TRAVELWISE makes no distinction regarding age when reviewing its resorts. While we do write from our own personal experience as a middle-aged couple, we try to compare and contrast activities that may be enjoyed by the more activities-oriented couple with those of the less active, yet no less intense travelers.
But on this, our first trip to the Dominican Republic, we decided to take a different approach, by soliciting the actual experiences of a younger couple, our son and his significant other, both thirty, heretofore, referred to as “the kids.” What would we enjoy together? What different choices would we make on this vacation? And what overall and specific impressions would we come away with from our stay at "Dreams Punta Cana," an all-inclusive resort.
We let the “kids” choose the hotel, since we wanted to be sensitive to their budget restraints but we decided that each couple would book flight and accommodations separately, so we could compare all the choices that were made from beginning to end.
As it turns out, the “kids” booked their hotel/air fare vacation package first through Cheap Caribbean, which was running a so-called “big sale” with “only one day left at these prices.” They booked the earliest flight out of JFK, flying JetBlue non-stop to Punta Cana and the latest JetBlue flight coming back. We booked our vacation package with Expedia later on. They were not running the “hype,” and their prices were virtually the same, without the “one day left” gimmick. We tried to get the earliest flight as well, but evidently, the “kids” must have grabbed the last two early flight seats at that price. So we booked the next flight out, which was several hours later. We were forced to book an earlier flight back, because of our work schedule.
We preferred to fly together with the “kids,” so we called JetBlue the day of the flight at 12:01am and asked what the availability was on that first flight. There were about six seats left. At this point we had two choices – take a chance and fly standby, hoping two seats would still be available at no extra charge, or pay $50 per seat and be confirmed on the flight, with the seats to be assigned at the gate, beginning four hours before the flight. We really did want to fly together, not only because it would be enjoyable and we would have a few more hours use of the resort, but because, this way, we could take one transfer to the hotel together, rather than pay separately. So we opted to pay $50 per seat. As it turns out, they assigned the four of us, together, in the only seats they had left – the more leg room seats, for which you would normally pay an additional $40 per seat. As luck would have it, no one took the third seat of our rows, so each couple had an additional seat in which to stretch out.
You do have choices when it comes to transfers to and from the hotel. The first choice is not to stop where you are led by your porter for a sales pitch on excursions and time shares. It is advantageous to book excursions and golf online before you leave as you get better bargains. For transportations an excursions, checkout www.puntacananow.com, andwww.gobecon.com. For golf, go to www.puntacanagolf.net. More about golf, later.
There is a new highway presently under construction from the airport to all the hotel areas. It was partially finished for our trip, but promises to be completed by January, 2014. This will cut down on travel time to your hotel and hopefully on fares as well.
You should be aware, that unlike Sandals’ all-inclusives (which do not have resorts in the Dominican Republic), the all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic may not include transportation to and from the airport. When booking transportation, we would recommend using a private van rather than a group bus, which will stop along the way to drop off other vacationers at their respective resorts.
We arrived at Dreams Punta Cana and were greeted in a friendly and exuberant manner as well as a welcome drink. Although the “kids” went for the less expensive Deluxe Room, and we, the Junior Suite, we both chose the “Preferred Club” level. We heartily recommend paying a little extra for this distinction, as the privileges it carries are well worth it:
"Dreams Punta Cana" has an impressive entrance and lobby, reminiscent of Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
As you walk toward the toward the Preferred Club,
you can’t help but notice the spectacularly manicured gardens, with its
pheasants and flamingos
and "Dreams Punta Cana" signature meandering pool.
As you enter the Preferred Club you’ll find a private bar with top-shelf liquor, a table filled with finger sandwiches, cheeses, bread, olives, canopies and sweets. There are also two computers for members’ use. We were immediately greeted by a Preferred concierge, who offered us drinks and explained everything about our rooms and the facilities. We were given our room cards and escorted to our prospective accommodations. We were hungry from our travels and decided to have some lunch at the Oceania, before heading to the beach.
The Oceania is for preferred members only and the quality of the food, alone, is worth the small price of Preferred membership. We each tried to order different selections, so that we could sample as much as possible in order to provide a comprehensive review for this article. We all had a different type of fish for lunch and were all very satisfied with the entire meal. Breakfast at the Oceana is a feast and a great way to start the day, especially when it’s topped off with delicious Dominican Republic coffee.
We had some concerns about the water and/or ice used in the drinks and were told by our waiter that only bottled water is used, even for the ice. There was a comment on Trip Advisor about bringing your own Pepto Bismol, since the one at the gift shop was so expensive. But all four of us discovered that any warnings about stomach upset from the food or water were totally unfounded and we sampled food from every one of the restaurants and beach grill.
We all went back to our rooms to change for the beach. One of the nice things about the Preferred club level is that you pick up orange towels at the club, which identify you as a club member, and reserves a special section of the beach. From some of the reviews, we were expecting a rocky, unswimable beach, which is on the Atlantic side. In fact we brought some beach shoes to navigate the beach. This was totally unnecessary as the beach was sandy and the water was inviting.
