I, my cousin, and a few friends traveled to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic January 10-17, 2010. Our ages ranged from 33-55. We were looking for a warm escape from the frigid Michigan winter and a chance to let our hair down and party a little. This was my fourth trip to Punta Cana, whereas my traveling companions were traveling there for the first time. TRANSFER Our bus ride from the airport to the resort was less that 30 minutes. The DR has really improved their infrastructure in terms of their roadways. This is a HUGE departure from just a few years ago when I was there. The large majority of the roads we traveled on were brand new asphalt and I often joked that their roads are now better than those in the State of Michigan.
Your Arrival: We booked our trip through Apple Vacations and flew USA 3000 Airlines out of Detroit. This airline allowed one FREE checked bag for international destinations during the time of our trip, so for that, I was grateful. The flight was non-stop and although I could have wished for just a little bit more leg room, the flight was a breeze. Our Naturalization forms were given to us on the plane to complete which made getting through Dominican Customs and Immigrations a breeze. It’s really more or less a stress-free cattle herd process. For Apple Vacation travelers, you pay the $10 tourist fee to enter, but the $20 exit tax is included in your reservation (you paid when you booked). Therefore, they should NOT try and charge you again. CHECK-IN Check in at the NH Real Arena was a breeze. Our bags were taken off of the bus and we were ushered inside to check in. During check in we were served mango flavored welcome drinks. Fortunately for us, our room was ready, whereas some folks we met on our bus also traveling through Apple out of Detroit were still waiting for their rooms. We are truly laid back people so it didn’t make us a difference one way or another…we would have just gone to grab a drink from the lobby bar and taken a tour of the resort. The gentleman who helped us at the front desk spoke excellent English, although I’ve been working on my Spanish for a while. This is NOT an English speaking country. English is NOT their 2nd or even 3rd language. You will find many English speakers there, however, don’t EXPECT it. Come prepared…learn some Spanish vocabulary. It goes a long way! You speak broken Spanish. They’ll try and speak broken English, and somewhere in the middle, communication happens.
Rooms: Our room was AMAZING! We were in the 3000 block, on the 3rd floor of a 4 story building. It was the last room just before the Paradise Club rooms, so our balcony was in a little tower that faced at an angle and gave us an AWESOME oceanview. I think we got this room because of traveling with Apple. Apple usually gets some of the best rooms in many resorts. Each time I’ve traveled with them, I’ve NEVER been disappointed. The rooms are very contemporary in terms of decor….flat screen TVs, digital in-room safes (included…no charge…USE IT for peace of mind. None of our things came up missing, but we didn’t give anyone opportunity either), a decent amount of closet space. There is a large window in the bathroom that allows natural light from the room to flow in. However, there was an opague flower mural in the window that provided plenty of privacy. Also, the toilet and shower have smoky privacy glass. Our room was clean and we never saw any bugs, although I think a mosquito or two got into our room because I was eaten alive the first few days there. Now the funny thing is that I’ve never seen a Dominican swat at a mosquito or being bitten by a mosquito. Toward the middle of the week, we noticed that we hadn’t acquired any more bites. I’m not sure if there is something in the food seasonings or what, but it was almost as if we were immune by the end of the week. This resort does offer some small wash clothes, unlike most of the others in your Latin American resorts. The maid with the towels usually came by in the evening time while we were showering and dressing for dinner. If you say "toallas pequenas, por favor" (small towels please), if she has some, she will give them to you. One night she only had one clean one, but we took it. The only real difference we saw in the Paradise Club rooms and our ‘regular deluxe’ room was that the hot tubs were on the balcony. I preferred mine in the bathroom. Having your hottub on the balcony is SO impersonal. And the 1st floor Paradise Club rooms had the patios where other folks could just walk up to your hot tub. Our room was actually bigger than the Paradise Club rooms and had a better oceanview. I’m glad I chose not to upgrade. The resort is a non-smoking resort so no smoking is allowed indoors…only outdoors (well, I have to be excited about one small victory. At least the chimneys could only get to me outdoors).
