When planning this trip, I used this site quite a bit. I will try to give as detailed a review as possible, in the hopes that this review will be as helpful to other travelers as the reviews I saw were to me. This was the best resort I’ve been to. And I have been to over 50 countries, including beach resorts in Puerto Rico, Thailand, Barbados, Bermuda, Egypt, St. Thomas, Grenada, and The Dominican Republic.
The mood of the resort is laid back and elegant. You won’t find a whole lot of partying and spring break type activities here, although the disco and casino can get quite crowded and fun. There is plenty of drinking and having fun, but not in a loud, obnoxious way. Think large dinner party with close friends, as opposed to fraternity party. Because this is a smaller resort, it is easy to meet people and everyone tends to get friendly with each other. The guests are mostly couples, though we did see quite a few family groups. The average age is probably mid to late 30s, but there are many 20-somethings and quite a few people who looked like they were in their 50s.
The bus ride to the resort takes about 1 hour, depending on how many other hotels you stop at first. We enjoyed the ride because it gave us a chance to see some of the countryside and small towns of the D.R. It also gave us a chance to talk to our driver and get his opinions of the various resorts. He told us that he thinks Excellence is the nicest in Punta Cana. And he has seen them all. When we arrived at the resort at around 3 pm we were immediately taken to the check-in area and given a cold towel and a glass of champagne. We had booked an Excellence Club room, and were immediately taken to the club lounge. In the lounge, we were told about the resort, given a map, and had a short tour of the club area. The club rooms are in a separate area of the resort and are supposedly nicer than the "regular" rooms. They have nicer toiletries, an expanded mini bar, and flat screen tvs. If you stay in a club room, you also have access to the club lounge, which looks kind of like a gentleman’s club. It’s dark, very well air conditioned, and has large chairs and sofas and a very large flat screen tv. It also has 4 computers that are free to use (including free internet) and food. The food is in buffet form and is pretty extensive. You could easily have all of your meals here.
We were in building 10, garden view room. Building 10 is attached to the club lounge, but is a bit farther from the restaurants and lobby than I would have liked. We were on the 3rd floor, which meant that we had vaulted ceilings. The room is quite large, with a canopied king sized bed, a small sofa and chair and coffee table, a dresser, 2 closets, a min-bar area, and a jacuzzi that easily fit 2 (very tall) people. It also had a marble bathroom with a separate room for the toilet and shower. The jacuzzi and sink area of the bathroom are open to the rest of the room, while the toilet and shower are separated. All of the rooms have either patios or balconies, large enough for a small table and 2 chairs. The rooms on the ground floor also have hammocks right outside the sliding glass doors. The view was called "Garden View". In many hotels, this means a view of the hotel roof or parking lot. Here, however, it really was a view of lovely gardens with trees and grass and a small pond. You could also see the mountains in the distance. Don’t be afraid to get a garden view room! The view is great. Some of the swim-up rooms looked great, but they lack privacy. The patios for these rooms face right onto either the main pool or the smaller cascade pool. They do have the advantage of being only steps from the pool, however. I should mention, though, that if you’re not into wildlife, you might want to avoid the swim up rooms. There are numerous ducks and doves and peacocks around the resort, and some of them hang out and even make their nests right outside of the swim up rooms. For an animal lover like me, this would be great. But some people might not love stepping outside onto the patio and running right into a group of birds. Some reviews have said that the rooms have a musty smell. Ours didn’t, but when swimming by an open swim up room, I noticed that it did. That may be because it is on the ground floor and doesn’t have the vaulted ceilings. I would highly recommend getting a room on the 3rd floor. The high ceilings made an already beautiful room even better!
Restaurants and Bars:
At other resorts I’ve been to, the restaurants can be far from the beach, so there is no view while you are eating. Because Excellence is set up parallel, rather than perpendicular, to the beach, there is much more access to a view. All of the restaurants are either right over the pool, overlooking the beach, or have a great view of the water. And that is, after all, why we went on this vacation — to be near the water! There are 8 restaurants at the resort. We went to 6. In general, the food is better than the average all inclusive. That said, don’t expect the kind of food you would get at a high end restaurant in a major city. Some of the dishes aren’t exactly as advertised. For example, the Pad Thai at the Asian restaurant, Spice, wasn’t like any Pad Thai I’ve ever seen. But it was quite good! Our favorite restaurant was the French, Chez Isabelle. Try the Chateaubriand. It is really, REALLY good. Our least favorite was The Lobster House. Not terrible, but not the lobster most North Americans are used to. There are no buffets for dinner (yay!) but Toscana has a breakfast and lunch buffet. Both were very good. We went to Oregano several times. It is the only restaurant that is open past 11 pm. The pizza (and the pizza all over the resort) is EXCELLENT. As was the lasagna. At all of the restaurants, you can order special wines. They charge ridiculous prices for these. The "house" wines, which are part of the all-inclusive package, were fine for us. I don’t know anything about wine, but my boyfriend does and he said that the house wines were decent to pretty good. I loved the house champagne, but I’m clueless about champagnes! There are also beach nights, when the staff sets up elaborate dinners on the beach. During the day, you can either get lunch in one of the restaurants, or eat on the beach. Pizza and hamburgers are always available on the beach, plus a special of the day, like seafood paella. The special beach lunch is excellent. There are something like 10 bars scattered throughout the resort. At all of them, I tried the tropical drinks and loved almost all of them. Every day, there is a new drink of the day. Try them! There is also the local beer, Presidente, which I didn’t drink. My boyfriend liked it and said it is fairly light, sort of like Rolling Rock. There is also a small casino at the resort, where we went every night. It is really small: 4 blackjack tables, 1 Caribbean poker table, 1 Texas Hold ’em table, 2 roulette tables, and a bunch of slot machines. The fact that the casino is small makes it easier to get to know the dealers and the other "regulars" who like to gamble. We made lots of friends at the casino and had a wonderful time. When the shows let out at 11:00, the casino can get crowded, but we rarely had to wait for a place at a table. The minimum bets start at $5, which was great for a conservative bettor like me.
