Associate editor Laura Dennis visited Casa del Mar, part of the
Amhsa chain. Her report follows:
BAYAHIBE, Dominican Republic -- Casa del Mar had quite a year in
1998. The resort opened in February of that year as the largest
Amhsa property on the island. Amhsa, a Dominican Republic-based
chain, was hoping its newest property would appeal to the U.S.
market. Efforts were under way to attract Americans when Hurricane
Georges hit the resort in September. Although it sustained only
minimal damage, Casa del Mar closed for repairs.
In December, the resort reopened and turned its attention back
to the U.S. First and foremost, Amhsa wanted travelers to know
operations were back to normal at the property and on the island
following GeorgesÆ visit. The chain then set out to tap the
lucrative U.S. market by touting free-night deals and the amenities
covered in its inclusive rate.
From La Romana Airport, the resort is about a half-hourÆs drive.
Arriving guests get ôtaggedö with a bracelet (similar to ones given
out in nightclubs) during the check-in process that they wear
during their stay. This identifies guests to staff members.
Travelers also receive a packet with their room key, a remote
control and a ticket. The ticket enables guests to check out a
towel for use at the beach or pool. It works like this: Guests head
to the towel stand near the beach, hand in their ticket and get a
towel. When they are done, they turn in the towel and get their
ticket back. The American market may initially be put off by the
towel ticket and security bracelet but could be won over by the
resortÆs amenities -- and by a good deal.
Nightly rates at Casa del Mar start at $130 per person, double,
and cover meals, drinks, transfers, taxes, gratuities and water
sports such as scuba lessons at the pool, windsurfing and sailing.
Guest rooms have wicker furnishings, televisions and either two
double beds or a king-size bed. Each of the units has a balcony,
and the suites offer ocean views. The rooms are equipped with
minirefrigerators stocked with local spirits, soft drinks and a
gallon of water. Brands such as Absolut vodka and Beefeater gin are
available in the suites.
Casa del MarÆs lineup of daily activities is its strongest
selling point and sets this resort apart from other inclusive
properties. The lineup can range from scuba lessons in the morning
to horseback riding in the afternoon or a daylong ôveg-outö on the
beach or by the pool. Kayaking, canoeing, banana boat rides,paddle
boats, windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, archery lessons, tennis
and biking are offered on a daily basis. Volleyball, aerobics and
dance lessons are held on the beach. Casa del Mar offers roundtrip
transportation to La Romana and Altos de Chavon. A recent addition
to the roster is a twice-daily departure to Saona Island for
snorkeling and shopping. All activities are included in the rates,
and some require advance reservations. Golf at nearby courses and
an all-terrain-vehicle excursion can be arranged for a fee.
However, many guests are content to bask in the sun on the beach
or at Casa del MarÆs mammoth pool. There is a childrenÆs pool as
well as a Jacuzzi. Other facilities include a childrenÆs
playground; a fitness center, where massages can be arranged; a
gift shop; a beauty salon; a tour desk, and an exchange bank.
At night, the open-air Saona Terrace or the beach is the center
of entertainment action, offering live shows or a barbecue. The
bars and the Saona are lively at night. The Jacuzzi also draws a
late-night crowd. The resortÆs four restaurants are prime gathering
spots, as well. Bayahibe is a buffet-style eatery; Michelangelo and
Asia offer a la carte meals, and Saona Terrace specializes in
steaks. Three of the restaurants serve dinner. Saona and Bayahibe
are open daily for breakfast and lunch. Reservations are required
at Asia or Michelangelo. Room service is available in the suites,
and private dinners also can be arranged.
According to general manager Ignacio Perez, Americans make up
from 10% to 15% of Casa del MarÆs business. He said the hotel would
like that segment to increase to 30%. Perez has worked in the hotel
business for 15 years, having spent five at the islandÆs Casa de
Campo. Working in tandem with Perez is Stephanie Pertin-Roch, guest
services manager, who arranges weddings, oversees group events and
makes sure that everyone enjoys themselves. According to Perez, the
average stay for Americans is four days, compared with 10 days for
Europeans. To entice U.S. visitors to stay longer, the property is
offering free nights through Dec. 20. All guests who book a six- or
seven-night stay by June 30 will only pay for five nights.ar