This past March, my way cool partner James and I won a trip to the Grand Bahia Principe San Juan resort in the Dominican Republic. Typically, this is never the sort of vacation that I would choose. My usual vacations involve lengthy road trips, crazy hiking, and far away destinations with the goal of doing more adventurous exploring. The idea of going to a largely impoverished country and eating at an all you can eat buffet everyday was always something that made me feel a little wasteful and just generally weird. I actually went to school for Environment and Sustainable Tourism so I learned a thing or two about it a few years ago. So, did I change my mind on these all inclusive vacations? Maybe. I certainly did enjoy the freedom of not having to drive anywhere or really do anything at all apart from eat food and go to the beach, however, the restriction of not being able to just go anywhere we wanted by ourselves was less awesome. We did do two excursions, which while expensive, were worth it to us in order to get off of the resort and see more of the Dominican landscape and take a drive through local towns to get a better taste for the culture. Scroll to the bottom for a review of the actual resort and the destinations on our excursions, for anyone interested!
Grand Bahia Principe San Juan Resort Review : Overall, while I read that the resort is one of the older ones in the area and slightly dated and has mixed reviews, having no other resorts to compare it to, we did really enjoy it. The landscaping was lovely, the food was plentiful and usually good, and the service was efficient and friendly. Here are a couple notes for anyone interested... the beach was always clean and had a good amount of shade and beach chairs. Don't expect a white sand beach, but it's still nice. Be prepared for sand fleas and consider bringing bug spray. We were put on the top floor of our little building (which all contain four suites I believe), which might be a good idea to ask for incase you are worried about theft, as I read reviews about people leaving balcony doors open on the ground level. We never had any issues with this. We did have a very leaky air conditioner but they came and fixed it immediately. They also just give you a two-in-one shampoo and conditioner so I recommend bringing your own shampoo and conditioner (very expensive at the resort). As far as entertainment goes, we saw 5 of the 7 shows. Three were great, and two were really bad. The Michael Jackson tribute show was actually very impressive. All three restaurants were good, and there was food available 24/7.
The first excursion was the Carleton VIP which was a more low key tour that included first stopping at the Carleton Beach, and then swimming and snorkelling at Dudu Lagoon (so cool), followed by a buffet beach lunch at Playa Grande which was a beautiful beach. The second excursion was called the Megatour and was much more adventurous and included zip lining and the amazing Damajagua waterfalls which involved (slightly awkwardly) hiking for 40 minutes in just our bathing suits to the top of of the start of 12 waterfalls where we had to either jump or slide down to the bottom. It was super fun and jumping off of the first two waterfalls was the scariest thing I had done in a long time. The last activity was horseback riding, and I do feel bad about that one. The handler lady who was running it said they only go out once or twice a day and have some days off and she seemed to know all the horses well, but they are all so skinny and half of them were visibly showing signs that they didn't want to be ridden. The waterfalls were definitely the highlight and highly recommended!