One of my favorite parts about the grounds at Excellence is that, in front, there is a nature reserve, with ducks, peacocks, turtles, and doves. There are boxes of stale bread to feed them with. Throughout the resort, you will find animals — a cage with cockatoos, parrots, ponds in the lobby with turtles, peacocks roaming around, a ducks that occasionally take a dip in the pools. If being around animals enhances your vacation experience, you will love it here. The grounds are incredible. Just beautiful. I can’t say enough about them. From many vantage points around the grounds, you can’t tell you are at a resort — the foliage is so lush that you feel like you are in a jungle. The main pool runs the length of the resort, in a river style. Scattered throughout are little islands with trees planted on them. There is also the cascade pool, which is hidden in a courtyard and has a waterfall. The main pool has a swim up bar and water rafts scattered around, for floating. The rafts can be in high demand, but we always found one when we looked. Poolside has many, many lounges, as well as sunbeds, which are like double beds with latticed coverings over them. They are heaven. We went to Excellence at the beginning of the busy season (early January) and didn’t have too much trouble getting lounges or beds. There are fewer beds, so they go first, but we never, ever had trouble finding lounge chairs. If you are staying in a club room, you get beach towels in your room. Otherwise, you get towels from little huts scattered around the pool. I don’t think you have to get a card and make sure you return them at the end of the day. We saw lots of towels just left on loungers. The beach is gorgeous! One of the things I like best about it is that, because Excellence is a bit farther out, there are no other hotels around. When you look up and down the beach, all you see are Excellence guests and palm trees farther down the beach. In the more crowded area of Punta Cana, as you walk down the beach, you see hotel after hotel after hotel. At Excellence, it feels as though you are on a deserted island. The sand is tan, rather than white. And there are waves here. If you have ever been to the Jersey Shore or The Hamptons, the waves are similar. My boyfriend and I are both fairly strong swimmers, and we got a little worn out in the water, because of the waves. If you want still water, turn right on the beach and walk about 1/8 of a mile, and the water is perfectly calm. There are lifeguards along the beach, and they will make you get out of the water if they think it’s too rough. If you aren’t a confident swimmer, you probably don’t want to go too far out into the ocean in front of the hotel. If you like boogie boarding, though, you will love it.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel:
We didn’t go off the resort, and didn’t do any special activities. A 30 minute horse ride is included with your stay. They ride along the beach on horses that look like they’ve seen better days. They look very tame and probably would be fine for inexperienced riders. There is also snorkeling equipment (the water is too rough to see anything, though) and scuba gear, parasailing equipment, etc. It is very easy to set up excursions off the resort for party boats, snorkeling trips, swimming with sharks, etc. We only went to one show and it was, in a word, bad. Just…bad. But we heard that the circus show and the Michael Jackson show are quite good. We just came at the wrong part of the week to see them.
You MUST bring bug spray. We brought Off Deep Woods, which is the kind that has DEET, and that pretty much did the trick. The resort sprays for bugs, but they are still abundant and they will bite you! The hotel has a few overpriced shops and a spa, which is lovely to look at, but a bit overpriced as well. Look for the spa special of the day for discounts. Or…go to Nancy’s. If you turn left on the beach, just a few yards away is a group of shops where you can buy anything they sell in the hotel shops for literally less than half the price. You can also get a massage at one of these shops, called Nancy’s. $45 for 70 minutes. And while the setting isn’t as elegant as in the spa, the massage was MUCH better. You are in a little hut overlooking the beach while having a massage. You can get a massage alone or a couples massage. I am not sure that the club rooms are worth the price. You do have a private concierge who is dedicated to only club members, and you get upgraded liquors, if that’s your thing. There is also a special club area of the beach, but nobody really pays attention to the ropes they’ve set up, and the club area is pretty much the same as the rest of the beach. There are waiters taking drink orders all over the beach and resort, not just in the club area. I guess it would depend on how much extra you have to pay for a club room. But, to me, it wouldn’t be worth more than about $100. Some reviewers have mentioned the lack of English at this resort. Well…yeah…you’re not in an English speaking country! The staff speaks enough English so that you can manage, even if you don’t know Spanish. As long as you’re not aiming to have a conversation about the meaning of life, you can make yourself understood. And the staff is so wonderfully friendly and helpful that communicating shouldn’t be a problem.