from Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Submitted on 19-04-2016
My husband and I, along with another couple, just returned from seven days, April 9 - 16, in Puerto Plata staying at Lifestyles Resort Residence Suites. For months prior to this trip I was constantly checking reviews and was quite concerned about coming as most of the reviewers painted a very negative picture. We were invited by friends, who'd been given a week for four as a gift to this all-inclusive property, to come as their guests and, naturally, we were all excited, a beautiful Caribbean ...
My husband and I, along with another couple, just returned from seven days, April 9 - 16, in Puerto Plata staying at Lifestyles Resort Residence Suites. For months prior to this trip I was constantly checking reviews and was quite concerned about coming as most of the reviewers painted a very negative picture. We were invited by friends, who'd been given a week for four as a gift to this all-inclusive property, to come as their guests and, naturally, we were all excited, a beautiful Caribbean resort in the Dominican Republic! We immediately purchased airline tickets and began the wait...only I started reading reviews. The more I read, the more alarmed I became. My husband and I have owned a timeshare in Cancun at a five star resort since the mid 90's, we rarely exchange it as we love going there, and have become quite accustomed to five star amenities...we are frequent travelers and those who travel often know what that entails, no explanation needed. When we do exchange, we do so into another five star property, therefore, we receive the same type of accommodations, restaurants, beverages, etc. Even when we're not exchanging, our standards remain the same. Our friends were told by the owners who gave them the week's gift that since 'we' were not the owners 'we' would not be able to have access to everything that owners could as owners are VIP members. Reading reviews helped me appreciate this was a bigger deal than we were led to believe and believe me, it is a huge deal!!! You should just be aware. Upon arrival at the resort, we were taken to the Residence Suites where there was quite a large number of guests checking in. Antonio, the bellman, was the first friendly, smiling face to welcome us and take our bags up to the lobby and he was this way every time we saw him. It is a smaller check-in lobby than the other resorts on the property so seating was limited as you waited but they offered a fruit punch as refreshment, which was nice and though they were very busy, the front desk staff was friendly and helpful. Annabelle, who checked us in, was all smiles and very accommodating, upgraded us to a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom villa instead of the 1b/1b suite we each expected and it was nice (I'll give a little info on it shortly) and she explained in great detail about the wrist bands we were all required to wear (turns out we had red RCI bands - by the way, my husband and I are RCI members and had we exchanged to this property, hindsight is we would have been extremely disappointed - not out five star expectation. I digress, if you took off or damaged your band you were to return it to the front desk and they'd replace it with a new one. However, if you lost it you would be charged $200.00; each person was also given one towel for the pool, which had to be returned to the front desk anytime you needed/wanted a clean towel. Upon checkout, this towel must be turned in to the front desk or you'd be charged $25.00. Where our villa and the pool near it was located was a good walk up/down steps and hills in the heat and up steps to the lobby then back down, then up the road, walkway, steps, etc. back to the villa, which was on the third floor for us so a lot more steps as there are no elevators. The Residence Suites is farther away than any of the other resorts so you have to take a shuttle to go almost any place. The Bellini Italian Restaurant is located at the Residence Suites but has a very small and limited buffet for breakfast and lunch is primarily pizza and pastas. Dinner there is by reservation only and is Italian cuisine with a nice antipasti table. Unless you're VIP, you're told there are 11 or 12 restaurants you can eat at although 6 are reservations only and you are only allowed to choose 3 of those, so you really can't eat at all of them. By far the Casablanca Buffet at the Tropical Resort was where we ate most of our breakfasts and lunches as it was the best and a couple of nights we went back following a reservation dinner that left us unfulfilled. The hostesses and waitstaff at the Tropical were always so friendly, especially Freddie, Tony, Sergio and the young hostess who's pregnant. But most everyone there went out of their way to accommodate us and always with a warm and friendly attitude. I will say that the staff makes these properties. Anna, the bartender at our Residence Suites Crown Villas pool was the best!!! She really tried to give us good drinks, but it is important to tell you that the liquor and wine served to Non VIP members is the pits!!! Sorry, but it' true and everyone knows it, staff included. It is a subject that most guests (this is one of those facts that I read over and over) talk about a lot to each other, but it is what it is!! (and the guys in the straw hats, we'll get there). If you are a wine drinker, I love a good cab, forget it!! You like a good scotch or bourbon, forget it!! And you aren't allowed to pay to have the premium alcohol so either develop a taste for that which is served or drink lots of bottled water. My husband and our friend decided to ask for whiskey and when brought to them asked what kind of whiskey it was and were told 'whiskey whiskey!'