Restaurants and Bars: The food at this resort was actually very healthy. There was lots of baked and grilled chicken on the buffet and at the poolside grill. A word of caution about the poolside grill…just because something is on the buffet there does not mean that it will be there all day. Items often change and quickly. There were these chinese eggrolls my friend loved. I brought her a couple when I went for pizza. I returned to get her a couple more and they were gone…replaced by these nasty little fried crab claws (and I LIKE seafood). Breakfast in the buffet was pretty good. I usually stuck to the eggs, fruit, and potatoes, as I don’t eat beef or pork (lots of sausage and bacon for those who do). I had the opportunity to meet Felix who was cooking up the world’s greatest omlets. He’s SO humble. I told him he might very well be the most popular person at the resort per Trip Advisor Reviews. He just smiled and blushed and said, "No. Not me." He speaks a gazillion different languages, remembers everyone’s names and will address you by name and according to your language each morning. I’m not a coffee drinker, but Dominican Coffee is amazing! I drank some each morning. My cousin who is a coffee drinker vowed that each cup was better than the last. It’s very strong. I think they’d call their regular coffee an espresso here in the states! Yo gusto mi cafe con leche y azucar and the serving staff knew it each morning. Lunch, in my opinion was much better in the buffet than at the poolside grill…more selection. But the drink service was better at the poolside gril. Dinner at the buffet was actually pretty good. Lots of selection…and I’m a pretty picky eater. Watch out for the fried calamari. It was Oh SO Tasty…but I had an allergic reaction to it. Nothing serious, just a large rash (I’m allergic to nearly everything, though). For the record I am NOT allergic to shellfish or other ‘bottom feeders’. The drinks for the most part were pretty weak. I solved that problem by ordering them "mas fuerte" (more strong). The bartenders easily obliged, many of them laughing at how I miraculously could speak Spanish for the purpose of ordering a stronger drink!
Beach=Amazing! Powdery white sand, plenty of lounge chair and palapas, turquoise waters. Need I say more??? It did rain quite a bit when we were there. I think it may have rained 3 of our 8 days there. This is by far the most rain I’ve seen in the DR and I’ve been once in February and twice in August. It was still warm, however and I did get a decent tan.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: EXCURSIONS I’ve been on quite a few of the more popular excursions in Punta Cana so I’m usually pretty hard-pressed to do something I haven’t done before. This time around I did the Tropical Storm Catamaran Cruise and the Country Adventure Safari. Tropical Storm was a lot of fun. Our guide was Olga and she promised to remain positive even though it was cool, cloudy and threatening rain. We went snorkeling and amazingly the water temp was warmer than the air. However, the currents were SO strong that it was was hard to keep up with the guide in the water. We didn’t see many great coral and rock formations, but we did see some awesome schools of colorful fish. The lunch they provided was great and were the drinks. They had their own brew of rum that was vanilla flavored–great in coke and the fruit punch. We played some fun line dance games onboard and did some dancing. We were supposed to be able to use the giant blow-up slide, but the weather conditions were too windy and it was deemed unsafe. We were given a music CD as compensation. Be sure to bring spending money, as they offer pics of you on small pint sized bottles of mamajuana (DR national drink…be sure to become well-acquainted with it). They also offer videos and music CDs (different from the free ones we received). It was a fun time!
The Country Adventure Safari was a nice day-long excursion. Johnny Be Good was our tour guide (and he referred to his son as Johnny Be Good Jr…ahahahahah!) The weather was rainy literally all day, but we are the type of people who don’t let anything ruin our fun (not even the overly rude French family that was on our tour…they were countered by the lovely French Canadian couples across from them!). Our first stop was in a Haitian village where we visited the colmado (small store) to buy candy and treats for the kids and then on to a school in the village where the children sang songs for us and we were able to give them candy. We got to sample fresh sugar cane, and eat authentic Domincan cuisine (excellent chicken, and beans and rice…I only like Dominican beans and rice!). We sampled Dominican coffee (yum!) and caocao (double yum!). We rode though villages such as Huiguey, La Otra Banda, Bavaro, and Veron. Bring spending money because you are able to purchase candy for the kids (I had a ball throwing candy to kids as we passed by on the open-air bus), coffee, fresh caocao (coco/hot chocolate), white and dark vanilla extract (natural and organic; not the mess you get in the grocery store), and coconut oil (great for moisturizing skin). Most if not all Dominican products are organic.
