FLIGHT: long but this has nothing to do with the resort.
DR AIRPORT: arrived on time. Given very little direction once off the plane as to where to proceed. Basically forced to have your photograph taken before you can enter the airport building. Very windy. Waited in a hot and humid area for luggage to tumble on to an inefficient conveyor belt (keep a close eye because luggage fell off easily). Once you gather your belongings, you start to head for next section and all of a sudden you are accosted by locals who want to carry your luggage (they expect tips and will not take "no" for an answer). Tip: hold on to your luggage, don’t let go, say "no gracious", have your hotel reservation documents ready, proceed to your tour provider’s kiosk and get the bus number that will take you to your resort – proceed quickly through the locals that want to take your luggage 50 feet or so to your bus. Once you get to your bus, watch and make sure that your luggage is placed in the lower part of the bus. Show your hotel reservation documents to the rep and off you go onto the bus.
BUS RIDE: air-conditioned bus. Not a bumpy ride as others have said. It is a 15 to 20 minute ride to the resort.
ARRIVAL: leave your luggage to be removed by the hotel staff and proceed directly to the lobby desk. Again, have your hotel reservation documents and ID ready. There is then a strange three step procedure: (a) reception representative checks documents and ID (make sure all members of your party are present there at the desk when you do this; (b) move to your right and obtain the "all-inclusive" bracelet and then go get your luggage; and (c) stay in the lobby area with your luggage [one or two could go get drinks for all from the lobby bar] and eventually they will start to call out names and pass out plastic envelopes/pouches with your room number, one room key, 4 ala carte reservations, 2 towel cards and a map. You can leave your luggage with a porter to bring to your room or, as we did, just carry your stuff to your room. Rooms are numbered with the first number being your Villa. Example: 102 is room #2 in Villa 1. Tip: just ask one of the porters to point you in the direction of your room – there are signs and rooms are easy to find. We were right at the beach which is the farthest from the lobby – great rooms! Once you check out your room and you like it, or find it acceptable, go back to the lobby and they will make another key (or 2 or 3). That is the procedure.
POOL: large with a swim up pool bar. Unfortunately, lots of intoxicated guests who are loud. Games are played in the pool, such as water polo and volleyball. Same music played over and over – you get used to it. The pool is clean and the water is a nice temperature. There is nice vegetation throughout. Only issue: if you have kids they will be exposed to topless European women sunbathing (aged 55+). One gets used to this after awhile BUT seems out of place in a family oriented resort. The hotel does not care one way or the other. I am not a prude but there is a time and place……
ACTIVITY STAFF: excellent. They are very friendly and motivated to make sure that everyone who wants to participate has a chance. There are countless activities – check the activity board: pool and beach volleyball, darts, bocce, archery, beach basketball free-throws, beach soccer, tennis, etc. The sad part was that the tennis courts are run down (there are only 2) and need resurfacing and filling of the pot-holes. We all like tennis and play year round at home. This was disappointing. We only played once.
BEACH: the true gem of this resort. The water is quite clear. There are large patches of sea grass (brown) which house sea-life. The water is blue-green and beautifully warm. It was warmer than the pool. The sand is truly powdery white sand. The weather was quite hot (27 to 30 C) but your feet did not burn on the sand. There was always a nice cool breeze so the heat is not offensive – it was perfect. Lots of pallapas – but it is a good idea to get out there by 8 am to "reserve" your hut for the day. Lots of clean beach chairs/loungers. Again, for families with kids – there are topless European women sunbathing and walking the beach. We were at the beach all day, every day.
WEATHER: it can get windy. Our first 2 days were quite windy on the beach. Some stacked loungers up to break the wind. On those days, catamarans are not allowed out. On those days, it is best to be pool side (much less wind) BUT it did not bother us that much on the beach. Clouds come in and depart fairly rapidly. It rained once for 5 minutes and then stopped. On the 4th night, it rained hard all night (we were in bed) but the sun was out early in the morning and that was the end of that.
ROOMS: basic, clean, no bugs (except for a few on the bathroom counter which the maid took care of without us asking). Nice ceiling fan. You get either a king size bed and a side twin guest bed OR two twins and a side twin guest bed. The beds were comfortable, not hard, and the bedding was clean. The pillows were variable in size and firmness. Blinds have "blackout" layers which is nice. Rooms are on the dark side. There is a small sitting area and mini-fridge stocked daily with soft-drinks water and beer. We never ran out of bottled water. Terrace/balcony has a hammock and rocking chair – very relaxing. There is a large closet to hang your clothes and a large dresser. The bathroom only has one sink. It has a large soaker tub BUT a small shower. The shower could be bigger but did the job. We were not in the room much except to bathe, sleep and change clothes. We liked the location of our room because we hung out at the beach every day. We were on the ground floor and were very happy with the locations. It did mean a longer walk to the lobby and restaurants – no problem for us – we liked the walk.
