Hot Spots: Families Find Vacation Gold at Iberostar Costa Dorada
By Nancy Schretter, Editor
Some parents like to check into an all-inclusive resort, put their wallet in the safe, and never leave the resort property. Others like to travel to family-friendly resorts where there is an abundance of things to see and do, both on and off the property. Iberostar Costa Dorada, an upscale family-friendly all-inclusive, satisfies both of these visions of the perfect family destination. It’s pure family vacation gold, especially for the Type-A family that uses travel as an opportunity to experience and explore.
Located on the Dominican Republic’s Gold Coast, the Iberostar Costa Dorada is a vacation mecca for active families. The resort is a TripAdvisor “Best of the Web 2003” winner, and offers excellent accommodations and activities for families. In addition, this resort’s location near Puerto Plata allows families to experience local culture, enjoy close encounters with marine mammals and other types of sea life, visit one of the world’s best windsurfing spots, and bargain with shopkeepers for paintings, amber and larimar jewelry, and other souvenirs.
All-Inclusive Vacation Value
Surrounded by tropical gardens and lush palm trees, Iberostar Costa Dorada has been designed to capture the essence of the local Dominican culture. Located just 15-minutes from the airport, the resort is comprised of 516 rooms located in nine three-story buildings arrayed in two lines marching towards the sea. The large swimming pools are located between the two rows of buildings, so most rooms have a garden, pool or ocean view from the balcony. All rooms include cable television, air conditioning, a ceiling fan, an in-room safe, and a complimentary mini-bar. The room staff at the Iberostar Costa Dorada goes out of their way to be of assistance, and will stock the mini-bar according to your preferences. Families can use the mini-bar to provide afternoon or late night snacks, and the maids like to surprise guests with little towel animals and fresh flowers on the beds at night.
The grounds of the Iberostar Costa Dorada are beautiful and well maintained. Peacocks and flamingos meander along winding walkways, and little children are fascinated by watching turtles sun themselves in the ponds. The palm-studded beach is a great spot for sunbathing on the golden sands, and it also draws families for windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling and catamaran sailing. The resort contains a five-star PADI dive center, as well as a spa, fitness center, medical center, and an Internet café. The swimming pools are large, and the children’s pool is the perfect spot for little ones.
Families vacationing at Iberostar Costa Dorada have a wide variety of choices for meals. El Mercado, the main restaurant, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet daily. At breakfast, guests can choose from typical egg dishes, waffles, pastries, and a wide variety of tropical fruit and international dishes. Lunch and dinner are equally bountiful, and the food is tasty and well prepared. In addition to the main dining room, the Iberostar Costa Dorada features three additional specialty restaurants: El Bohio, a festive tropical restaurant with Caribbean dishes; El Rodizio, a fine dining restaurant featuring Brazilian dishes; and La Hacienda, an a la carte Mexican restaurant. Advance reservations are required at all three of these restaurants. Snacks and meals are available 24-hours a day, and all drinks and food are included in the price of the resort stay.
The children’s program at Iberostar Costa Dorada, called Lucy’s Mini Club, does an excellent job of entertaining kids between the ages of 4 and 12 years old. The program operates daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and also offers Kids Night Out dinners and other activities in the evening. Mama Maria and her staff pamper the children, and many parents said that they rarely saw their children because they were so busy eating, playing, and going to shows with each other. In addition, the children occasionally put on stage shows in the evening to the rhythm of popping camera flashes. Needless to say, these performances are a big hit with parents. For young children, in-room babysitting can also be arranged at the Iberostar for an additional charge.
The exceptional staff at the Iberostar Costa Dorada is one of the highlights of a stay at this property. One feels truly welcomed here. The Star Friends team works hard around the clock, and they are great with young children and teens. Every staff member wears a smile, and they go out of their way to greet guests and meet their needs. The employees at the Iberostar Costa Dorada make the resort a standout, and a number of parents mentioned that one of the reasons they plan to return because staff is so warm, friendly, and upbeat.
The all-inclusive concept is a winning one for families, and kids learn its value early in their stay. They can have as many fruit smoothies as they want, and mom probably won’t say “no” because it’s already been included in the price. Ditto for food, rentals of non-motorized water toys, tennis, and other activities. Parents enjoy the fact that all drinks, children’s programs, taxes and gratuities, and evening entertainment are also included. It’s much easier to relax and enjoy the vacation knowing that that final bill at checkout won’t come as an unwelcome surprise. The Iberostar Costa Dorada is an excellent all-inclusive option for families, providing vacation value, a beautiful property, a wide variety of activities, and exceptional service.
Adventure and Culture Beckon Families Off-Property
The Puerto Plata area offers visitors a wide variety of activities and adventures, and families vacationing at the Iberostar Costa Dorada should consider taking advantage of the opportunities for tours and day trips. Ocean World Adventure Park is one of the most popular excursions for families. Here, families can swim with dolphins or participate in a dolphin encounter, participate in a sea lion show and encounter, snorkel through the Park’s large tropical reef pool, and observe or swim with nurse sharks. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and a lunch buffet, admission to the shows, and snorkeling in the reef pool is included in the price of admission (for children over the age of 3). Children must be at least 4 years old to do a dolphin encounter (paying parent must be in the same session) and 6 years old to participate in the dolphin swim (paying parent must be in the same session). To participate in the sea lion encounter, children must be at least 8 years of age (with a paying parent in the same session). It is strongly recommended that reservations for these programs be made as far in advance as possible. For more information, call 809-291-1000 or visit www.ocean-world.info.
