I love to travel. Or should I say, I LOVE to travel.
One of the million reasons I cherish my relationship with my wife, Deirdra, is that she shares the love of travel. We have done more than our share, and we expect that we will do a lot more, for as long as we are physically able to do so.
Our idea of ‘fun’ travel is strikingly different, yet we are almost always able to design our travel with enough activity, or inactivity (as the case may be), to please both of us. I like to go, go, go…historical sites, museums, visiting multiples cities and towns on each trip (usually meaning long drives or connecting flights), etc. My wife is more inclined to go, check in, and relaaaxxxxx…meaning, warm weather resorts, sandy beaches and infinity pools (or, any kind of pool).
We will celebrate our 14th anniversary this fall…and I am fortunate enough to be able to state that most of our vacations have been skewed towards my preferred itinerary than to hers. So when the winter of 2017-18 started frigid and wintry, and Deirdra asked me to get her out of Dodge this winter (we typically travel around our respective birthdays, neither of which falls during January-March), I was only to happy to oblige. (We both said lots of prayers to higher powers to spare us from snowy conditions on travel days and in between… and our prayers were mercifully answered)
We debated a variety of destinations, starting with St Croix and Belize…but, after researching several possible locations, we decided on Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic (where my step-mother, Milagros, was born).
We both prefer to fly on Jet Blue (I feel I NEED the extra leg room seats), so we then evaluated all of the trip packages offered by Jet Blue Vacations. Deirdra identified the Iberostar Grand Hotel Bavaro as her preferred all-inclusive resort (by reading the reviews on Trip Advisor, our travel bible), but JBV did not offer a package at IGHB (though they did have packages at several other Iberostar properties).
Ultimately, we agreed on Dreams Punta Cana Resort and Spa (a AAA Four Diamond Resort), at the far eastern tip of Hispaniola, as our destination.
Dreams was more suited to Deirdra’s desired itinerary than to mine. Located a half-hour from Punta Cana, it was easily accessible by shuttle (from the airport)…and once you were there, you were there. To my dismay, there is no shuttle into Punta Cana. Taxi drivers are unionized, and their rates are quite high (and while some websites suggest those rates are negotiable, I was told drivers have a loose agreement with the resorts to keep the rates high…which keeps their visitors on-site). This was a HUGE negative in my estimation…not so much for my bride.
The resort has a main building, nine housing units, seven restaurants (three of which are located in the main building), a pair of lunch huts, a 24-hour snack bar (Coco Bar), a performance theatre and several bars. The Coco Bar offers great iced and hot drinks and tasty sandwiches…but avoid the muffin with the hole at the bottom right of the rack – it’s the muffin the birds nibble on – leaving the hole. [NOTE: Dreams offers an upgrade package at $79/day that includes privileges at a beach-side facility, a relaxation center, and exclusive lunch privileges at one of the restaurants (Oceana), which is available to all of the guests at the resort for dinner. We did not opt for the upgrade, and do not feel we missed out on anything…]
A large free-form swimming pool bisects the resort, with five of the buildings on one side of the pool and four buildings on the other side. We were in Building 5 – which is furthest from the ocean, and also furthest from the hustle, bustle and noise… it is also closest to the main building. (I highly recommend Bldg 5)
We opted for a first floor, pool walk-out room (an additional $69/day, providing a private patio, lawn, and direct access into the pool, which was 12 yards +/- from our slider). The room was spacious and clean. The bathroom was a decent size. The ‘maid’ service was exceptional. Early in the trip I requested extra waters (3-4 extra) and Coke Zeros (3-4 extra) daily… as I tend to drink a LOT of fluids and we were advised against drinking the local water. As is our custom, we left a $5 / day tip for cleaning and services. Our room was spotless. On two occasions, we were provided a half dozen extra waters and sodas. We could not have been happier.
The pool was always just a little cool (temperature-wise)…so as to be refreshing but not chilling. The resort provided an abundance of floats (though they get hot in the sun, so you need to flip them before jumping on). Astride the pool were countless natural umbrellas and chairs/lounges for the guests on the other side of the buildings and in the upper floors. The Barracuda (“Swing”) Bar was located a stone’s throw from our building…and at the other end of the pool is Manatees swim-up bar. Four flamingos wandered freely around the facility, typically along the pool in the vicinity of the “swing bar” during the day.
