Number of Travelers: 2
Ages: 31, 33
Tour Operator: Sunwing
DR Experience: 3rd trip to the DR (once before to each Punta Cana and La Romana) To put this in perspective, we’re both pretty well traveled (including the Middle East, Europe and most of the Caribbean Islands) and understand a 5-star resort in the DR is not the same as a 5-star resort in North America, Europe or the Middle East. As such, we’re very flexible, not fussy and get seriously annoyed by complainers. We travel to the DR because of the sheer value for the money, the excellent beaches, sun and palm trees…not so we can pretend to be travel critics. I’ll list our opinion of the big ticket items, with our recommendations summarized at the bottom.
Airport to Hotel Transfer: No problem, the road is the typical bumpy DR road and with Secrets Excellence being about the most Northern resort from the airport, the drive took about an hour.
Check-in: We arrived at the resort around 1:30 pm. There was only 3-rooms worth of people on our transfer, so the check-in went very quickly. They asked if we wanted to upgrade our room, we declined. As is typical, our room wasn’t going to be ready until around 3:30 pm so we headed to the restaurant and the beach (we knew this would probably happen, so we had packed our beach gear in our carry-on luggage).
Room: Our room was very nice. No musty smell and excellent air conditioning. We were in room 1202, a third floor room overlooking the infinity pool with the waterfall. The room was furnished with: king size bed (firm mattress), a Jacuzzi tub, marble shower, coffee maker with coffee, bar fridge with soft drinks and beer, an ironing board and iron, safe (no charge to use), and a TV with satellite (CNN, ESPN, Discovery, etc. and….a 24/7 x-rated channel 😉 ).
Grounds: Awesome. Well maintained and fun to walk around. Watch out for the killer rabbits, chickens and peacocks!
Beach: We really liked the beach. We’ve traveled to nearly every island in the Caribbean and yet still find Punta Cana’s beaches to be some of the best. The resort tractors the beachfront each morning so it’s clear of refuse or seaweed. The beach is very wide and deep, with the typical palm shades and lounge chairs. We never had an issue finding either a chair or a palm shade. If you decide to walk the beach and leave the resorts beachfront, there’s the typical washed up refuse, drift wood and a little seaweed.
Ocean: If you are a weak swimmer, have a disability or lead a sedentary life and are unfit…this ocean is probably not for you. There is undertow/riptide and waves. We’re fit, healthy and good swimmers so we made max use of the boogie boards and bodysurfed like crazy. For us, a calm ocean is boring…this one was warm, rough and fantastic!
Pools: We used both the infinity pool and the long main pool occasionally. Both were warm and clean. The blue, floating mats were abundant and we had no issues getting one when we wanted.
Bugs: There are some little black “deer-fly” like bugs that take a nice itchy chunk out of you. Insect repellent appropriate for deer-flys is recommended.
Food: Despite other reviews screaming about bad food, we found the food to be quite good. The fresh fruit was excellent, you could never go wrong with the Grouper, the omelets in the morning were nice, paella on the beach for lunch was tasty, the salsa at the buffet at lunch was spicy and really excellent. We noticed most restaurants got full at about 7:00 to 7:15 pm, so we always went to supper at 6:45 pm and never had a problem getting a table. We tried all the restaurants (most twice) and enjoyed all the food. We especially enjoyed the Asian restaurant. While their sushi wasn’t at the same level as our local sushi bar…it was still good.
Drinks: They serve Frontera wine (from Chile) in the restaurants and we enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. At the beach bar they serve beer, mixed drinks, etc in small plastic cups (for safety obviously). Bring a bigger, insulated cup – it’s perfect for taking back to your beach lounge chair with you.
Casino: The casino has 4-blackjack tables (they use 7-decks for you card counters out there), 1-Caribbean poker table, 1-craps table and 1- American roulette table….oh ya, there’s the Keno table. By all means, play Keno using the free chips they give you…but have the willpower to walk away! Everyone loses and we watched some drop thousands trying to win! The Casino was quite busy and was a lot of fun.
Shopping: 2-3 nights a week, the local vendors set up tables inside the resort to peddle their coffee, jewelry, rum, cigars, statues and paintings.
NEVER PAY THEIR ASKING PRICE, if you do…you’re getting hosed. We only bought rum and coffee at the following prices : 1 lb coffee – $ 4 USD, 1 L Brugal Superior Rum – $ 16 USD. Maybe you can do better….
Shows: Shows run 10 – 11 pm. We caught most of the shows (Michael Jackson, Karoke, Circus, Dominican, Magician, missed Tina Turner), they were all very good for all-inclusive entertainment.
Money Exchange: You can only take credit card advances in USD from the casino…they charge a whopping % 6 service charge. The front desk offers advances in Dominican Pesos…but charges % 10! The point, bring enough cash and travelers cheques to feed your shopping or gambling needs.
Excursions: As this was our third trip to the DR, we’ve done nearly everything they offer in the country. We did go to the Marinarium (swimming with nurse sharks, rays, etc). It was really enjoyable and is highly recommended. Those nurse sharks are bigger than I expected….but I wasn’t scared….honest.
Gym: Okay. Has the bare necessities. The air conditioning doesn’t really cool the place enough…so stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle (we brought our Nalgene bottles).
Spa / Nightclub: Didn’t use.
Language: It’s a Spanish country…so they have Spanish accents. It’s amazing how many complaints we overheard about the accents…give me a break. They all speak passable to excellent English…besides, the resort offers Spanish lessons at Santo Domingo Square everyday! We used our 25-word Spanish vocabulary throughout the trip and all staff members were encouraging and kind (admirable considering we were brutalizing their language).
-either wear or pack bathing suit, flip-flops, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, T-shirt in carry-on bags so you can change at the airport or resort while waiting for the room to be ready during check-in; -bring deer-fly repellent; -bring an insulated drink cup; -bring enough cash/travelers cheques to get you through your vacation (avoid taking advances through the front desk or casino); -don’t get sucked into Keno; -ensure you’re a good swimmer / are fit enough to resist the ocean’s waves and currents – GO BOOGIE BOARDING!!
-go to supper at the restaurants between 6:30 and 6:45 pm…don’t wait until 7 or later, it’s busy; -stay up for the shows; -bring a water bottle (like a Nalgene); -be flexible and appreciate all the positives the resort has to offer!