I checked into the all-inclusive Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo in Samana, Dominican Republic, in mid-June, marking my first Caribbean trip, my first flights and my first nights away from home in 15 months.
Masks were everywhere, from Joel and his staff who greeted me at the front desk to the bellhop who delivered my bags, the cleaning staff I passed enroute to my room and the wait staff at the Fish Market restaurant for dinner -- although chef Juan Carlos took off his mask when he came out of the kitchen to introduce himself.
The grouper I had that night was delicious. "Fresh caught today," chef Carlos told me.
The 604-room resort, set on the Samana peninsula that juts out of the northeastern shore of the Dominican Republic, fronts the blue waters of Samana Bay, which eventually spills into the Atlantic Ocean.
The resort’s beach on Samana Bay is wide and long, with plemty of space for everyone. Photo Credit: Grupo Pinero
The Grand Bahia El Portillo, which opened in 2006, is a sprawling, expansive property with four guestroom categories that range from standard rooms and family junior suites to family master suites and the top-of-the-line superior junior suites.
Due to Covid, the resort was closed from mid-March 2020 until Dec. 15, 2020. (Due to spikes in Covid cases, much of the Dominican Republic has been under a nighttime curfew in recent weeks, which runs from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.)
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While business is slowly rebuilding, the occupancy when I was there in mid-June was close to 60%, according to Mercedes Moreno, sales manager.
The resort never seemed crowded, and there were always plenty of chaises at the pool areas and beach chairs on the sand.
The spa was open, the kids' club and teen club had several customers, the waterpark was busy and the bar near the pool did a bang-up job serving hot and iced Dominican coffee as well as a potent signature rum punch.
All guestrooms have balconies or patios and the usual range of amenities, from a minibar restocked daily (soft drinks, water and Presidente beer) to free WiFi, rainfall showerheads, satellite TV, coffeemakers and separate seating areas.
My balcony was roomy and provided fresh breezes at night along with a beautiful view of the lit pool and beach areas. The bathroom was large, with abundant towels, a double basin, a separate tub and walk-in shower and a private bidet and toilet area. The marble floors, however, made me nervous that I would slip in a puddle of water.
Covid-consciousness prompted the resort to remove paper products such as notepads by the phone and instructions for the TV and thermostat settings, not to mention the customary robes and slippers. It was a bit frustrating, as the only alternative to getting the TV and thermostat to work was to flag down a staffer to assist you.
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Also due to Covid, the restaurants had no silverware, no water glasses or salt and pepper shakers on the tables when I sat down. I accessed menus via a QR code while a masked waiter stood by to take it all down.
Although not all the restaurants had reopened when I was there, I was able to dine at the Italian and Greek venues and had breakfast at the all-day El Limon buffet restaurant, in addition to my dinner at the Fish Market.
During my stay, resort guests and staff were a-buzz about the filming nearby of the "Lost City of D," described as a romantic action-adventure comedy starring Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock. Filming was taking place throughout the province of Samana, and I saw huge lights and clusters of film crews along some of the roadways.
The main pool at the Grand Bahia Principe El Portillo. Photo Credit: Grupo Pinero
A production crew had taken over several blocks of rooms at the Bahia Principe and ate at one of the the resort's restaurants, reserved solely for their dining use. The top stars bedded down at the nearby luxury Casa de Campo resort a few kilometers away.
At dinner one evening, Germania Guzman, wedding and events group manager, got a text from a couple in the U.S. confirming their September wedding at the resort.
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"We've had two weddings so far this year, three booked in September and now a fourth is booked for the same month," Guzman said. "Business is coming back."
The portfolio of Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts, the hotel chain of the Spanish family-owned Grupo Pinero company, today includes 20 all-inclusive resorts in the region (14 in the Dominican Republic, two in Jamaica and four in the Riviera Maya in Mexico) representing 11,719 rooms.