This was a first trip for our family of 4 to the DR – We booked online thru Orbitz and basically picked what appeared to be the best deal for the time frame and guest roster (2 adults 2 children aged 6 and 8). Our total package for 6 nights including round trip airfare from Philadelphia was about $2800 – I thought this was a great deal and overall we were very satisfied with the trip. Travel – The flight down was uneventful on a pretty full plane and it was about a 4 hour flight from Philia (the DR is in Atlantic time zone – 1 hour ahead of Eastern). Getting thru customs was very simple and since we had not booked thru a tour agency, we had to get our own transport to the Riu complex – no problem getting a taxi which was $24 to the hotel. The airport is very modern and well run and takes many full size jets from multiple carriers per day.
Hotel – Check-in was swift with very friendly people and our room, while not elegant, was fine for the 4 of us in a double bed with 2 adjacent singles – kind of tight, but very clean. We ended up basically sleeping and cleaning up in our room and outside the rest of the time. Our sheets and towels were changed every day and the room was thoroughly cleaned every day, with the little towel sculptures put on the kids beds.
Virus / Illness – Of course, I had heard about not only the malaria “outbreak” but also the Norwalk virus problem, particularly at the Rius. Our doctor and pediatrician both advised us NOT to take medicine for Malaria, since we were not intending to go into the jungle and we were only to be there for one week. Their thought was that the risk was low and possibility of side effects high, especially with the kids. I was much more concerned with all of the stories of that virus going around, and I didn’t even tell my wife, since I thought she would cancel the trip or force a location change, a major headache using an online booking agent. We packed antibiotic wipes, purell hand cleaner. Imodium, pepto bismol, etc. etc., and constantly warned the kids to not drink the tap water or put their fingers in their mouths (6 year old is a thumb-sucker).
Cleanliness – I am happy to report that the Riu resort was exceptionally clean – probably the cleanest place I have ever stayed; I don’t know if this is standard procedure, a reaction to the virus reports, or what since we have never been in the DR before, but here is what I observed at the Riu resort: they have a person cleaning all of the public restrooms on a constant basis. At the pool bar restroom in Naiboa, all floors, fixtures, sinks, counters, etc. were cleaned, disinfected, and decorated differently EVERY time I went in and I was drinking a LOT of beer. The pools are shut down every night at 7pm or so and serviced nightly – you could smell the fresh chlorine every morning. All restaurants and bars are cleaned throughout the day and completely serviced every night for 2 hours. All food, condiments, etc. is discarded and fresh is prepared every night. Not one of us ever had a problem with our stomachs for the entire trip. I heard not a single complaint of a Norwalk Virus our entire stay. Any illness I observed was directly related to the over consumption of alcohol.
Service – We just had a great time with the staff of the resort. Most staff speak passable English, German, French, AND of course excellent Spanish, which is a lot more than me. If they can’t understand you, they will get someone who can. The staff was absolutely marvelous with our 2 daughters – I just can’t compliment them enough. The girls wanted to go to the different bars every day just so they could say hello to Reyna, Osvaldo, Arsinio, Alexander, Pablo, Paulo, Luis, Freddy, etc. etc. They truly cater to your every need – sort of like the great service you get on a better cruise line.
Food – food was just fine and there was plenty of it. The Riu resort has 5 or so different hotels, ranging from very classy 6 star “palace” level, 5 star “Club hotel”, and Naiboa was a 4 star “family” hotel. The food seemed pretty much the same in the 4 and 5 star hotels (not allowed in the 6 star without a wristband). The seated dining is probably a notch below seated dining on a better cruise line, but the buffet style is about the same. If you can’t find something enjoyable to eat, my opinion is you must be a very picky eater. Our 2 girls all enjoyed the soups, sandwiches, hot dogs, French fries, pasta, fruit, etc. They thought the food was excellent, and so did my wife.
Activities – they Rui always has something going on and they like to keep it fun, and lighthearted. Their “Animation Stars” staff was great – sexy but not overly lewd. Fantastic dancers who really like to have their guests have a fun time. They had an afternoon Fiesta in the pool bar with great food, dancing, etc. They have an evening Carnival on Thursday nights on the Caribbean street (the shopping street that cuts through the complex), but the one and only rain we had washed this out with a 40 minute downpour.
Security – I assume the other resorts are like the Riu, which is basically a gated community so there is plenty of security, but very unobtrusive. We locked our ID in the room safe, but had no problem with cameras, personal items, cash, etc. in the bars or at the pools r beach area. My wife left her purse in a bar one night and it was intact behind the check-in counter the next morning.
Beach – very clean, lots of recliners, lots of very pretty ladies getting an overall upper tan. My daughters were amused at first but soon paid the topless bathers no attention. I more than made up for them.
Special Activities – the stuff you pay extra for – can’t comment since we didn’t do any of it.
Tips – Americans and Canadians are “special” in the eyes of the staff since they tend to tip. Of course, you don’t have to tip at all, and you will still get excellent service. Some Europeans tip, some don’t – it’s just up to the person. In my personal opinion, I like to tip for excellent service, so I gave a few $ per day to the better bartenders, the fellow behind the check-in counter who took care of our every need (I asked for a few extra beers for the room fridge, and he sent up a case), and our cleaning lady. They were VERY appreciative.
Rudeness – I had been seeing a lot of discussions on the boards about rudeness of Europeans, and all I can say is that is a load of bull. The Riu had lots of German, French, Spanish, Italian, Canadian, and American guests – Everyone got along just fine other than 1 or 2 loudmouths due to excessive drinking (1 American 1 European) I just didn’t see a problem here at all.
I would highly recommend the Riu Resort in Punta Cana to anyone – we had a fantastic time and intend on going back next year. For those worrying about the illnesses, I can only say be sensible, grab lots of sunscreen and go enjoy yourself – you are missing out on a great time if you don’t.