We are just back from a fabulous holiday at the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast.
Last year we did a three week extended holiday to India, changing location 7 times in three weeks. It was the trip of a lifetime (check it out here if you want more info), and although we built in lots of fun activities, not just temples and monuments. The kids were keen for somewhere they could stay in one place.
Mr PaintSewGlueChew wanted short haul. The kids wanted somewhere they could hang out by the pool. and I wanted somewhere with some culture.
Dubvovnik ticks all of these boxes. The area is not short of great hotels, but after much googling, we settled on the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik.
We stayed at the resort for 10 days in the middle of July, in a two bedroom apartment with a sea view.
Things we loved about the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik
The hotel is on a huge site, jammed pack with facilities:
4 swimming pools, a fantastic beach area, spa, tennis courts, squash court, football pitch, volleyball, climbing wall, gym, table tennis, badminton, watersports activities and kids playground. To name but a few.
A pool or swimming area to suit every taste.
1 of the pools is adult only (I managed to sneak a couple of hours without the kids one afternoon, and it was serene and calm). There’s also a kids pool, a pool for “well behaved kids” an indoor spa with pool, and the fabulous beach along the front of the hotel.
Our favourite area was the beach, and we spent many hours at a time in the water. We also played tennis and squash in the early evening – the kids and Mr PSGC also played football with some people they met at the sports centre (cue opportunity for me to sneak to the adult pool). The staff at all the facilities are incredibly helpful, and hiring pitches and equipment was easy despite the hotel being full.
The water sports down at the beach are great too – and although pricey, probably comparative with other local facilities. It is great to have them on site, rather than having to get to a different location, especially without a car.
Proximity to Dubrovnik
The resort is a 20 minute taxi ride to the Old Town, making regular excursions into the city easy. We loved this, as it meant we could nip in after the day cooled down a bit, and after the cruise liner crowds have left the city.
The hotel runs a timetabled bus, but tickets need to be bought in advance – The price for 4 (K180) is about the same as a private taxi or a hotel car, so for flexibility it makes more sense to do that.
Local taxis are marginally cheaper. Its easy to pick one up from outside the old town walls for the return trip.
A boat leaves the hotel harbour for Dubrovnik a couple of times a day. We didn’t use it, as the times didn’t suit us. We chartered a boat for a day during our stay (more details about this next week).
We were advised not to hire a car, as parking around the Old Town is almost impossible.
Beautiful Coast Line and Stunning Water
The water along the Dalmatian coast is crystal clear.
I’m not usually a beach lover – as I can’t stand sand everywhere. The beach at the hotel runs the length of the resort. It has a pebbly area where most of the families with young children congregate (Beach shoes essential to walk on these very sharp pebbles). It also has a large area cut directly from the rocks.
Concrete platforms have been laid out along the rocks to create bathing platforms (its not as grim as it sounds). Metal steps allow access to the sea at various points. The water is 7/8ft deep only a meter away from the rocks, but swimming feels safe. A roped off area separates swimmers and waterspouts, and marks out a decent area along the front of the beach.
The area that we chose to lay in was beside the water sports, across from the marina.
Don’t forget a mask and snorkel (or at least goggles, as the sea is very salty). Our kids loved playing on their lilos, They are available for sale in resort, but are quite expensive, as we learned to our cost!
Staff were polite, helpful and motivated throughout the resort – especially the pool, beach and sports facilities staff.
Call me shallow, but strong free wifi should always be provided by hotels. End of discussion.
Hotels that have crappy service, limit the number of gadgets, or offer only restricted access that you have to keep signing back in to please take note, customers care about this.
We were able to check our gadgets wherever we wanted throughout the resort, not just in our hotel. Great when the kids went out Pokemon hunting!
Things we were less keen on at the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik
One of the reasons for us choosing an apartment over hotels rooms, was so we didn’t have to eat out every night. I was keen to buy local produce now and again (more about that below) and on days when we’ve had a bigger lunch , make a simple salad or supper at home in the evening. Sadly the facilities in the kitchen are on a par with a tiny caravan.
We did cobble together pasta a couple of times, but it felt like a major hassle, as there is no prep space, a two ring hob, and very limited kitchen utensils. I suspect this won’t bother most people, but it was annoying to me.
The apartment was really spacious. Large bedrooms, bathrooms, a huge living area, dining table, desk and outdoor patio. Maddeningly there is not enough storage for clothes. The wardrobes in both bedrooms are small. Most people will be visiting for at least a week.
Shelving in the wardrobes, or another chest of drawers in the bedroom would be enough to make it less frustrating. Similarly in the bathroom; all surface area is taken up with the hotel products. There wasn’t enough space to lay out your own toiletries. A couple of shelves is all it would need to improve this. For the size of the apartment and the cost of the accommodation this seems like an easy fix.
The hotel has many restaurants on site – we ate in most of them over the course of the 10 days. It was peak season while we were there, and the restaurants were often full. Staff will accommodate finding a table at short notice at one of the locations, pre plan and make reservations, to avoid potential disappointment.
