Despite the ongoing lure of the deep blue Caribbean seas, a day pass at La Marina at the Casa de Campo resort is worth squeezing into your itinerary. You’re already in the Caribbean…your next destination won’t mind if you arrive a day or so late. Mañana. Mañana.
Not all marinas are created equal and this one certainly stands out. But you have to reserve ahead if you want to really enjoy all that the 370-slip La Marina has to offer. Renowned as one of the best billfishing spots in the world, La Marina attracts the most serious of the serious from February through June who come to catch a prized blue marlin, mahi mahi, or yellow fin tuna so plan to visit from November to January to ensure a good spot.
Casa de Campo is a 7,000-acre resort located in La Romana (where many of the friendly staff live) on the southeast coast of the island and boasts a port (to welcome cruise ship passengers), a heliport and an airstrip (mostly to accommodate the privacy of its many VIP guests). If you have friends joining you here, there are also direct flights into Punta Cana, Santa Domingo and La Romana (in season).
A day pass here will simply whet your appetite for a resort so diverse and welcoming. If truth be told, you don’t even have to leave the marina to enjoy boutique shops, dining opps, bars and cafes. But you should…because a visit here will add a unique dimension to an otherwise predictable Caribbean cruise.
La Marina’s focal point – when not looking out to sea and the amazing megayachts who have chosen La Marina as their favourite winter respite – is its architecture, centered on the grand Plaza Portofino in Italy. The structure itself houses five al fresco restaurants offering both local and international cuisine and menus to suit all budgets.
If you want to be tempted, Calle Barlovento – whose eclectic selection of shops could be compared to those of Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue or Vancouver’s Robson Street – is worth the stroll. Stop by Tienda Fumo Cigars – a candy store for cigar-smoking aficionados – just to admire the impressive selection and cool packaging. Poke your head into the Art´ Arena for clothing, toys and handmade art from the Dominican Republic, created from coconuts and native woods or Everett Designs for beautiful, native amber & larimar, mined in the mountains of the Dominican Republic.
If temptation is not on your dance card, then head along Paseo del Mar towards the lighthouse. There are a few shops and a couple of restaurants en route but, don’t worry, the ocean view will distract you. Go in time to enjoy the sunset, but stop for at least a drink in the bar at the Asian-inspired Pubbelly Sushi restaurant right at the end of the pier that will feature some its known favourites (from its original Miami-based location), including the snow crab roll, wrapped in barely-there goma soy paper and ponzu and the Tuna pizza, featuring crisp tortilla, garlic aioli, and truffle.
Although La Marina exudes luxury at every turn, it also offers up a practical side too, with a fully stocked supermarket, a pharmacy, banks and even a movie theatre, all walking distance from your well-protected slip on B Dock. Other services include showers, laundry (via concierge), and the IBC Shipyard next door for boat repairs and parts.
Once registered with the local harbourmaster, I encourage you to check in with the Casa de Campo marina concierge who will set you up with a golf cart and your day pass – which together allow you to explore the entire resort as if you were a hotel guest. But you will have to choose from the many activities available here…all only a golf cart drive away! Watch the speed bumps though. They are meant to slow you down…in more ways the one.
Visit the main hotel. Take a dip in the pool. Swim up to the “floating” bar and order yourself a refreshing cocktail. Book an appointment for a quick haircut and mani/pedi at the Beauty Parlour or cross the short path to the spa for a Ki-Ra Signature Ayurvedic massage. If you go, introduce yourself to the charming Kyra Montagu, in charge of the resort’s health & wellness and owner/host of the Ki-Ra – a riverside oasis where you can stay overnight and enjoy the healing air and rejuvenating environment.
There is a fully equipped fitness centre attached to the hotel, but if you’re looking for a little exercise on your own terms, rent a bike at Minitas Beach (by the day) with near-full access to the resort. For those of you keen to give those running shoes a real workout, there is a five-kilometre trail that runs throughout the property.
For something completely different, take a skeet-shooting lesson at the Sporting Clays Shooting Center; celebrate your record-breaking target success over a drink at the Safari Club Bar. Take a horse ride or learn how to play (or watch) polo at the Polo & Equestrian Centre.
For a more competitive bent, rent a racquet and shoes at the La Terraza Tennis Centre – boasting 13 Har-Tru courts and access to an onsite tennis pro for a lesson. Casa de Campo just announced its partnership with Jim Courier Tennis, the premier tennis program serving luxury resorts around the world that will offer its community of villa owners and vacationers a full-service tennis program featuring some of the finest teaching professionals anywhere.
For simply chilling, visit The Beach Club by Le Cirque…not just for the beach or the unlimited dips in the sea, but for the delightful menu featuring a plethora of pizza choices along with other healthier options and gorgeous views. If you get there early enough, enjoy a yoga class right on the beach’s edge.
Although sailing is my favourite thing to do, golf has become a very close second and when invited to play the world-famous seaside course, Teeth of the Dog, I simply couldn’t refuse, if only to make my golfing buddies at home jealous. Non-golfers would simply not understand. Although the entire course wraps around the sea, seven holes among them kiss the shores.
A round of golf here sets you back an average of $200US (depending on the time of year) and a caddy is mandatory so add an extra $40US, including tip. Domingo – clad in pristine white overalls with the most gleaming smile I have ever seen – and I set off at 7:30 a.m. and I spent the next three hours in glorious bliss; I almost broke 100. Double bliss.
Case de Campo offers you the choice of three championship golf courses, all designed by Peter Dye after which one course is named. I played Dye Fore, too, which boasted a birds-eye view of La Marina – so you can check on your boat while driving off the fifth tee, although rest assured the security at Casa de Campo is top notch and 24/7. The third course, The Links (under maintenance during my stay) will have to wait for my next visit.
If, however, you only have limited time, a visit to Altos de Chavon would be my top pick. It’s actually only about five kilometres north of La Marina and quite a pleasant ride passing some of the many privately owned villas on the property. (However, should you like to give your sea legs a rest, many condos, townhouses and villas offer a rental option for short and long-term stays throughout the resort.)
Altos de Chavon is an artisans’ village modelled after a 16th-century Mediterranean city with boutique shops, museums and a 5,000-seat Grecian-style amphitheater inaugurated by Frank Sinatra in 1982.
More recently, this outdoor venue has hosted many live concerts including Sting, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, Guerra, Air Supply, Julio Iglesias, and Placido Domingo, to name a few.
La Piazzetta – Alto de Chavron’s five-star restaurant features the best of authentic Italian from antipastos to homemade pastas accompanied by charming tableside performances.
The Jenny Polanco boutique sells Jenny Polanco (Dominican fashion designer) classics, jewellery, purses, swimsuits and tote bags as well as hand-carved plates, locally created paintings, traditional Dominican carnival masks, wicker bowls and gorgeous colourful handmade baskets.
The Tienda Batey shop offers fine locally handcrafted linens – easy to stash on board.
If you do decide to visit Casa de Campo, there are a few lovely cruising destinations nearby that would be a real shame to miss. 22 kilometres off the southeastern coast is Canto de la Playa, however it can be tricky to access due to unpredictable wind and sea conditions (due to its proximity to Canal de la Mona). Of course, the seasoned boater in you probably already knows that. A natural coral reef barrier protects the beach so be very careful when you anchor in the bay. Once safely anchored however, get out the snorkelling gear.
You can actually visit Isla Catalina via a tour boat that departs from The Beach Club, but I’d suggest dropping anchor to visit en route.
La Marina at Casa de Campo is definitely worth tweaking your itinerary for; even a day pass will tempt you to stay longer or return next time. It has indeed set the bar very high for marina facilities in the Caribbean.