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La Romana Overview
La Romana (Casa de Campo) is one of the newer additions to Eastern Caribbean itineraries and is currently a regular stop for cruise lines like Celebrity and Costa. Located in the Dominican Republic, what's interesting about this port is that it's entirely geared to a resort (rather than an existing town). The resort is Casa de Campo, which consists of a 7,000-acre resort village.
The Dominican Republic lies on the eastern side of Hispaniola, an island which it shares with Haiti. Santo Domingo is its capital. The Dominican Republic, which stretches over two-thirds of the island, is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire (combined) and claims the West Indies' highest mountain peak -- rising some 10,415 feet high from the Valley of Cibao. Christopher Columbus founded the first permanent European settlement here in 1493.
This port, still in its infancy in terms of development, is somewhat controversial. Most of the more interesting options (particularly golf, tennis, skeet-shooting and horseback riding) are available only through ships' shore excursions and there's a limited range of activities for independent travelers. In addition, some ships don't even call on this port until mid-afternoon or later which limits outdoor activities.
Otherwise, independent-minded passengers are limited to exploring the area's nouvelle villages, such as the Marina (which is meant to replicate Portofino) and the more charming Altos de Chavon (which was designed to resemble an old Spanish town). Both have a handful of shops (designed to appeal more to Europeans than Americans, and pricey as you can probably imagine) and restaurants.
The biggest reason to choose an itinerary that calls at La Romana is for golfers for whom "The Teeth of the Dog," one of its courses, is considered the best in the Caribbean. Otherwise, activities are limited. Celebrity Cruises, for one, is working to expand options here; it is in the process of building a private beach area for cruise passengers.
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Other Eastern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Freeport • Grand Turk • Jost Van Dyke • La Romana • Labadee • Nassau • Princess Cays • San Juan • St. Croix • St. John, USVI • St. Maarten • St. Martin • St. Thomas • Tortola • Virgin Gorda
Barcelo or Brugal local rum and Coca-Cola or the local El Presidente beer.
Spanish is the language spoken.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Dominican Republic Peso is the unit of currency and it is technically illegal to use any other. (In reality we didn't have any problem using dollars.)
Where You're Docked
There is, technically, no "cruise terminal"; instead, ships dock at an informal facility that's between the sugar cane town of La Romana and the chi-chi resort village of Casa de Campo. There are no services (unless you count a Coke machine).
Casa de Campo is the main event, but you'll have to take a cab to get there. There are really no facilities in the immediate vicinity when you dock.
On Foot: Major attractions -- in particular Casa de Campo -- are not accessible on foot. Cruise lines often organize shuttle transportation from the ship to the resort; typically shuttles take travelers on a 15-minute ride to either the Marina or Altos de Chavon sections. The shuttles run every half-hour.
Taxis: Taxis line up at the dock. To travel the six-kilometer distance to Casa de Campo, plan to pay $13 per cab each way.
Renting a Car: Travelers must taxi (or shuttle) to Casa de Campo's main area, where there is a National Car Rental agency.
Watch Out For
Many locals only speak Spanish. If going to Altos de Chavon wear walking shoes -- those cobbled streets are tough to maneuver, particularly if you are not too steady on your feet.
Visit Altos de Chavon, a village on a cliff adjacent to the resort, and the area's cultural hub. Beyond hosting its museums, Altos de Chavon, which overlooks the Chavon River, is newly constructed (1976) yet designed to look like an ancient Mediterranean village. It's genuinely gorgeous -- lush foliage and the view across the river looks beyond thousands of acres of un-touched forest. Worth visiting are the Church of St. Stanislausis and the 5,000-seat Grecian amphitheater (if you're overnighting in La Romana you may want to check out the performance schedules).
Museums contained within Casa de Campo include the Museum of Archeology (Altos de Chavon, open Tuesday - Sunday from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.) and Altos de Chavon Art Gallery (Altos de Chavon, Tuesday - Sunday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.). This is also the main area for shoppers -- there are a handful of boutiques and art galleries. One of the best for high quality craft souvenirs is LaTienda which, inexplicably, doesn't accept credit cards (and there are no ATMs in the village. Consider yourself warned! We're still smarting over the two fabulous throw rugs we had to bypass).
The Marina is another "neighborhood" within Casa de Campo and, as heretofore mentioned, is built to remind one of Italy's Portofino (alas, it comes across as rather soul-less). The crescent shaped plaza fronts, what else, a marina that's chock-full of quite extravagant yachts. There are numerous sidewalk cafes and shops that sell everything from luxury housewares (from bedding to furnishings) to eensy-teensy-tiny bikinis.
Golf. Playing the "The Teeth of the Dog" golf course is a must for any serious golfer; Pete Dye designed the course (expect to pay $200 for a day's outing, which includes clubs and transportation).
Been There, Done That
Polo Match -- the resort's polo grounds host matches between international competitors November through March.
O therwise, many of Casa de Campo's resort services -- equestrian rides, shooting skeet, golf and tennis -- are available only through cruise ship shore excursions.
Many passengers will use a call here as an extra "day at sea."
Bayahibe Beach, near La Romana (a ten minute taxi ride), is a public beach with watersports, restaurants and shops.
In Altos de Chavon, Giacoasa Ristorante (from 11 a.m.) the delicious northern Italian cuisine comes in second to the gorgeous views over the Chavon River from every table (particularly those outside). Not to be missed! For reservations write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Teeth of the Dog: Lago Grill (Teeth of the Dog Golf Course, noon - 3 p.m. daily) offers casual fare.
The Marina offers the most selection; there are Italian pizzerias, fish restaurants and coffee bars, all open throughout the day.
Here are our choices for the best ship-sponsored shore excursions:
Golfing at "Teeth of the Dog": Expect to pay around $200 per person though club rental and transportation are included.
Horseback-riding at Casa de Campo: Usually guests ride for about two hours. The cost is about $60.
Bayahibe Beach Break: This is one of the few non-Casa de Campo-related excursions and is near the town of La Romana; there are snack shacks and water sports rentals for about $40.
For More Information
On the Web: www.casadecampo.cc
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