The Barcelo property was scoring high: Beach 5/5, rooms 4/5, cleanliness 5/5, grounds 3/5 (immaturity of the plantings), staff friendliness 4/5, staff efficiency 4/5. But what do we really hope for in an all-inclusive? Of course… gourmet food, at bargain-basement prices, served in an enjoyable setting.
To be brutally honest, it was the biggest shortcoming of the establishment, but it wasn’t all bad. It was FINE. There are a number of restaurants scattered over the property, but almost everyone will visit La Marina several times. It is the large, buffet restaurant in the main building and it has all the charm of a university dining hall; it was generally noisy and crowded with good to mediocre service. The range of selections for breakfast was excellent, for although it leans to the European side, it is possible to order omelets or fried eggs made-to-order and there is an abundance of fruit. The prosciutto, cheese and bread products were excellent and the diner has a choice of eating in either style… France or New York.
I began describing La Marina as "the zoo". If you were to arrive a bit late at either breakfast or dinner, you were met with lines of waiting vacationers and soiled table linens as well as a fair amount of frenetic activity as people scurried about. The evening experience was quite the same: some food could be prepared for you, but generally speaking, the selections available were more than adequate and the food quality was fair. In other words, there was always something to eat, although in my case, I found that the safest route on a couple of occasions was to retreat to the oven-fresh baguettes and to stuff them with German butter, Danish blue cheese and prosciutto. Washed down with an endless bottle of Spanish white, it wasn’t really that bad at all.
In the more mature area of the property, we found the grill, Bacunayagua. Open 24 hours, it serves brunch and lunch, and we found that it was ideal for the latter. Serving a variety of hot and cold foods, it was the one place where you could order a burger or chop right off the grill. It is bright and airy and is situated beside one of the pools, so it provides a nice ambiance in the middle of the day.
Also open for lunch is El Faro, the resort’s seafood restaurant, another airy room over which looms an ersatz lighthouse. It is possible to climb to the top of the latter and it provides a wonderful view of the whole resort and the pool below. The lunch menu at El Faro is the same as the dinner menu (It is one of the four a-la-carte restaurants in the evening.). I found that it was for the hard-core seafood lover. We tried the fish stew and the whitefish and found them good, but I’m glad that we didn’t choose this particular restaurant as one of our three a la carte choices.
Your resort package will probably allow you to escape the zoo and go to three a la carte restaurants. You should probably book on the day after your arrival as they book up fast and there is no attempt to book every table at every sitting. About a third of the tables in any of these are occupied at any given time and entrance isn’t possible without the reservation.
We started at La Duna, the Cuban restaurant on the far edge of the resort. Another open room with high ceiling, it is a pleasant environment. It is also open for breakfast and as it was so little used, it was a decidedly better place to start your day than La Marina… no lines, eggs and omelets to order and champagne and orange juice. Not difficult to get used to. The evening Creole menu includes shrimp casserole, grouper, snapper, roast pork, and fried beef, all apparently, with a Cuban flavour(Which tends to be bland.). We chose to start with a Cuban Caldosa soup and had the Fried Chicken de la Isle… a generous, although not particularly remarkable, meal.
The Spanish dining room is La Zarzuela and it’s in the resort’s main building. It’s relatively small with seating for perhaps 60 and features pale yellow walls hung with paintings of Catalan scenes. The ceiling is beamed and other Spanish influences abound. At some point, a trio, alternating between this room and the restaurant next door, will offer to entertain you at your table. If you request La Bamba, everyone, including the waitresses, will enjoy it immensely. At least, that was my observation. The menu is fairly extensive and interesting, and after starters and soup, my wife chose chicken stuffed with the fruits of land and sea and I went with an entrecote in a pepper sauce. The dishes were very good and the evening passed very pleasantly.
El Arlequino, the Italian dining room, is a large, attractive room with heavy gold table linens and Venetian scenes on the walls. The menu features a selection of hot and cold starters, soups, pastas and three fish dishes and another three meat dishes as well as dessert. We were told that we could pick three selections plus dessert. After the starters we tried the spaghetti carbonara and for main dishes we tried the lobster in casserole and the steak. The wine selection was, again, Spanish… there were no alternatives in any of the restaurants, just white or red. Again, it was a pleasant evening… not exceptional, but very nice.
Well, as I said, it was fine and that’s not all bad. We really weren’t tempted to over-eat and that’s a good thing. The fact is, at each of the restaurants, you will find something. At one point I noticed a French-Canadian family pulling the Nutella, peanut butter and strawberry jam out of a bag at breakfast. I really don’t think that’s necessary. My only observation about breakfast is that if you must have your high-fiber cereal in the morning, you’re going to have to bring it with you.