A week in a S/A Condo
09.01.2006 - 09.01.2006
We flew out of Miami on Monday January 9, 2006. We started out at a little before 8 am and it took us about an hour to go the 10 miles to the airport. Then it took another 35 minutes to check in at the ticket counter (no self check or curb check for international), and a few more minutes to hand the checked baggage over to the X-ray person.
Bob got some currency changed. They were selling it at 0.034733 and he got 1030 pesos for $39.70 minus the commission of $3.95. There was almost no line at security though, so we went through as fast as I could hobble. We got to the gate at 9:56 - eight minutes before boarding started at 10:04. We pushed away from the gate on time, and then waited to take off. Neither I nor the person behind me could get the shade that was between us to go up. So I had to crick my neck around to look over the one a little forward of my seat.
The plane flew right over Virginia Key, Rickenbacker Marina and the Marine Stadium. There are still boats anchored there although I had heard that wasn't allowed anymore. After Key Biscayne, the pilot said he was going south of Nassau, and we probably went over Andros before we flew over Hispanola and out into the Caribbean and turned back to the airport. We were now in the Atlantic time zone, so I changed my watch and my camera and later my computer to the new time - we lost an hour on the way over. They gave us the customs and immigration forms to fill out.
We did not get any lunch of course - just a bag of pretzels and some juice. I brought water to drink, but did not bring food because of possible problems with customs.
We got into Santo Domingo airport a little later than scheduled about 2:05pm. The airport was a zoo, and it was hot and humid. There were a lot of lines for immigration and before you checked in, not only did you have to have your form that they gave you in the airplane filled out, but also you had to buy a tourist card which was $10. I saw no directions that stated this, and I'm usually pretty good about finding signs - you were expected to know.
I went to an airport information booth and asked for a map, and they said they didn't have any information at all except a booklet in either German or French. They gave me the French one plus a CD also in French. I can still read a bit of French and the book actually proved very helpful as a supplement to the AAA book I had. Apparently for many years, most tourists to the DR were from Europe - French, German and some Italians.
I had called the resort before we left and the girl on the phone told me that they couldn't send someone for me and to just to get a taxi. As we were walking out there were people with signs with names on them, and I saw a man with a Hotel Acuarium sign with someone else's name on it. I showed him our RCI sheet with our names and the name of the hotel, and he asked if we were the people whose name was on the sign and I said no and gave our name. He said OK, and took us in tow. I found out later that we had hijacked someone else's transportation - they were a young couple coming in on a much later USAir flight.
Bob helping the driver unload the luggage into his maroon sedan at the hotel
Anyway the driver stowed us into a maroon sedan (after he took stuff off the seats including some kind of car alarm and rearranged stuff in the trunk which had a propane tank in it),
Propane tank in the trunk
and shoved his car into the line of cars waiting to exit the airport.
No drivers wait their turn here - it is who backs down first that has to wait. I didn't think much about it at the time, because our daughter drives a little bit the same in Miami under the adage "if you snooze you loose", but this was even more aggressive than that.
The car had A/C in it. After he paid to go out of the parking lot, he drove at great speed for some time, including a toll road, going on unpaved roads and around some strange interchanges. I was beginning to be afraid that we had been hijacked. But just about panic time, we turned unto an unpaved potholed road and after one block, there was the hotel. The driver asked for $20, which we gave him. The other couple had to pay $50.
We were about half an hour early for the check-in which is supposed to be after 4 pm. So they said we had to talk to Gloria. Gloria turned out to be the RCI rep and not connected to the hotel. They went to check if our room was ready, and gave us our room key which was attached to a 3.5"x 2" block of wood.
Our driver (who spoke almost no English) took the bags up to the room for us and Bob tipped him 10 pesos, not being used to the system yet.
Before we went up to our room, we asked Gloria about a city tour for the next day, and she said she would see us at breakfast the next morning.
The Acuarium Resort Hotel is an Italian RCI condo with Italian upper management who live on the premises. 90% of the hotel is RCI, although non-RCI people can also stay here. The other 10% are apartments owned by Italians. The posted rates were $70 for one person, $90 for two and $120 for four for a one bedroom apartment (US$). The RCI rates were $60/night for the same type of apartment (any number of people). The two bedroom apartments were more expensive. We were here as Space Available for military or retired military (or "charity" as the RCI rep, put it). We paid about $40/night.
