Well HELLO there!
Anyone else feel all out of sorts when they return from a vacation on a Sunday night? I definitely do—hence, no posts last week. To add to the madness, we flew into the airport further away from my apartment and my bag was randomly selected at customs for an extensive search. Welcome home to me. Luckily, this past weekend, while a busy one, provided a bit more time for blogging and I am so excited to share my trip to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with y’all today.
Since we—I went with five of my friends who also happen to be coworkers—were only there for three days, two nights and didn’t leave our all-inclusive resort except to travel back to the airport, this recap won’t follow my typical “Travel Guide” format since it wouldn’t be useful unless you stayed at the resort we did. However, I still tried to structure this post in a way that would be helpful in case you’re looking to plan a trip to Punta Cana now or in the future. Of course, if you have any questions about this wonderful Caribbean escape, please don’t be afraid to drop me a line—firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW WE BOOKED OUR TRIP /
I’m sure this is stating the obvious, but it can be really hard to plan a trip for six people where a) everyone agrees on the location and b) everyone agrees on the budget. Since I was traveling with coworkers, I think we are used to resolving conflict and sharing our opinions in a valuable way with each other so these pieces were actually relatively easy for us to navigate. We knew that we wanted to go to an all-inclusive Caribbean resort and we knew that we didn’t want to spend more than $800/person. Because we only had a long weekend, we also knew we didn’t want to spend too much time traveling.
As such, we looked for destinations that had early morning direct flights from the DC area and late evening return flights home. My good friend had booked an all-inclusive bundle deal—flight + hotel—on Cheap Caribbean, so I suggested that to the group and we began searching. It became pretty evident that the direct flights to and from Punta Cana were the ones that fit our ideal timetable, so then it was just honing in on the resort. Cheap Caribbean bundle deal prices change daily, so we identified a few resorts everyone would be happy staying at—we looked at reviews and pictures, what options were available without upgrading to a higher, more exclusive package, and added bonus points for any option with free Wifi. We monitored deals for about two weeks, and then found a price at one of our identified resorts dip lower than it ever had, so we knew it was time to book.
But before we pressed the trigger, my coworker had the smarts to see if Expedia had a similar deal—and they did. We then found an Expedia promo code online, and booked the trip for 15% less than what it was advertised for on Cheap Caribbean. So, definitely shop around on different sites to see if you can get a better deal. (I will say, I do think Cheap Caribbean is a better place to start your search—it seems more user-friendly to me).
GETTING TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT IN PUNTA CANA /
Y’all, the arrivals hall at PUJ is no calm place. I would highly recommend booking transportation to the hotel and back to the airport ahead of time. We did this as an add-on with our Expedia deal for about $40/person, and it was so worth it. The car was there waiting for us when we arrived and we got to the hotel much faster since we didn’t have to shop around for the best deal—the kiosk workers are a tad aggressive and not afraid to approach you to sell you their car service—or wait for them to bring the car around. Since there were six of us, we rented our own little bus to accomodate our bags. There are some options where you can share a bus with other travelers, just know this might be like taking the Uber Pool risk and you could drive around for a while before getting to your destination.
We never left our resort in Punta Cana simply because we wanted to take advantage of the all-inclusive deal as much as possible. However, most resorts do have deals with local cab companies and the concierge can help you schedule a car for where and when you want to go. Maybe one day Uber will come to the island!
GENERAL TIPS FOR TRAVELING TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC /
In all honesty, I didn’t do a ton of research before this trip. Unlike vacations where we’re bopping around a new city and need restaurant and cultural recommendations, I knew as long as we got to the resort, we’d be a-okay. I think I Googled “tips for traveling to Punta Cana” the night before, skimmed a few results, and figured I’d be good—and we definitely were. But, if I was to give someone advice before traveling to Punta Cana, here’s what I’d say:
- No need to exchange currency, merchants at places targeted to tourists accept the USD. Most places also take Euros.
- In order to enter the country, you have to buy a $10 traveler’s card. They ONLY ACCEPT CASH. So make sure you have $10 cash per person or otherwise—we paid with USD—you’ll be enjoying a nice time in the airport for a few days.
