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Reviewed 21 June 2011

My girlfriend and I have just returned from another fabulous break in the Dominican Republic, this time at the Gran Bahia Principe Esmeralda. We visit the Dominican Republic annually in June and have previously stayed at the Excellence Punta Cana, Majestic Colonial Punta Cana, and Gran Bahia Principe Ambar. For background information we are in our early 30's and travel several times per year.

We selected this hotel for 2 reasons. Firstly we stayed at the sister hotel (Ambar) the previous year and loved it, so to some extent we knew what to expect. Secondly, we were able to book this break for just less than £1,000 person (for 2 weeks), which made it a complete no brainer, as we had seen the hotel and knew that it was head and shoulders above any other hotel in Punta Cana at that price (or within £400 of that price).

When we travel we are very nosey and often sneak into nearby hotels to see if there is anywhere else we like for the following year. We have come up with a rating system for the hotels, which is based on a score of 1 – 5 with 1 being very cheap and cheerful and 5 being opulent and sophisticated. Overall we decided that this hotel was a grade 4 (with the only grade 5 hotels in this area being Iberostar Grand, Paradisus Palma Real, Zoetry Agua and Secrets Cap Cana, however all of these hotels are more than 2 x as expensive as what we paid for this trip.

The Hotel

Esmeralda is a small hotel in a cluster of 4 Gran Bahia hotels. It was opened 12 months ago and is immaculate inside and out. The design of the building is absolutely beautiful and far more so than any of the hotels we have stayed in previously. It is a children friendly hotel, but in June we never found that to be a problem as the majority of guests were adult couples and the pool still had a very relaxing and sophisticated atmosphere. The only difference with this hotel was that the music/entertainment was low key at night so as not to disturb children who had gone to bed early. This did not matter as it was possible to have drinks and more upbeat entertainment in each of the other 3 hotels or in the Pueblo Principe (communal area).

The Rooms

The rooms are exactly as you see them in the brochure or on the internet. It is an all suite hotel, and rooms are fitted with a spacious bathroom including a Jacuzzi bath, flat screen TV and 4 poster bed. Included in the price is a butler service (for turndown, scented pillows and romantic baths with rose petals etc.). Our butler was fantastic and no job was too much trouble. There is also complimentary room service 24 hours per day.

We stayed in Block 90 which in our opinion was the best of the 4 blocks as it was right on the beach and offered a lovely view of the pool. As returning guests they gave us a wonderful surprise with a bottle of rum, fruit and t-shirts in a gift bag with ribbons as well as pre made reservations to 8 restaurants for our convenience.

The Food

The food is always a subject of contention on Trip Advisor. Some people live their lives to complain (we met some on this trip) and obviously feel that if they do not find the exact foods which they eat at home, cooked exactly as their mother used to make it then the food is terrible! We are foodies and I take a serious interest in cooking back home. Neither of us had any major complaints about the food in any of the restaurants.

The greater complex offered approximately 11 restaurants, which as an Esmeralda guest you have unlimited access to. I will say that the 4 gourmet restaurants in the Esmeralda and Ambar hotels were better by a considerable margin and if I were to return I would remain within these complexes and not eat at the communal restaurants or buffet in the 2 cheaper hotels (with the exception of the Japanese Tepanyaki table which was very good and well liked by even the fussiest of eaters). There were also several reports of stomach upsets after eating in the communal restaurants. The menus were extensive enough in the other restaurants to avoid these altogether so I would not see this as a reason to criticise the Esmeralda hotel.

Don Pablo was our favourite and I would actually say that I would pay to go to this restaurant if it were in my home town. Here you can eat fillet steak and lobster until it comes out of your ears and it is cooked to perfection. It was so good that on a couple of occasions I ordered 2 main courses.

The Esmeralda buffet was also very good and was themed nightly (i.e. American Night, Dominican Night, Oriental Night etc.).

On the whole all of the food was tasty and some was exceptional. Menus are designed to account for the tastes of all nations and all age groups. If you have exceptionally high standards and are looking for Michelin Star quality food then perhaps this may not be the resort for you, but I can assure you it will take a considerable amount more money to find those standards in the Caribbean.

The Staff

One of the key things which has brought us back to the Dominican Republic time and time again is the warm and welcoming manner of the Dominicans. I have travelled the world and have been to many locations but I have never been welcomed with such sincerity as I am when I return to the Dominican Republic. At first it is easy to be sceptical and to say that they are just tip fishing, but we are not big tippers and this has never lead them to treat us any different. All they ask for is a smile and some respect in return and they will make you feel like you are the very most important guests in the resort. I speak a small amount of Spanish, which helps in the first instance, but all of the customer facing employees are trained in English (and usually French, Russian and German too) so it is very easy to communicate.