Another fun excursion for families is the cable car ride to the top of 2,700-foot Mount Isabel de Torres, one of the highest points in the Dominican Republic. The 18-person cable cars travel up the mountain slowly, and the ride can be quite exciting if the car stops midway up the western slope. At the top of the mountain, one can capture a spectacular panoramic view of Puerto Plata, the Atlantic Ocean, and the surrounding coastline. An enormous statue of Christ gazes down over Puerto Plata from this spot, reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. While atop the summit, families can shop for souvenirs at the fort or wander through the botanical gardens. If you go, try to get to the cable car site as soon as it opens. The lines can be long and slow during the later hours, the view from the summit is likely to be clearest early in the day.
Families who have seen “Jurassic Park” will probably be fascinated by a trip to the Amber Museum. Here, visitors can see mosquitoes, ants, leaves and scorpions imbedded forever in amber, a hard yellow-orange fossil resin found in the hills surrounding Puerto Plata. The museum’s exhibits on the second floor are fascinating, and displays are labeled in both English and Spanish. The first floor contains a large gift shop, where one can shop for jewelry, fossilized pieces, and other items. The Amber Museum is one of the most trusted places to purchase amber items. Because amber resembles colored plastic, it is important to check your purchases to make sure they are genuine. The Amber Museum Shop contains an ultraviolet light for testing, and real amber items will glow when exposed to that light. In addition, genuine amber will float in salt water while counterfeit plastic items will sink.
If anyone in your family is a windsurfer or kiteboarder – or simply wants to try it out – make sure to visit the nearby town of Cabarete, widely known as one of the top ten best windsurfing beaches in the world. Cabarete was a sleepy little town until the late-1980’s, when it was discovered for its magnificent windsurfing potential. Here you’ll find a wide variety of windsurfing and kiteboarding schools and centers, as well as a wide variety of restaurants, shops, and an active nightlife scene. On most days, the beach is teeming with windsurfers and the skies above the bay are dotted with sails and kites. The summer months of June through September are generally considered to be some of the best for windsurfing and kiteboarding in Cabarete, while October and November often have the least amount of wind. For those who are not windsurfers, this charming little town is still well worth a visit.
The Allure of Costa Dorada
Many all-inclusive resorts seem a lot alike. They feature beautiful pools, sumptuous buffets, a wide variety of activities, and nice rooms. The Iberostar Costa Dorada delivers all that, and more. It stands apart, perhaps because of the friendliness of its staff, the attentiveness of its service, the quantity of family vacation value it delivers, and the attractions of the surrounding area. The Iberostar Costa Dorada is more than an island oasis – it is a superb family destination resort in a culturally rich area teeming with activity. This spot is certainly worth a second trip.
If You Go:
• Bring plenty of high SPF sunscreen. It’s easy to get burned and suntan lotion can be expensive.
• Remember to bring $10 for each Dominican Republic tourist visa, and plan on bringing plenty of dollar bills. Most stores and vendors accept dollars, however the shops at the Iberostar Costa Dorada accept only pesos.
• Plan to get to the pool early if you need chairs in the shade. Most chairs in shady areas were gone as early as 7:30 a.m. If you need to be in the shade and want to sleep in late, consider heading to the beach. There are lots of shady areas there, and the breeze will help to keep you cool. Be aware that topless bathing is not permitted around the pool, but is allowed on the beach.
• Bring slacks and closed toe shoes for the men and older boys in your party if you plan to eat at the specialty restaurants. Dressier shorts are allowed at the main buffet for dinner.
• E-mail the resort in advance to make specific room requests. The resort will do its best to honor these requests, but room placements cannot be guaranteed. Families with young children should avoid rooms in Block 4, as it is right next to the disco and the area is loud until late at night. Blocks 1,2, 5,6 and 7 tend to be quiet room locations, and Block 1 and 5 are both beachfront. If a good ocean view is important to you, Block 1 appears to have the fewest number of trees blocking the water view. Blocks 5, 6 and 7 are on the side closest to Lucy’s Mini Club.
• Make reservations for the specialty restaurants early, as they are very popular. Reservations can be made daily between 9 a.m. and noon.
• The Dominican Republic generally has hot weather year-round, and it can be difficult to keep drinks cold. You may want to bring thermal mugs or foam drink insulators with you. If you plan to go in the ocean, you might also want to bring aqua socks. Two small coral reefs come close to the shore, which is excellent for snorkeling.
• Plan to take advantage of the spa services at the resort. They are an excellent value, and the staff is well trained and attentive.
• If you’re looking for souvenirs, consider walking down to the local vendors’ stalls. They are located about a 5-minute walk down the beach to the right-hand side of the Iberostar (as you’re facing the ocean). The vendors on this side were respectful and not overly pushy, and offered a wide selection of merchandise from which to choose. Bargaining is expected, and the bottom-line prices were very reasonable.