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Travel to the Dominican Republic, Cigar Country

Visiting the Dominican Republic
Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 1)

There are several dozen fine restaurants in town, though at least half of them border on kitsch. Those which do not don't necessarily have anything special to offer. A few places--Cafe Capri, Exquisito and La Terezana--are more authentically Dominican, and there is more attention to the food than at other restaurants.

Hotel V Centenario
Avenida George Washington 218, Santo Domingo, RD
Phone: (809) 221-0000
Fax: (809) 221-2020
Room rates: single and double: $155 to $190; suite: $255
Three restaurants, two bars, pool, shops, casino, one tennis and two squash courts, sauna, gym, parking

 

A perfect example of what has happened in recent years to the hotel industry in Dominicana is the V Centenario. A two-year-old hotel, the V Centenario has already changed management. Despite this, it remains the best-looking property on the Malecon, mostly because it is modern and less careworn than the others. It borders on feeling a bit cold, but the 16-story, 200-room hotel is by far the most professionally run property and it manages to meet the expectations of an Intercontinental chain hotel. It is also the only hotel on the Malecon which plans on holding cigar dinners in 1995.

On the new executive floor there is a separate dining room and concierge desk with private check-in, and all rooms feature access to fax and copy facilities.

All V Centenario guest rooms feature safes (not an amenity to take for granted, since most hotels in Dominicana charge extra and keep your valuables in a safety deposit box inconveniently located at the front desk), minibars, cable, two double beds or one queen size. Suites have desks, sofa beds and one-and-a-half baths with giant sunken bathtubs. Throughout the hotel the style is muted, but exceptionally clean and quiet.

The V Centenario also has a casino, but this is not a good place for gambling. The coolness of the hotel doesn't meld with the necessity of excitement in a game room. It is possible to nap in this casino, so go elsewhere for action.

Jaragua
Avenida George Washington No. 367,
P.O. Box 769-2, Santo Domingo, RD
Phone: (809) 221-2222
Fax: (809) 686-0528
Room rates: single and double: $180 to $220; suite: $495 to $820

 

Just the opposite of the V Centenario, the Jaragua Renaissance Resort and Casino is bursting with energy, from its lively disco to its massive casino. It feels like Vegas, which goes a long way toward explaining the slightly fraying carpeting in the room, and suburban shopping-mall sprawl of the entire property. Better to stay out and enjoy the best pool in the city--afternoons are an excellent time for sipping Daiquiris and watching capitalinos schmooz their way around. In the evenings the most impressive-looking casino on the island pulses with cash and a bold, international exuberance. The 7,600 sq.-ft. casino is divided relatively equally between slots and regular gaming tables, with black jack, roulette, baccarat and craps all available. Of course, like all of the casinos in the capital, there is a sports book. It's unlikely that the Jaragua is a good spot for serious gamblers, as less locals come here and more tourists on fixed budgets come by to blow their souvenir money. But the ambience, with pink walls, gaudy mirrors and a perfectly tacky '80s exuberance, makes the Jaragua a fantastic site for gambling gratuitously.

Rooms here are adequate, and the VIP section is wisely removed from all of the casino buzz. However, there is no overriding distinction to the guest rooms (besides fuchsia), and overall they are a bit too dark for a country so blessed by clean air and bright skies.

Hamaca Beach Hotel
P.O. Box 2973
Santo Domingo, RD
Phone: (809) 523-4611, (800) 945-0792
Fax: (809) 523-6767
Room Rates: single and double: $115 to $175; suites: $135 to $255
Three restaurants, four bars, terrace, grill, tennis, scuba diving, archery, bicycling, horseback riding, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing

 

The Hamaca is a welcome surprise. Fifteen minutes from downtown, its private beach escapes crowds and noise, but still allows for city tourism--and it's a bit closer to La Romana and the Consolidated Cigar Factory (Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd.) than its brethren in town. A different perspective is evident throughout Boca Chica beach, where the hotel is located. People slow down, and the staff is a bit friendlier. Enter the clean, terra-cotta-tiled lobby and a calm, tropical quietude returns. As you walk down the terraced landscape, through the lower lobby and the beachfront side of the property (the hotel is shaped like a rectangle, with the lower side of one long edge facing the water and the upper edge fronting a lush garden), you wind up on the hot, white sand beach where a palm-frond-covered bar is the focus of noonday respites. After an iced pineapple juice, it is possible to rent jet skis, windsurf up to one-quarter-mile out without encountering rough surf (the beach is naturally protected by a reef), go horseback riding or play tennis. The hotel is also adding a casino due to open early in 1995.

Rooms are sprightly decorated, with minibars, large closets and in-room safes. Suites are larger, with balconies, living rooms and a bit more panache.

The Hamaca is an all-inclusive resort, which means that some restaurants have á la carte meal service, and a few "gourmet"-style places are cash only. Naturally, it's necessary to drive downtown to find more dining variety.