When we came to leave the hotel, my girlfriend had a tear in her eye and we were hugged by at least 7 members of staff, from the room cleaner to the diving instructor. I will give a special mention to Divemaster Domingo, who was a real credit to the hotel and a real character around the main pool during the day. I would love to mention them all but I would be here all day.

There are some on this site who may suggest otherwise but this leaves me to be highly sceptical about their own conduct. We saw some in the hotel who were embarrassingly rude to the locals and naturally in return they did not get the hand of friendship or the outstanding service which others got.

The Beach

Out of all of the Gran Bahia hotels in this cluster, the beach here is the best. Residents of the Esmeralda have access to a private beach with upgraded sun chairs and new sun shades. They also have a private water sports centre with the newest boats and water sports equipment. Finally unlike the other hotels, all Esmeralda rooms are within a 2 minute walk of the beach which is very convenient (when compared to the main hotel, where the rooms can be more than a 10 min walk on a very hot pathway!).

Summary

Esmeralda guests have the best of all worlds, with brand new facilities, a relaxing spacious pool, the best food on the complex with unlimited dinner reservations and access to the other hotels facilities for variety and for more lively entertainment. It has a sophisticated feel about it which is way beyond its price tag and if you do not want to pay the £2,000 plus which is required for the 4 most expensive hotels in the area, you can bag this hotel for a mere £1,000 to £1,300 (depending on when travelling) and level of service and quality which is not too different. Furthermore this hotel offers a beauty which I have not seen matched in any other Dominican hotel at any price. It has to be seen to be believed as photos do it no justice.

Finally if you are considering this hotel alongside the Ambar, I would say that both offer a very high standard and both offer the same cuisine with the all hotel pass, but this hotel edges it with the better beach, better pool and in my opinion the very best staff! Presently you can pick it up for quite a bit less cash too so it is a no brainer. And if you are thinking about saving the extra £200 per person and staying at the Bavaro or the Punta Cana, let me stop you from making a huge mistake as there is no comparison what so ever and you will spend the whole time kicking yourself! In comparison to the other hotels which we have stayed at, I would take this over the Majestic Colonial every day of the week as there is no comparison in terms of beauty or quality and feel that it is 50/50 with the much more expensive Excellence hotel – although that could be a tougher decision. The Esmeralda would win on the beach, the rooms, variety of evening entertainment within the group and the beauty of the Esmeralda complex, but the Excellence would have the edge with sheer class and sophistication, variety of food and the little unexpected touches which you only find in the world's premier hotels, but then the excellence is 50% more expensive.

Out of interest, next year we intend to stay at the Gran Bahia Principe Cayo Leventado, which is Gran Bahia’s Flagship hotel in the Dominican Republic.

  • Stayed: June 2011, travelled as a couple
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47  Thank manxnutterontour
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 21 June 2011

Arrived early and they had my room ready, very classy hotel, luxury all around, beautiful rooms, jacuzzi, and very friendly staff. The food was excellent at the Esmeralda. The hotel is next to the beach. But if you have kids you may want to consider another location, besides the pool and beach, there is really not much for them to do. No basketball courts or tennis courts, no game room, etc. My kids after the 3rd day of pool and beach were getting bored. Highly recommend that the hotel have ammenities for the kids. Also, the lobby at night, not much to do, no live music, you have to go all the way to the Punta Cana hotel to have some fun. I will highly recommend this hotel for their services, cleaniless, first class restaurants, location nad most of all the very friendly staff. We loved it and will return for next year. We traveled from Puerto Rico.

  • Stayed: June 2011, travelled with family
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1  Thank Luis-Wichy
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 20 June 2011

Brief summary:

Stay at the esmerelda, not the punta cana or bavaro, they are different levels. We stayed in Esmerelda, ate fillet steak and lobster nearly every night. Good range of international drinks, room service and turndown service as standard, unlimited restaurant bookings (Don Pablo and Japanese are amazing!). Don't eat at Le Gourmet or El Pescador. Esmerelda guests can use any bar in hotel (inc. Ambar hotel), and any buffet. Great beach, atlantic/ carribean cross over so don't expect perfect still sea. DO NOT GO ON SAONA ISLAND TRIP, it is a big dissapointment, we spoke to 8 groups, all were unhappy with price of trip/ quality of beach.

