We are just returning from a week at this resort, on a Sunwing package from Toronto. Although we had a lovely holiday in the sun, the resort did not meet our expectations as based on the Sunwing description, either in general (4.5 stars) or in the specifics detailed below.
Here's the summary: The resort's setting, both the beach and the pool area, are terrific. It's an ideal location on Playa Dorada. The staff is great, it was a pleasure interacting with them for the week, with a few exceptions they made our stay pleasant and enjoyable. However, the food is below my standards, with the a la carte restaurants marginally better than the buffets.
I'm not bitter or angry, but Sunwing's description promises many elements that are either incorrect or false. For example, "cook authentic cuisines at the onsite cooking class"* turned into a lesson in plating Caesar salad set up at an informal table by the pool. And then only on the last day after asking the staff every day for the week.
Wyndham (and Sunwing) have been in the business long enough to know and do better. Shame on them both. FAIL.
Here's the detail:
The resort is small, but on the fabulous Playa Dorada beach, which offers long walks in both directions past the many other resorts along the beach. The resort's main pool and the beach are connected by a walkway along a scenic river, a five minute stroll. The beach is on a curved bay, providing pretty views of palm trees and mountains. The VWVH beach is wide, with a sunny area close to the water and a shaded area with palm trees - lots of room for everyone both in the sun and in the shade. There are neither palapas or umbrellas, but shade was not hard to find. Behind the beach, a large beach pavilion (bar and buffet by day, Italian restaurant by night) is one of the prettiest beach restaurant settings we've experienced.
The pool area seemed a little more crowded, with lounge chairs, lounge beds and a balcony area above the bar overlooking the organically shaped pool. I think the small pool on the balcony is meant to be the "jacuzzi" in Sunwing's description - it's not. Pool bar service is better, primarily thanks to Laura.
Our two-room Amnesia suite was large, with a clean and modern bathroom and comfortable beds. Sparsely decorated and furnished, there is no dresser to store clothing, no table, no chair/desk area. The clean and modern bathroom has an enclosed glass shower but no tub (so not Sunwing's "full bathroom"). The Sony smart TV set provided access to Netflix through the in-room wifi router, had enough bandwidth for video streaming (unexpected) and connectivity for all our devices. Wifi is available throughout the resort, even on the beach.
We arrived at 9:30pm. The first room offered, on the ground floor facing the parking lot, was without curtains. A second room faced the other buildings, but was also without curtains. Jhorge promised curtains would be installed while we were at dinner and that he would not leave until they were in place. After dinner, he was gone, and curtains had failed to appear. I checked with the front desk every 15 minutes until 1:30am, when enough to provide some privacy were finally installed.
The next morning, Jennifer, the friendly and helpful Sunwing representative, quickly addressed our other issues. Before noon the promised bottle of "sparking wine, run or tequila" in the form of a small bottle of rum (would have preferred sparkling wine) had arrived, the telephone's loud squealing noise had been fixed, the remaining curtains had been hung, and an electrical outlet for the coffee maker and fridge had been installed. The other rep, Francoise, seemed to be overly stressed dealing with vacationers who were not as fortunate with their rooms (we overheard of insect infestations, dirty rooms and non-functioning air conditioning), and was less friendly and helpful, but we did hear that he managed to relocate some even less happy travellers to other nearby properties.
Although there are many daily activities, there is no posted schedule of events and activities nor which restaurants are open and closed. Kim was able to get a photo-copied schedule, but it included some events which did not happen.
The VWVH staff is generally helpful and engaged. Many went out of their way to provide an enjoyable experience. When the cocktail making class didn't happen as scheduled on the first day, Jennifer introduced me to Chayanne, who leads the entertainment team. He made sure it happened the next day. He was also instrumental in making the cooking class happen. His energetic presence (and his ability to converse in four languages) was certainly appreciated.
The other members of the entertainment team are enthusiastic and talented, with regular dancing performances, stretching classes (thanks Lily), darts tournaments (thanks Addeline) and catamaran rides (a really fun ride on a windy day) - all included. Incidentally Sunwing's "yoga", "pilates" and "stretching" classes are a singular, but daily, event. There is no "meditation". The week's activity highlight was the foam pool party - which covered the pool with over a metre of foam bubbles, to the great delight of the all the "turistas". We're told it's a weekly event.
The cocktail lesson introduced us to Yoserqui, a bartender with an unbeatable knack for making espresso martinis. The staff at one of the a la cartes, Blend (labelled as Fusion cuisine) was particularly friendly and helpful - we ate there three times. Led by Julio, the team (Yiorio, Benis and Amberix) spoke English well enough to chat about the food and joke with us, which was not true at other restaurants or even the front desk. They set a standard not met by the other a la cartes.
Maid service was marginal - soap, shampoo and conditioner were replaced only on request. Or maybe I misinterpreted Sunwing's "welcome amenities", which means that they're only provided upon arrival?
Communication throughout was difficult, with some staff unable to speak either English or French. Maybe it's expecting too much, as my Spanish is limited to a few words, but it was more difficult to make ourselves understood than at any similar resort. The front desk is haphazard. The staff makes notes on scraps of paper that already have several other notes, and then immediately goes on to help someone else. As a result, there are no results. In addition, it's difficult to have a conversation, as they are continually being distracted and interrupted by other staff.
This kind of rude behaviour also happened at Sofrito, the Dominican restaurant. While in the middle of taking our order the host simply walked away from our table three times to deal with other customers, leaving us talking to air.
I've hinted at the overall lack of food variety and quality, but there is no way to describe this favourably. We did not chat with any fellow traveler who did not have at least one bad meal, and by bad, I mean one that caused major upset at one end or other of the digestive system. Although there were exceptions, overall food barely met a minimal standard. It would be easier and shorter to describe the dishes that we enjoyed. I'll recommend the salmon at Blend, and the omelette station at the breakfast buffet. Calla reports that the wood-fired pizza was tasty, but you need to be careful about the toppings.
Otherwise, dishes were sometimes cold and often the meats did not taste as we expected - I don't mean unusual spices or flavourings (our tastes are quite experienced in worldly flavours) but off-tastes. On one occasion, a cappuccino tasted of curdled milk or cheese - as if the steaming pitcher had not been cleaned in a while. Although other wine can be purchased, the low alcohol house wine tastes more of grape juice than wine - the white is marginally better than the red.
The buffets (one in the main building, one on the beach) had little of interest to us. We found a few things we liked and ate them every day. There was little to no variety from day to day. Most of the hot dishes looked completely unappetizing - like an institution. The buffet's self-serve ice-cream was generally a soupy liquid, which might be forgiven in the heat of the beach buffet, but is unforgivable in the main building.
I started by saying that we had a lovely holiday. We did - the overall experience was pleasant. It's unfortunate that it is so far away from the 4.5 star experience promised by Sunwing, and that so many of the promised details (more than I've detailed) failed to materialize.
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