Other Comments: DEPARTURE We were traveling on the heels of the bombing attempt in Detroit, so at PC International, they had security officers searching each and every person’s carryon bags. Everyone got the metal detector wand. I was actually quite pleased with this, as I like my life…and living. They’d made provisions for this by starting the security checks long before the flight was ever scheduled to board. Therefore, we got out on time and on back to frigid Detroit. SUMMARY The grounds of this resort are breathtaking, simply beautiful in it’s own contemporary style and grace. We didn’t get involved much in the resort ‘activities’ as we were content just lounging around the pool, or at the beach with a drink in our hands, or playing cards. I’m on vacation as I’m not really keen on water aerobics…that’s too much like work. I always meet some amazing folks when I visit the DR (both Dominican and from other countries), many of which I end up keeping in touch with and hanging out with when I return. I see many reviews where people talk about how rude the hotel employees are. I’m starting to believe that some of the kindest, gentlest people in the world live in the DR. Just a rule of thumb…if you walk into my office and DEMAND that I serve you, give me attitude and complain about my service when I do my best to please you and make a mess that you expect that I will clean up after you, you can expect that I WILL give you attitude back, a piece of my mind, and a few choice expletives. The same goes for these folks. As long as you are courteous, cordial, and smiling, you will receive the same. Don’t come at them with attitude and expect to get ‘courteous, cordial and smiling.’ The simple rule of "Do onto others as you’d like to have done onto you" should definitely be put into action. Every one of the people who has ever served me in ALL of my travels to DR resorts has deserved my utmost respect. These folks work 22 days on and one week off away from their homes and families, children, parents, and friends. They earn $200-250USD and are some of the happiest, fun-loving people I’ve EVER met. Would I return to the NH Real Arena??? In a heartbeat!!! But honestly, probably not. And that’s just because I like to try out different resorts whenever I visit Punta Cana. NH Real Arena definitely shoots to the top of my favs list above the others I’ve been to, with the Barcelo PC at a very very close second. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be more than happy to answer your questions!
Nightlife: The disco on the resort was pretty good. The DJ got the club hyped! The only problem is that it doesn’t open until 11 or 11:30, so seeing as how I’m not so much into the ‘shows’ there was always a lull in activity after dinner and after drinks in the lobby bar…and as I’m getting older, it gets easier to just go to bed. It’s on the 2nd floor above the plaza and open air. It was never stifling hot, as cool evening breezes did blow through. They could use a few more bathroom stalls though, two is just not enough on the women’s side once folks start drinking heavily and having to use the restroom. The DJ spun the most popular Dominican Merengue (Omega!), as well as Top 40 hits (Lady Gaga and Beyonce), hiphop (Jay-Z, Kanye) and some disco oldies but goodies. The pace never really slowed and it was GREAT! It always seems to me that the bartenders in the all-inclusive discos are the worst. You might want to stick to the beer while up there, or you’ll most likely get an off kilter drink (A ‘Sex on the Beach’ becomes a ‘sloppy-faced drunk on the beach’ or a ‘fruit-juice abstinence.’) The lines got pretty long too. We also went to Imagine Disco–this club is actually down inside of a cave…and an amazing experience within itself. This was about my 4th time there. You can usually book it through one of the tour reps. For $55-65 per person (some will allow you to negotiate a little with the more people you bring with you to go), you get bus transpo there and back, cover (admission), and an open bar. You can also go back as many times as you like during your week’s stay (I’m not sure if that includes the open bar). You can tell the economy is bad everywhere. There used to be 3 difference dance floors. Now there is only two dance floors. And they initially had only the main one open at first, forcing what seemed like a million folks to crowd into the main dance floor area until they decided to open up the second one. And plan to be on your feet from 11:30 until 4am because they told us the couches (and there were only a few of them) were for VIP only. Main dance floor USED TO light up (back in its hayday). The played popular Merengue, Bachata, and Reggeaton (Omega, Adventura, Daddy Yankee), as well as Top 40 dance music and Hiphop. The 2nd dancefloor played Rave music. They take your picture when you come in and you can buy it for $8. You used to just get the picture in a folder. Now you get it on a disk, with pics of the club (and what the dance floor used to look like when it all lit up), and about 80+ songs in MP3 Format that are popular in the DR–many of them were played in the club. It’s an EXCELLENT value because of the music on the disc (As a musician, I collect music from everyplace I travel…LOVED IT!!!). We wanted to go to Mangu Disco, but were just too exhausted, so we spent most of our other evenings at the disco on the NH Real Arena. I’ve been to Mangu twice before.
A la carte Restaurants:
We ate at all four a la carte restaurants (Apple Vacations allowed us 4 reservations, rather than the 3 that we read about in the hotel description for our 7 night stay). Our favorite by far was the Asian Tepanyaki cooking. Food was GREAT and the show was pretty good too (I’m a HUGE fan of Benihana here in the States, so this was right up my alley). I (world’s pickiest eater) ate sushi and LIKED it!!! Our second favorite was French. One of my friends is NOT a fan of French food and even she applauded the cuisine. We actually had lobster tail there. The American restaurant was just ok. And the Italian…HORRIBLE! We tried to leave before the main course came out, but our server and the host convinced us to stay. I got my fish…it was underdone…we left, but still tipped our server because his service was excellent and the bad food wasn’t his fault.