While we were there, the Dominican Republic celebrated its Independence Day (February 27, 1844). Dreams Resort marked the occasion with a parade along the walkway paralleling the pool and a rally in the courtyard along the beach (adjacent to the Sugar Reef bar).
The beach was clean and white… the water was clear and azure-blue. There were ample cabanas and lounges beneath umbrellas and trees, providing ample respite from the sun, when (if) desired. Occasionally, hawkers would wander by along the shoreline, hawking everything from Mama Juana to larimar to sunglasses (they weren’t allowed on the resort premises. And on two occasions, we watched as local fishermen delivered the day’s catch of mahi-mahi.
The dining was very good, overall. Breakfast at the World Café offered a lot of variety, though the quality was middling (watery eggs and undercooked bacon were among my pet peeves). We generally ate lunch at one of the lunch huts, which are located poolside and beachside… the poolside menu was just burgers and hot dogs, while the beachside hut had a more diverse menu, including gyros (which are one of my favorites).
We enjoyed dinner at one of the distinctive restaurants each night of our visit except for the final night, which happened to be “Dominican Night” at the World Café. The restaurant food was very good (read more, below), but the portion sizes were routinely quite small. On our first night, my waitress asked me if I wanted “seconds”. I did…but didn’t know I could do that. She informed us that we were welcome to order more than one appetizer or meal apiece…explaining the staff understood the portion sizes were small. So most nights we ordered an appetizer and meal apiece, with a third appetizer and a third entrée to be ‘split’. It was the perfect amount of food. (That first waitress got an extra large tip!!)
As I mentioned earlier, my stepmother is Dominican…and she is a fantastic cook), so we opted to dine at The World Cafe on Friday night so we could enjoy the Dominican cuisine. The food was VERY good, but not close to the quality of Millie’s cooking!
The first night we ate at Himitsu (Asian cuisine). The food was very tasty, though I wished my dinner (Mongolian Beef) had been spicier (hotter). Appetizers: Hinoi Salads and Chicken Satay; Soups: Wonton; Entrees: Kung Pao Chicken and Mongolian Beef.
Night Two: Portofino (Italian cuisine). The food was excellent, though the portion sizes were ridiculously small (I can’t say the Carpaccio appetizer was good, or not, because the meat was sliced SO thinly it really had no taste!). Appetizers: Carpaccio and Caprese Salad; Zuppe: Minestrone; Entrees: Chicken Milanese and beef filet.
Night Three: Bordeaux (French cuisine). The best meal we enjoyed at the resort! The Beef Bourguignon was almost-certainly the best I have ever had. Appetizers: Salmon and escargot; Soup: French Onion; Entrees: Beef Bourguignon and Filet de Boeuf
Night Four: Sea Side Grill (Steakhouse). Appetizers: Chicken Caesar Salad and 3-Bean salad; Entrees: Rib-eye and Mahi-mahi
Night Five: Oceana (Seafood… pictured, above): The food was fantastic, with the ceviche being among the best we have had anywhere! Appetizers: Ceviche, crab cake and mussels; Soup: clam chowder; Entrees: sea bass and shrimp
The Swing Bar and swim-up bar were wonderful. Leaving a buck-a-drink tip ensures you always get the top-shelf booze. Try a “Miami Vice” with a shot of Brugal Anejo rum (1/2 pina colada, 1/2 strawberry daiquiri, spiked with the rum!)
Lastly, the nightly entertainment was run-of-the-mill. It was better than the salsa show we attended in Rio de Janiero, but not by much…possibly on a par with the show at The Moulin Rouge in Paris. As is typical of these shows, there was one especially-athletic performer who stole the show and elevated the quality of the entertainment. I was disappointed when I left the salsa and burlesque shows because I had paid quite a bit to attend those performances…the shows at the resort were “free”, so I didn’t feel nearly as chagrined when they concluded. I mean, what else were we going to do at the resort, right?
Overall, it was an enjoyable vacation…more so for my wife, who wanted to completely relax for seven days. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’d return. The isolation and lack or affordable access to Punta Cana was disheartening…I was REALLY itching to get to Punta Cana by Day Three (or to Santo Domingo, where my step-mother’s family – mi primas / primos y tias / tios – reside). That observation aside, the resort was affordable in comparison to other resorts…and, ultimately, the purpose of this trip was to RELAX. As much as I hate to just unwind for seven days, without any other activities mixed in, it was probably EXACTLY what I needed…