Flight – We had a 6:00 AM flight out of Detroit on USA 3000. The flight staff was very friendly and efficient. We left the gate 20 minutes early but had to get the plane de-iced and ended up taking off 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time. Nevertheless, we arrived in Punta Cana 20 minutes early. Getting through customs and immigration was a breeze. Our Apple representative was waiting to direct us to our bus. The ride to the resort was approximately 35 minutes. The Apple escort on the bus was very informative and quite hilarious!
Check-in – We checked in at 12:45, but our room was not ready until 3:00. We were able to book our three a la carte meals right away then went and changed into our bathing suits and headed to the beach. There is a bathhouse near the main pool with changing facilities, showers, shampoo, conditioner, etc. If you have an early flight make sure you put your bathing suits and sunscreen in your carry on luggage. It is much easier than digging through you luggage in the hotel lobby if your room isn’t ready. Our room was ready as promised at 3:00. A porter took our bags to the room, showed us how to use the safe, TV, jacuzzi, etc.
Room – Our room was #1183 in villa 18. We were conveniently close to the beach, about midway between the main pool and the Palace pool. The walk to the lobby was approximately 3-4 minutes. We stayed in a junior suite that was quite roomy for 2 adults, a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. There were 2 full size beds and a queen sleeper sofa. The information that we received said the beds were queen sized, but they were actually full sized. The mattresses weren’t the most comfortable, but I had no trouble sleeping on them. The sleeper sofa was a bit saggy, but my son never complained. We had a nice patio with a view of beautiful landscaping. The bathroom was very large with a 2 person Jacuzzi that only my son used once, a stand up shower with a frosted glass door, a toilet also with a frosted door, and a double sink. We were able to have multiple people in the bathroom since there was such privacy especially while showering. The kids were very happy with the selection of TV stations. The mini bar would have been very convenient had it been stocked for a family of 4 rather than for 2 people. We tried to pay to have it stocked daily or stocked with a larger quantity of beverages, but that never happened. Every time we went past the lobby bar or were returning from the pool area, we brought a couple of bottles of water back to keep the refrigerator filled. Our villa was in a very quiet area of the resort.
Beach – The beach was spectacular!! The sand was very white and fine; it almost felt like walking on flour. The water was a beautiful aqua color. The temperature was very comfortable. I spent quite a bit of time just floating around. There were small waves, making it very enjoyable to walk along the beach. I enjoyed the beach here much more than in Aruba, Cozumel or most of the Hawaiian beaches we’ve visited. The beach reminded me a lot of the beach in Playa Del Carmen. We never had much difficulty finding 4 lounge chairs but after 11:30, I did notice that some people had to hunt around and move chairs for their groups. We had read that so many people had difficulty getting chairs where they able spend part of their day in the shade. The frustration we had was in the palm trees blocking the sun starting in mid afternoon. We found that the best area if you want total sun is as follows. Face the ocean in front of the Dive Center turn to the right and walk down the path that runs parallel to the beach. After the path turns to sand, stay on it and continue until after crossing the second walkway that is perpendicular to the beach. Enter the beach there. The palm trees are shorter; the beach is quieter and less crowded. This area is still close to a beach bar, the Palace pool, a lunchtime buffet, and the outdoor paella grill. We found that it was much more convenient to exchange our towels for clean ones at the end of the day so we would start each day with fresh ones. You will run the risk of the towel place (there is one by each pool) running out. This only happened to us once. Some people traded their towels in every day and got their towel card back. It was easier for us to keep track of towels rather than the cards.
Pools – We didn’t spend much time around the pools. The lounge chairs there did fill up early, and most of the time there was never anyone in them. There were a lot of families with younger children, music and activity around the main pool. There were usually young kids hanging around the swim up bar. This is likely because most of the pool is deep and kids can stand at the bar. The palace pool closest to the beach was quieter and less crowded. The bar was also quieter and I was able to get a drink with less waiting there. The water in all the pools was refreshing, neither too hot nor too cold.
