The Dominican Republic has become immensely popular with Canadians and Europeans because of the climate, beaches, and of course – the people. Montrealers who followed the Expos have fond memories of the many Dominican players who played for the team – including manager Felipe Alou, his son Moises, all star Vladimir Guerrero, and so many more who were also fine goodwill ambassadors for the second largest country in The Caribbean.

The Spanish company that owns Bahia Principe Resorts has just opened another all-inclusive resort near La Romana, making this their seventh resort in the Dominican Republic, in addition to their resorts throughout The Caribbean, Mexico and Europe.

The resort is situated about 30 minutes from the airport, on a crescent-shaped beach that is like something out of a travel brochure. One couple we met from Toronto commented; “This is beyond our expectations…we’re really pleased that we chose it.”

A main feature is the beach.

Not only is it a fine walking beach, the sand begins approximately 50 yards from the sea. Between the hotel grounds and the seaside, there is a wide expanse of golden sand shaded by a grove of mature palm trees offering intermittent sun and shade.

But let’s go back to the beginning, when you arrive from the airport. The Bahia Principe has an elegant entrance dominated by a huge expanse of polished marble floors, massive chandeliers and – no walls! You’re truly in a tropical paradise where the main lobby area is essentially a roof with ornate Spanish grille work and pillars where most buildings would normally have walls.

It’s especially dramatic at night, with the lights twinkling as you walk over for dinner – past the flickering candles on the surrounding patio tables.

There are 400 mini suites with a guest capacity of over 800 people because many rooms are equipped for family occupancy. The suites are spacious, well-equipped and truly a home away from home. The accommodations are set in a series of two story buildings arranged much like a beach community in a garden setting, with brick walkways leading to the pools, the beach, and the main buildings. The grounds are beautifully maintained with flowering hedges, ornamental shrubbery and royal palms.

Each room has a sitting area with a couch that can double as a single bed, chairs and table, a lovely balcony, a small fridge that is replenished daily with complimentary soft drinks and local beer, and an available in-room safe large enough to hold a laptop computer, passports, etc. If you must – there’s even an iron and board.

Extra details include comfortable cotton robes and slippers. We liked being able to brew our own morning coffee and enjoy it on the balcony before heading over the main dining room for breakfast.

The resort has a spa with a complete set of services, including massages, aromatherapies, facials and other beauty treatments. If fitness is on your agenda, you’ll be able to maintain your routine – or finally get started – in a well-equipped gym that has all the latest machines, plus free weights and dumbbells for the more advanced. Two clay tennis courts are on site and golf is available at nearby Casa de Campo.

Poolside activities are popular and range from morning yoga or stretching to volleyball, water polo and afternoon salsa lessons. The activities co-ordinators are enthusiastic and keep everybody moving in English, French, Spanish, Italian and some German. Can you think of a better way to wind down the day than practising Salsa or Meringue as the sun slips down to the ocean horizon?

We enjoyed sailing the stable Hoby Cat catamarans, and also took out a pedalo boat. Sea kayaks, boogie boards (if you have to ask- leave it someone else…) and windsurfers are all available without charge.

The beach is located in a bay, making the water calm and very swimable. About three hundred yards out from shore, there is a small island that is also equipped with beach chairs and shade umbrellas. There is a complimentary boat service running hourly from the hotel pier to the island.

Orquita (Orchid) – the main dining room is an elegant buffet-style restaurant with a capacity of approximately 500 guests. This enormous room is divided into sections that make it feel much more intimate. The waiters are quick to bring coffee in the morning, and wine or beer with lunch and dinner. The chefs maintain an excellent variety, whether it is for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Individual orders are prepared at the grilling counters. There is also a very respectable Sushi selection available at dinner.

Bahia Principe has three specialty restaurants, and each all-inclusive package includes four a-la-carte dinners in the Club Golden package offered by Transat Holidays. Le Gourmet features Continental cuisine; Il Pescador specialises in fish; and Il Capriccio is the popular Italian restaurant. The ambiance, service and food at all three were excellent.

A new performance area had been added, and each night a different show is offered. The resort also has a casino, with poker and roulette – plus slot machines. Earlier in the evening, the children’s animators organize a performance with the kids, and its good fun if you have youngsters in your group. The resort also has a well supervised Kids Club, complete with its own clubhouse.

(Gran Bahia Principe Club Golden – five star luxury in the Dominican Republic-07)The reception hall in the Governor’s house built in 1509 by Diego Columbus.

Transat Holidays has an on-site representative who is in the hotel 6 days a week. Jean Roch offers a one hour seminar on the first morning to provide an overview of the resort, the excursions being offered; and some helpful hints about local customs. Fluently trilingual, he does separate presentations in English and French for Canadian guests.

This resort is located close enough to historic Santo Domingo to make even a half day tour an interesting and informative experience. This capitol city has an impressive list of ‘firsts’ – as the main settlement for the Spanish in the New World, dating back to the late 15th and early 16th Centuries. While Christopher Columbus first landed in the Bahamas in 1492, he continued on to Espanola and visited the island four times. He founded Santo Domingo as the capitol, and installed his son Diego as the fourth Governor in 1509. (Our own Samuel de Champlain wasn’t even born yet…) Our tour took us to the Governor’s Residence; the first street in America – Ladies Street; the first Hospital; the first Cathedral; the first Monastery; the first shopping street (dare we say strip mall?); and the first Court. Santo Domingo was the entry point to the new world, with the Spanish conquerors (Conquistadors) moving on to Central and South America, Cuba, Mexico and Florida. They all started off from Santo Domingo.

We took another tour to Catalina Island. Before going ashore, we anchored for 30 minutes of snorkelling from the boat. We then enjoyed a couple of hours of sun, swimming and more snorkelling from the idyllic white sand beach. Once again, we were back in time for the afternoon dance lessons.

(Gran Bahia Principe Club Golden – five star luxury in the Dominican Republic-08)The Amber Museum in Santo Domingo has an excellent gift shop.

The staff plays an integral role in making a holiday special, and they seem to have found the right formula at Bahia Principe. We discussed this with Martha Cases, Reservations Manager for the Bahia Principe Club Golden (providing upgraded services such as free internet access). Martha is also the Public Relations Manager; has been with the company four years. She is one of the department heads brought in for training and organization of the new workforce. “Tourism is the main industry in the Dominican Republic, and the hotel employment we offer is really appreciated – especially at this property which is close to their homes in La Romana and Santo Domingo.”

In addition to 7 and 14 day holidays, Transat Holidays is also offering 10 and 11 day all-inclusive packages to the Gran Bahia Principe Club Golden. Imagine putting two of those back-to-back and enjoying 21 days in a beachfront paradise. Because of the close relationship between the companies and the volume of business that Transat brings, their customers generally get preferred room locations closest to the beach and pool areas – in addition to very good pricing.

The Gran Bahia Principe Club Golden is an outstanding destination for people who like to be active and enjoy sports – even if your idea of ‘sport’ is a few good books and a deck chair by the sea… For more information you can visit the Transat Holidays web site; or you may also want to visit the Bahia Principe site at: Bon Voyage!