My partner and I (both aged 21) visited the Esmerelda hotel for 2 weeks in June. We had read the reviews on trip advisor before going so expected a good hotel, but our expectations were exceeded. Having stayed at plently of all inclusive 5-star resorts from Egypt to Jamaica we know standards can vary.

Food - The food in the buffet is generally standard food, with the exception of the gourmet corner which has individual starters, and the desserts are individual as well, with fantastic chocolate decorations in each. The food in the a la carte resaurants varies; the Don Pablo and the Japanese are amazing. We ordered fillet steak (which is all inclusive!) and they brought an entire fillet of cow out and carved it infront of us, there was only 3 of us for the entire fillet. Don pablo 'famous carribean lobster' is brilliant, it is an entire lobster, shelled and read to eat. Ask for the flambe bannana which isn't on the menu but is fantastic. I have eaten in many fine restaurants including Gordon Ramsey's royal hospital road, and can honestly say the steak I had there is the best I ever had, cooked rare as I ordered it. Japanese they cook the food in front of you and is good fun, the prawns are outstanding and the amount of food is unbelievable. We went to each of these restaurants twice.

Other restaurants are standard, void el pescadaur and la gourmet, the worst two meal I have eaten at a 'restaurant'. Do try oriental night in the buffet, and gala night, where caviar, cava and prawn cocktails go side by side with (more) steak.

The pool is quiet, but there is some caribbean music playing, great in the first week, annnoying in second week! Service in esmerelda is second to none, fast and efficient but when it got busy standards slipped a little. Ramon the butler is the true gem of the hotel though. He knows everyones room number without meeting you, will run you baths with petals and candles, sprays room with camomile scent and will have your scented specialist pillows ready when you get back from the bars.

Drinks are good quality alcohol- beefeater gin (& 2 other london gins), jim beam whiskey, spanish cava, smirnoff and eristoff vodka, martini and bacardi gold rum are all included, along with lots of other drinks. Cocktails are not too strong and served with fresh fruit in a proper cocktail glass.

Staff do speak very good english, and are much more polite and kind than jamaican staff. Rooms are large and clean and the jacuzzi bath is fantastic.

You can use any buffet restaurant or pool in 4 hotels, but other hotels can't come into yours. We were offered timeshare but said no and were left alone.

Overall the best hotel we e been to, we ate lobster and steak most nights, food is well presented and served by kind waiters. Rooms are very nice, room service and turn down service are nice extras, champagne breakfast as standard and good international branded drinks. The house wines (red, white, rose) are all very drinkable, which is a first for me in an all inclusive, and the cava is beutiful. I would thoroughly recommend to anyone.

Room Tip: pool view rooms in block 90-92 get weak Wi-Fi
  • Stayed: June 2011, travelled as a couple
    • Value
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10  Thank leadyb
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 14 June 2011

My husband and I went to Gran Bahia Principe Esmeralda and all our expectations were exceeded. We were using a friends timeshare and ended up bying one for ourselves. From the moment we arrived at the hotel we were taken to a private check in area for members only where we served champagne and lead to our beautiful and well appointed junior suite, with all the amenities and perks we could possible think of. Our concierge took care of all the a la carte restaurants for us and really made us feel important. The food in all the restaurants we ate were delicious. The staff went over the board to please us and make us feel at home. At the end of our stay we were calling everyone by names. It would take me forever to mention all the things that made this vacation so enjoyable but I would only say Esmeralda hotel is worth every penny you spend! Now, being members, we will go back as much as we can and we know it will feel like coming home.

  • Stayed: April 2011, travelled as a couple
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5  Thank Caribbeanpearl
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 June 2011

My sister and I stayed at the GBP Esmeralda from May 5th through to the 12th. Since we both have stayed at numerous GBP properties, we knew what to expect from the GBP chain. Since the GBP Esmeralda is closer to the beach and has a smaller lobby, when you arrive by the ‘big bus’, you are taken with a few other guests to the Esmeralda section via trolley.

I will try my best to write a ‘shorter’ review, but the GBP Esmeralda was that great that you can’t write a little!

Rooms: All of the rooms at the resort are large and spacious; in our room we had two double beds and a sitting area by the balcony. The washrooms have a separate shower and tub which are both very large. We had two sinks in our washroom (which is great when there are two girls in the room). I found the beds to be comfortable... especially since everyone always comments on how the beds feel! If you needed more pillows, blankets etc, there were some available in the closet or if you asked your butler. Our room had a standard TV with many channels—not that we should be watching TV on vacation! There was definitely more than enough space in this room.