. But they said it was tolerable. A real high point was the fabulous VIP members party, which everyone is invited to, on Sunday night and you are wined and dined on the best!! Food is fantastic, drinks are delicious and entertainment is awesome. It's an extravaganza and we were totally impressed. White table cloths, chair covers, beautiful. There's a photographer taking photos when you arrive so this is an occasion to dress in your upscale resort wear if you want to purchase a professional photo. Another warning from reviewers, the timeshare salesmen. You're not really hassled before the VIP Party but on Monday morning all the timeshare salesmen come pouncing. You'll know them by the tan shirts they wear and the straw hats. They will be at the restaurants waiting for you, at the shuttle stops or will be driving around in the golf carts and pull over to talk to you. They're aggressive as most sales people are - trying to make a living, I know, but it can be such a turn off. Unless you're interested, be nice but be firm and say no. Now this won't stop them initially, but after a few times, they'll get the message. One of the nicest was Elias, yes he really wanted the sale, but was respectful and still friendly, once he knew our no was no. Now back to the resort, beaches were hard to get to and though pictures make them look easily accessible, they aren't. We had to take a shuttle to one of the other resorts, walk through the lobby, usually down stone stairs, across an open space, around a pool, down another ramp, down stairs, then find a lounge bed unoccupied, then down more steps to the beach. No real chaise lounges on the beach, and don't have to go to the bathroom...repeat everything. Also going to the beach meant packing for the day. No running back to your room if you needed something, etc. If you were hungry, from either your pool or beach, gather your stuff and go to one of the buffet restaurants (a trek). Over the week we saw a couple of people in wheelchairs and felt so sorry for them because we knew it had to be extremely difficult. We're so used to having service at the pool and beach for food and drinks and a two/three minutes walk up and elevator ride to our villa. Restaurants are all right on property and room service available as well as carry out. None of this was available during our Lifestyles vacation. As I said, we're spoiled. The natural beauty is lovely and we thoroughly enjoyed evenings on our beautiful balcony, having wine and cocktails from premium liquor and wine purchased at the Duty Free Store on the property, Our housekeeper, Mercedes, kept our villa very clean and bottled water (don't drink or brush teeth with the water in the room) and beer (Presidente) was stocked daily. (Water in the restaurants is purified as is ice) Furnishings are in need of being updated and and I now fully appreciate the reviews about the concrete base sofas with a light cushion, they're not great, but we had an additional love seat style sofa (which was okay, needed cleaning), night stands and bed bases, which were also concrete, yes Flintstones era. They are all true but not as bad as some reviewers made them seem. My husband and I like a firm mattress so the bed was pretty comfortable and the pillows were very good. Didn't particularly like that the night stand is built into the bed frame so no room to turn. Bedrooms are small, no television, and no dresser/drawers so you lay things on a shelf inside the closet or in the opening of the nightstand. If you want to use the safe you must pay $20.00 (week) for the lock to be inserted into the safe. Be creative and pack lightly. Bathrooms have shower only, no tub, at least ours did, and sink area has virtually no counter space for storage. Also, you have signs asking you to not flush tissue down the toilet but to put in the trash. What??!! We're totally not used to that. Sewage system and there is a smell that just stays. Again, those reviews had told of multiple toilet overflowing/backed-up issues as well as no hot water, which was never a problem for us since we tried to remember the tissue rule, (not for bm's), and never had any issues with our toilets. This is expected in the restaurants toilets also. Again, we are spoiled. We had to leave our bedroom doors open when we left the villa so that the air conditioning could cool the living/dining/kitchen area as there are no vents in the main areas and we almost died the first couple of days before we figured out this was what we had to do, and it still wasn't really cool. Never heard of no air conditioner in the main room areas, especially in a tropical climate, and one ceiling fan wasn't doing it. Kitchen is very basic, mini fridge (having ice is a problem... if pool bar wasn't open, would have to go to Bellini Restaurant, they'd look for some kind of container (cut off plastic jug) and walk back to room. No ice trays in small freezer space. Remember, no room service. Two small burners but no cookware, glassware, plates/cups/flatware but no wine opener or cutlery, etc. You're not expected to really do any cooking I'm sure. We only found out about two days before we were leaving that there is a gift shop with a small area for you to purchase snacks, ice cream, wine, alcohol (go to the Duty Free Shop for alcohol, much cheaper) at the Tropical, maybe Cofresi Palms also. This is one property resort where the color of your wrist bracelet will determine much of the attention you receive - you are aware of the eyes darting to see what color you're wearing as you're asking for certain things. I kept saying that it felt like a cast system but my husband's joke was 'it's only a cast system if you're not on top!' I definitely didn't like that. We thoroughly loved our pool and called it our private oasis as it was always sparsely occupied and the surroundings were gorgeous. We spent most of our mornings after breakfast there and would return after we'd gone for lunch. My husband has knee issues and after the first attempt at the beach, it just wasn't worth it, such a shame as we love the beach. Our friends had no mobility problems but felt it was too much of an effort so also chose to stay at the pool. We dined at Rodizio's (Brazilian), good; Blue Lagoon Seafood, the most beautiful of our dining spots, food was typical, same 'white/red' wine as every where, I tried, just couldn't and The Pearl, another buffet - Casablanca still our favorite. Loved our villa, loved our pool. Took a nice city tour arranged with a private guide and thoroughly enjoyed him and our driver. This eliminated being gone all day with the tour through the resort and cost a lot less. Heard lots of positive comments from other guests that tours offered through the resort were enjoyable though long and costly. Although there were positives the negatives were such that we all agreed we'd not return to this resort again, but look for a newer property with easy beach front view and access and where we could enjoy the amenities we like on vacation. Check out was a breeze as we knew the rules and all had on our wrist bands to be cut off and one blue pool towel each to turn in. I know this was long but I wanted to be thorough while it was fresh. If you have questions I didn't address please feel free to send me a message.