality is roughly the same, but the experience just feels different. They advise pants and closed toe shoes, but this wasn’t really enforced.
6. Nightlife at Bahia Principe San Juan
Each night the animation team put on some form of entertainment – a little show involving fire, or skills, or story telling. There were also nights where the audience was involved – they crown a Miss San Juan (see above re: sexual acts). They also do other activities with the crowd. For the most part it’s entertaining the first night or two, but by day 4 you’ll be bored by it.
Instead, head over to the casino which has a few older slot machines (with almost no chance to win), and some card tables that play Blackjack or some form of poker. Keep in mind that they pay in the currency you play with – so buy in with USD rather than Dominican dollars.
There is also a disco dance club – the music is a few seasons out of date, and the crowd is young. Though, when the temperature drops to 25 at night, and there’s a cool breeze coming in – nothing better than drinking, playing cards and people watching.
7. Services at Bahia Principe San Juan
The WiFi at the resort is god awful – a SpeedTest showed download speeds of 0.5kbps, and upload speeds in the 0.2 range, this is on their free service (limited to ONE hour per day) and only near the lobby. I noticed WiFi access points located all over the resort – so on further investigation I learned that you can pay the resort ~$12 for WiFi anywhere (Speed Tested at 2.5 down, and 2.0 up.) However, we found a close held secret that no one will tell you: While on the Free WiFi, sign up for a service called ‘Boingo‘, it will give you unlimited access to quicker internet service (5 down, 3 up) and only cost you $4.95 (US) for the entire week! Then when you get home, you simply cancel the subscription! You can thank us later.
8. Suggestions for Bahia Principe San Juan
- Bring lots of sunscreen.
- Bring a power bar for better access to power.
- Sign up with Boingo.
- Bring a small first aid kit.
- Bring US Dollars.
- Bring a large thermal mug/cup so you don’t need to make frequent drink runs.
- Bring your own moist bathroom wipes – in case your system can’t handle the food.