There was a night guard in the front lobby and a notice which said "No Armas de Fuego" on one door. On the other door it said that it was an automatic door in 4 languages. It wasn't--unless you count that someone would open the door for you if it was locked, as it was at night. There was also a guard with a rifle sitting at the back entrance behind the building on the other side of the hot tub courtyard.
On the ground floor in addition to the pool in the middle with loungers and tables, there was a TV lounge, a bar, and a restaurant between the pool and the other courtyard. There were maps on the walls of Hispanola and the main cities on the island..
Our room was on the second level which we could access by stairs on two corners of the pool courtyard. No elevators.
We could get the 'meal plan' (which was just breakfast and lunch) for $22/person a night, which we did although Bob thought at first that we would go out some nights to eat. He changed his mind though because there were no places to walk to even if it had been comfortable or safe to do so and by the time we got a taxi to and from, there would have been no savings.
Unfortunately they charged us in pesos instead of charging it in US$ which cost us extra money on the exchange rate each time. Bob says the national coin of the realm is the $20 bill (US).
We had to buy all drinks (water, tea, wine etc) and pay for them separately as drinks were not included in the dinner price.
In our one bedroom apartment, on each side of the entrance was a double door (wood doors) closet, one of which had a safe in it (which we didn't use). The side opposite the door had the bathroom and a narrow kitchen. The living room was on the kitchen side and the bedroom was on the bathroom side. The floors throughout were of some artificial marble material-tiles of about 20" on a side where the pattern repeated. The maid swept or mopped the floor each day, made the bed and supplied fresh towels.
The bedroom had a queen bed (no blankets), a dresser with mirror, two night tables with table lamps and two wicker chairs with cushions. One night table also had the phone. The AC unit was high up in the wall and controlled with a remote. The living room had a TV which got cable including some American channels (some with Spanish subtitles) and some local or Spanish channels. There were two couches which I think could be beds, a coffee table and an eating table with four wooden chairs.
The bathroom was open to the outdoors through cement blocks with holes in them at the top of the shower. There was a toilet, there was a mirror and several wooden shelves. Bars of hand soap were also supplied and Bob thought it was a bit aggressive - he got some in his eyes and it made his eyes smart.
The shower was in an alcove and the head could be removed and held in the hand. There was enough hot and cold water for a good shower. We got two towels and a bathmat. No hand towels or washcloths. If you wanted a beach towel you made a $10 deposit and if you lost the towel, you paid $20 more. This towel was slate blue and much bigger and thicker than the bath towels.
The kitchen had an under the counter refrigerator, a four burner gas stove top (with no directions or matches) but no oven, a counter top microwave, a stainless sink and drain board in a pink molded plastic countertop, and various dishes and pots and pans. No dish towels, or dish soap to clean the dishes with.
Food: the first night, we both ordered off the ala carte menu instead of waiting for the buffet which didn't begin until 8 pm - we were hungry because we missed lunch. The menu had categories for appetizers, first course (pasta), main course, fish course, side dishes and dessert. We were told on the meal plan we could order something from each section except that the fish course (lobster, shrimp, snapper etc) all had an extra charge over an above the meal plan.
For appetizers we got Caprese Salad (190 pesos) which proved to be a large plate of tomatoes and molded cheese. For first course, Bob got Lasagna (240 pesos) and I got Linguine Acuarium Style (200 pesos) which proved to be large tube pasta with a nice sauce. Both very big helpings. For the main course, Bob got Fried chicken and I got Chicken criolla style - both 240 pesos. Bob got a side dish of mashed potatoes which he said were real potatoes and he also got a little tree of brocolli, and I got tomatoes - both 65 pesos. My tomatoes were cross sections around heap of lettuce with grated carrot in the middle.
Desserts were 85 pesos, and Bob got chocolate cake which was more like a brownie only pie shaped, and I asked for Jam cake, but they didn't have any of that so they brought me pineapple ice cream (or maybe it was ice milk) which was excellent and refreshing. This was almost more food that we could eat even though we were hungry and added up to 840 pesos each which would be about $28. Plus of course, tax and service charge.
(bar at the restaurant)
None of the drinks were included in the meal. You have to buy them extra. We asked for tea and got a couple of 3/4 full cups of luke warm water and some tea bags for which we had to pay. We asked for more 'hot' water and to the astonishment of the waiter, we reused the tea bag. We bought a bottle of water and soon learned to buy a large bottle of water and bring part of it (in a smaller bottle) down to the table with us at dinner time to drink.