Bars – We enjoyed the lobby bar in the evening. During the day we didn’t hang out much at the bars. The pool bars will give out as many water bottles as you would like. The beach bar has self serve water in 8 ounce cups. It’s well worth stopping off at the pool if you are out of water. I drank more beer than mixed drinks. The cocktails seemed to be weak, although they tasted great. The frozen lemonade was a favorite of mine, especially on the beach. About the water – the reason that you aren’t supposed to drink it is because there is a high concentration of calcium and other minerals in it, not because of bacteria. Purified water is used for all ice and food preparation.
Shows – I didn’t personally get to any of the shows, my husband got to several and enjoyed them. I think they are similar to cruise shows.
Food – I never got to breakfast. We always ate lunch at the buffets near the beach, I loved the nachos with guacamole and salsa and ate that nearly everyday. My daughter liked the salads, my son the fries, chicken, any kind of junk food. Both kids absolutely loved the soft serve ice cream available at the buffets and the Sports Bar (24/7). We ate at the Spanish, Italian and Tex-Mex a la carte restaurants and enjoyed them all. If you choose to eat at them, know that it will be a leisurely meal served by friendly staff. Our dinners were usually 1 _ to 2 hours. The meals were very relaxing for us and were a great way to hold our kids captive and get caught up with their lives! The buffets were good not exceptional but more than adequate. All of us were able to find foods that we enjoyed. I would recommend walking around the buffets and checking everything out before you choose foods since they do have such a large variety.
Excursions – Since we were only vacationing for a week we only did the Saona Island excursion through Apple. I thought the island was beautiful! We left at 7:30 AM, had a 90 minute bus ride (very comfortable), then took a speed boat to the natural pool just before the island and swam for 30 minutes, looked for star fish. Don’t bother to bring a mask/snorkel; there are no fish or anything exciting to see under water. Then we went on to the island. Since our trip was reversed, most people took a catamaran ride out and the speedboat back, we were the first ones to the beach that this excursion uses. I think that different tour groups use different beaches around the island. We were able to get some beautiful photos. If you do this trip, be sure to walk to your left down the beach, there are some great photo ops. The food was very mediocre, but the beer was ice cold. We spent about 3 hours on the island before taking the catamaran back to the port. Be sure to wear a higher SPF if you do this trip, this was the only time we really burned. We arrived back at the Palladium at 6:30. It was a long day, but I thought it was well worth the money spent. The trip was $80 US/person.
Staff – I thought all of the staff were very friendly and tried to be helpful. They enjoyed my futile attempt at Spanish and often helped me with my vocabulary.
Weather – The weather was beautiful! It rained several times, but only for a few minutes then it would clear up and be totally sunny again. Temps were in the low 80’s. The beach was always comfortable, with a nice breeze. The pool areas were very hot since the trees and landscaping blocked any breezes.
Markets – If you go to the beach and make a right hand turn there is small marketplace. Some of the shop owners can be aggressive. If you are not interested just say no and continue on. We found that if you just walk through their shop they will be happy. If you make a right hand turn through Captain Cook’s Restaurant, you will be in the little town. There is a grocery store and more souvenir shops. I did most of my shopping here. I generally paid about 50% of the original price. I would initially offer 1/3 of the asking price, they would act offended, then we would bargain back and forth until finally agreeing on the price. If I couldn’t get the price I wanted I would leave. Guaranteed, there would be the same item at the next shop. I found most of the shop owners to be really nice; they are just trying to make a living. If you don’t like to bargain, I would suggest you go to the hotel gift shops. We used US dollars for all of our purchases.
Overall Experience – We had a wonderful and relaxing week, met people from all over Europe, Canada and the US. I would estimate that the resort was about 15% American. We found everyone to be friendly. I wish we would have had more time in the DR; I would have liked to spend more time exploring the country. The Dominican people were very kind and want their guests to think highly of them and enjoy their country. Remember that when traveling to the DR, you are in a foreign, developing nation. Your expectations can either make or break your vacation. Time is slowed down in tropical areas, people move slower since it is hot and humid all the time. Take a deep breath of fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, and relax, you’re on vacation.