Grand Bahia Principe el Portillo destination wedding in sunny Samana, Dominican Republic
I first met Natasha & Chris at their engagement session last Fall here in Barrie where we rocked it out at sunset. Fast forward and I’m touching down in hot-hot-hot Samana, Dominican Republic for their highly anticipated destination wedding. These two are are what you think of when you hear the ‘lovebirds’. They smile, laugh and ooze fun when they’re around.
Usually when I shoot in the Dominican it’s further up the coast in bustling Punta Cana – this time there was only one plane at the airport… ours! It’s an eerie feeling walking across the tarmac with no planes to be seen in any direction. But exciting when you enter a terminal to go through customs with no lines and nobody waiting for luggage… booyaa!
But then I arrived at Grand Bahia Principe el Portillo and there wasn’t another resort on the beach for as far as you could see in either direction – it suddenly all made sense. This wasn’t the highly commercialized Punta Cana region – this was a barely touched oasis.
Pro Tip for your Destination Wedding
This goes for my fellow photographers and travelers in general… tip. Everyone tips the bartenders, they’re the charismatic ones handing you your icy drinks so that’s an easy one. This past trip I was sitting out on my back patio enjoying the sun when an elderly groundskeeper said a simple “hola!” with a huge smile and went about his work chopping dead palm branches. I returned the pleasantry and he smiled and nodded. I noticed the wedding ring on his hand while he strained to swing the large machete at the high branches – now this was an elderly man and I could only think how hard he was working to provide for his family the same way we all are.
I get asked often how much people should bring on their trips – my answer is always, bring what you’re comfortable with but spread it around – the room attendants spend their entire day cleaning up after us, the groundskeepers make that paradise look like a paradise and so on. We have it good in Canada, share the goodness.
Anyways, that was a long Pro Tip this post, let’s get back to the happy couple’s day and hear how it all went down…
WHAT DID THEY LOVE MOST ABOUT THEIR WEDDING?
Natasha: Favourite part of my wedding was the ceremony. Chris’ uncle is a minister back home in Canada. He was unable to attend, however was able to make the script for the service. In addition we added a sand ceremony that the hotel provided the script for. It incorporated our views as well as combining sand from the beach to represent a little bit of the Dominican; it was beautiful and I loved every aspect of it.
Chris: My favourite part of my wedding was finally getting to marry my best friend at the ceremony.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT FROM THEIR DAY:
Natasha: My most memorable moment is probably not a moment most people would consider when thinking about their wedding, most remember their dress, the dance, or their husband lol But for me the most memorable moment was walking up to the restaurant where our dinner was and looking at the stunning sun set overlooking the ocean. The view, the scenery, the weather, everything was just astounding and picturesque. I could not have asked for a better setting, and I couldn’t help but stand there thanking God for blessing me with the life I have and being able to share this whole experience with all of our loved ones; it was a moment of reflection and peacefulness I will never forget!
Chris: My favourite moment was finally seeing Tasha in her dress walk down the the aisle – then seeing how happy she looked to marry me.
WHY THEY CHOSE THE GRAND BAHIA EL PORTILLO:
There were many reasons why we chose the Grand Bahia Principe el Portillo. First and most importantly we were looking for a semi private resort. We do not like the typical tourist areas where there is resort after resort. We wanted something a little more exclusive. Which the Bahia delivers!! This is the only resort in the area, surrounded by private homes. Second, the beach had to be pristine. We prefer to spend most of our time at the beach so it needed to be nice; again the Bahia delivered! The water is protected by coral, which made for little to no waves on the beach, not to mention the snorkeling was unreal, only 10 feet away from shore. No need for a snorkeling excursion – everything is right there at the resort. Third, we love food! Therefore a resort with lots of food options was a must. Again the Bahia delivered. We had a couple vegetarians and vegans in our group, and there was plenty of food for them to choose from. And lastly, the resort had to be family friendly, which the Bahia delivered as well. A cute little water park with slides for the kids, and lots of activities/movie nights. We only had one child in our group, but we wanted to make sure everyone in the group could enjoy their vacation to the fullest.
ONE TIP FOR FUTURE BRIDES FROM NATASHA:
The number one thing for me that I stressed about was the unknown. It’s scary going to a place and letting someone else control your wedding day. You haven’t necessarily seen the venue; you’re basing your wedding off reviews and photos from Trip Advisor. This is what I stressed out about the most. But in reality, your travel agent sent you there because she thought it was best suited for your needs; they do weddings all the time, so they know what they’re doing.
