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Exploring Puerto Plata with tour guide “Dan” Marino, I fell in love again with the gingerbread Victorians, the cable car up Mt. Isabela, the chocolate, and the kiteboarding scene in nearby Cabarete, just as I had the first time I visited the Dominican Republic’s north coast. However, today there are more hotels, restored buildings, and visitors. Apple Vacations now partners with 13 hotels in this area, including these four all-inclusives. Rates quoted are for a couple staying one week, excluding air.

Emotions by Hodelpa
Three successive resorts occupied this prime strip of Playa Dorada beachfront before Emotions opened in December after a $40 million renovation. “The main pool was too small, and a building blocked the view of the sea,” explained general manager Victor Peña as we stood beside a rooftop infinity pool. “We enlarged the big pool and tore down that building,” he said. “We built a theater, a spa, new kids’ and teens’ clubs, and new restaurants,” said Peña. “I tell guests who’ve been here when this was another resort, ‘Please, if something reminds you of it, tell me, so I can tear it down.’”

My jr. suite in the adults-only section of the resort had a balcony, a bathroom with two sinks and three showerheads, and a vaguely sexy painting between the bedroom and the bath. Emotions has 24 swim-up suites, too, as well as an adults-only pool, a wine-and-cheese bar where the costliest still wine was just $68, and a daily cocktails gathering at the main pool. Playa Dorada boasts a Robert Trent Jones, Sr., golf course, too. Rooms start at $1,204; $1,400 for my
jr. suite.

Iberostar Costa Dorada
This family resort is similar in size to Emotions—498 doubles and 18 jr. suites in nine 3-story buildings. In addition to a buffet, Iberostar Costa Dorada has three a la carte restaurants (they require reservations, and guests may eat at each of them once a week). The kids’ camp serves children 4-12, but younger children may attend with a parent, and before each evening’s 9:30 p.m. show in the theater, there’s a family show.

Of the four categories of rooms, the most requested are the 42 Standard Ocean View rooms and the 20 or so connecting rooms. Some guests spring for the $30 pp per night Star Prestige Package, which includes access to a premium lounge and section of the
beach. From $1,134; $1,260 for the Standard Ocean View.

VH Gran Ventana
Like many family resorts, VH Gran Ventana, in Playa Dorada, is virtually an adults resort when school is in session. Thus, you see few, if any, kids at an afternoon balloon party at the pool.

Parent company VH Hotels & Resorts also owns Casa Colonial Beach & Spa and the new VH Atmosphere, an adults-only all-inclusive that (knock wood) will also become an Apple Vacations offering. Much of VH Gran Ventana’s staff has worked there for years, so despite serving 506 rooms, the employees radiate an authentic, small-hotel warmth. The buffet and three a la carte restaurants serve local produce.

VH Gran Ventana has three pools (one for children), and complimentary bicycles and watersports. Rooms, which feature a soothing mix of white and sea green, start at $812, or $1,164 with Vintage Club perks (e.g. private beach). As at Iberostar, the (12) connecting rooms go quickly.

Sunscape Puerto Plata Dominican Republic
“Our intention is to make you not want to leave us,” general manager Ricardo Esteban told me, and this 585-room family resort in Playa Dorada succeeds. A repeat visitor from Germany told me, “I feel like I’m home!”

Kids get their own red-carpet check-in, kid-friendly menus, nightclub shows, an Explorers Club for children as young as 3, and a teens club. Adults enjoy day and evening entertainment, an array of restaurants (no reservations required), tennis, watersports, fitness classes, a gym and a spa.

As at other family resorts, the connecting rooms go quickly. Currently there is often no charge for two children 12 and under sharing the parents’ room. Rooms start at $1,904, and an upgrade to the Sun Club (another $448 per couple) includes use of the Sun Club whirlpools, adults-only pool, and beach area, plus room service until 11 a.m. and other perks. In short, this Sunscape feels like a more expensive resort.

For more information on Apple Vacations’ EP options in Puerto Plata, click here. To read about the company’s recent addition of new flights to the Caribbean, click here.

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