Hotel Santo Domingo and Casino Hispaniola
Avenida Independencia and Abraham Lincoln
P.O. Box 2112, Santo Domingo, RD
Phone: (809) 423-3333, (800) 877-3643
Fax: (809) 523-8394
Room rates: single and double: $105 to $125; Excel Floor: $135 to $155
Three restaurants, two bars, pool, sundeck, sauna, three tennis courts, conference rooms and helipad

 

In the heart of the city, the Santo Domingo is the Oscar de la Renta-designed prize of the capital. But it is starting to look just a bit too funky (it was designed in the '70s), with lots of red and black lacquer which should be replaced. Nonetheless, a few excellent restaurants and very quiet rooms make this one of the best hotels in the city. Each floor has a concierge desk and the VIP floor has secretary, fax and copy facilities, as well as an open bar.

Standard rooms are huge, with two queen beds and a clean, bold decor. Each room has been decorated in a different style, so ask in advance if you want (or don't want) your room to look like a bordello. Fortunately, some rooms are homey, and a dogmatic insistence on using natively produced materials has led to some very beautiful interior spaces.

Across the street at the Hispaniola Hotel (a lesser property) is the casino. It is no secret that this is not a thrilling casino atmosphere, but because they know that they can avoid tourists (poor gamblers who sour the pot), Dominicans come here in droves. The slots offer better odds (blackjack slots have wild jokers, increasing the possibility of winning an average hand), and the minimums at tables are lower, so more people can afford to bet. Five roulette tables dominate the center of the gaming room, while the slots are set aside in another room to keep the noise down for the card-playing gamblers. There are also tables for craps, baccarat and poker, as well as a "Texas table," which allows poker players to bet against each other (the house gets a modest share of the winnings).

LA ROMANA

Casa de Campo
Excel Club Villas
P.O. Box 140, La Romana, RD
or: 2600 S.W. Third Avenue, 3rd Floor, Miami, Florida 33129
Phone: (305) 856-7083, (800) 877-3643
Fax: (305) 523-8548
Room rates: deluxe three-bedroom: about $815 to $1,080; deluxe four-bedroom: about $1,015 to $1,308
Jacuzzi or pool, maid, butler, chef, bar, golf cart, VIP concierge and sports guide and all standard guest services

 

Everyone who's been to Casa de Campo knows what it's about--size. It may be the largest resort complex on the planet (7,000 acres). Where else can you find a private town, a 5,000-seat, Roman-ruin-style amphitheater and Altos de Chavon, a Mediterranean-style village and privately owned design school? New at Casa de Campo (see review, Cigar Aficionado, Winter 1992) are Excel Club Villas for rent, complete with butler, maid, cook, babysitter, unlimited bar, private golf cart and use of regular hotel facilities such as the fitness center and safari skeet range. The new homes are huge, with high ceilings, excellent, well-conceived amenities and a very Dominican, relaxed atmosphere.

Casa de Campo is also very close to Consolidated Cigar Corp., so cigars and a tour are both readily available to tourists.

PLAYA PUNTA CANA

Punta Cana Beach Resort
Punta Cana, Higuey, RD
P.O. Box 524127, Miami, Florida 33152-4121
Phone: (809) 221-CANA, (800) 972-2139
Fax: (809) 687-8745
Room rates: beach double: $73 to $135; tennis double: $68 to $120; superior: $78 to $145
340 rooms, three restaurants, four bars, car rental, scuba, windsurfing, sailboats, kayaking, four tennis courts, horseback riding and water-skiing

 

Both the Punta Cana and Bavaro Beach Resorts (below) are very far from anywhere. The capital is a three-hour drive, and though the Punta Cana International Airport can get you from Santo Domingo in an hour, or by jet from Puerto Rico even faster, everything seems rather far off when all you can see is blue sky, blue water and white sand. But the isolated feeling wears off two minutes after warm sand sinks in between your toes and you realize that nobody you know is looking at this vista or sitting on a beach (considered one of the 10 best on the globe) this pristine and handsome.

At Punta Cana the feeling is accentuated by a sleepy atmosphere, soft trade winds and the occasional lilt of a meringue band. This property, though it services a lot of guests, is perfectly divided, so that a room is never noisy (most of the guest quarters are in tinyvillas), and visitors don't feel rushed. Life is very, very slow here, and Dominicans who work at the resort smile a bit more.

Rooms (either on the beach or near the garden) are lovely, with lots of muted coral, blue, yellow and green-colored furnishings. They are rather spacious and clean, with nice touches like plants in hand-crafted pots and native art on the walls, which further emphasizes the Dominican beach feel.

A private marina is under construction to the south of the resort, and properties with slips will be for sale, with incentives for time-share usage.

One drawback to staying here or at Bavaro is the food. While it is adequately tasty, there are no alternatives--if you go down the road a piece you'll just find more road.

Bavaro Beach Resort
Higuey, RD
Phone: (809) 686-5997, (800) 336-6612
Room rates: single and double: $120 to $270; Palace: $150 to $330
1,955 rooms, 13 restaurants, eight bars, five pools, beauty parlor, cash exchange, medical center, 16-table casino, two discos, four stages,windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, horseback riding (stable), six tennis courts, badminton, 18-hole golf course


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