- Bring lots of $1 and $5 bills for tips. At our resort, tipping was not required, but we quickly learned that tipping a few dollars to the bartender would allow us to get our drinks faster or giving the hostess a few dollars would get us a better table. I also tipped anyone who went above and beyond—like the three gentlemen who cut down fresh coconuts from the tree for us or the driver who handled all of our baggage. At the beginning of the trip, I only had $20 bills, and it was hard to find a place to break change, so in the future, I’d also come with smaller bills. All in all, I tipped $30 the whole weekend—and since I’d paid for the trip ahead of time, this actually was a pretty cheap weekend for me ;].
- Skip the tap and always drink bottled water. Several friends and coworkers of mine have gone to the DR and ended up really sick because of bacteria contamination in the water. The resort gave us water bottles for free at every bar and served it from pitchers at all the restaurants. I even used bottled to brush my teeth. In hindsight, I might have been more wary of fresh fruit—we didn’t know what water they used to wash produce—and iced drinks when I was there, but luckily, we all avoided falling ill.
- Game plan your communications strategy ahead of time. We didn’t get international cell phone plans for this trip because we knew our hotel had Wifi. But, when we were at and traveling to and from the airport, we stuck together as a group because we wouldn’t have a way to contact each other if we got separated.
OUR RESORT EXPERIENCE /
We stayed at the Melia Caribe Tropical which is right on Playa de Bávaro, about 25 minutes from the airport. From the second we drove up, we were in awe of the beauty of the resort. Not only is it landscaped to perfection, all the amenity spaces feel so welcoming, and the staff greeted us with fresh mango juice. An added bonus, the resort also had beautiful wildlife that we could get really up close and personal with—flamingos, toucans, peacocks.
There were six of us, so we split up among three rooms and the resort worked to ensure we were all in the same villa. Each villa was two-stories and had about 12-14 hotel rooms. I roomed with Laura, and our room had two comfortable beds, a beautiful bathroom, and a private patio. Our villa was a short walk to both lobbies and all the hotel bars and restaurants. The main pool and beach access were about a 10-minute walk from our room, but it was such a scenic route we didn’t mind. There’s also a tram that takes you around the resort if you prefer to ride, but we found very quickly we could walk anywhere faster.
A note that there are two sections of the resort—one that is only open to Level Members, which is an upgraded package that includes access to exclusive restaurants, pools, and beach access as well as personal golf cart drivers to take you around the resort. Part of the Level is adults-only if that is important to you. We opted to stick with the “regular” resort because we were only there for three days, and honestly, I feel like there was no need to upgrade as very little of the resort was off-limits to us. In addition, we found that there were very few kids or college students on vacation this time of year since it’s a bit before spring break, so most of our fellow patrons were our age or our parents age.
We wanted to maximize our time in the sun, so we spent the daylight hours either on the beach or by the pool. The hotel gave us a towel card, which we then could redeem for beach towels—so nice to not have to take a sandy towel home! The resort had lounge chairs are already set up on the beach, and permanent tiki huts provide a nice shade if that’s what you’re going for—we wanted all the sun we could get. The water was so clear and gorgeous to look at it, but it was slightly cold this time of year so we only took quick dips to cool off. We tried to spend more time at the beach since we don’t have one at home, but we’d go to the pool when we wanted a drink since that was the closest bar—and whenever we did go to the pool, we took full advantage of the swim-up bar!
One of the most common questions I’ve been asked about our hotel is, “how’s the food?” My answer is that the food was so-so. We ate at some buffets and some a-la-carte sit down places that were included. Overall, I think it’s just one of those situations where it’s hard to make that quantity of food and still have it be high-end. In addition, the food was very heavy and very high-fat, so I am not sure how many more days I would have been able to eat it. (Our first stop home was to get salads!) However, the omelette station, frozen yogurt machine, and French fries at every meal were a hit among our group.
Lastly, at night, there was staff on-hand to ensure guests have fun. One night they threw us an epic dance party and had several dances choreographed, and one night they took us to a karaoke party, a salsa dancing party, and the club on-site. We called these “cruise directors” the three amigos and they were so, so kind to us and made sure our trip was memorable.
This is the first time I’ve been to the Caribbean—unless you count the time I went to St. Thomas when I was 11 months old—and I am dying to go back. Specifically, the Dominican Republic was one of the most beautiful, hospitable places I’ve ever been and I’d recommend it to anyone! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about my trip!