The bellhop at the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado looked at the room number on my key card and nodded with recognition: "Ah, you got the best one."
Among my press-trip colleagues, I had lucked out with especially spacious corner accommodations at the resort in the Dominican Republic's Samana province: Twin balconies, one with a hot tub, each offered serene views of the surrounding Samana Bay.
But my colleagues were hardly slumming it during our stay at the 268-room resort. Our trip, sponsored by Bahia Principe to experience its four properties in the province, ran the gamut from roomy, family-friendly accommodations to idyllic island luxury, with a common thread of attentive service and stunning Samana beauty.
The resort operator staked its claim in Samana, on the D.R.'s northern coast, beginning in 2006, buying and renovating four properties, including one previously owned by Occidental.
At that time, "this lovely part of the island was not very well known, and the access and transportation was not easy," according to Julio Perez Gonzalez, Bahia Principe's executive vice president. "We worked with Mitur [the Dominican Republic's tourism board] in several marketing activities with the goal of promoting the beauties of Samana. Nowadays, and [in large part] thanks to Bahia Principe, access to Samana and roads in the region have largely improved."
Compared with travel time in the D.R.'s more visited, more developed Punta Cana, for visitors to Samana the journey from terminal to thatched roof is longer: From Santo Domingo Airport to our first property, the Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo, the drive was just over two hours. But it's a fairly brisk, stress-free ride, with few slowdowns and bucolic scenery courtesy of miles of rice fields and farmland with their bounties of bananas, mangos and coconuts.
The 606-room Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo caters to families with amenities such as a children's waterpark, clubs for teens and kids and babysitting services; its homey accommodations come in a variety of configurations for anywhere from three to seven guests.
Dining options comprise two restaurants offering international fare and four a la carte venues (French, Italian, Mediterranean and Brazilian restaurants).
While most guests will likely find plenty to do onsite, the property is a quick ride from the town of Las Terrenas, with its plethora of beachside restaurants and bars.
After our overnight stay at the Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo, we visited the 295-room Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa, offering stunning cliffside views of Samana Bay, and the 149-room Luxury Bahia Principe Samana. The latter gave us our first look at the couples-oriented Luxury Bahia Principe brand, which offers unlimited a la carte dinners as well as free WiFi resort-wide. (Starting this month, the Grand Bahia Principe properties are offering 24-hour complimentary WiFi in their lobbies.)
A spa treatment room at the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado.
From the Luxury Bahia Principe Samana, it was a quick ferry ride to the island that's home to the adults-only Cayo Levantado.
At Cayo Levantado our group enjoyed Mama Juana massages at the property's centerpiece spa. Named for the Dominican rum-and-wine concoction that's said to be an aphrodisiac, the treatment's earthy aroma of herbs, honey and other mama juana ingredients was a distinctive departure from the usual floral-scented spa experience.
Speaking of adult beverages, the property offers four bars, including a beachside venue where our group met up with two couples from the U.K. — strangers upon arrival at the resort about a week prior but beyond tight-knit as we closed down the bar with them in the wee hours.
My twin-balcony room would've been the logical choice for post-closing-time revelry, but our group demurred, as we had an early day ahead of us exploring Samana province on a tour booked at the property. We shopped for souvenirs and sampled fresh fruit in Los Tocones, enjoyed a lunch of Dominican favorites on Playa Rincon (a mainstay of best-beaches lists) and took a quick walking tour of the provincial capital of Santa Barbara de Samana.
Back at Cayo Levantado, we capped the day with another culinary highlight: dinner at Rodizio, the resort's Brazilian steakhouse proferring seemingly endless portions of beef, pork and more.
Agent rewards, other U.S. efforts
A division of Spain-based Grupo Pinero, which operates properties in over 30 countries, Bahia Principe celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. In the Dominican Republic, Bahia Principe operates 13 hotels; the latest, the 512-room Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia, opened this month.
In the year ahead, the company is focusing on increasing its U.S. business via initiatives such as its Bahia Principe Rewards program for agents, which launched in September.
The U.S. "is a strategic market for us where we are growing our business year after year," Gonzalez said. "As a key market, we are focusing all our efforts here … increasing our networking with the distribution channels, hiring people to take care of new accounts and marketing and developing new technologies to hit the targets."
Rates at the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado begin at $198 per night, double; at the Luxury Bahia Principe Samana, $96; at the Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo, $79; and at the Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa, $73. Agents can register for the Bahia Principe Rewards program at www.bahia-principe.com/b2b.