Despite the choice of restaurants, we were underwhelmed by the food. Compared to prices in the old town its very poor value for money, especially for drinks. The restaurants, although busy, manage to have almost no atmosphere. 3 -4 of them are on a strip of road bellow the apartments. They all have the same exterior, with no character whatsoever. The fish restaurant is good, and has a nice patio area but it is almost exclusively fish We wouldn’t have wanted to go more than once or at most twice during our stay.
The buffet option in the main hotel was very disappointing. My son is a self professed buffet professional, but was decidedly unimpressed.
The snack options at the beach and around the pool are also poor. There’s a snack bar back up on the main restaurant strip offering 3-4 sandwich choices. These didn’t change during our trip. Salad is also available – but only one variety a day. Given the captive market, it was frustrating to have such limited choice. We heard many other people complaining about the same. Food down at the beach is even worse, limited to a couple of different pizzas and packets of pringles. We usually trudged back up to the snack bar for lunch.
The Sun Gardens Dubrovnik “boasts” a grocery shop on site. I was prepared for the fact that it may offer a limited selection, but I hadn’t anticipated how restricted it was.
The floor area of the shop is large. It has an on site bakery (or an oven for reheating part baked bread) selling bread, croissants and pastries. A fridge for cold meets, cheeses, milk, yogurt, butter etc, and a section of shelves at the far end for fruit and veg. There were some tins and packets of pasta and noodles. The rest of the shop is taken up pretty much with sweets, biscuits, drinks and ice-cream.
One of the first things we did after unpacking, was to go there to stock up our cupboards and fridge.
Or so we thought.
There was no fresh bread left (ok it was 3pm by this time). But there was also not a single fresh vegetable on sale in the shop. There was a whole (enormous) watermelon the size of a labrador – far too big for 1 family, but no other fruit.
This vegetable blight remained for about 5 days. The shelves were filled a little towards the end of the week – but things were sold in bulk packages (5 onions / 5 lemons etc). We bought an enormous tub of tomatoes on the vine when we saw them, but otherwise no salad at all. I imagine the shop is outsourced, and not stocked by the hotel, but this seemed like a pretty poor offering, when the hotel will be taking daily deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables.
If we had a car, we would have driven to a local supermarket, but it seemed crazy to hire one just to get groceries.
Many of the hotels in the resort get a buffet breakfast as part of their package. The apartments don’t. TBH we didn’t want a huge breakfast every day, and were happy to get fresh bread from the shop in the morning, and eat it outside on our patio area.
The shop opened at 8am each morning. Mr PSGC volunteered to go and get it while the rest of the lazy family (me included) snoozed. But rather than being an idyllic breakfast al fresco -it was a pretty hit or miss affair – Often the bread wasn’t ready, and he had to wait 20 minutes for it to cook – or it was (no pun intended), a huge bun fight, with a handful of families scrabbling for the 5-6 loaves that had been made.
With such an enormous hotel, and captive market, its really not acceptable that they don’t have plenty of bread ready at 8am.
It felt like they really wanted you or expected you to eat in the breakfast restaurant – however on the one day we did, it wasn’t equipped for the number of people wanting to eat. There are just not enough tables available. The breakfast is also K200 pp (around £22-23).
It has a big selection of hot and cold dishes, fruits, meat, breads. the morning we went, the staff were struggling to keep platters and dishes topped up – and a lot of guests appeared to be eating for the whole day at this meal!
The snack bar serves croissants and coffee – a half way option would have suited us better.
Sun Lounger Hogging
We are new to this type of holiday, so maybe this happens at every resort, but at the beach and at the pool there was a humungous amount of sun lounger hogging.
Families would block out 4-5 loungers and umbrellas and then disappear for 3-4 hours at a time. A couple of times we went to the beach at 10am, and all the loungers and umbrellas were taken, at least half not being used. Most of these people wouldn’t appear to claim them for at least 3 hours.
The staff will do their best to find you beds and if they can, umbrellas. There should be plenty to go around, but not if families take more than 1 per 2 beds.
The staff don’t seem to have any control over this. One family of three that we saw most days would take 5 loungers and 3 umbrellas every day. The wife and daughter would swap between loungers – one in the sun and one in the shade. That said, there are loads of loungers around the entire resort, including days beds and double loungers up by the spa, just maybe not at the location you want.
I’m calling them pebbled beaches, but really they are stony beaches – while it didn’t bother me at all, the kids wanted a sandy beach, were they could paddle and surf. I think the great water and the ease of swimming in the sea more than made up for it for me. But if you are intent on making sandcastles and paddling in the surf, its best to be know in advance.
Decent beach shoes would possibly compensate for this.
Value for Money
The recent Brexit referendum, and resulting slump in the £ contributed to our feeling about value for money. Everything in resort felt overpriced.
The cost of the accommodation was a bit bruising, as it was 20% more expensive than when we had booked, but this was my fault for not securing and paying up front.
In resort the price of food and drink was also steep. Its possibly similar to other resorts in the area, but because it needs a car or taxi to go off site, we felt captive. Prices in the city walls, despite being a busy tourist destinations are considerably less. I would mind less if I found the food exceptional, but we didn’t. Mediocre food at high prices is never a winning combination.