With that being said my advice would be try not to stress over the small things; which of course everyone says and is easier said than done. For example, I was so worried that I had to find the perfect song to walk down the aisle to. For months I searched and was stressing myself out that I wouldn’t find “the one”. WELL my music on the wedding day didn’t work, and they couldn’t find my song anymore. At that point I didn’t care – I really just wanted to get down to the end of the aisle and marry my best friend regardless of what music was playing. So was it worth it stressing over a dumb song? NO! lol. I was worried my flowers weren’t going to turn out as nice as I wanted, my hair, my make-up etc. In the grand scheme of things these are nothing. The point of this day is to marry your best friend. EVERYTHING WILL ALL WORK OUT IN THE END. The music was nothing, my hair still looked gorgeous in pictures thanks to my sister in law who was a great sport. No matter what you look like you have a photographer like Vaughn that can make anyone look insanely gorgeous!! Just go with the flow and have fun! It’s one day, you have your whole life ahead of you with your best friend!
ONE TIP FOR FUTURE GROOMS FROM CHRIS:
My advice would be to not stress about the little things. As long as you and your wife are there together everything will work out in the end.
WHAT NATASHA LOVES MOST ABOUT HER HUSBAND:
It’s hard to say just one thing I love about my husband, I mean I married him for several reasons :) But one of the main things I love most is his respectfulness towards me. I couldn’t have picked a better guy and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.
WHAT CHRIS LOVES MOST ABOUT HIS WIFE:
The one thing I love about my wife is her tolerance to put up with me and how she loves me unconditionally. I couldn’t have asked for a better wife and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.
TIPS FOR FUTURE COUPLES ABOUT THE RESORT, EXCURSIONS ETC.
Booking a vacation over a year ago and more or less planning a vacation for all of your family and friends, was a little nerve racking to say the least. Wanting to make sure everyone was happy and choosing a place that met everyone’s needs was a top priority. BUT, I’m very happy the location we chose and so was everyone else. A superb resort with exceptional service and accommodations.
FOOD: The food for the most part was pretty versatile. Every night had a different theme in the buffet with something for everyone. In addition there was 4 al la cartes. You won’t go hungry as there is a lot to choose from. Can’t complain about the food!
BEACH: Calm, clear, and pristine! No waves, which made for awesome relaxation just laying in the sand. Not to mention the snorkeling was amazing. So many colourful fish and coral just 10 feet from shore. The water isn’t deep either, so perfect for children to snorkel as well.
ROOMS/GROUNDS: We were in the royal golden rooms, which have been recently built, so the rooms were spectacular. White marble and a canopy bed with a massive washroom which could fit 5 people easily. Spacious, clean, and perfect! As for the grounds; they were always kept extremely clean and well maintained. Many workers constantly working to keep it beautiful.
EXCURSIONS: We flew with Air Transit. Each operator had their own excursions they offered. If you have a large enough group they will make private tours for you and your group. We had a large enough group and did an ATV excursion, which was absolutely phenomenal. Driving through the Country side, overlooking the ocean and mountainous terrain was just breath taking. No picture could show the sheer beauty of this place. Worth every penny this excursion, highly recommended.
A few others did zip lining, which was highly recommended. In addition, we went to the El Limon waterfall. Which is a major tourist attraction there. I can’t say I would recommend that excursion. You have to ride a horse almost 30 min down a rough muddy trail to finally get to the falls. Which yes are beautiful but so packed with people it was hard to take in the beauty and enjoy it. Not to mention the poor horses, and the workers who walk beside you with the horse; they are not paid and rely on your tips. Which I feel should have been expressed before leaving the resort as to make sure you have enough money to tip them. Overall, the Excursion was nice just not worth the money.
WEDDING: Depending what type of people you are will depend if this resort is for you. They’re not modern or up to date with the times (at least I didn’t feel it was) it’s not Punta Cana. Don’t expect a fondant cake with flowers, or little decorations that are popular here. The resort is very remote so there is not a lot to offer in regards to special orders. HOWEVER, with that being said, one good thing about this resort, they are very accommodating. I brought several pictures showing them what I wanted. They weren’t able to fulfill them all but at least offer a variation of what I was looking for. They will do everything they can to make whatever dream you have possible – which in the end was perfect for us.
We had our dinner at the Brazilian, an a la carte. I’m my opinion, the best restaurant that offered million dollar views. You just don’t get something like that back home. It was decorated exactly the way we wanted it. We did bring several items down to add a little personal touch to represent us, which the resort had no issues with setting up and accommodating us.
We must mention the cake; it was the BESTTTTT cake we have ever tasted in our lives ;) Everyone agreed, AMAZING!!! I think for the entire day after the wedding everyone was still commenting how delicious the cake was!
Overall, anyone who is looking to experience the culture and get a little taste of the Dominican country side needs to visit Samana. Its remoteness makes for a perfect relaxing vacation. It was an amazing trip that all of our guests raved about and even the seasonal travelers said it was one of the best places they have been too. Highly recommended!!!!