EXCURSIONS: we planned on the Senoa Island tour BUT it is an all day affair. We decided to pass as we liked the resort so much. I think that if we were staying for two weeks, we would have ventured out more.
BUFFET RESTAURANTS: there are two main buffets. The larger one is next to the lobby called the Grand Caribe. There is a smaller one next to the beach – it has virtually everything that the larger one has for breakfast and lunch. We preferred the beach buffet. Also there is an excellent snack bar next to the pool with burgers, hot dogs, pizza (very good) from a wood oven, fries and roast chicken.
ALA CARTES: from best to least favourites – French (excellent lobster and filet mignon), steakhouse (excellent T-bone and rib-eye steak – stay away from the ribs), Japanese (just OK) and Mexican. We all agreed that we felt rushed at all of these restaurants. None of the restaurants were full but there was this urgency to get you in, fed and get you out.
BEACH BBQ: every Monday night. Food was same as buffet – stay away from the ribs – but cold. The entertainment was poor. The kid’s entertainment went on forever. Wish we had skipped it and gone ala carte.
BARS: beach bar was excellent but no premium liquor. Lobby bar is big, but the bartenders need an attitude adjustment. Tip: don’t go to the bar, just sit at a table and a waitress will take care of you and it will be faster. There is also a martini bar – occasional – we did not try it. We were disappointed that the hotel did not offer top shelf brand names. All of the liquor was local, from vodka to scotch to rum. The rum is quite good but gets old fast. I asked for different Brands, but was told that they did not have it. I took a look at the shelf myself but could not identify any premium liquors.
DISCO: it was fine. Lively. Activity staff does their best to make it fun. The disco also has 2 full-time dancers that are pleasant. Our 16 year old took a liking to Carolina – she danced with many guests and tried to get everyone involved. Try it – as far as all-inclusives go, this was the best disco I had seen.
CATAMARANS: a must do. You can get lessons for $25 – not much instruction though, but they require this before you can go solo (unless you can prove to them that you have the experience). Well worth taking these out. You have to book the day before and get there early (10 am).
SHOPPING: as you face the ocean, turn right and walk past the Royal section (which looks dead and boring) and walk past the protruding palm tree – takes only 5 minutes and you end up at a string of 15 shops. Good bargains. BUT beware, the vendors are not all the same. Go to store #1 (they are numbered) and deal with the guy running that. He speaks 4 languages and is very pleasant – no pressure sales and good selection. He will take US$, C$, Euros, or Canadian Tire $ (that was his pitch – so the next day I brought him some and he had a good laugh). His sales pitch is "Deal or no deal, but we stay friends". He trusted us such that he wanted me to take this very large painting (I did not have enough $ the first day with me) and to pay him later. I went back the next day, bought the painting and thanked him for trusting a stranger – he said that in 4 years no one had ever stiffed him – I doubt that would happen here.
GOLF: very expensive – $65 for 9 holes and $80 for 18. Course did not look that great.
CHECK OUT: if you have a late flight (ours was at 11:45 pm), with a noon check out, spring for a late check out ($45) for 6 pm. It is worth it. When you are ready to leave, call the lobby and they will send a bell-hop with a golf cart for you and your luggage.
TIPS: we tipped regularly. We were never pressured (except by the locals at the airport) by the hotel staff. They were genuinely surprised by the tips and almost reluctant to take the money. We tipped the maids daily ($2 to $5), bartenders daily, towel lady (very nice) at the end of our stay, waiters each time (ala carte) and the buffet waiters that brought us drinks. We even tipped the dancers at the disco because they put on great dance shows, were polite and shared their life stories with us about growing up in the DR. Unlike Mexico, the staff did not seem to expect tips and tips did NOT bring better service. They work very hard and we wanted to show our appreciation. Simply put – they are very nice people, genuinely concerned that you have a good time and honest to the core.
SPANISH: now, it would help to learn a few phrases just to let the staff know that you are trying to get to know them. They truly do appreciate it. The resort also offers lessons.
CONCLUSION: sorry for the long review. I felt obliged to do so as we relied heavily on the earlier reviews when we booked. If you are considering this resort, don’t put much weight on the negative reviews. No place is perfect. I would recommend this place to friends and family and, yes, I would go back. This is a beautiful area with a beach that is amazing and some of the friendliest people that you will ever encounter. Overall, I prefer the DR to Mexico now that I have seen for myself. This area lacked the "tourist" feel that you get in Mexico and, again, the beach is spectacular – photos do not do justice.
Enjoy your stay if you go. If you are on the fence, give it a try – you won’t be disappointed. We just loved it and loved the area – Punta Cana is a must see.