During our stay, I took literally thousands of photos. I’m only including pictures here of the hotel room, swimming pools, and beach area, as including the rest are likely to bring my blog to a grinding halt. Hopefully they will give a flavour of what to expect in the resort.
Hotel Rooms at The Sun Gardens Dubrovnik
We stayed in a two bedroom apartment within the residences of the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik.
The kitchen is modern and looks good, – but not well equipped. There is very little food prep (or storage) space, and only 2 rings for cooking. The resort doesn’t provide even the most basic salt and pepper, and only very basic cleaning equipment. You could spend a fortune buying basics that you won’t use during the stay.
Given the overall footprint of the apartment, its a shame that more space wasn’t allocated to the kitchen. I suspect that most people just use it for cornflakes and keeping drinks cold, but it was a bit disappointing, as I was expecting to to be better appointed. The master bedroom decor is as you would expect in an upscale hotel. A little boring, but pleasant and inoffensive. Very comfortable beds, modern furnishings and quality bed linens. The most frustrating element was the lack of storage. There would be space in this room for more storage at a squeeze – but given the size of the whole apartment, its strange they didn’t allocate more space to the bedrooms.The second bedroom is very similar to the Master, and is also lacking in storage space.
The mattress quality wasn’t as good as in the master bedroom, and the beds dont attach to the headboards, so move about when you sit down on them. But on the whole we were pretty happy with the bedrooms.The living area was huge. More than we needed, as we didn’t spend much time in here. The swing chair was a hit.
Indoor dining area. This picture shows how spacious the apartment actually is – Mr PSGC had to do some work while we were here, so it was handy to have a designated desk space. Double doors lead out to the patio. Both the master and second bedroom have en suites. The master has a walk in shower and a bath, while the second room just a shower in the bath.
Both bathrooms were modern and clean with lots of hot water. As mentioned above, some extra storage, even a few shelves would have been useful, but overall pretty nice bathrooms. The Patio area is huge, in an L shape that wraps around the apartment. There’s a small eating area, and a sun awning over half of the larger square. Plenty of space to dry clothes, or lay out if you want to.
Not a much privacy from the next door apartment, but when we were there the family opposite were rarely out at the same time as us, so it wasn’t an issue.
Our apartment overlooked the patio of the floor bellow, and on the ground floor there was a restaurant. (Smells from the restaurant came up through the air conditioning vents in the kids room and bathroom, but it was annoying rather than unbearable).
The apartments are in blocks three stories high, with two levels of blocks as you look up the hill from the front. We were on the top level of one of the lower level blocks, which I would suggest is one of the best combinations, as its a bit of a treck up the hill from the beach.
Some rooms have sea views, and some garden views. Prices vary wildly depending upon which you choose. We didn’t sit out up here much, but we had breakfast on the patio almost every morning. The sea view was definitely pricey, but it meant we woke up to this!And finished the day with this!
Swimming Pools at the Sun Gardens Dubrovnik
The Sunset Pool
For adults and “well behaved children”.
This is a really nice large pool. We came here a couple of times, but wind (not particularly strong) meant that the umbrellas overlooking the sea couldn’t be put up for safety reasons, inches they fell over. It was difficult to find anywhere with shade to sit in. There was lots of reserved sun loungers that were unoccupied which was frustrating. It has a separate kids paddling pool with slide.
The Limonia Pool
The Adult Pool
The Beach at Sun Gardens Dubrovnik
And at the other end of the beach, near the water sports and the marina, is a concrete platform built into the rocks as a bathing area. Its not as bleak as it looks in this picture, though there was a lot of annoying lounger hogging while we were there.
The beach also has a “VIP area” with better sun loungers and waiter service. These were £10-15 per day. It was hard to see why anyone would use these, as free loungers were only metres away. We were certainly too mean to indulge. The water sports area is pretty busy (but not in any way annoying). The boats and ski jets were towing an array of inflatables most of the day.
Over at the far end is the hotel marina. The hotel runs a couple of boats a day into Dubrovnik, or boat are available for day trips. (We did this, which I’ll blog about next week).
Our kids love this stuff. Clinging on for grim death. The kids made me have a turn on this, and I can vouch for how hard it is! Still smiling as they come back in. We didn’t do the jet packs at it was £80 for 10-15 minutes, but a few people did. Mostly spending the majority of their session submerged, trying to get out of the water, much to the hilarity of the beach dwellers.
This guy nailed it, and was doing an amazing dolphin move, diving into the water, and resurfacing in one move. Nice entertainment for us while we lounged.The best aspect of the beach is the crystal clear water. Lilo races are an obligatory part of our holiday itinerary. Sadly one lilo popped on the rocks about 3 days into the holiday.
So a relaxing float is often interrupted by an annoying brother.
The beach around the hotel is great for watching the world go by.Swimming pool steps have been bolted in to the rocks at various intervals along the beach for those who don’t want to leap into the water (and obviously for getting back out again!).Crystal clear water is an instagrammers dream!!