We caught a wonderful sunset while floating on beautiful water.
Another perk of the Preferred Club are the reserved Beach Beds. They are ultra-comfortable and have a canopy that can be fashioned in any number of ways to suit how you wish to block or absorb the sun.
Travel Tip: You’ll want to get out on the beach early if you want to guarantee a beach bed. You can leave them unoccupied for up to an hour before they become fair game for another Preferred guest.
We pretty much give up meat during the year for health reasons, but there’s something about having a burger on the beach that we find irresistible, so we indulged and enjoyed it! Driving from the airport to the hotel, you can see grazing cattle. The beef you get is local and it has a wonderful, unprocessed texture and taste. You can choose to walk up to the “Barefoot Grill” or just order it with drinks from one of the beach waiters or waitresses.
After your burger on the beach, walk toward the pool and pick up a delicious fresh mango or pineapple on a stick. You’ll watch in amazement as your server cuts and carves before your eyes.
On the other side of this informal eating are two not-to-be missed more formal and intimate dining experiences. One is “The Cellar,” with menu choices from three different restaurants and a personal sommelier who chooses appropriate wines for each of your selected courses.
The other is the romantic champagne dinner on the beach with candlelight and torches and the music of the ocean waves. There are several menu choices, which are priced accordingly. For the most intimate experience, we recommend reserving the most remote table, number “8,” right near the bending palm tree.
(No, the palm tree is not a backdrop)
You’ll want to spend part of your stay relaxing on an “in-pool” chaise lounge or grab a floating mat, and follow the winding pool, which goes from one end of the property to the other.
There’s a lot of activity available for all ages at "Dreams Punta Cana," and Stephanie, the entertainment director extraordinaire, does a great job of involving all willing participants. She is full of good energy and enthusiasm. After enjoying the pool with the “kids,” they signed up with Stephanie to play beach volleyball,
while we were content to play a game of chess with the over-sized board, poolside and a round of croquet. Ping pong, or any number of board games is also available at the entertainment center. Water sports activities are plentiful at the beach as well.
Tours and excursions are plentiful and your Preferred concierge can help you with all your needs in that area. The “kids” opted for the beach Dune Buggy excursion,
and a "dip" in the ocean,
while we played golf at two beautiful golf courses – La Cana
and Espanda. Espanda was rated the #1 golf course in Mexico and the Caribbean, and when you play it, you will see why.
But be prepared. Most everything in the Dominican Republic is very reasonably priced . . . except for golf! Go online for the best prices. You also get a break on the price if you play “twilight,” which is after 2:00 pm. We particularly enjoy that time, anyway, as sometimes you feel like you have the whole course to yourselves . . . very intimate!
At night, the “kids” went to the Disco, while we opted for some outdoor dancing on the veranda.
We found our room and bed very comfortable and we made use of the pillow menu. It was really nice to sleep with the window opened and be soothed to sleep by the ocean breeze. Room service is available 24 hours, although the menu is limited. Our turn down service was quite special, with little surprises each night in the form of towel sculptures, rose petals, flowers and chocolates.
We particularly enjoyed our private balcony Jacuzzi. The advantage of being on the upper most floor and in a corner room is that you are obscured from sight, so foam bath, champagne, candles and petals went into the Jacuzzi with us.
The Spa offers couples massages, but the most intimate is the slow couples massage on the beach in a private waterfront cabana.
We found the staff to be courteous, willing to please, and make everything “excelente.” Even though Dreams is an all inclusive, we found ourselves wanting to show our appreciation for that extra special service with some tipping along the way.
There were two problems that we encountered. Smoking is not permitted indoors and there is a stiff penalty of $250 for ignoring the restriction. However, we did find that smoke alarms went off in the hallway on several occasions in the middle of the night as some quests disregarded the ban, much to our discontent.
The other problem was the language barrier. We have been to a lot of foreign countries, and haven’t found the communication to be difficult. Aside from hotel management, concierge staff and the entertainment directors, other employees such as taxi drivers, porters, waiters, caddies, housekeepers just did not have enough English skills for us to understand one another comfortably. Since tourism is so important to the Dominican Republic, we were surprised that more effort was not made in this regard. You can see evidence of this on the sign inside the taxi regarding tips:
If you speak Spanish, you are at a distinct advantage. Had we not chosen to go to the Dominican Republic on short notice, we might have been able to make an effort to learn some key phrases and vocabulary.
Knowing this, when we return, and we do plan to, we will be more prepared, linguistically. It may not be excelente, but, hopefully, it will be mucho mejor.
One thing is certain. To the de Sesa men, these two women are excelentes y son hermosos!
Time for one last tropical drink before heading back home.
The final analysis to our age experiment was that "Dreams Punta Cana" provided fun and intimacy for younger and older generation couples, alike. You could be as fast or slow-paced as your mood would dictate. And while we were able to enjoy the beach, ocean, pool, and some meals together, we were also able to easily find our private space and pleasure in our own excursions and intimacy.
Gary de Sesa & Kita de Sesa are travel agents and owners of Gary D Travel. Contact us at 516-300-9924
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