Resort: The landscaping is very lush, green and everything is kept very, very clean … including the washrooms by the pools and restaurants. The resort is very large and while there are large glassed in maps around the resort the maps do not provide a "you are here" feature. We found the small train that travels around the resort in 20 minutes to be an excellent way to get our bearings and learn where the various buffet and a la carte restaurants, bars, supermarket, stores, disco, spa and lobbies were.
Room: We stayed in the "loft suites" at the Palace and loved our room. The main floor had a washroom/shower, jacuzzi tub, living area with pull out sofa and tv, mini bar, closet to hang all of our week’s clothes (with an electronic safe large enough to hold our cameras, papers and jewellery). The second floor loft had a king sized bed, dresser, tv and mirror. Both floors were air conditioned. The floors are marble and the rooms are kept very clean. One really nice touch was a magnifying mirror that was attached to the wall near the bathroom vanity mirror. We were on the 2nd floor with a balcony (two chairs, small table). We brought a clothesline (purchased at the dollar store) and it came in handy to string across the balcony to hang our bathing suites, etc. It is humid and everything remains slightly damp. The towels were very plush and were restocked daily as long as we left them in the tub. Two bathroom towels and two hand towels. There are no face clothes and soap is hard to come by. We left one of our room cards in the electronic slot at the door (activates the lights and air conditioning) throughout the day so that our room stayed cool all the time. We tipped our maids with gifts we had brought down (leaving them on our pillow with a note identifying our room/names). We spoke with them (in our limited spanish) and they were very gracious and appreciative and always showed us with the excellent service they provided to us. We especially enjoyed the towel creations (swans, hearts, etc.), fresh flowers by our jacuzzi, and restocked mini-bar. We also tipped the bar tenders, gardeners, bell boys … bring lots of US $1.00 bills.
Food: The food is different but good. There are many "made to order chef stations" at the buffets and always plenty of variety. Everyone of all ages could definitely find a meal that pleased them (e.g. pastas, roasts, vegetables, salad bar, dessert bar, ice cream machines, fresh squeezed juices, etc.). We tried to visit each buffet restaurant but never did get to all of them. We booked our 3 al la carte restaurants immediately upon arrival (as they book up quickly). We enjoyed 2 of the three (mexican and italian but did not enjoy Laouba). The buffets had theme nights so we got a chance to sample the food that the al la cartes were serving. All restaurants provided fresh linen tableclothes, china and wine/water glasses. Spoons seemed to be in short supply. Two of the four of us did get diarhea (4 days into the week) but we are not sure what caused it (food, sun, rich foods, fruits, etc.). The water/ice is filtered but the tap water is not to be drank/used for teeth brushing. We lived in our bathing suites and sandals (and used syrongs and t-shirts) to get into the breakfast/lunch buffets. At dinner we did wear long pants/dresses. We tended to eat at 8:00 p.m. so that we could enjoy the sun until dusk (6:00 p.m.), shower/dress and enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail. Breakfast was 7-10; Lunch 1-3; Supper 7-10. Sports bar served food all day.
Spanish: The staff speak spanish and some of the main bartenders speak english. We had downloaded common spanish words/phrases and found this very helpful to have. Next time, we would bring a small phrase book to communicate even better. It took us a while to figure out how to ask for "cold milk".
Tours: We went on the two most popular excursions: Marinarium was a half day snorkeling day in the ocean on a ecological reef. The ocean was wavy so it wasn’t ideal for snokeling but there were certainly lots of fish. We also were able to view sharks/stingrays in an enclosed caged area on the reef. We then spent the remainder of the cruise boozing and dancing along the coastline. Bavaro Runners was a full day and took us across the eastern point to view sugar cane, rice fields, cigar factory, a farm in the upper mountains, horseback riding. Our tour guide "Juan Julio or nicknamed Montesoumi" was fantastic and spoke excellent english. He took the time to teach us many things. He helped us hand out gifts to the children that we had brought (school supplies, hot wheel cards, ball caps, etc.). The kids were so excited to receive gifts – it’s very touching! It was disappointing to observe garbage everywhere on the island (except our resort which was spotless). The Dominican people have not yet embraced recycling, etc.
Beach: The beach is fantastic and kept clean of seaweed. The sand does not retain any heat – it’s white and powdery. There are security guards which ensure that no one is bothered. It was 85 degrees and beautifully sunny the entire week and the beach offered a welcome breeze. There was lots to see (topless women, parasailing, boogie boarding, sailing, etc.) … but no sea shells unless you wished to buy them from a merchant. There are stores at the ends of the resorts as well as a shopping area. We went a couple of times and the merchants were not aggresive … they just wanted us to come in to their shops and offer a price on their goods. We bargained at least 50% of their asking prices and found the items to repeat in each shop. The resort also had some of the finer merchants on site on the Thursday night for guests’ convenience. The sunrise (around 7:00 a.m.) was well worth getting up to see. Sunset is on the other side of the island so we couldn’t view it. We went through lots of different levels of sunscreens at the vacation progressed (60, 50, 45, 15, tanning oil).
Phone/Internet: We saved money by calling direct from our room (9-1-area code-number) and paying the bill at check out. We made 4 phone calls about 5 minutes each to Ottawa Ontario and it totalled about $14.00 US. We also purchased a card at the Internet cafe $8 US for an hour. We then were able to pop in to the cafe and check our email periodically or send messages (the hour doesn’t have to be used all at once). We had set up a "hot mail" account with a mailing list prior to our trip just for this purpose.
Fun: One of us enjoyed a "hot stone" 50 minute message. It was well worth the $70 US dollars. Two of us enjoyed "parasailing" for 15 minutes. It was well worth the $70 US dollars and offered wonderful aerial views of the beach and resorts. If we were to do this again, we’d bring a disposable camera to take aerial photos. The guys also went golfing for a day at "Punta Cana Golf Club". It was 30 minutes away ($30 cab ride each way) and cost about $160 dollars each for 18 holes. It was a beautiful but extremely challenging course. We found out later that there were several other courses which were closer by … but this was the only one where we could book a tee off time on the internet prior to our vacation. It is important to golf very early in the morning because of the heat. At night we road the tour train, walked the beach, and enjoyed the lobby entertainment. The disco opened at 11:30 and we found that too late. The theatre entertainment which began at 10:00 p.m. was mostly audience participation and majic shows and we tired of that quickly. The week goes quickly and in hindsight we wished we had lived each day like our last full day – don’t waste a minute with trivial things – get out and enjoy what you want most to do.
Souvenirs: We brought back rum, cigars, vanilla and coffee – these are Dominican’s exports and all great quality.
Airport: This was our only complaint. We had to wait in line for over 2 hours at the Punta Cana airport to check in. It was simply volume of people leaving on afternoon flights. We were very glad that we had dressed in our shorts and t-shirts and then changed on the airplane back into winter clothes. Other than this, we did not experience line ups or waits anywhere.
We hope you find this review useful as we certainly learned alot from Debbie’s web site prior to our trip!