Beach: Punta Cana is known to have amazing beaches and it did not disappoint! The beach is as beautiful as I remember it being two years back. The GBP Esmeralda did have a sectioned off area with nicer loungers, but it was not right at the ocean. Truthfully, this did not bother us. It was quieter and people were not walking around us and ‘covering our sun’ all the time. Every day we were able to find a more than perfect lounger at the beach under a palapa, even when we were just arriving after 10am (or later).

Pools: The Esmeralda section had two pools. One was very small and ‘private’ for adults only. Around this pool there were many covered loungers (once again, the loungers were better than the standard blue and white plastic). The pool was not made for swimming since it had three whirlpools within it... basically it was there to take a quick dip in. The larger pool was very nice as well. There were more families here than at the beach so we usually opted for the adults only pool or the beach.

Food: GBP never fails with their food! Please note, whatever someone may tell you, you can only eat at the Esmeralda Buffet, but you can book the other GBP à la Carte restaurants no problem. We were told that we could eat at any buffet restaurant, but when we made it to the Ambar Buffet, they sent us back... we knew that we might be so we weren’t too upset by that. The buffet would change nightly so that was always good. The lunch (we only ate at the outside buffet) was quite similar day after day, but if you had a little bit of something every day, you wouldn’t be too bored. This is quite common for most resorts so I didn’t mind that at all. Breakfast is always good because you can do almost anything with breakfast.

À la Carte: We tried to book the à la Carte restaurants for as many nights as possible. At the GBP Esmeralda we were guaranteed at least 3 or 4 bookings which you should book at the start of you vacation. Our favourites had to be Don Pablo (at the Ambar) and the Steakhouse at the Esmeralda. Don Pablo was extremely fancy and the Chef’s special, Chateaubriand, was absolutely delicious and presentable! The Steakhouse was extremely tasty. Also, our waiter at the Steakhouse made our week. Tito Jackson was so kind—they ran out of Crème brûlée by the time we made it to dessert, but Tito very quickly went and got us some from the Kitchen. We were sure to sit at his table the following day for breakfast and lunch. We had the BBQ chicken and it was splendid. The Italian at the Esmeralda was alright... what I ordered wasn’t amazing, but I am sure there were other delicious items on the menu. We also ate at the Japanese (there are two, one at Bavaro and one at Punta Cana), the food was great, standard rice, teriyaki chicken, beef, shrimp, salmon etc. Just thinking of all the food we had that week is making me hungry!

Entertainment: The GBP Esmeralda was quiet and didn’t have an entertainment team. At night our lobby would have a ‘one man band’ and would play some music and sing. We would often go to other parts of the GBP resort and check out the entertainment that they had. One night at the Ambar there was a very lively band that had the young and young at heart dancing the night away. There is always some sort of entertainment happening at night somewhere at the GBP.

The location of the hotel was great. It wasn’t too far from the airport, so we didn’t have a very long ride. In addition, since there are so many hotels within the GBP resort, we didn’t have to stop at any other hotels because we just made a few stops within our own resort.

Overall, the resort was amazing and we very much enjoyed our week. It was very clean, landscapers were always trimming something, and the staff was very nice. For those of you that are interested in using the internet, WiFi was available by the pool and in the lobby. Depending on the time of the day, it was weaker and stronger at different times. I was able to catch a signal at the beach a few times, as long as we were at the back of the beach, closer to the pool. There were a few computers in the ‘basement’ of our lobby and I did see a few people use them once or twice... I believe those are free for a certain amount of time. I asked if we could purchase the internet to use in our room, but that was not possible.

One thing that EVERYONE mentions, and at times complains about, the entire resort is HUGE. The GBP Esmeralda is one, one hundredth of the entire GBP resort. I would only stay at the GBP Esmeralda or Ambar—but for those people that have stayed at the Ambar before; they prefer the Esmeralda even though it isn’t adults only. The rest of the resort is huge, crowded, and you would have to take a trolley from your room to the beach! At the Esmeralda, whichever building you stayed in, you were no more than 3 minutes away from the beach... and that was walking slowly.

If I could be of any assistance, feel free to send me a personal message! I don’t mind answering any of your questions.

  • Stayed: May 2011, travelled with family
    • Value
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14  Thank Barbara1988
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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